Thursday, May 19, 2016

Staff Training: Building Student Independence and Using Non-Verbal Prompting Strategies

Ever get to that point in the year where you see and hear WAYYYYY too much verbal prompting and over prompting in general? That's where I'm at right now. And with only 4 1/2 weeks left of school and a BILLION deadlines looming (and a few that passed...which I sadly did not meet) the last thing on my mind is stopping everything for some staff training. Well that attitude was clearly getting me no where and cringing is unfortunately not an effective method of delivering feedback SO I bit the bullet and wrote up some new guidelines which I have just started reviewing in my class.

Our first training took place this afternoon during our built in meeting time (we get 15 minutes every day which is both never enough and a total lifesaver) and it was mostly an introduction. We started off addressing issues related to independence for our kids, especially as they are growing older and the absolute necessity to get the most out of their last few years of intensive support and instruction. 

Here are some of the common issues I run into and I have seen others run into over the years:

  • Stopping yourself from wanting to help someone with a disability. I think this is hard for everyone. Parents and other family members included. This child has limitations, how can I just let them struggle. I actually think it is often NOT a conscious decision someone is making, but either way it happens. Addressing it head on, discussing how much MORE important it is to focus on independence for someone with a disability is truly essential.
  • Figuring out when students are asking for help and truly need it vs times when students are trying to get you to do things for them that they are perfectly capable of doing. Guess what, you probably have at least one kid in your class who cons you into cutting his food, tying her shoes, zipping his coat, etc. who actually 100% can do that on their own. Yet, language use is so important and so not responding to a request for help is tricky for all of us! Find the balance, learn to address the request while encouraging attempts (e.g., you try first, then I can help) whenever appropriate can be a good first step here.
  • Learning to take a passive role in a child's education. For many of us working in specialized programs, we get very used to the high levels of support our kids need. And we really don't know what to do with ourselves when they become independent. Learning to monitor is so important, be sure to focus on this with your staff!
  • I am the first to admit that I too struggle finding the line between trying to avoid and eliminate errors and prompting too soon, it is not easy. However, if you have seen the student demonstrate the skill in the past it is a bit easier and proving a slightly longer "attempt" window is appropriate.
I won't go through the whole training (you can download it below), but one thing I want to touch on is this: Re-frame the way you think about prompting. Don't become fearful of providing necessary assistance. Do ALWAYS think about how you will fade out and how quickly you can do so.

-Consider how different types of prompts impact independence – would you consider a student who needs someone to stand in the bathroom and tell them what to do for every step of showering themselves to be independent? What about a student who needed a laminated visual schedule in the shower? If neither is truly independent, which is the least intrusive?

Now... Non-verbal prompts. I think this goes hand in hand with allowing for and pushing for independence. Nothing makes me cringe more than hearing a verbal play by play of every step in a chain once the initial direction is already given. I've heard myself do it before and had to bite my tongue. We know NOT to do this and yet sometimes it just seems to be the simplest route. Here's my current frame of mind on the matter. If you're in a situation with a learner who: 1 - cannot read an impromptu written schedule for a new task, 2 - cannot imitate or follow a live staff/peer model, 3 - doesn't respond well to physical guidance or other prompts are not effective at avoiding errors AND 4 - the student can understand the language you are using, by all means, in the moment use verbal prompts and then before the next opportunity take some time to develop supports which allow the student to succeed without them. If all of those things aren't true, verbal prompts are not an appropriate method of instruction. This may seem extreme, however having seen how difficult it can be to fade out those prompts, I think we really need to consider what we are doing when we use them. Is it terrible to do occasionally? No, but it shouldn't be a long term instructional technique. And it shouldn't be your go to strategy all the time.

I include a LOT classroom specific examples in my trainings, as well as examples of times when I have done both the right and wrong thing. We really have to see value and relatable-ness (clearly not a word!) in the skills we as teachers are learning, this is the same for classroom support staff and therapists. Best of luck moving your staff in this direction and pushing for your students to be more independent. As always do not hesitate to email me with any questions:

You can download an editable version of the handout I made for my staff here.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

What is Meaningful and Successful Participation in the Community? (A Brief Overview)

A few months back I had the chance to do some in district parent training on success in the community and promised to share the slides with you all (sorry for the delay!) so here it is! I may try at a future date to do a more in depth series on community instruction and building success. If there are any specific areas you are all looking for help with please reach out on the blog or email me at

The main areas covered in the training are: 
(Keep in mind this is a HUGE topic and I could literally talk about it for days. And days. So many areas were an overview and a lot of individual details and discussions came up during the training.)

