Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thursday Think: Organizing All These Activities

My room is PACKED full of various activities.  I try each year to organize them by skill but we often go back to the old tried and true and don't get around to using all the neat hands-on stuff that is in the room.  I once tried to create an inventory but this proved to be difficult as some of the activities have such similar names that you don't really know which is which from looking at the activities. 

This year I decided that I woud approach this a bit differently. Its taking some up-front work but its starting to work out really well and I'm excited.  What I'm doing is taking pictures of every activity/program that we have in the room. I'm printing them off as photos and typing up any information about those activities that I think is necessary and gluing that to the back.  Then I'm taking photo boxes and sorting them by type of skill.  If something fits in more than one skill, I'm putting it in there.  I'm planning to expand this over time to be a little more detailed than what I'm doing right now (for example: taking pictures of each inteactive book and putting it where it belongs rather than just interactive books in general). 

What this is to achieve is that I will have a real inventory of what is in the room but it will also make it easier for me when I know a student is going to work on a specific skill as I can just go to the section for that skill in the box and then pull out the cards and decide which activites would be appropriate for that child. 
When I get or make new activities, I will add them to these boxes.

As a fun aside, I have been working on my small activities right now and if you would like to see the photos that I've gathered so far, here is a link to the album with them:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Brainstorming: Back to School Bulletin Board and Project

I'm brainstorming a bit on our back-to-school project and bulletin board.  I like to do something that has the students make a poster or booklet about themselves so that we can put them on display in the hallway. Our students love making these and the others in the school love reading them. This is always the most interacted with board in our school.

This year I want to stick with the movie theme.  My thought is that the board will mostly be set up before students arrive.  The title of the board will be "Introducing the Stars of L.A.P."  There will be stars and lights and clapboards...etc.  Each student will have a picture of themselves and their names with stars to highlight.  Somewhere on the board, I will also have the "Production Team" (staff) but that will be smaller - probably infused on a roll of film.

I am also going to put up a poster advertising "Living and Learning Biographies" magazine.
For the first couple of weeks, students will put together a biography magazine about themselves and these will eventually get attached to the bulletin board for others to take a look at :).

Here is an outline of the biography magazine:
Title Page: I am working on a designing a cover that will be the same for everyone except that the feature topic for the magazine will be that person with a picture of that person on the front of the magazine.  I'm going to use this site to make the cover so it looks like a real magazine:

Table of Contents: Because the amount of pages will not be the same in each student's book, I will make a template of all the sections and then the pages will get filled as the magazine is completed.

Introducing Student Name: This section will just be a general fill in of biographical information such as full name, birthday, eye color, hair color, height...etc.

A Peak in ---'s Scrapbook: This is meant to a section that is like a scrapbook and has pictures of the student from birth through to now.

Friends and Family: Just a section to highlight friends and family.

Love It or Leave It: A place to highlight things the student likes, their hobbies  and/or their interests as well as the things they just don't really like. 

Check This Out!: This is meant to a place to put information about the student including interests, hobbies, talents, things that make them unique, neat things that have happened in their lives...etc.

I Can!: Our school is big on teaching with "I Can" statements and I use them in the room for tasks that we are doing. I like to also focus students this way in thinking about all the things that they can do.  Some of this will refer to things they have learned to do in the past in our classroom.

The Last Word: Some comments from others about this person.  I will have parents, family, friends, staff...etc. write notes and these will be published.
I should have the boardmaker file to be used for this done in the next day or two and I will post it then :).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Classroom Set Up, Organization and Decorating

It is getting closer to the time where I have to think about classroom set up. This year is going to present a lot of challenge as our room will be fuller than ever with ten students, nine learning assistants and one teacher.
So I thought I would start my "to do" list related to classroom set up here.  These are things I am planning to change or need to get done before the year begins.
"At the Movies" Theme: I don't like to go overboard with classroom decorations as it can just create a lot of extra visual clutter for my students so I will keep it simple.  On the outside boards we are going to have a "Coming Attractions" board where the students make movie-like-posters introducing themselves to the rest of the school. I've done this for a couple of years in different ways and its always well recieved by both our students and the rest of the students in the school.  I will be creating something on boardmaker (similar to what I've done with Extra! Extra! and Auto-ball-ography in the last two years) and getting the board ready for this. Other than that I will put a few decorations up around the room.  I am looking to cover all of my bulletin boards with cloth instead of paper this year.

Covering Shelves: First thing I need to do with my shelves is decluttter and leave only the stuff that we absolutely need on them.  I have a storage closet in the back where I can store the rest of it for now.  After that I will be taking pictures of all the programming materials that I have because I'm going to be using them both on some of the student's timelines but also planning to put small pictures off these items by the explanations in the student programming bindersr for the staff so that they have a quick visual reference as well.  Finally, I've always had my shelves open but I'm thinking to cover them with fabric this year. Just going to simply attach velcro to shelves and fabric and attach that way.  I'm hoping this will keep things a little less cluttered ad clutter is a problem in our room.  I will leave open the student material shelves as I don't want the students to have to fight with curtians to get to their things.

Tracking Forms in Filing Cabinets: I'm trying to open up shelf space and declutter and I'm thinking that if I move my tracking forms from the shelf over to drawers in my filing cabinet it will declutter some. Right now I'm thinking just to label the drawers and leave the binders in.  We will see how well this works as the year goes on.

Staff Bulletin Board: I keep one board for staff reminders and I still have quite a bit of work to do on the materials that will gon on this board.  I will post more about this soon as I have also been given a gift of being able to work with the learning assistants for a whole day before school starts this year (something that we don't usually get in our district).  As I prepare for this day I'm going to make sure everything on the staff board links to things we are talking about that day.

