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!!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

It's that time of year... Here's to planning for next year's class!

Clearly by now you get that I'm a bit obsessive and a total over planner (in my professional life only, most of my family & friends are probably having a pretty good laugh at that statement!) and planning for incoming students is pretty much that times about 1,000...

Here's the thing: Working with students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is hard (absolutely amazing, but hard). There is SO much to discover about each student, including finding out their mode of communication, preferences, patterns of maladaptive behavior as well as environmental triggers, and of course, identifying existing and missing skills and effective teaching strategies! Given that your student is likely to have communication challenges, it also takes quite a bit of work to get all that information. It could either take you a year of trial and error or you could do some leg work before the student is in your classroom and get ahead of the game!

I probably also don't need to remind you how challenging it can be for our students to adapt to changes to their routines and adapting to new environments... Again, preparation really is the key here. If the student knows about the change (and I mean repeated exposure to detailed information, timelines, pictures/videos, etc.) and has been exposed to the new environment, classmates, and teachers (try to set up some really positive experiences with these environments and individuals) then you have really covered all your bases.

I go into a lot more detail on some of the strategies for obtaining necessary information and preparing students as well as staff for success in one of my new TPT products (New Student Profile). Click the following link for a free preview of the product: Transition Guidelines Freebie

One final tip:
Speaking with previous teachers, therapists, behaviorists, etc. is a great way to get some initial information about a student. However, nothing is a replacement for seeing and working with that student yourself. Every teacher has their own approach, and (lets face it) their own biases and opinions. When possible, ask for graphs or evidence to support what others are saying. For example, if a teacher/therapist reports serious behavioral challenges with your student, ask for not only details and examples, but numbers and facts (e.g., Can I see the behavior graphs?, Are there injury logs & reports?, What did the functional assessment show?, Can I review the behavior plan?, How long has this plan been in place, any modifications?, etc.) Look: you don't want this to turn into an interrogation, and you want to maintain a positive relationship with this service provider, so try to keep any judgement or opinions about the information you are given. Remember, the student will be in your program soon enough where you can do your own assessments and make any changes you feel the student will benefit from (not just one's that don't reflect your own style), so don't stress over the past, just use it to benefit your future instruction with this student.

Good luck and happy planning everyone :)

Below are some transition related resources up on my My TPT Page:

Saturday, March 1, 2014

What's so funny? Here's my blog on teaching humor and joke telling to literal learners.

"Knock knock."
"Who's there?"
"Horse who?"
"A horse who is looking for someone to feed him."

Sound familiar? I have a student with a lot of language skills who seeks out attention through basically everything he does. He recently discovered joke telling (which I was attempting to teach a different student) and LOVES that he can make the communication partner laugh. He also laughs hysterically with them even if he can't explain/doesn't understand why/how the joke is funny (which as a teacher I want to fix, but as a person I think is absolutely adorable). Anyway, after a few days of reading scripted jokes which he had some trouble memorizing, my student started making up his own jokes (amazing)! The joke above is a regular one in his rotation. So we have some work to do but the good news is he is HIGHLY motivated!

There are many challenges in teaching learners with cognitive, communication, and social delays about humor and how to deliver a joke. Let's break it down:

Joke Delivery:
1. Taking conversational turns - this is a BIG one. It is also especially hard when your student is using any type of textual cue for a joke script.  Your student asks and answers the questions in the joke (no participation opportunity for the communicative partner) example: Student says "Why do bicycles fall over? I don't know. Because they are two-tired" while communication partner stands and waits for an opportunity to talk (or more likely while a teacher or instructional aide desperately try to stop him from speaking and to give the other person a turn!)

       Initial thoughts: Check for prerequisite skills. Does your student know how to have any type of   
       reciprocal conversation? Or is it the general back and forth that is challenging? If this is the case,
       you should start to target taking conversational turns in general (which could take on a similar
       approach to what is described below). Note - This doesn't mean that your student should not still
       work on joke telling at this point, but recognize what the challenge is and make sure that your
       initial focus is on conversational turn taking and that joke telling may be just one of many ways
       you target the skill.
       One idea for tackling this challenge:

