Friday, June 2, 2017

10 Reasons Why I Love My Teaching Job

There are some times when I get to write a blog post and I know exactly what I want to write about and exactly what I want to share with my readers. Then there are times like this where I don't know if I have something to say that will interest people. That's the whole fun of this though right? If you don't like this... just close it out! 

I'm just going to talk about my love of my job today. If you don't know I teach special education (finishing my 4th year in SPED and my 9th year overall) in a middle school (yes, with teenagers!) to intellectually disabled students which most of the time means they have a diagnosis of autism. A lot of people would say that I am an "angel" because the work that I do is not always the easiest 

 Here are 10 reasons why I love teaching and why I love teaching students with autism and other disabilities.. 

10. My students are so literal!
Image result for literal
This picture made me literally laugh out loud! I totally mean this, my students have the best personalities. Most people may say, do they really because they don't talk much, they don't show most emotion but, when they show you who they really are by laughing, smiling or cracking a joke it is the best! My students listen to everything they are told and if you are not careful the picture above is what you might get if you ask for hand soap! 

9. My students have awesome memories. 
Image result for autism memory
If you have never heard of this guy google, "Steven Wiltshire" who is this awesome guy in the picture above who literally flies over cities and memorizes them, then he draws them without ever going back! My students from time to time have caught me forgetting, which is fine because we are all human but, they things they can remember are astounding!

8. I get to continue learning right along side my students. 
Image result for learn every day
I do not mean you have to go back to grad school even though most of us do. I mean you seriously have a different adventure everyday that you are in the classroom and my students teach me those things. It may be to never say a direction the way I just did because like I said before my students are literal and instead of writing 8 nouns on a piece of paper like dog, cat, etc. they wrote "8 nouns". You learn all kinds of things from all students if you just look inside enough to take every moment as a learning opportunity. 

7. I get to run the show and do what's best for my students!  
Image result for teacher boss
No, I don't mean that you get to be mean, but you get a say in what happens and how things are running in the classroom. You get to shape the lives of students and make an impact. That concept can be so amazing to think about and so scary all at the same time, but the opportunity is priceless and I try to remember that everyday!

6. The students love structure and routine and so do I!
Image result for schedule routine quote
I think one of the best things about my students is they love structure and routine. Yes, I could also say one of the most challenging things about my students is they love structure and routine when something happens that is not a part of that normalcy. We know that ALL students and even people in general need some sort of routine in their lives and yet, I find helping my students get that balance is so important and an honor to have. 

5. I get my summers off (I know cliche). 

I love it because it gives me time to learn, grow, and create. How many professions let you have time off to do that?? And throw in a vacation or two! We work our butts off for 10 months and that equals out way more work then anybody else does in 2 years. 

4. My students learn and speak in pictures!

Visuals, visuals, visuals they save our butts all the time. If all else fails find a visual or draw one on the fly to help your student understand. I love that I work in middle school and still have excuses to add color to my room in some way!

3. I constantly have an ever changing day. 

No matter how many schedules I create and how many everyday routines we have there is always something new that happens and needs to be managed every day. It makes for a very fast paced and interesting day. 

2. My students are so talented in different ways!

I have students good at drawing, like amazing. I have students good with math facts and can rattle them off in no time. I have others who have the abilities to see something put together before they have even taken the holding materials out of the box.

1. I get to do what I love everyday! 

I feel lucky and privileged to say that I get to work with these students. They challenge me yet they teach me so much about life. My advice, do what you love! 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Teaching CORE Vocabulary-- It's that SIMPLE!

I will first start off with I am not an SLP. I have had amazing support from SLPs that I work with that have taught me some basic background in working with students with disabilties and incorporating Core Vocabulary. I am not going to sit here and say all of what I am saying is researched based and have journals to refer to. All I am going to share with you is how I use it in my classroom and how I have seen results in my students using more core vocabulary!!
Image result for core vocabulary

I work with students with severe disabilities and many of them struggle with communication. I worked tirelessly to find ways to work with those students that would benefit them and not just have them doing busy work all day long.

I have incorporated Core Vocabulary into different times in my schedule for these students. Here are some simple and easy examples of how you can do it.

Have it all over your classroom. I use it on visuals in the classroom and I have a Core Vocabulary Word Wall (product by Mrs. D's Corner on TPT) that I incorporate into my lessons and refer students to when they aren't sure what they want to say. Here is a picture:    

Have a core vocabulary board available to your students who need it at any time. I try to have the boards in a reachable place for my students. If they aren't there, they aren't going to use them, or if they can't get them themselves I make sure I always place them out for every lesson. Another thing I have taught my students to do it so take their boards with them from place to place in the classroom. 