Visuals: I always have a lot of work to do when it comes to setting up visuals in the room.  This year I actually have more because I'm reworking on my "routine strips".  This are just steps followed to complete routine tasks that are set up around the room in appopriate places.  Of the top of my head here are the ones that I'm working on (they are at school so I am going by memory): toileting routine, hand washing routine, unpacking routine, packing routine, toothbrushing routine, morning hygeine check routine, snack/lunch set up, snack/lunch clean up, using the mircrowave.  I'm thinking there are more but these are the ones that I'm remembering right now.  I also have flip books for classroom jobs that are assigned to students (same concept but portable and I can hand them to the students.  Some of the tasks include: morning set up, afternoon clean up, doing laundy, folding/putting away laundry, dishwasher, watering plants, school recycling, stocking supplies, wiping tables...etc.  This year I want to add choice and communication boards or binders around the room that are specific to the activities in that area.  I'm hoping this will open up a lot more communication opportunities for the students.  Finally I need to visually label everything that belongs to specific students.  I have been thinking I need to do color coding for some time and I'm hoping to set things up this way this year.  Student items that need to be labeled include their material shelves, programming binders, hygeine bags, pencil boxes, hook for hanging up coat and backpack, change of clothes bins, diapering/toileting supply bins.
Probably another week or so before I go in but wanted to start thinking about it so that I can have things ready for when I go in.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Changing Plans Part 2: Individual Programming Binders and Tracking Forms

I'm still in the middle of this one but as I'm getting in to actually putting this all in to place I'm finding that the method that I've used to organize binders for the past four years might not be the most efficient method.  I'm now in the process of changing plans so that my binders are organized by "focus area" instead.

What this will entail is that any given section of the binder will include the IEP goals and objectives related to the focus area, an outline of the activities to do for achieving these goals and objectives and all the tracking forms.  In the front of the binder will be a weekly checklist of the things that need to be accomplished in a given week.  These will be checked off when completed.  Here is an outline of what I'm thinking: Weekly Activity Tracking

More coming on this as well.  I'm feeling like I'm heading in the right direction now.

Changing Plans Part 1: 2010-11 Themes

It seems as I develop plans for the year I'm filling up a bit more of the time on "Individual Programming then I was originally thinking.  My group work theme time look like its going to be three times a week (one full afternoon and two parts of the afternoon).  I'm also looking at everything else I'm bighting off and wanting to make sure we have enough time to do things right.  I am therefore putting my themes I was planning on hold for the year and am going to use the group work time for "fun stuff" instead. 

Kate's post over at "Teaching Learners with Multiple Complex Needs" got me thinking about my desire to do an "At the Movies" theme for the year and to study different movies throghout the year.  So... I'm jumping in with this plan for this year.  Here is what I'm thinking...

Mama Mia (August 31 to October 7, 2010)
Still trying to think this one through.  I'm putting it first because of the tie-in to finding your personal identify.  I'm also putting it here because it is just fun for our students.  I'm planning to do at lot of 70s stuff - tie-dieing, fondos, disco lights and music...etc.
Wizzard of Oz (October 12 to November 10, 2010)
I never used many of the ideas that I had last year as our school went in to "Pandemic Mode" due to illness and we also started doing some major transitional work.  I want to do this up right.  I'm choosing this time because of all the possible tie-ins to Halloween.
A Christmas Carol (November 15 to December 21, 2010)
Going back to Pete's Stuff and Kate's Blog to help me out here.  Want to tie this in to Christmas season.
The Princess Bride (January 5 to February 18, 2011)
This idea came from Kate's Blog.  I'm putting it here so that it goes over the Valentine's season.
Back to the Future (February 28 to April 1, 2011)
Planning to really focus in on the "Mad Scientist" part of this movie.  We are going to have some super science fun!
The Lion King (April 4 to May 13, 2011)
African theme for this one.  Cooking, crafts, music, dance...etc.
Ratatouille (May 16 to June 24, 2011)
A fun cooking movie to end the year.
Over the next few days I will be changing my theme page and expanding on all of this a bit more.  Just wanted to throw this change of plans out there.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wednesday's Weekly Comments: Week of July 14-20, 2010

iPad/iPod Touch Apps at Exceptional Students in the Classroom: Always interested in what others are trying ouut on the apps front these days.

Free Download on Teaching Life Skills at Your Therapy Source: Downloaded this simply because there are a lot of great reminders in how to functionally focus on "life skills".

Make a Table at Achieving Success Daily!: A great story about a young man who really knows how to follow directions. This might be one of my favorite stories ever :).

The Princess Bride Revisited at Teaching Learnings with Multiple Special Needs: I eventually want to do an "At the Movies" year long theme so am always looking for ideas of which movies to do. I would love to do more with the movie "Wizzard of Oz" because we ended up with a lot of sick staff and students when we tried to do it last and it didn't work quite the way I had envisioned it.  Perhaps the movie theme will be what I do for 2011-12 :).

Yuck: Nasty Switches at One Switch Org: This one was just a good giggle.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday's Motivation: My Friend Charlie

Every once in a while you find a piece of writing that puts everything that is inside you down in words.  This is one of them.  Amazing!  I have linked to where this was originally posted and hope its okay that I also copied and pasted it here :).


