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.


  1. You are very organized... I guess you have to be! I really like your schedule with the times and arrows. That would be great for any classroom! Thanks for sharing!

    Colleen Patton
    Mrs. Patton’s Patch

  2. I loved reading this!! Very cool! What do you do during vocations?

  3. I am teaching an autism classroom for the first time this year - I would love to know more about what you do during the different times on your schedule, such as vocations, functional reading, etc.

  4. I love your work box idea. I would love to know how it worked out during the school year. Also on your communication notebooks how do these get set up everyday? Does the student have a place to grab the icons from or is the notebook set up each day for the student ahead of time. I noticed the I am working on was the first page but was not sure where they pulled the icons from to know what to put on the first page. Thanks