Monday, September 12, 2011

First Day Jitters and Guilt

Today  is the first day of school for the kids and I have the jitters. Despite the fact that I have spent the last 5 weeks working in the classroom and prepping, I still don't feel done. I brought a  bunch of stuff home with me this weekend to work on while sitting on the couch, but I admit that I didn't touch it at all yesterday and now I  feel super guilty.

And, I forgot to set my alarm this morning.  I meant to get up at 5:00 AM, but I didn't get up until 6:00 AM instead. I woke up at 4:15 this morning and contemplated getting up then, and I should have. Now I feel rushed. Well, obviously not that rushed if I'm sitting here typing this...

Wish me luck on my first day back.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

New Weekly Features Coming Soon

In an effort to increase my daily blogging I've created 2 NEW weekly features that will be coming soon!

Parent Teacher Conference (PTC) will feature some of  my favorite Parent and Teacher written blogs. Each week I'll choose one from each category and share them with you. I'll also use PTC to share idea's and methods of facilitating good communication skills between school and home. 

Teachers Tool Box Tuesday will feature DIY style posts on  how to create and implement everything from student work boxes, behavior plans, easy IEPs, classroom organization and structure, art and supplemental activities, and much more!

I hope you'll join me each week for these 2 NEW features coming soon! If there is enough interest, I'd be more than happy to open up a linky each week for you to join in and connect!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Starting with a Sketch

I've never been much of an artist and I'm not much of a doodler either, but when it comes to physical classroom structure I always start with a sketch. Last year I did it the old fashion way with paper and pencil but this year I got a little more "sophisticated" and used Microsoft Excel to help me. 

The first thing I do is measure the room, which is quite easy since the floor tiles are 1'x1' squares. This year my room is 23' x 20'. The following sketch is the room as is, without movable furniture. 

Here is the first sketch I had drawn up. When I inherited this room it came with 4 tables where the students sat for everything from work to lunch. I really wanted desks for the students instead of tables so I designed my room based on  desks. The area between the permanent dividers had been previously used as a quiet area for the kids, but I opted to make it another work station and intended to create an alternate quiet area in another area of the room. This design would also require me to obtain 2 move divider walls...which I planned on grabbing from my old classroom anyway. Oh-and it required the bulletin board to be removed. This design was based on having12 students. 

But as with all good plans comes bumps in the  road. I was unable to obtain desks in place of my tables from the school so I then had to redesign the room based on tables. This design also would require me to obtain 2 additional divider walls. This design was also based on having 12 students. 

And then I found out that I will have 14 students and I had to start planning from scratch. It actually worked out perfectly, and I decided to implement the TEACCH method in the design. I purchased 8 desks from IKEA (with my own money) and my husband helped me build 2 dividers for the room. This design also only required me to obtain one additional divider from my previous room as opposed to 2 for the other designs. 

So, I have implemented this sketch as my room design. There are a few pieces off missing furniture from this sketch such as the book bag cubbies, the lunch table area, and the shelves that hold work boxes, but this is the general idea. 

I'll be heading back in to the classroom this week to finish up the structure so that I can focus on curriculum design next week. Make sure to stop by next week to see pictures of the completed room and see how it all came together. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Three for Thursday

I'm not going to play by the rules today...but then again, I rarely do anyways.

Since I've never actually downloaded a font in my life I don't have a link to share. Instead, I'm going to share a video. This is my favorite Teacher song of all time and it makes me smile (and sometimes cry) when I hear it. I hope you enjoy.

**Side note: The video is larger than the width of my text area and it really bothers really bothers me. I'm a little OCD and I think it  looks sloppy when it overlaps on my page. But the  video is sooooo good I'm willing to grin and bare it just so you can enjoy the video too

Next, I really can't pick one teaching blog that I love so instead I'm sharing my favorite parent blog. This mom is rising twin boys who have Fragile X. Her honesty and outlook of life are inspiring and it helps me get a glimpse of what the parents of my students go through on a daily basis. I love reading her blog and she takes amazing photographs that capture her children beautifully. The blog is The Fragile X Files written by Bonnie.