My Friend Charlie

Nate Hajdu shared this heart-felt poem at the Interfaith Disability Pre-Summit in Washington, D.C. on Sepetmeber 22, 2005

He is my friend: I am his friend
I help him out: He helps me to learn
I help him to learn: He helps me to grow
I help him to grow: He teaches me to accept

His struggle: Is my struggle
His vulnerability: Leads to my respect
My respect: Leads him to trust
His trust: Leads to my devotion

His availability: Feeds my desire to be needed
I keep his secrets: He keeps mine
We have an arrangement
His lack of self-consciousness: Leads to my tolerance
His constant need for stimulation: Leads to my patience
His discomfort: Sharpens my sensitivity
His unhappiness: Is my challenge
His presence: Eases my isolation
His loyalty: Leads to my loyalty
Which leads to mutual appreciation

His brokenness: Makes me accept my own brokenness
Which leads to healing
His humanity: Leads to personal connection
His steadfastness: Centers me

His smile: Is my reward
His joy: Lifts my spirits
His happiness: Gives me a sense of purpose
His struggles: Expose my anxieties
Which tests me
Then strengthens me
And in turn bolsters my faith

In guiding: I am guided
In helping: I am helped
In teaching: I am taught

In his laughter: There is joy
In that joy: There is energy
In that energy: There is spirit
In that spirit: There is grace

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Individual Programming Binders: Still Organizing

Lots of table making going on around here! I continue to work on streamlining these individual programming binders. My problem is to ensure that I'm including enough information but not too much information.  I know I have written about these several times before but please bear with me as I try to piece it all together and make this as efficient and effective as I can.  So here, once again, are some notes on each section of my programming binders.

I.P.P. Goals Section
This is just a summary of the student's I.P.P.  Rather than putting in the whole I.P.P. I'm looking to put in the section that staff would refer to the most often which is the goals and objectives.  I have set up most of the activities to incorporate the rest of the I.P.P. so although its important for staff to read over the rest of the I.P.P. I don't feel its important for it to take up space in these binders.

Students have between 4 and 8 "areas of need" that include an overall goal and then a break down of objetives related to that goal. For each of these areas of need, I have the following:
  • Record the area of need and the goal.
  • A simple table with two columns: the first column is the objective right off the I.P.P. and the second is a list of the names of the activities used to address that objective.
Programming Activities Section
This section gives a more detailed outline of the activities that are completed during Individual Programming time as well as some information on how to focus on programming activities in routines and as functional skills during the day.

What I do in this section is list one activity on each page.  These are things like "Edmark Reading Program" or "Vocabulary Development" or "Functional Hand Skills" of "Two Switch Training" and are all tied back to I.P.P. goals.  For each page, I have a 3 column table with the first column being the largest. 
    • In column 1, I describe the activity.  Note that there could be several different activities.  For example, if a student is working on Edmark reading, thee is the tradition reading program, the Boardmaker Wipe Off Activities that I've made, Flash Cards and typing activities that I have set up using RJ Cooper's "Spell a Word" software.  The explanation here is mostly short reminders of things that I would go through when working with staff on how to implement programs.
    • Column 2 is for frequency and it basically says how often each activity should be done.  Generally I have one activity that needs to be done daily that is used to track progress and then a list of other activities that are done less frequently.  For example, when working on Phonics the student may work through a modified phonics workbook regularly but then also do supplementary fun activities (Bingo games, alphabet boxes where you take items that start with two different letters put them in sensory bins, dig them out and then group by starting letter, file folder activities... etc.) less regularly and formally.
    • The final column is labelled "tracking" and describes procedures for recording including what, how and how often.
Tracking Forms
This is just a place to put all the tracking forms.  I'm really trying to streamline this section so that we are maintaining a balance between tracking enough but not too much.  I'm not going to put a whole lot more down right now as I will come back to this in the future once I have done some more revamping.
Worksheets and Activities
These are just the things that I put in from week to week that students are working on.  I also throw in things that I find that I know would work for the student.  If it something that I want done immediately I put a sticky note (sticking out) on the sheet so that staff know to check that specific sheet.  I put the sections of news-2-you that I want specific students to complete each week in here as well.

Note that I have students who work on worksheets from specific programs regularly.  I do not put these in the binder.  I keep binders on the shelf with these items and expect staff to get them and photocopy.  Generally the students will go along to help with photocopying.
Other Information
I haven't used this section very much but I generally put things like therapy notes and suggestions in here.  I am working on summary sheets of some of the different techniques/programs that we use with specific students that I plan to put in this section as well.  Some of the sheets I'm working on include Scripts and Script Fading, PECs Program, PODD Communication Books, Pivotal Response Teaching, Discrete Trail Teaching, Functional Routines Instruction, Edmark Reading Program, Environmental Print Program...etc. Basically as I get a new "program" I will make up a summary sheet and then the appropatie sheets will end up in the appropriate binders.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

How to Address a Variety of Communication Purposes?

I have been spending a lot of time this summer researching communication.  Our classroom has been labeled a "communicatin-focused program".  This aligns nicely with my philosophy that we need to fous on communication first and foremost and from there we can take care of so much else (behaviour, academics, social growth...etc.).  We do focus on communication but I've been feeling lately that we need to grow our focus and therefore I've been spending some time researching a variety of approaches and items related to communication.  

I have spent a fair bit of time checking out websites and you can't research communication for our population without spending at least some time on  Linda Buckhar's website.  I was going back through the article entitled "Key Concepts for Using Augmentative Communication with Children Who Have Complex Communication Needs" this morning and it started me thinking a bit more about the various reasons we use communication and how we are perhaps only allowing the students in our room some of these purposes by not letting them play an active enough roll in their communications.  

I believe that the organization around PODD will help us with some of this but it did get me to thinking that I need to ensure that we as a staff are talking about the various purposes of communication and ensuring that we are using what we have currently to open up these purposes to our students.  So I've started a list of the reasons we communicate and how we can support our students to communicate in each of those areas.  Some of these things we are already doing.  Some we need to focus more on.  Either way reminders are always good to refocus us and so this is what I have so far.  

Purpose: To Meet Social Expectations
Description/Examples: saying hello and goodbye, getting someone's attention, teasing/playful interactions, using manners and acknowledging other's presense and/or communication (be it verbal or nonverbal). 