1. Safety & Preparedness


2. Readiness Skills

3. Strategies for Success

4. Defining Success

5. Final Tips & Reminders

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Planning for Maternity Leave!!

So I possibly mentioned my upcoming maternity leave (possibly the worst time ever to be absent...I'll be missing the first 4 weeks of school!) which is giving me massive anxiety. However, that's life and I'm trying to set up my class for success in my absence.

Here is Part 1 of my maternity leave plans:
Week-by-week sub plans for getting back into routines, coordinating with therapists for schedule information rotation of morning group activities & special Back to School activities.
The main focus of September is usually:
1.Getting students used to changes to our schedules, routines & staffing.
   a. Schedule changes & social stories about the new year changes & my maternity leave will be reviewed on the first day (and again as needed). The new monthly calendar will be set up & discussed so students have a general idea of what's happening day to day.
2. Getting student behaviors back under control (if they aren't already) by re-establishing behavioral expectations and re-pairing the environment & staff (old & new) with reinforcement (using higher than normal rates of reinforcement to show the students their good behavior and efforts in the classroom is worthwhile, then gradually moving back to their typical reinforcement schedules).
3. Dealing with administrative Back to School needs like having forms returned, medical supplies sent in, lunch plans set up (especially for students with free & reduced lunch plans), etc.



Stay tuned in for upcoming posts about our schedule & structure of our September instructional sessions. Best of luck planning for September everyone!!

In the meantime, check out these resources for more clear guidelines on some of the morning group activities we will be working on.
Morning Group Activities: Weather Group Plans & Materials & Calendar Group Plans & Materials
Back to School Forms & Activities: Back to School Forms (FREEBIE)  & Back to School Mini Books

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Student Data Books: Getting Organized!!

(So this is take two on this blog post... started it on my phone, when to look something up real fast and lost it. Oh well, Take a Deep Breath Tuesday continues!!)

This year I completely revamped and reorganized my system for data collection, which brought with it new formatted programs, data sheets and a MUCH better organizational system that makes instruction SO much easier! Including myself, there are 4 staff members in my classroom running programs on any given day at any given time. That means we need a clear-cut & simple system that we can use efficiently so our main focus is student learning!

Create what works for you and your classroom. I do NOT have all of my data in this book, this is primarily academics and language skills. Other skills which most/all students are working on that take place in a very specific location (such as hygiene, typing, vocational work tasks) are organized in their own binders with each students' current goals, data sheets & materials are set up inside - again, whatever is the simplest way to make everything clear and accessible is absolutely the way to go!

I have to give a shout out to Miss. Meghan, a colleague of time, who used this fantastic organizer & some neat tricks to make them last longer & be completely re-usable time and time again (you'll see how below!) for her skill acquisition programs: This is what I'm talking about (also available at other stores that sell office supplies such as Walmart, possibly Target, etc.): Avery Extra-Wide Table of Contents Tab Dividers 1-10

 So first things first - cute binder covers & spine labels with student names so all staff can quickly identify and grab what they need (I even have one student who will look at the schedule, see that he is working with me, see which classmates are also working with us and will grab all the books to get ready!)

When you open the binders, the first thing you'll see is: A list of IEP goals, baseline scores, dates the programs were initiated & mastery or discontinuation dates, assessments & assessment data, my notes, etc. Just a little section all for me :)

Here's the table of contents divider set in action! I have mine laminated so I can easily write on and erase them using dry erase markers & then the table of contents is placed in a page protector so the writing doesn't get wiped off until I'm ready (again, thanks Meg, you're 100% my organizational guru!).
Note: This particular student has a lot of goals in a lot of different areas, so I have grouped them together in a way I felt made the most sense. For that reason when you flip to a certain #'d divider you will see multiple goals. Ideally, there would only be one goal per divider, however who would I be if I didn't have to be flexible & learn to adapt to meet the ever-changing needs of my kids??

Next: I included a binder pocket for storing bulkier materials. I only put things in here temporarily (if they are shared/communal materials) or things which only that one student is working on. 
Note: I have a different storage place for communal materials so that we can all locate & share the materials easily.

Once you flip to the next page, you'll find the numbered dividers, which, again, make it super easy to find what you need and fast!
Flip to the divider you're looking for here is what you will find:
1. A skill acquisition program
2. A data sheet
3. Materials (whenever possible!)