And last but not least, my favorite on-line resource...I don't really have one. If I had to pick based on what site I go to for information and idea's then I'd have to say my favorite online resource is my Google Reader. Each morning I get up early and enjoy my morning coffee in front of the computer and browse all  the teacher blogs that I follow.

So there you have it,  Little Miss Rule Breaker participated. Don't be shy, leave me a comment, they make me happy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where it goes down Wednesday

Summer school (ESY) ended on Friday, August 5th which meant that on Monday, August 8th I headed to school to start prepping for the new school year...which doesn't start until September 12th. I know that sounds like an excessive amount of time, but considering I'm getting a NEW classroom with NEW kids, there is a lot to do.

On Day 1 I decided to shoot a little video of what I walked into...remnants of the previous teacher. 

After 2 weeks of cleaning I finally have my blank canvas to begin building on. It's still a GIANT work in progress. 

The room is no where near completion but it did get a good cleaning, all  the Velcro got  striped off the walls, the white board was removed, and the floors were given a thorough scrubbing.  In addition, I made final decisions about furniture and its placements.  Several sketches, 3 trips to IKEA, 1 trip to Lowes, and 2 trips to The Container Store I have all the items I need to start designing my curriculum and lesson plans. I'm a firm believer that you can't plan instruction if you don't know where the kids are going to sit and how the room is going to flow. 

I wish I had "after" photo's to share with everyone, but I still have 3 weeks left before the students return to school and I have a lot of work left to do. I hope you stop by again in a couple weeks to see the finished product. Until then, here's a little preview of something my husband has been helping me construct for my classroom....

Did I mention that my room only measures 23' x 20'???? How much space do you have to work with this year? Thanks for stopping by and Happy Hoppin'!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Teacher Talk Tuesday

Ten things they don't teach you in College 
Special Education Edition

10- how to teach a student how to blow their nose.(You can read the story behind this here)

9- how to control your gag reflex in response to the sights and smells of toilet training. I find that ripping off a piece of baby wipe and secretly putting it up my nostrils helps significantly. 

8- how to hold your lunch and eat it with one hand while feeding a student their lunch with your other hand- because most special education teachers don't get a lunch break. 

7- how not to laugh when you accidentally curse and then a student whose suppose to be non-verbal repeats it.

6- how to sing every task analysis to the tune of "If you're happy and you know it" because that's the only way the students learn. (see below for the lyrics of hand washing).

5- how you will spend more money on supplies and equipment for your classroom than you did on your entire college education.

4- how to resist the urge to conform to the other teachers and put a movie on in the classroom every Friday. (I've seen this happen with at least one teacher  at every  school I've taught at)

3- how to  manage your para-professionals who are anything but professional. I've had some of the best and some of the worst para's in my short teaching career thus far and I don't ever remember talking about them in college and the crucial role they play. I was a para before I became a teacher and think it should almost be mandatory that all special education teachers be one before the can teach.

2- how to cope when a student passes away...3 months into your first teaching job.(This is true and happened to me and I will never forget it)

1- how to mange both a professional and personal life at the same time.It's hard, but I seem to have the hang of it most of the time....but it took me a few years to find my balance. 

Lyrics to Hand Washing- sing to the tune of "If your happy and you know it"

If your happy and you know it turn on the water
If your happy and you know it turn on the water
If your happy and you know it then your hands will surely show it
If your happy and you know it turn on the water

If your happy and you know it get some soap
If your happy and you know it get some soap
If your happy and you know it then your hands will surely show it 
If your happy and you know it get some some

If your happy and you know it rub them together
If your happy and you know it rub them together
If your happy and you know it then your  hands will surely show it 
If your happy and you know it rub them together

If your happy and you know it rinse them off
If your happy and you know it rinse them off
If your happy and you know it then your hands will surely show it
If your happy and you know it rinse them off

If your happy and you know it dry them off
If your happy and you know it dry them off
If your happy and you know it then your hands will surely show it
If your happy and you know it dry  them off

Like all task analysis you can make then easier or harder depending on the needs of your student. For the student I had to sing this too I always had to finish with the REAL version of the song after he was done. 