Ways We Can Encourage/Aide this Purpose
  • Simple output devises like Big Mac Communicators can be set up in places that allow students to acknowledge other people's presence. 
  • Acknowledging and responding to gestures, facial expressions, verbal approximations (or it may just be verbal 'noise'), and body language.
  • Buddy programs with scripted communication that allows student to use these social norms.
  • Use of P.O.D.D. Communication System or a more complex, leveled communication devise - right now we do not do enough of this type of communicating and this is an area I want to expand in to a lot more over the next years
  • Functional Routines Instruction (as outlined in The STAR Program that we just got): This will ensure that students are being taught these social norms within the context that they are often used.
  • Pivotal Response Training: We had been using PRT sessions up to this point but must say that the description and details in The STAR Program will help us better focus this process.
  • Use of scipts as laid out in the book "Teaching Conversation Skills to Children With Autism: Scripts and Script Fading"
  • Encouage use of any other forms of communication that will work for a student (sign language, picture symbols, eye gaze...etc.)
  • RJ Cooper's Point to Picture software - set up the visuals and recordings to focus specifically on social interactions.
  • Playing Games
  • Buddy Programs with Peers
  • Community Based Instruction Program: We do not get out as much as I would like but when we do we try to focus on appropriate interactions in the community including the use of a variety of communication methods and devises.
Purpose: To Inform (or Gain Information)
Description/Examples: labeling people, places, things, sharing or showing, commenting, asking questions to clarify, comparing, contrasting, asking questions...etc.

Ways We Can Encourage/Aide this Purpose
  • Labels around the classroom - both words and visuals.
  • Vocabulary building activities to expose students to a variety of vocabulary in a way that works for them (see future posts on Individual Programs for some of the activities we do in our room).
  • Labeling objects when using choice boards or general choice strategies.
  • Discrete Trail Teaching related to matching objects to visuals.
  • "Sharing Time" where students bring objects to show and parents have helped them to record explanations on a step-by-step.
  • "Sharing Time" where students bring talking photo albums and parents have recorded information about their pictures.
  • Yes/No Questioning
  • Use of a variety of communication methods to achieve this purpose (devises, gestures, approximations, signing, body language, communication books, visual boards...etc.)
  • Communication Bins: Bins organized around a specific topic with both visuals and items in the bin.  You then "play" with the bin and stimulate communication.  One example would be a "blowing bin" where there are a variety of items to blow (bubbles, candles, paper, whistle, balloons) and then the student picks the item and then can dictate things like make the balloon bigger or smaller, tie it up, make it squeak, throw it to me...etc.  Another example would be a manicure bin with a variety of things needed to do your nails including stickers and various colors of nailpolish.  Plan out what you're going to do and then proceed. The focus is always on communicating.  Note that this one fits under both this area and several other areas (particualrly the exerting influence area).
  • Interactive Books
  • Computer Programs that focus on bulding knowledge (First Words, First Words II, First Verbs, First Categories...etc.)
Purpose: To Express Feelings (or Pain)
Description/Examples: expression of feelings/pain, coming up with the reason (if needed) and working through a solution if needed.

Ways We Can Encourage/Aide this Process:
  • "I am upset because... You can help me by..." process as outlined by Kate on her blog.
  • Teach emotions and emotion regulation to all students.
  • Teach body parts to all students (to aide in locating pain).
  • Again - use of all different forms of communication.
  • In this area, I have seen many people try to shut down expression of emotion rather than assist the student in finding a more age-appropriate way in expressing the emotion.  I am a big believer in the fact that we should not be shutting down the emotion as we need to acknowledge and address it. 
Purpose: To Influence (Self Advocate and/or Exert Influence Over Others and the Environment)
Description/Examples: choice making, accepting, rejecting, protesting, asserting independence, neotiating, stating opinions

Ways We Can Encourage/Aide this Purpose
  • Incorporating choices in to all activities - be it yes/no, eye gaze to choice, pointing to choices...etc.
  • Having a definitive way for student to say "no" or "stop" and allowing the student to exert that influence over their environment when appropriate (and responding in a respectful way with an age-appropriate explanation when the situation requires it).
  • Allowing for all different forms of communication to achieve this purpose.
  • Communication Temptations: setting up a situation so that the student need to communicate to get what they want.  Example: give student pudding but not a spoon and student needs to ask for spoon in order to proceed
  • Choice Boards
Purpose: To Imagine (or Talk About Past or Future Events)
Description: make belief stories, telling stories of things that have happened, talking about upcoming events

Ways We Can Encourage/Aide this Purpose
  • Timelines and Schedules for students - visual, agenda, on computer...etc. (whatever is most appropriate for the student)
  • Step-by-steps to inform about evening and day at school: We send them back and forth each day with new messages and then the student tells us or his/her parents about the events that happened in either place.
  • Home-School Communication Books: visual books that include what was done, what was enjoyed, what wasn't, what student is proud of, how they felt that day and how they slept the night before.  We spend time doing recall activities to fill out these books each day.
  • Questioning
  • Talking about past events - when we are growing the concept of recall we start with things like "What did we just finish doing?" as opposed to "What did we do this morning?"
  • Incorporating assignments that have parents help students to tell about things that have happened.  Example: what did you do this summer project where students bring talking photo albums to share their story.
  • Again - encouraging all different types of communication to achieve this focus.

Friday, July 16, 2010

P.O.D.D. Communication System on Proloquo2Go?

Reading this P.O.D.D. material really has me rethinking how passive a role my students have been playing in the communication process.  It always seems to be us setting up the communication exchanges rather than the student truly directing them.  As I've been making these P.O.D.D. communication books I'm seeing that we are missing so many communication opportunities and I'm excited to see the doors this will open for our students this coming up school year.

There is a comment in the manual about how we often try to start using communication devises by teaching students to use them around the tasks that they are already able to communicate (appropriately or not) around and that this leaves little room for student motivation.  This is so true.  I've found again and again as I've tried to use communication devises that we are already aware of a lot of what is coming becuase the student has their own system they have already put in place.