The data collecting continues in the next section. Here you will find all of my curriculum checklists, updated regularly for the student. 
(Behind the checklists I have acquired programs, still working on some of the organization in the back of these binders, but hey - we are a work in progress!)

I hope you find this helpful & please share your tips for organization, I'm always looking for ways to improve my organization & efficiency!

Monday, March 9, 2015

NEW Comprehensive Typing Skills Resource

Hey All!

It's certainly been a while. Just wanted to show you what I've been up to!
So this year my goal has been to get so completely organized that I blow my own mind. Clearly that has not yet happened, however I have been doing some helpful things for my classroom. One has been developing this comprehensive Typing Skills Resource (soon to be available on my TPT Store).
One of the main areas my instructional aides have been working with my students this year is on their typing goals. The great thing about this is the skills are very clear-cut. Either the student did or did not perform the skill accurately and independently which takes out all the guess work.

Since my students are all performing at very different levels for this skill set (like most others!!), making materials little by little has been putting us pretty far behind. So I finally buckled down and got to work. I set up a separate Curriculum Checklist just for typing skills (which includes 44 skills!), wrote a sample program for each skill (that can be tailored to the needs of any individual student), made up custom data sheets (where needed, some skills will use a more generic form, whereas rate building and chain programs may have their own data form) and created all the materials I needed to really get these skills the intensive practice they need for mastery (which includes typing models & computer files as well as visual aids for instruction & for a quick reference for your instructional aides).

Below is a quick glance at what my binder looks like set up in my class. This set-up may not work for everyone, however I like that things are all in one place so that multiple instructors can find them when needed.
First I set up the dividers: Student Data (All data sheets for current goals are located in this section, flip to the student's initials & you can see exactly what they need to do for the day.

Here is a sample data sheet for one of my guys. He is working on different punctuation marks (multiple sets are running at once for this particular student). Data is recorded for each of the punctuation marks he is working on so I can see what's happening and where the trouble areas are (as well as strengths!) to make fast & data-based decisions about what to do. 

The second divider holds blank copies of data sheets. For the time being I only have the two most commonly used data sheets in this section. For more specific skills, the data sheets can be found with that program. 

Rate Building Data Sheet

General Discrete Trial Instruction (DTI) Data Sheet

Section 3: Programs and Materials. Each Skill area is separated by a labeled divider (see Skill Area 3 Divider Below). Following the divider, the programs are placed in the same order as listed on the divider and each skill is followed immediately by the instructional materials needed to teach it. 

Small materials are cut out, laminated & placed into labeled baggies. 
All of the baggies of materials for one skill are placed into a single page protector. 

 Larger materials are placed into their own page protector. So that it was easier for staff to find & less confusing for students (if a text box is on the typing page, it is pretty likely that the students will think they are supposed to type it & teaching them to ignore certain parts of a model they are supposed to follow is a tricky thing... you wouldn't want the student to start (on their own) deciding that they are not going to type certain things!) I put the label on the front of the page protector & placed the model in the back. When it comes time to work on the skill, the aide will located the page protector, take the page out, bring it to the computer and the student is all set!

So keep an eye out for this resource within the next week or so as it is just being finalized with some custom clip art from my favorite artist: Brian Bolanowski, my extremely talented brother.

Feel free to email me with any questions at

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Back to School Night!!!

This year I feel SO much more prepared for Back to School Night at my school. Last year around this time I was still super overwhelmed setting up my new program, learning my kids, trying to train and support my aides, etc. Though I had provided parents with schedules, copies of current goals and some general information about the classroom, we flew through all my planned discussions and introductions pretty fast and the rest of the night was fairly disorganized. Not to worry, we had lots of productive things to talk about like being in HS, planning for the future, getting services through the state, etc. I don't feel that I did enough to really explain what was happening on a daily basis, how that can relate to what is happening at home and how we can work together to have each student succeed in both environments.
So this year I set up a powerpoint that will help keep us focused and on topic AND am planning a little surprise for the parents. My students will be planning & baking a special treat (to be determined during tomorrow's morning group!!) for their parents. I'll be taking photos and showing examples of the visuals we used to prepare the treats as well as showing parents all the skills we were able to target during this lesson!
Take a look below to see what I'm including in my powerpoint! Best of luck everyone, I hope you all have a great Back to School Night this year & set the stage for a great parent-teacher partnership this year!


All fonts used from KG Fonts

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lacking Motivation? The true meaning & methods behind our most powerful tool: REINFORCEMENT!