Happy Teaching!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Teacher Week 2011

I'm happy to be joining in my first blog hop here at Classroom in the Corner

Welcome and enjoy! Classroom in the Corner is a new blog that I have started and I look forward to developing it further during this school year. 

You can read my post for Monday's topic, Meet the Teacher Monday by clicking here. And make sure to meet the other teachers by hopping over to our host at Blog Hoppin'

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Never too old to finger paint

That is the title I came up with for my art themed bulletin board for Open House Night at school. Here's a look at my finished board. 

A closer look at the signs...

Those are my hands. If I had planned ahead a little better than I would have had my students do the sign language letters, but I didn't think of this until well after 4 PM yesterday. 

I'm really pleased with the finger paint portrait that I did, it came out much better than I had envisioned. To bad I only had 1 parent show up for Open House Night. Oh well, I got the job done and I'm happy with it and at least my room is nice and SUPER clean again. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Music for Autism, 2nd California Concert


The Help Group and Music for Autism are proud to present the second autism-friendly interactive concert designed for young people with autism and their families.  Brad Ellis and Friends will perform place at The Help Group Autism Center Theater on Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 1:00pm and 3:00pm and is free of charge.

Brad Ellis is an American composer, musical director, orchestrator and jazz pianist. These days, Ellis is perhaps most visible as the quiet teacher/piano accompanist for the high school kids on Glee, the Fox television show for which he is part of the musical production team.

Photo Credit
Music for Autism offers professionally performed, enriching musical experiences in an environment where individual differences are celebrated.  All shows include “concert time”, “conducting time” and “percussion time” with provided instruments.  Concert goers will be free to leave their seats, to dance and explore the space.

To RSVP, please visit call 877-863-7473 x1.

Here is the video from the 1st Concert held in January of this year, it was a success!

I look forward to volunteering at this event and hope to see some of you there!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Distinguished Lecturer Series- Rudy Simone

The Help Group is pleased to announce that Rudy Simone, Asperger’s Syndrome Author & Consultant, Novelist and Screenwriter will be the first speaker in its 2011 Distinguished Lecturer Series.  Her presentation, Young Adults with Asperger’s or High-functioning Autism: Must-have Advice for Transitioning Successfully to Work and Adult Life, will take place on Thursday, February 24 at 6:30 p.m. at The Help Group’s Autism Center in Sherman Oaks. 

With Asperger’s education & awareness as her personal calling, Rudy Simone is the author of three highly-acclaimed books on the subject: Asperger’s on the Job: Must-Have Advice for People with Asperger’s or High Functioning Autism, and their Employers, Educators and Advocates with a foreword by Temple Grandin; Aspergirls: Empowering Females with Asperger Syndrome with a foreword by Liane Holliday Willey; and 22 Things a Woman Must Know if She Loves a Man with Asperger’s Syndrome. Rudy also penned “My Life with Puddleglum,” an essay published in the book Voices of Autism. Her books are known for cutting to the real issues facing people on the spectrum through research and her experiences living with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Ms. Simone is an engaging, informative and entertaining speaker. She promotes a ‘cultural exchange’: the understanding and acceptance of differences between the autistic and non-autistic populations as a way of getting people with Asperger’s Syndrome into work and into the world. Her goal is to help those with Asperger’s tap into their talents and special interests and fully engage with life without letting the challenges of autism prevent this from happening.

 Tickets are $25 for professionals and $10 for all other guests.  Guests can register at

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Music for Autism

Originally posted in February 2011 on Living & Loving in California

On Sunday, January 30th I was able to volunteer for an amazing new organization called Music for AutismThe Help Group opened the doors to their new Autism Center Theater to welcome the program to the school for it's first West Coast concert.