LAMP Words for Life Home Board with lots of Core Vocabulary 

If a student uses a communication device or app have a specific file or homepage of just core vocabulary. It is known that the core vocabulary words are the ones that we use most often so why not have them always readily accessible to our students that use AAC  devices too! Here is a picture of some of the ones my students' have. 
Core Vocabulary Board on Proloquo

Incorporate core materials into lessons during the day. I love to teach morning meeting concepts to my class such as calendar, weather, reading the lunch menu and more. We also have a "Core Vocabulary" time of the day where I pick a "Word of the Week" and we practice using this word in different situations to reinforce the use of it. This is specific direct teaching of the words to model for students how they should be used. Here are some of the materials I have used to teach these words. 

Core Vocabulary Interactive pages for Morning Meeting

Looking for more ways to incorporate Core Vocabulary?? Here are some cool TPT resources I have found:

Looking for ideas and resources?? Here are some websites that have resources that are cheap or free! That you can use in your classroom!!

Share below how you use Core Vocabulary in your classroom!! 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tips for Running Morning Meeting

I have favorite part of my day and in my classroom this year it is done two times a day. I love teaching morning meeting.And if you haven't read it, I did a post a while ago with some of the concepts I teach and you can read that here. At the secondary level I try to be mindful that my students are older and need to start focusing that way. Morning meeting does focus on life skills like reading a calendar and looking up the weather but, some teachers feel that it is something that should only be done at the elementary level. I say, as long as it is kept age appropriate there is nothing wrong with working on these skills. So in this post I have 5 tips that has made my morning meeting more functional and purposeful for my students.

1. Break Up Morning Meeting into Focused Groups

It was one of the best things I did this year. I have students who are non-verbal and use communication devices who need a lot of functional skills. They are perfect candidates for Core Vocabulary instruction and the other half of my class is very verbal to the point that they can move beyond the functional basics and have more responsibility. So I have 2 morning meetings and split them this way. That means that I have differentiated everything that I do to meet the needs of these two groups. I have been able to really work with these two groups on the specific needs they have and because of this I have students that have made leaps and bounds in terms of understanding basic and more complex concepts involved with morning meeting.

2. Use Interactive Materials to Keep Students Engaged

This is super important. I have created binders that have interactive materials for every student in both groups that I teach to follow along with while we do it up on the board in the classroom. These binders do not look the same but, both have similar concepts in them.
Adapted Calendar Activities
Materials in Photo from The Autism Helper 

The students all do:
-days of the week
-the date
-weather/ clothes that should be worn

After that there are different concepts that I change for the students. My non-verbal group works on Core Vocabulary both interactively and hands on with materials and toys that they find exciting. My verbal students work on answering questions, constructing sentences, and having conversations with one another. But, with both groups are interactive materials that keep them accountable for paying attention and engaged in the lesson of what we are doing. It also allows students that are both verbal and non-verbal to answer questions and show what they know.

3. Involve the Students in Lesson

Now we just talked about the interactive materials I use but, I also have part of my morning meeting on my smart board that the students can also come up to the board and help complete. This comes from News2You. News2You is a curriculum that has many different resources to it but, one thing I like is that it has a piece in it called "Joey's Locker" and within that is "Club Roo" and then there is a picture of a map called "Today's Weather" piece.

 Click on the map to get in! 

 It works on the date, weather, and clothing that should be worn.

It allows the students to manipulate the slides with an ending page that looks like this:

Then the students can read it to the class to summarize everything we just talked about.

4. Teach Specific Functional Skills

Like I said before I differentiate my two morning meetings but, I get specific in what I teach here is what I do with each group to fit those students' needs.

Non-Verbal Group                                                    Verbal Group
Calendar                                                                    Calendar
Weather                                                                     Weather
Clothing (with materials)                                          Clothing
Core Vocabulary                                                        Daily Question
                                                                                   Wh- Question Answering
                                                                                   Lunch Menu

With these set up I have actual pictures of clothes for the non-verbal group and they dress "themselves" based on the decisions we made about the weather. So they have a picture of them selves and if we decided they need sunglasses on they take the sunglasses piece and place it on the face over their eyes. We talk about what sunglasses are used for and what part of the body we wear them on. I got those clothing materials here. With my verbal group we just circle this sheet with a dry erase marker.

5. Utilize Paraprofessionals

This might be the hardest thing I have done in my classroom. I have my paraprofessionals using least to most prompting to guide my students in building independence in these lessons. This took a while to teach my paras to understand this and what it meant for different parts of the morning meeting lesson, but now that they understand it has been great! I use this visual from The Autism Helper a lot!