Conducting Preference Assessments:

Why conduct preference assessments?
Here’s the thing… if you have ever tried to make a change in your student’s behavior WITHOUT having a powerful reinforcer, you know that is a lot harder and a lot less effective than if you had something the student REALLY wanted! Well, the reason it wasn’t working is that it was not actually a reinforcer. What if the “reinforcer” for all the work you put in to help your students during the school day, after school, on the weekend, etc. (let’s be real, teachers work HARD!) was a smiley face sticker (I mean ONLY a smiley face sticker. In place of your paycheck…). Would you keep doing it? Mayyyybe not.

In the field of Applied Behavior Analysis, the term “reinforcer” is used only for items, activities or other rewards which increase the likelihood of a behavior happening again in the future. So if you want to know if it’s truly a reinforcer – look for the behavioral change!

The best starting place? Find things your student really likes by conducting preference assessments! Once you get through this first step, you can begin to observe and assess whether or not providing this item/reward to the student for engaging in a desired behavior (or the absence of an undesired behavior) causes an increase in those desired behaviors (or an increase in the amount of time the undesired behavior is absent).

 Ok so where do I start?
1.     Develop a list of potential reinforcers.
o   Observe your student throughout the day.
§ Check to see what items the student gravitates towards:
·         Watch to see the types of objects your student is interested in (e.g., things that are wet vs. dry, big vs. small, colorful vs. black and white, types of textures, smells, and other features, etc.)
Now think about whether these items/activities are appropriate as rewards, if not consider different items or activities you could provide the student which are more appropriate (e.g., playing with glue may not be appropriate, but applying body lotion may serve as a replacement for this).

§ Look at the types of behaviors your student engages in:
·         Watch to see how your student manipulates items (e.g., spinning, smelling, rubbing on parts of own body, holding up to light or to own eyes, etc.)
Now think about whether these activities are appropriate as rewards, if not consider different items or activities you could provide the student which are more appropriate (e.g., if the student is interested in smelling materials or individuals, a sensory box with various different scented items could work – try bottles of oils, different spices, scented stickers, etc.).
o   Ask your student’s parents:
§ Parents are always an invaluable resource when getting to know your student. Check in with them, perhaps sending a survey home to find out the types of things their child spends most of his/her time doing, is interested in, seeks out at home, in stores, etc. 
§ While you’re on the subject, find out what kinds of restrictions the student has. Some parents may not want edible reinforcers used (or only in smaller quantities, less frequently, only healthier options, etc.), there may be food allergies, perhaps your student will ingest dangerous substances when playing with specific toys, etc. 
o   Ask your student!
§ For students with higher verbal abilities, simply asking may be effective, for students who do not express their interests as well, having them sample things in their environment, exposing them to items in different environments, or perhaps bringing them to a store and looking to see what items they gravitate towards.

2.    Conduct your preference assessments.
o   Create a list of all possible items. Split the list into edible vs non-edible items, you will want to assess these separately. If it is a very long list, you can split them up into multiple lists, then take the top few items from each and assess together.
o   There are two types of preference assessments covered in this resource, though these are not the only types out there. If you’re interested in finding out about other options, feel free to reach out to me or consult some other Autism/Applied Behavior Analysis resources! These are the two I use most often with my students which I have found provide helpful results and are fairly simple to administer and assess.
o   Multiple Stimulus Without Replacement (MSWO):
§ In this preference assessment, you are providing the student with various items and allowing him/her to select an item, once it is selected the item is removed (not replaced), then the student will select from the remaining items until all have been chosen or the student stops selecting items altogether. 
o   Paired Choice:
§ In this preference assessment, you are providing the student with two items from your list (by the end of the assessment every item will have been paired with all other items once) and ask the student to select one. 

3.    Analyze your data (after you have repeated your preference assessment for a second time, on another day, to see if the results are consistent). Review your data and look to see which items are selected most often and in what sequence. The items which are chosen first in the MSWO or which are selected regardless of the pairing most often in the Paired Choice assessment are the ones you want to use to create behavioral change (when I refer to behavioral change I don’t just mean reducing challenging or inappropriate behaviors, but also increasing skill performance!)

4.    Test it out – start using those rewards and see what happens!

Check out my Behavior Data Resource for more on this subject. The resource includes specific instructions for setting up your MSWO or Paired Choice preference assessments, a sample parent survey, editable & PDF data sheets for each assessment, as well as resources for daily behavior data collection, ABC data collection, etc.

Best of luck to you and your students!!