Music for Autism is a family and child friendly 3-part interactive concert. For this concert, violinists Searmi Parks and Sarah Thornbird of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra performed. The first part of the show is the "Concert" in which the artists play a few selections. The audience is encouraged to get up and dance, sing, and interact with the music. Then it's time for the "Conducting" portion of the show where the audience helps lead the musicians by using their arms to conduct. And finally, the show ends with the "Percussion" portion in which everyone in the audience gets a percussion instrument and plays along with the performers.

This was an amazing  experience to be a part of and I look forward to volunteering again in April when Music for Autism returns to The Help Group!

Click here for more information on Music for Autism
Click here for more information on The Help Group or you can find more information and pictures from the event on Facebook, just search 'The Help Group'. 

Teachable Moments

Originally posted in December 2010 at Living & Loving in California

As a teacher I make detailed lesson plans each week.

There are some lessons that I don't anticipate having to teach and therefore I am unprepared.

These unplanned lessons are what we call Teachable Moments. Some are hard. Some are easy and quick. And then some are just plain old funny.

Here is one of those Teachable Moments.

We celebrated 2 student birthdays at school on Friday. I always buy a cake for each student so they each feel special and I also buy a "back up" cake just in case I drop one or in case a student sticks their hand/face in it.

Our birthday routine is: we sing, they blow out candles, we eat cake. That's not quite the way it worked in my room on Friday.

Here I am singing 'Happy Birthday' and presenting the cake. 

And here I am 10 minutes later laughing because my kiddo doesn't know how to blow out a candle and I don't know how to teach it. This was my Teachable Moment. 

I'm laughing hysterically because I am in the process of teaching this particular student how to blow his nose...

So when I say, "1, 2, 3 Blow" the student proceeds to blow his nose...

without a tissue...

onto the cake. 

Another reason why I buy a "back up" cake. 

Have you experienced a teachable moment with your kids/ husband/ wife/ dog?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My Classroom, Part 2

This was originally posted in September 2010 at Living and Loving in California.

I thought I would start Pat 2 with a few definitions to help you understand the rational behind my room design and some of the terms I will be using. WARNING: This post is very long, I won't be offended if you just browse.

My students have Autism. Autism is defined by IDEA as a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child's educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. Autism falls on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) along with Asperger's and Persuasive Developmental Disorder NOS. My students fall on the severe end of ASD. Most of my students are non-verbal. One of our biggest goals in their education is to teach them alternate methods of communication whether it is through gestures, signs, pictures, or facial expressions. I have designed my classroom to meet my students needs and foster communication.

PECS- stands for Picture Exchange Communication System. It is a method of teaching communication skills to non-verbal students and helps students develop skills to initiate communication.

IEP- stands for Individualized Education Plan. When a student is diagnosed with a disability a team that includes parents, student, teachers, and service providers will write this document and create goals for the student and includes any modifications and adaptations to the curriculum needed.

Sensory- any form of input that stimulates a student. My students have a variety of sensory needs such as: dim lights, bright lights, and pressure to name a few. Students with Autism sometimes demonstrate behaviors such as 'hand flapping' or clapping, squinting their eyes, wearing head phones, rocking- this is their way of meeting their sensory needs.

CBI- stands for Community Based Instruction. Each week we go outside the classroom to a variety of locations in the community to practice the skills we lean in the classroom. For example- we go to the grocery store every week to buy our snack supplies- the kids help make the list, find items, pay, and bag the groceries. 

First, the general layout...

It looks similar to the 'before' picture but there are some keys changes. I made new curtains for the window. The old curtains did not cover the entire window and my students were frequently distracted by what was going on outside. I made them out of bed sheets- they are cream with blue and green polka dots. I also added this large blue floor rug. We have a 'Sensory' time in which students utilize the open space to walk around, sit on bean bags, and use the "sit n' spin". We turn the lights off and put music on and the students are able to fulfill their sensory needs with out restrictions. It is a very calming time for them and the open space is very freeing for them. If you were to come into my room during our Sensory time it kind of looks like a free for all, but it is one of the most enjoyable times for the students.