I bought Proloquo2Go some time ago (shortly after it was released) thinking it would be such a great tool for my son (who says approximations of single words and occasionally strings a couple of words together).  I've found he has little motivation for the program and I've always just figured that although his spoken language is delayed that he has found ways to clearly get his messages across and that may have to be enough.
Still, it haunts me as a mother because there is such a difference between his receptive and expressive language even when you factor in all his other expressive tools (sign language, gestures, some spoken words, PECs, basic communication devises, choice boards...etc.).

The end point of this post is perhaps a beginning point to motivating my son to use this devise.  What I'm looking to do now is to completely revamp the way the devise is set up and have it mimic one of the P.O.D.D. books.  I started playing aorund with setting it up today (on the iPad now instead of the iPod as I do also think that my son's fine motor challenges may have played in to his lack of motivation with the program) and found that it is doable but it will take some time.  I'm figuring its worth a try and am going to spend time working on putting it together to see how it works this way :).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display (PODD) Communication System

A while back, I ordered P.O.D.D. (Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display) materials that included a manaul on the system as well as a bunch of files on disks to use with Boardmaker to create P.O.D.D. Communication books.

I have been hunting high and low for and SLP in the area that I live in who has some awareness or experience with this communication system but keep coming up short. I'm also only finding training sessions that are a great distance from where I live.

Although I seem to keep running in to hurdles in regards to finding resources to learn more about this system, I am finding that by just creating some books using the files that are included, reading the manual and finding information by searching online (lots of summaries and power points related to P.O.D.D.) that I'm wrapping my mind around the concept on some level.

Some of the key things that I'm liking about this system include:
  • How active the student needs to be in the communication process.  They are the ones who can direct where exchanges go.
  • The many functions of language that can be directed.  I'm finding that so much of what we use in the classroom right now is related to us setting up choices for the student and the student having limited control over anything but those few choices we are giving them.  I think long term this system will open up that door.
  • The idea of "immersion" in this system.  I really liked the explanation in the manual about starting this way of communicating should be like when a child enters a langauge immersion school - the input communication needs to be in the language they are going to learn.  They may not understand it right away but by being immersed in it, they being to learn it.  I love the idea that we, as teachers, need to model this system when we are talking with the student.  This is a great place for us to start!
  • The long term ability to personalize and or grow the system.
  • The long term possibility of moving this paper system to a communication devise.  I can see how you could take this method of organizing and move it over to a leveled devise. It doesn't have to happen that way but its nice to have that option open in the future.
I want to jump in on whatever level I can at this point so my plan right now is:
  • Go back through everything that I've been reading and make summary notes of what I have learned about the system so far and share that with learning assistants and parents.
  • Create trial books for 4 of my students (starting with just these four as I have other communication system focuses up and going for the others right now) and have staff start using them.  I really like the concept of having "input communication" and "output communication" be the same for students and so inially using the books may mean mostly modeling the use of the books when we communicate with the students.  I'm planning to use the one page display with nine pictures per page for each of these students (in the image above it is the one in the top right hand corner but I've added horizontal lines to aid in the partner-assisted scanning process as recommended in the materials that come with the system).  I will have myself and learning assistants make notes right in the trial books that I create so that I can eventually create more personalized books for each of the students.
  • Continue to work on establishing solid yes/no responses with two of the four students mentioned above.
  • Continue to use all other communication systems and aides that we have been using with these students as this will be just one tool that they can use.
  • Keep looking for training or people who have used the system and expand my knowledge that way.  I'm tryin to figure out if I might be able to swing Closing the Gap 2-day Preconference Session both on the financial end and on the child care end of things.  I'm sitll hoping something closer might come up before that.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wednesday's Weekly Comments: Week of July 7-13, 2010

iPad for Communication post at Adaptations 4 Kidz: I just recently bought an iPad and want to spend some time playing with it this summer. I am enjoying finding these "success stories" that are starting toc ome out.  I'm also looking forward to seeing what new special education applications will surface as more people start to use the iPad with special education students. I am actually starting to compile a list of hte applicatins that I would like to try (or am already trying) that I will post in the next few days.

Learning to Read the Junior Way post at Adaptations 4 Kidz: Love the ideas presented on this blog and this is one that I immediately linked to one of my students. I have been looking for ways to grow his language arts program and this is a great approach. We had this phonics book already so I'm well on the way to adapting some of the materials. I know this particular student that I'm thinking of will shine with this approach and its so nice to not have to start completely from scratch doing it this way.

Visual Supports for Students With Autism post at Teacher Space: It wasn't so much this particular post that I was responding to here. I found this blog last week and have spent a lot of time digging back through the archived posts as there is loads and loads of great information. I responded here because it was the top post and I wanted to say thanks for sharing the information. At the same time I do like the idea of the checked finished box :).

iPad + Proloquo2Go, 1 Month Later post at Caleigh's Corner: Wow!  Check out this little one use Proloquo2Go.  I have added this blog to the list of blogs I want to follow as I think its going to be wonderful  to watch Caleigh's journey on so many fronts.

Easy Book Adaptations post at Teaching All Students:  I'm always looking for ways to expose the students in our room to literature.  I was looking back through the archives and found this blog post with a great link to an idea to easily adapt books to make them more interactive for our students. Love the idea and am thinking to set up a work day with my learning assistants and parents to make some interactive books and book bags.

Unique Learning Transition Level Curriculum post at Exceptional Students in the Classroom: Great to find another person who is finding some of the organizational stuff in this curriculum to be useful across the board.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My Latest Idea: Messy Monday!

The second Monday of every month is going to be "Messy Monday" in our classroom this year.  I have often done messy activities with the students and everyone has a great time doing it.  We all get to the end of the activity and are giggling and laughing and stating that we should do it more often.  Yet I only get around to it 3 or 4 times a year. I want to do it more and so this I figure I will just set the plan in motion to make sure it happens. So I'm creating "Messy Mondays".  Each month I will come up with some messy activities that we can complete during the aftenroon that are related to our monthly theme.  The focus will be the process rather than the product (but really it almost always is anyway). 