 For my verbal group, there isn't much assistance needed at all at this point of the year and that is great but, in the beginning of the year they needed someone behind them to stay on task, write something down, or help with spelling. With my non-verbal group they have gone from needing full physical prompts to pick up interactive pieces to gestures or verbal prompts. PROGRESS!! It is great to see!

With all that said, I love Morning Meeting and I think that every classroom could have one, keep it age appropriate, make it functional and help their students make progress.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Differentiating Independent Work Stations

I dI don't know about you all, but I love independent work! I don't know what teacher wouldn't. A student is completely engaged in an academic or functional task and you are able to work with others knowing that the other student is just fine and accomplishing something.


In my classroom we consider independent work just that, the student can complete the task independently with no prompting (except maybe an on-task prompt here or there). So it must be a task that a student has already mastered. You cannot expect Johnny to do an independent task with clothespins and subtraction task cards if he hasn't mastered addition yet. Or if he hasn't mastered how to open a clothespin! You cannot expect Sarah to match colors on a file folder if she hasn't shown that she knows that the picture of the apple you are holding up is red. Or if she can't take the red picture off the velcro strip from the file folder. 

I know I know, you are thinking... DUH!!! But in all actuality I have even caught myself making that very same mistake. You think that a student has something mastered because you have worked with them, and then you transfer that skill to be done in their independent work and they couldn't do it as well as you thought, or you realized that there was a step that you had assisted them with when working in a direct instruction setting that now in independent work that student is unable to do and is struggling. And everyone knows that when a student cannot do the independent work that is suppose to be independent what happens?!?! BEHAVIORS! 

I am definitely not trying to say as teachers we don't know what we are doing, we are all humans we make mistakes and realize that sometimes our students may not quite have the concept the way we thought, no biggie, we just keep working on it until they do. 

So in learning all this I have found that the best way to make independent work areas of my classroom work I have to differentiate everything! I know it is crazy to think of all that work that has to be done, but in my classroom it is a necessity. My students need it in order to be successful. So I wanted to share another one of the independent work stations I have in my classroom. I have three independent work areas in my room. You can read about my Work Tasks here. You can read about my Life Skills Area here. 

Binderwork Independent Work Station

I know the name is super creative, but it works! So in this station I have two parts to it that makes it easy for almost any student in my classroom to complete independently so that my paras and I can work with other students. Of course we all keep our eyes scanning to be sure that no one gets off task, but for the most part my students can do this on their own. 

Yes, we did go over how to do this station for about a week at the beginning of the school year to model how to work at this station. I even had paras do some of the skills in 1-1 sessions with the students to be sure they were independent with these skills before having them go to the station. This helped to ensure that the expectations weren't set too high and it allowed for my students to find success. 

So the first thing I did was collect materials that could be kept in binders for my students that varied in skill levels so that everyone could have something. What did I use?? Well here are some ideas:

-file folders that didn't get put in a file folder and just were laminated pages that were interactive
-binder tasks made by some awesome SPED TPTers

Where did I get this stuff?? From my own store and from these other awesome TPT Sellers! I am sure there is others, but I just named a few of my all time go to ones. You can really use ANY interactive work for this! 

Life Skills Independent Binders - Teach Love Autism
Independent Work Binders - Autism Adventures
Basic Skills File Folders - Simply Special Ed
Matching Real Life Vocab File Folders - Autism Classroom News

Once I had a bunch of stuff  I used my color coding system to create a 1" binder for each student in the classroom. I put their name on the spine so they can find it easily and then inside is all their personally differentiated independent work. All the work inside is things that I knew my students already knew how to do. Let's take a look at the inside of some of their binders!
Color Coded outside of binder

Then I knew that I needed something that was fun and more open to choice for my students. Sometimes us scheduling out every part of their day gets some friends a little crazy so I decided to use Autism Adventures Monthly Independent Work Binders (link is to her blog post about her binders) to provide options for my students that finish their binder but, still have a perimeter on what they can do. I cannot take all the credit for this. She inspired creating this station by having these binders. So when they are done they are told that until our classroom timer goes off (they have 15 minutes in each work area) that they can pick from any of these monthly binders to work in. 
(Picture from Autism Adventures)

This system has worked so well in my room for providing another option for independent work and filling in my students' schedules with meaningful and engaging work. Here is a post from a fellow We Teach Sped Blogger... 

So in order to get you started, because we all know that is the struggle, getting started. I have created a sneak peek sample of my GINORMOUS binder set that I am currently creating.This is free for you to check out all the cool types of activities I put inside my students' binders. Click HERE for the FREEBIE!!