    •  If using text cues for teaching the joke phrases while also teaching joke delivery skills, use index cards (or some other small cards) so each part of the joke conversation can be placed on one card. *It may also help to add in turn taking cards or turn taking labels onto the joke cards as well as to teach the student to pass the cards back and forth when it says a certain person's name. This can be very effective since the student is learning not just to pause, but is getting repeated practice of waiting until the communication partner makes a guess or says he doesn't know before delivering the answer. Otherwise your student may have trouble determining how long to wait before saying something. (A more complex delivery skill would be to teach your student to ask again or say something like "Do you know?", "Do you have a guess?", "Do you give up?" etc. if the other person is taking too long. We are NOT there yet, give your student some time to get the basics down first!)
      • Example: Card #1: John's turn, Card #2: "Why do bicycles fall over?", Card #3: Mr. Smith's turn (John should hand the set of cards to Mr. Smith), Card #4: Make a guess or say "I don't know.", Card #5: John's turn (Mr. Smith passes the cards back to John, pairing a vocal response from the communication partner with the opportunity to give the answer), Card #6: "Because they are two tired."
        • Just an aside: Adding in the turn taking cards may really benefit your student. It may also bring up some fun new challenges, like teaching your student NOT to read them. You really want to curb this immediately if he/she begins to do so. As you know with repeated practice these types of errors can quickly become an embedded part of their response forever and what was cute/funny in your classroom will not be as socially acceptable in other settings. You may even want to use pictures or put the John's/whoever's turn cards in a different font, color, or put them in parenthesis while the other cards are all in quotation marks just to show the student that they are NOT read aloud.
2. Responding to unscripted responses from the communication partner. In the example above I noted that on Card #6 there is no varied response based on the response from his partner on Card #4. Here's the thing.. If the person guesses incorrectly or says "I don't know," your student should deliver the answer either way. The tricky part? What if they are correct?! If you are teaching joke telling in a systematic way, then build this into your skill acquisition program:
  • Step #1 could be to teach the student how to deliver the joke when the communication partner says "I don't know."
  • Step #2 could be to teach the student how to deliver the joke when the communication partner makes an incorrect guess.
  • Step #3 could be a combination of steps 1 & 2, teaching the student to respond to varied responses in the same manner.
  • Step #4 could be to teach the student how to deliver the joke when the communication partner makes a correct guess.
  • Step #5 could be a combination of steps 1, 2 & 4: Teaching the student to discriminate between and respond appropriately to varied responses.
  • Step #6 could be to teach the student how to deliver the joke when the communication partner makes a guess which is close but not exactly correct.
  • Step #7 could be a combination of steps 1, 2, 4 & 6: Teaching the student to discriminate between and respond appropriately to varied responses.
  • Note: You may not need to break this skill down so far for some learners, even further for others, etc. You also may decide that only certain steps are necessary or appropriate for your learner. Is it the end of the world for the student to still deliver the punchline even if the communication partner already guessed it correctly? Not at all. Decide what works and is appropriate for your learner and deliver your instruction based upon those needs. 
 3. Vocal pacing and intonation. *This is much more complex and general skill deficit in the area of expressive language. Use of pacing boards, speaking fluency drills, etc. could be helpful for pacing while visual cues (such as making some words physically bigger or smaller) could help with teaching the student which words receive emphasis or enlarged punctuation and specific instruction on how your word should sound in coordination with that punctuation mark may be appropriate. These are just some very basic and general thoughts on a broad area of instruction so I would suggest breaking down these skill deficits (perhaps speak with your speech and language pathologist for ideas) and teaching them explicitly. Note: Again, this activity of joke telling could be an appropriate practice opportunity for your student to work on those skills, but it should be just one of many.

Joke Comprehension:
This can be very tricky. While it isn't totally essential that your student understand the joke for the interaction to take place, if you want the interaction to be more meaningful and for your student to make more connections, it really should be a focus as well. I've struggled here. Throwing more language at my students after their joke delivery (when they're mid-way poised to turn and walk away since the joke is finished for them!) of "Oh get it, 2 tires and too tired haha!" really isn't cutting it. Well I, like many teachers, spend quite a bit of time browsing around on Teachers Pay Teachers and recently found a very cute joke-telling product by Speech2U. (For anyone who is interested, the product is Flip Flap Knock Knock Jokes: Humor and Social skills) It's a visual knock-knock joke set up which can help with the pacing and turn taking component skills I discussed above, but what I LOVE is the visual explanation card she created. You could sit down and go through various jokes with your student reviewing what "The joke said" vs what it "Sounds like" to determine why/how it is funny. I am excited to try this out with my students and see how it goes! I'm planning to do this in a group setting, put it up on the SmartBoard provide visuals for the whole joke (or have my boys display their fantastic artistic skills) and break it down that way.

Has anyone else had success teaching joke telling and comprehension? If so PLEASE share!!

Have a wonderful and relaxing weekend everyone!

P.S. Just a little side note/tangent: When first working on new communication and social skills, at least ONE of the partners needs to be proficient in the skill. I always cringe when two of my students who struggle with the same social skills try to navigate a conversation together. I am NOT suggesting that the students should not be interacting, but that the conversations should be more structured and clear. Have them talk with a third party who can help to translate and lead the conversation. Why is this such a hot topic for me? I have a lot of concerns about embedding errors and the long term impact of poor practice opportunities on the student's communicative and social skills...  With the expansive and lasting impact that poor communication and social skills has on your student's whole life, give them the best chance of making significant gains by providing quality instruction and successful practice opportunities whenever possible.