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Standards Based Centers

In Utah, we are required to teach grade level content based on the Essential Elements. The Essential Elements are alternative standards based on the Common Core standards designed specifically for students with significant disabilities. Special education teachers are expected to teach each of the grade level standards to each student. That’s a pretty high expectation and requires a lot of organization and planning! How are you supposed to teach 20+ academic standards along with IEP goals, not to mention all the other things you are responsible for each day?!


Podcasts for Special Educators

I’ve been loving podcasts lately! Listening to them as I get ready in the morning gets my brain out of sleep mode and slowly helps me transition to thinking about work, without overwhelming myself with my daily to do list. Today I’m sharing 5 of my favorite podcasts. I challenge you to check out one of them this week and let me know what you think!


Valentine's Day Gift Exchange

I love doing a Valentine's Day gift exchange with my middle school class! It's such a fun way to work on functional skills, like making a purchase, thinking about others' interests, manners, and appropriate behavior in the community. I am lucky to work just down the street from a dollar store so every Valentine's Day, we walk down to the store and my students buy a gift for a classmate. Then, we wrap them up and do a gift exchange. So fun, and so much more age appropriate than decorating Valentine mailboxes!

{FREE} Transition Resources for Special Educators

Special education laws require us to begin transition planning when before students turn 16 years old. In many states, it's when they are 14. So middle school and high school teachers, that's you! This is a huge responsibility. We know that the earlier we begin to work on transition planning with our students and their families, the better off they will be when they leave the school system- the more likely they are to gain employment, participate in post-secondary education, live independently, or be able to access the community.

Writing With An Alternative Pencil

Let's talk about writing. Students learn about writing by writing. That means we have to let them write. If they can't hold a pencil to write, then we provide them an alternative tool, or an alternative pencil.

You may have seen the alternative pencil flip charts. You can get one for free here. But an alternative pencil can be anything that allows a student to write. I want to share how I use alternative pencils in my classroom for whole class writing prompts. Each day, I introduce a writing topic. As a class, we brainstorm words that are related to the topic that we could use to write. Then, my paras and I assist my students in writing about the topic, using alternative pencils. I have one student who uses a flip chart, one student who uses a keyboard, and one student who uses letter flash cards and yes/no icons. The rest of my students use typical pencils.


Here are some tips to help your students who are learning to write with alternative pencils! 
1. Choose topics of interest. Write about experiences the students have had, or events that are coming up. Make it meaningful and concrete.

 2. Use videos or pictures to introduce the topic. I love using pictures or videos of my students to introduce a topic. If we are writing about a field trip that we went on, I use pictures of the student on the field trip. Or if we are writing about a holiday, I use a short video clip to get students engaged. For my students who love music, I like to use songs about the topic. Whatever it takes to get them engaged!
For our Thanksgiving writing prompt, we watched a clip from "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving."

For this writing prompt, we will watch a video about how to make a paper snowflake. Then, we will make our own snowflakes before we write. This will give the students a more concrete experience to write about.

3. Model. Use the student's alternative pencil to model what writing can look like. Show them how to create new words using spaces.  Show them how to find letters.  Make sure you think aloud during the process.

4. Give meaning to the students writing. One of my favorite parts of using alternative pencils is the "borrowing letters" strategy. After students have completed their writing, you can "borrow" the letters they wrote to create words. 

5. Allow students opportunities to share. I love the idea of an author's chair in the classroom. Students can come sit in the author's chair and share their writing. For my non-verbal students, I love to help them program their AAC device to match their writing or use a step by step switch to record what they wrote.


Learning to write starts with the opportunity to write. Let's make sure all students are given that opportunity!

Story Based Literacy: Literacy Instruction in Special Education


Story Based Literacy is one of my favorite things to teach! What is it? It’s exactly what it sounds like- using grade level texts to teach literacy. Students without disabilities need to be able to access age appropriate literature. This increases reading interest, reading skills, and the understanding of literacy components that are required by the state standards. Students with disabilities do not have the same opportunities to access literature because their reading level is well below their peers. SBL provides access to age appropriate literature, in turn building on the all of the above skills.



Here are just a few of the skills you can teach through Story Based Literacy-
  • Demonstrate print concepts (title, author, turning page, following along, etc.)
  • Answer WH questions
  • Identify characters, setting and events (plot)
  • Identify main idea of the chapter or text
  • Summarize the chapter or text
  • Compare print to video/ understand similarities and differences
There are many components to literacy instruction. This is what it looks like in my classroom.

Day 1
Introduce vocabulary and story elements, add story elements and vocab to interactive notebook or story board
Day 2
Review vocabulary, read chapter, test vocabulary
Day 3
Read chapter, ask comprehension & story element questions
Day 4
Complete interactive notebook summary, test vocabulary
Day 5
Assessment and activity



I focus on the following components.
Vocabulary- I choose 2-3 words per chapter. The words that I focus on are words that my students will hear and come across on a regular basis. I like to choose words that repeat themselves throughout the chapter or book.  I explicitly teach the vocabulary, and then my students complete a vocab activity on their level.  Every 3-5 chapters, we do a vocabulary review, like BINGO.

  

Comprehension- Because we read the chapter several times throughout the week, I can really focus on student comprehension.  I set a monthly comprehension focus for each student based on their instructional level. Some students work on yes/no questions while others may be working on main idea questions.  I create a chapter communication board with characters, settings, vocabulary and answers to possible comprehension questions.  For my students who need limited choices or use eye gaze, I create flash cards with the same pictures that are on the communication board.  I record comprehension data once weekly for each student.

  

Repeated Line- A repeated line essentially tells the main idea of the chapter. It’s a way to get all of my students involved in the reading. I use recordable buzzers (affiliate link) for my non-verbal students and a visual for my verbal students.  As we read, I signal to the students and they say the repeated line.


Writing- Another important component of literacy instruction is writing.  It’s easy to implement a weekly writing prompt related to the chapter.  I’ve also done interactive notebooks in the past, and each week students write a sentence, or paragraph, that summarizes the chapter.  For my students who are unable to write, I use cut and paste sentences, or alternative pencils.

Activity- My favorite part of SBL is being able to integrate other subject areas through weekly activities.  Each week, I find a cooking, science, or social studies activity that ties into the chapter. 

  

And finally, freebies! Click here to grab my weekly outline template and communication board template. Questions about Story Based Literacy? Leave them below or shoot me an email! I’d love to chat more about how you can incorporate this into your classroom



Top Tips for Community Based Instruction

I will admit, when I first started teaching, taking my students into the community made me so nervous! Now, we go out all the time and community based instruction is one of my favorite things about my job. A while back, I wrote about the benefits of CBI (with a freebie!) here. Today, I want to share my top tips for making community based instruction a successful experience for everyone involved.

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