I'm going to post my original ideas here.They are not finished yet but wanted to get this started in case there are any readers out there that have ideas or suggestions to add. Here is what I have so far..

September 2010: Individuality: Painting With Body Parts
Station #1: Foot Painting
Station #2: Finger Painting
Station #3: Using Your Head
October 2010: What Should I Wear?: Representations of the Seasons
Station #1: Leaves (Fall)
Station #2: Crushed Ice (Winter)
Station #3: Dirt, Water and Gardening Tools (Spring)
Station #4: Water and Small Pool Toys (Summer)
November 2010: Food and Nutrition: The Four Food Groups
Station #1: Cooked Spagetti Sensory Bin (Bread and Cereal Food Group)
Station #2: Mashed Bananas Sensory Bin (Frutis and Vegetables Food Group)
Station #3: Eggs and Egg Shells Sensory Bin (Meat and Meat Products Food Group)
Station #4: Pudding Painting (Dairy Products Food Group)
December 2010: Christ is Born: Theme Not Established Yet - Some Thoughts...
Sparkle and Bling - to go with the idea of stars in the night.
Straw to represent the stable that Jesus was born in.
Bows and Ribbons and Shredded Wrapping Paper
January 2011: Music Mania: Music/Noise Explorations
A variety of instruments and toys that the students can explore.  Include things that just make noises rather than music.
February 2011: Super Science: Mixtures and Experiements
Station #1: Goop
Station #2: Exploding Bottles (baking soda and vinegar mixing)
Station #3:
March 2011: Mexico: Paper Mache Pinatas
No stations this month as students will be working in groups to make pinatas out of Paper Mache.  These pinatas will be painted, filled with candy and used later in the month when we do some celebrating!
April 2011: Looking Good: Grooming Materials
Station #1: Toothpaste and Toothbrushes
Station #2: Hair Products (gel, mouse, spray bottle)
Station #3: Shaving Cream
May 2011: Where Can I Buy It?: Theme Not Established Yet!

June 2011: Camping Out: The Great Outdoors
Water and Sand Bins (for both feet and hand explorations) to simulate the Beach

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summer To Do List

So we are now about two weeks in to the summer break here in Alberta.  I am feeling like I'm rested up a bit and am now starting to think about the things that I would like to accomplish this summer.  Its a big lit this year as I feel like I need to be over-prepared going in to next year.  I am also really excited about several of the things on the list so that is also driving me to work more this summer.  

Hopefully I will be starting my Masters program next summer which will mean three summers where I spend the whole month of July taking classes (and probably the whole month of August finishing up papers and assignments for those classes).  This is kind of my last summer that I have free for a few years to just pick and choose what I want to do so its also important to get a lot done.

Here is my ever-growing list of things to do...

Learning and Planning through Reading

I have several books that I have either started reading or I plan to read this summer.  Some of them I have already read before but feel like I want to go back and re-read so that I can be more aware (example: PECS manual and Sensory Approach to Curriculum book).  Here is my list:
Teacihng Conversation to Children with Autism: Scripts and Script Fading by Lynn E. McClannahan, Ph.D. and Patricia J. Krantz, Ph.D.:  I have already read through this book but am now re-reading it and and making notes as well as starting to put together some materials for it (audio-cards, pictures, tracking forms, learning assistant quick note pages).  I see this as a great approach for several of my students and can't wait to get in to it as we start the school year in September.

PODD: Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display Communication Books by Gayle Porter: I do not know a lot about PODD but am interested. I have not yet decided if I'm going to implement any of the strategies or perhaps eventually try to find some training about PODD.  I figure a good starting point is to read the manual that is part of the program and then go from there. I would love to talk to anyone who uses it and particularly those who use it with "our students".

The STAR (Strategies for Teaching Based on Autism Research) Program Manuals (Level 1, 2 and 3) by Joel R. Arick, Lauren Loos, Ruth Falco and David A. King:  Wow!  I've also started reading these materials. I have some basic knowledge about ABA techniques but have never really dug deep enough into them.  With half of my class now on the spectrum I need to step up to the plate. I am really impressed with the section on Pivotal Response Training as I have always liked the concept but have never really figured out the nuts and bolts of it.  This is going to be a great program for a couple of my younger students and there are some other great concepts that can be applied to some of my others.

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) Trianing Manual by Lori Frost, M.S., CCC/SLP and Andy Bondy, Ph.D.: I've read this manual before and use the PECS system with a few of my students.  I'm re-reading it this summer as I wanted to go back through it and pick up the new stuff that you pick up each time you read a book when you are reading it with specific students in mind.  I will also be developing some tracking forms and more PECS while working on this.  I am also looking for ways to take some the strategies from this manual, the STAR Program and the Script and Script fading stuff and make them work together.

A Sensory Approach to the Curriculum for Pupils with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties by Judy Davis: A book that I've had for some years.  I think I read it when I was starting this job and have not gone back to it since.  With some experience behind me I'm thinking I could probably learn a bit more from reading it again so that is what I'm planning to do :).
Material Development

Probably less to make this summer than I have in the past summer as I'm feeling like I'm starting to have the materials needed from the past summers. Now its just a matter of ensuring that things that were made are implemented properly. Still I would like to create a few materials this summer including:
Book Bags: I have made a few of these but would like to make more.  Basically they include a book and then some hands-on items and activities that can be completed related to the story or concepts in the story.  This would be one of the things that staff can work on with students when doing literacy types of activities in individual programming time.  My goal is to make 4 more during the summer break.  If I actually get them done, I will post information and pictures.  This might be one of the things on the bottom of my list though as there are other things that I just feel are more pressing right now.