A few changes on the other side of the room include: The bulletin board was moved closer to the door and now serves as a Classroom Information board. Our classroom behavior plan, transportation plan, supervision and break schedule are posted there. Although I requested 2 of the 1/2 walls, I was only able to get 1 so I am still using the book shelf as a divider. It helps prevent students from darting out the door.

Students will be storing their book bags in the top portion of this cabinet. I made matching curtains for this cabinet but I forgot them at home today. All of the sensory items I mentioned above (bean bags, spinners) are kept in the bottom of the cabinet along with our social skills activities like games and puzzles.

I added 1" binders to the cabinets with Velcro. Inside the binders are picture icons of what is in the cabinets. If a student wants something out of the cabinet  they have to request it by handing or touching the corresponding picture to staff. This is just one step in the process of teaching communication and initiation skills. You will also notice that there are giant locks on the cabinets-this is so the students are forced to communicate what they want. The word "forced" sounds harsh, but it is essential that students learn how to make requests when the items they want are unavailable. Often, students want things that are unavailable to them and they don't know how to communicate their wants- for instance, if a student eats at a restaurant and needs ketchup but can not verbally request it they may become frustrated. If they have been taught to use picture communication they can find the picture of ketchup in their portable binder and give it to a waitress.
Does that make sense? It's hard to explain.

Now, for the pride and joy of my classroom...

You may have noticed already, but all of the other walls are almost completely bare except this one. Why you may ask? My students are highly distractable. Since this is the only visually stimuli in the room, they are forced to focus on this rather than random wall decorations. Once they get the hang of using this system I will slowly add in distractors on the walls.

This is a brand new system for our classroom, and I am very excited about it. Let me show you all the components and how it works.

This is our visual schedule. It includes both written words and picture icons for each activity. In addition, you'll notice that some of the strips are colored and I'll show you why in a minute. There are 2 arrows, one is green and says "First" and the other is red and says "Then". These arrows move down the schedule as the day goes on and helps students visually understand, plan, and prepare for changes in activities. Students transition much smoother when they can see what is coming next and have a chance to prepare and participate in the change.
In addition to the visual cues for change and transition, some students need auditory cues. This timer is secured to the wall and is like a large egg timer- each time we transition to the next activity we set the timer for 30 minutes-when the timer goes off students know that it's time to transition.
I use this calender to write down major changes in schedule or events. For instance, next week we will be going on CBI to Ralphs. I will write it on the calender and put a corresponding picture icon so that students can prepare themselves for the trip and change in our typical schedule. It also gives the students something to work for...they love going out into the community but they also know they have to earn it.
Each student has a folder which contains my data collection sheets and notes. They are easy access so that if I need to grab a folder to call a parent, collect data,  go to an IEP meeting or if a student is being observed by a service provider they can get a glimpse at the students progress.
Each student has educational goals related to functional reading, functional math, vocation, and so on. Their goals are posted above the wok station as a quick reference guide for staff and service providers.

This is the newest addition to the room. It is our work station. The boxes contain a variety activities that correspond to the students IEP goals. For example- if a student has a goal of counting tangible items up to 10 then they could use Box # 3 which contains pegs OR Box # 13 which contain plastic lady bugs OR Box # 4 that contains plastic coins. There are multiple boxes for each goal so that students get to use a variety of materials and are able to generalize the skills.