Conversatoin Bins: I also started making conversation bins some time ago but have never finished.  I do have a handful of them and want to make a few more as I think they are a great tool to encourage students to interact around a certain topic.  Same comment as above... if I get any done I will post information and pictures.

Visual Reminders and Scripts: I'm planning to redo a lot of the visual reminders that I keep up around the classroom related to routines (washing hands, toileting, beginning of day, end of day, brushing teeth, lunch/snack clean up...etc.).  I'm trying to figure out a way to allow for some of the variations that are in place for each student and I'm thinking perhaps to have sequences on binder rings for each student and then they can just be grabbed off of hooks.  I can have a generic one up still.  Still need to do some more thinking on this. 

Visual Recipes: I already have several recipes up and running but am thinking that I want to change them up a bit to make them a bit more user friendly.  I'm also thinking of perhaps using a talking photoalbum for a few of them to just see if the student(s) who use them can be more independent in the process.  I'm planning to modify to make things as independent as possible. I am thinking about adding either check boxes or pull off images for the getting hte materials step out and then simplifying directions more so the student(s) can "read' the dirction him/herself.
Planning and Organizing

This is probalby my biggest job this summer. I really saw a need for a different type of organization this past year as my class evolved to serving a pretty different type of student.  So, this summer I'm revamping sutdent programming binders, schedules, and tracking forms.
Revamp Individual Programming Binders for Each Student: This is my big project as I'm looking at creating a different weekly tracking form (have posted about this) and ensuring that all materials in student's binders are up to date and ready to use on day 1.  This is my most important project for the summer as it will set the scene for the whole school year.  I have four new staff (out of nine staff) this fall so its even more important when that is factored in.

Personal Organization Binders including Personal Calendar: I have started using these last year but want to revamp it a bit.  In this binder is information about the student's day, routines and a personal calendar.  It is our version of a 'student agenda'.  I want to do a bit more work making these more functional for each individual student.

Monthly Theme Organization: I know I will not get through all my themes but I would like to have my first couple of themes in place (or at least the first one on Individuality).  I'm using my blog to organize ideas and plans so check on the above tabs often to see how things are progressing.
Adaptive and General Technology

I hate to admit it but I have some pieces of technology that I need to figure out how to use or explore some more to see if there are some uses for students in our room.
iPad Explorations: I got myself an iPad last week.  I bought it thinking of trying out some apps with my son (11 with DS+ASD) and that is exactly what I am planning to do this summer.  This, of course, will be a great experience for him and myself but I may also find some things that would work for the students in my room.

Smartboard Ideas: I think I'm getting a Smartboard this summer.  I need to find out if that is for real and if it is then I want to do some work creating and finding materials we can use on the Smartboard.

Book Worms: I have a couple of Book Worms that I haven't used very much the last couple of yeras.  I need to refamiliarize myself with them and do some recording so they are up and ready to use this fall.  I'm looking to set one of them up with teen topics drawn from teen magazines to ensure they are relevant to my students.

Intellikeys: When I came to my room this was already in the room. I  must say that I have not used it and it is way past time I figure it out and see if there are any things that I coudl use with my students.  Need to get on that this summer!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Found Another Great Blog :)

Looks like I know what I'm going to be doing for the next few days.  I just stumbled upon this really great blog with tons of links and ideas.  Check it out: Teacher Space

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wednesday's Weekly Comments (June 30 - July 6, 2010)

The Special Educators Friend:  It is interesting to read of someone who is going down the "back-to-school" road just shortly before I intend to do the same.  (Summer Update)

Teaching Learners With Multiple Special Needs:  Although the post that I responded to truly spoke to my heart, I mostly responded to it to say that I love the new look of the website :). (Living the Least Dangerous Assumption)

iPad: a Near Miracle for my Son with Autism:  I just bought an iPad this week and am so excited to spend some time this summer playing with it.  I can't wait to see what we can do with it for myself, my son and my students :).  I hope to posting abou the miracles I see soon.  On a side note with this, RJCooper has also been doing some work to make sure that hte iPad will be assessible for all students :).  Woo hoo!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Monday's Motivation: Never Underestimate the Power of a Smile :)

Every graduation there seem to be some great speeches that get "put out there". I wanted to share a couple of my favorite from this year's bunch.
Number one is a young man who uses an augmentative communication devise to deliver his speech:

Here is a blog a blog entry about this young man:
Number two is a young man who didn't say his first word until he was 5.  Check it out here:;_ylt=An9F4WcNOhkilI78s_0pWXuz174F;_ylu=X3oDMTE3NnJwdnRlBHBvcwMzBHNlYwNtb3N0LXBvcHVsYXIEc2xrA2F1dGlzdGljc3R1ZA

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Just Ordered 50 "Voice Overs"

They are mini-recorders where you can re-record a variety of 10 second messages.  They have a little clip on the back so you can clip them on to pictures or other thin objects.  I went looking for them after reading the book "Teaching Conversation Skills to Children with Autism: Scripts and Script Fading" as they outline ways to use them when working on conversation skills.  I recognize that not all of my students will be able to push the small button to activate them but for the students I'm thinking about right now these are going to be great!

I ordered them from Voice Express. They do have other mini recorder types of products that are worth checking out.  I'm planning a future post outlining some of the uses that I found for these little treasures :).


Friday, July 2, 2010

Program Review: The STAR (Strategies for Teaching Based on Austim Research) Program

Title: The STAR Program (Strategies for Teaching Based on Autism Research) Contributors: Joel R. Arick, Lauren Loos, Ruth Falco, David A. King
Publisher: pro-ed (


Over the past year the distribution of my class has gone from having one out of nine students on the Autism spectrum to having five out of ten on the Autism spectrum this fall.  My class... it is a changin'!  With this change I have been seeking out more resources that are autism-specific to use.  I have gathered severl books along the way that addess teaching techniques such as discrete trial training and pivotal response training but without concrete approaches I hae struggled to implement the approaches appropriately.