This work station directly corresponds with each students Communication Binder.
I'll show you.
Each student has a communication notebook. "My Schedule" indicates which activity they are currently working on. Also inside each book is a page of reinforcers- things the students want to work for and earn. Reinforcers can be anything from a break, soda, hug, walk, sit on bean bag, coloring book, chips, etc. Before each work session, students choose what they want to work for and place that picture on the front of the notebook where it says, "I am working for"

If you go back and look at the schedule that was posted on the wall you'll notice that the "Functional Reading" schedule strip was green-like this one. The academic periods (Functional Reading, Functional Math, and Vocation) are all strips and each contain any where from 1-3 box numbers. Students must locate the correct strip and then find their box #'s at the work station. They get their box, complete or work on it and then put the box back. Once they complete a box they move that box # to the bottom under where it says "I am working for".

Once a student completes all their assigned boxes and the numbers are at the bottom, the student will receive their reinforcer. This process is repeated for each academic area. When working on a non-box activity such as Art, students still choose a reinforcer, but they earn star icons for good behavior like staying seated, sharing, and participating.

I am very excited to put this system into use. I experimented with something similar over the summer, so I think this will be successful. If it doesn't, I will re-evaluate and re-invent it again. The best part of the system is that it is adaptable to every ability level but it is still cohesive.

If you read this far...THANK YOU! I have truly enjoyed creating my classroom and sharing it with you. If you would like further information on Autism or strategies for teaching students with severe disabilities, please feel free to ask. I am not an expert by any means, but I am willing to help any way I can.
Teaching these students is my dream job and I am dedicated to their success...even if it means spends nights and weekends working on THEIR classroom.

My Classroom, Part 1

This was originally post in September 2010 at Living and Loving in  California

I have been very busy this week working on my classroom and getting ready for my kid's to come back. The process of transforming my classroom has taken months. I began working at this school in February of this year. When I "inherited" my classroom I noticed that it had been lacking some good old TLC. It was physically dirty and the "stuff" that was in the room was mostly broken, incomplete, or inappropriate for the students. So, the transformation began. I wish I had taken a photo of it on my first day so you could truly see the progress. I stayed at school until 7-8 PM each night for the first 2 weeks just working on the physical cleaning of the room. Then, I went in during Spring Break and began de-cluttering. By the end of the school year I had cleared the room of the broken/ incomplete/ inappropriate materials. Over the summer I completed the cleaning/ de-cluttering process and created a blank slate for me to work on this week.

These BEFORE photo's were taken on Wednesday, September 1st.

My students are highly distractable, so I created work stations around the edges of the classroom to reduce the number of distractions around them. When I originally came to this classroom, there was a group of desks in the middle and the kids on the edges were distracted by the middle group and the middle group was distracted by the groups on the edges. My desk was in that far corner so I moved it out to it's current location and moved the "middle group" into the corner. Also, the students in the middle were constantly getting out of their seats and I felt like I spent my day walking around in a circle re-directing them to sit down instead of working on their academics.

This wall originally had a HUGE bulletin board hanging on it, but I had it removed because it wasn't functional for our classroom needs. This unit with doors is actually "cubbies" where my kids keep their backpacks. However, my kids are pretty big, hence their back packs are pretty big as well. I tipped the cubbie unit on it's side and will be using it for another purpose. The box on the chair are NEW teaching materials! I was super excited when I received it. They are all complete and functional for my kids!

I made a request for 2 additional 1/2 wall dividers for this side of the room. I had to improvise and use book shelves for now. The book shelves are empty primarily because the books that we did have were not age appropriate and were more of a distraction than an educational aid.

My classroom is not lacking storage. Unfortunately, these cabinets were jam packed with stuff when I arrived and when the kids would open them the stuff would literally fall out of them. Also, the bulletin board that is hanging on the wall is too close to my kids and I had to re-paper it least once a week because they would rip it.

So, I worked on setting up my room on September 1st, 2nd, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th. Yes, September 6th was Labor Day and I went into work. I stayed until 5-8PM each night because during the day we had a lot of mandatory trainings and meetings this week. I am on my way back to school now to put a few last minutes touches together and to take the AFTER photo's.

I'm so excited! Even though I know I have prepared and put 100% into my room, I am also nervous. Teachers get first day jitters too. 
 Please stop by again later tonight to see my finished classroom.