This program is not cheap - approximately $325 per level and there are three levels (although you can buy the three levels together for about $850).  I would venture to think that people who are trained in the area of autism and have their heads fully wrapped around these concepts might find the program to be a bit of a waste of money as they may be able to put the materials together for a small fraction of the cost.  For me, its a goldmine!

The program itself is broken up in to six components:

  1. Receptive Language Concepts
  2. Expressive Language Concepts
  3. Spontaneous Language Concepts
  4. Functional Routines
  5. Preacademic Concepts
  6. Play and Social Interaction Concepts
The concepts focused on are the ones that children on the spectrum tend to struggle with.  Many of the students that I currently have are non-verbal but two of them are echolaic.  For the non-verbal ones I'm modifying the expressive language goals a bit and pulling in concepts from the Picture Exchange Communication System (Lori Frost, M.S., CSS/SLP and Andy Bondy, Ph. D.) instead.  I'm also looking to supplement the spontaneous language area with approaches from the book that I posted about yesterday.
There are three main teaching/learning approaches that are used in this program: Discrete Trial Training, Pivotal Response Training and Functional Routines Training. There are good solid explanations of the methods as well as tracking forms, suggestions and task break downs included in the program.

Overall it seems it will be fairly easy to take the program out of the box, do a few things in preparation and be able to use the program this fall.  You start with an assessment (five of them are included in the box) to see where the child should start and then each area has file folders explaining the tasks to do at each step.  The person working with the student would go to the appropriate folder and start working.

To me the program seems more suited to younger children.  I will not be using it with my students who are above grade 4 and I'm thinking that mostly it would be used with preschool aged children.  I will use bits and pieces with modifications for some of my older students though.

Finally, it appears to me that this program pretty much has to be done in a one-on-one setting because of the intensity of interactions involved.  I am fortunate that I have that one-on-one ratio in my room and it is doable.  Still, its not an all day every day program and time could have been worked out to find one-on-one sessions even without the ratio we have now.

If anyone out there has used this program, I would love to hear you feedback.  I will post more as I start to use it this fall :).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Book Review: Teaching Conversation to Children with Autism (Scripts and Scrpit Fading)

Book Title: Teaching Conversation Skills to Children with Autism (Scripts and Script Fading)
Authors: Lynn E. McClannanhan Ph. D. and Patricia J. Krantz, Ph. D.
Publisher: Woodbine House, 2005


Audiocard reader Thought #1: I was very excited about some of the practical strategies that I could put in place while I reading this book.  When I came to my classroom four years ago, there were these two autido card readers along with a thousands of cards that the machine could read.  At first we used them as part of the reading program that a couple of the students were working on but they didn't seem to do any good in achieving the reading goals that had been set out.  Eventually I just packed them away in the closet and we haven't used them since.  I was excited to learn a new way to use these audio recorders as a way to encourage spontaneous social interactions.  For the non-verbal students that I'm working with this would intially mean that parts of the student's visual schedule will actually be placed on cards that can be used in this machine rather than just as pictures.  Instead of our regular routine of the student going to his schedule, taking the picture off and then heading to the place where the next activity takes place, the student would add in a step where he or she takes the picture from one of this pre-recorded cards, plays it on the audio recorder and then a social, verbal interaction occurs between the student and the teacher/learning assistant.  It seems so simple.  Although we are always looking for ways to have verbal interactions, I know many in the classroom don't do as much because it is so one sided.  This new addition of the other side will regenerate some of the drive to do this. 

Thought #2: The introduction to the book speaks to how some of the strategies we use to teach children with autism actually stop them from developing conversation skills because we are unknowingly reinforcing a non-typical type of conversation. This has always been a struggle area for me when using a Discrete Trial Teaching method as it never seems overly natural and I wonder if we are inhibiting natural behaviours.  As I've read more and started to understand balance I realize that I can actually find a balance between different approaches to ensure that methods used enhance both learning and conversation skills.  This is just one more way to ensure that conversation skills are keeping the same level of importance as all the other learning.  This makes me happy :).  There are some great data sheets included in this book to ensure that data can still be taken at the same time as not formalizing it to the point of eliminating real interactions.  I will be using them as I still need to record progress towards goals/objectives.

Perhaps the best way to summarize is by the following statement made on page 38 of the book: "Questions and directions transform the activity from conversation to instruction and defeat the purpose of scripts and script fading procedures."  Wow!


Thought #3: I'm very excited about this as a mother as I can see ways of encouraging my son to increase his uterance length by using scripts and script fading.  Mikey, my son who has DS+ASD (Down syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder) speaks mostly in single words and almost always for the purpose of getting something he wants.  At one point a couple of years ago we had him stringing 2 or 3 signs together to make phrases but he lost that skill over the past year which has been very frustrating.  Mikey has the ability to say many word approximations as he demonstrates when he is reading.  He can read and verbalize well over 200 words and yet only says a handful of words for purposeful interactions with others.

This book offered many great ideas in regards to setting up scripts with both visuals and written words that read to help to grow Mikey's abilities to initiate and continue conversations.  I'm excited about starting to build his skills in this area.  Added bonus is that Mikey will be in my classroom this fall so we can reinforce it all day long!  I'm sure I will post more about this as I get down to the details so stay tuned.


Thought #4: Although I've read the book cover to cover I'm pretty sure its a book that I will have to digest as I go along an implement different parts of it.  Right now, the later chapters, although fascinating, are not relevant to where my students are at.  I'm excited to get to the day where we can try some of the other ideas in there but I'm going to start where I'm at.  I'm sure I will be coming back to topics and ideas from this book often in the next year as I'm seeing many ways to implement some of these strategies already.  Stay tuned for more as we get in to next school year.