Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Setting Up My Autism Classroom- Step 5: Prepare data sheets

One area that I struggled with for a long time was collecting and analyzing my students' data. Although I took your typical assessment course as an undergrad, I don't think that I fully understood the importance of taking good data and allowing that data to inform my teaching.

One year, I sat down with my school's SLP and asked her to give me a little mini-lesson on how she took data. She was always so organized with her data forms and reviewed her data often- allowing it to drive her therapy sessions. She gave me some great advice and I even adopted her data sheets for a while. Since them, I have tried several different methods of data collection- one form for all students working on similar goals, one form for all students with goals that can be addressed during circle time (or play time, meal time, etc.), one form per student, checklists, yes/no forms, name it, I've tried it. I have finally decided that there is no right way to collect data. I have to do what fits each individual student at that time. One thing I do know is that preparing my forms and having them ready on day one can be extremely helpful. (I don't print off too many at first because, knowing me, I will decide to change them two weeks in.)

Last year I ended up using the flashcards- one per goal per student for all academic goals. I kept them in a little file organizer separated with dividers by student. These were great in that they allowed me to pull a few out and hand to my para during centers so she could work individually with a student. This was also super convenient when I needed to update progress notes.

For any behavior, social, physical, and toileting goals, those students had one data form with all of their goals listed. All of those sheets were kept on the same clipboard hanging by the door- in easy access to me and my para. I also used my school district's data probing forms for my students with autism.

This year, since I have moved to the autism program, I will use my district's cold probe forms with all of my students for the majority of their goals. Each student will have their own data probing form for all related goals. Their data will be analyzed often and used to update their programs. I will also use one data probing sheet for all students with similar behavior, social, and physical goals. I'm going to use my own toileting form for any students not toilet trained yet that will be kept on a clipboard in the bathroom. I also will have some forms that I use for all students. These will be kept blank so that I can write in a general goal- such as receptively identify colors by pointing. I can keep these forms at the circle time area and quickly jot down who knew the color and who didn't. Although all of my students may not have IEP goals aligned to these tasks, I think there are just some basic concepts that are important for my kids to work on daily and for me to know where they stand with them. Finally, I will use my county's maladaptive behavior checklist for any problem behaviors. You can head over to my TPT store to snatch up 5 of my whole-group data forms. They'll be {free} for the rest of the summer so snatch them up quickly!
{Whole Group Circle Time Data Collection Form}

{Whole Group Social/Behavioral Data Collection Form}

{Whole Group Toileting Data Collection Form}

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Setting Up My Autism Class- Step 4: Set Up "the schedule"

Setting "the schedule" is by far the most intimidating part of setting up a classroom to me.  There are two different types of schedules that need to be determined- the class schedule and then the students' individual schedules. Let's talk about the class schedule first. There are so many factors to consider- student needs, attention lengths, therapy times, school times, specials classes, breakfast and lunch, and the list goes on. First, I always look at the school times- when students arrive, when they need to be ready for dismissal, when we are assigned breakfast, lunch, and recess, and if any of my students will be going out to specials or time in gen ed classes. I write all of that down along with therapy schedules and then look at the rest of the times available. The autism program in our school district endorses the use of discrete trials for individual instruction. So that tells me we will be doing a lot of rotating through centers during the day to ensure that each student gets their individual instructional time while other students are working on other readiness or functional skills. My two paras will assist my students in rotating through the centers (reading, computer, listening, leisure, work station, table time) while I am working one-on-one with students. We will complete this rotation 3 times a day and each student will work with me at least once. We will also have a layered whole-group circle time at the beginning of the day. Some students will only be expected to stay for one activity (singing good morning song) while others will stay for two or three or more activities- based on their attention spans. Since my kiddos will be in Pre-K and Kindergarten, our circle time will probably not last for more than 20 minutes. That will probably include 10 minutes of singing/reading time and 10 minutes of an interactive activity. TEACCH recommended only 15 minutes with preschool students and no more than 30 minute activities with elementary students. Of course those are only guidelines and as usual, the amount of time should depend on individual students. They also recommend separating work times with play or leisure times.

When setting up the class schedules, it is important to create a schedule for paraprofessionals or aids as well. I have learned that it is easier to be up front about expectations- people cannot read my mind. When I create the class schedule, I will include a column next to each activity detailing what I will be doing and what my parapros should be doing during the activity.

{Visual Class Schedule}

It is important to set up individual daily schedules for each student. TEACCH stresses the importance of making the schedule meaningful for each student so that they could achieve independence in this area. As crazy as it sounds, using detailed schedules allows the students to be more flexible- something that is very important to teach students with autism. There are a couple of things that you need to consider when developing the detailed student schedule: type of schedule, length of schedule, and manipulation of schedule.

Type. When thinking about the type of schedule you have to consider the individual needs of the kids. Some students may need an object schedule, some a picture schedule, and some may be able to use a word (written) schedule. Most of my kids will probably be using a picture schedule.

Length. I have tried to do a full day picture schedule in the past with students and it was extremely difficult for me to manage it. I will not be doing that this year. I am going to stick to using a First/ Then schedule that is located at each center and at our individual work table. I will put two pictures on it- one of the activity they are currently completing and one of the activity that they will transition to next.

First/ Then Schedule

Manipulation. Will the students mark through or check off the activity completed if using a word schedule? Will they match the picture to the one at that center if using a picture schedule? Will they match the object to a photograph if using an object schedule? I think I will have a laminated page with the picture symbol for students to Velcro their pieces to when they arrive in the right location.

Check out my Autism Schedules Pinterest board for tons of ideas for setting up autism class & individual schedules.

Friday, June 14, 2013


I'm taking a break from the "Setting Up My Autism Classroom" series today for a Friday FREEBIE! Head over to my TPT store to pick up these {free} toy bin labels. I used them in my play center & my reading/sensory center. I will probably be making a few more in the next few weeks & will update when I do. Right now there are 26 of these black & white labels that include a visual. They are a great way to get students involved in the cleaning up process & to help them practice their sorting skills while cleaning.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Setting up My Autism Class- Step 3: Visual Structure

When I was first learning about autism, someone shared with me the example of being in a foreign country and not understanding the language. How would I navigate and understand what was going on around me? One way would be to use signs & symbols. We can use signs & symbols to communicate with children with autism. In her books, Temple Grandin has said that she thinks in pictures & that the use of pictures or visuals helps her. Visual structure in an autism classroom can help students to better understand what is expected of them. I will be using visual structure in many ways in my classroom, including:

1. Defining areas of the room
2. Explaining rules & procedures
3. Explaining learning activities

Also, visual structure will be used to define our schedule, but that will be saved for another post.

1. Defining areas of the room. This one's simple. I use labels to let students know what activities will occur in what areas. I have a sign with a Boardmaker symbol for that area. If I want the students to transition to that area, I will hand them a small visual with the symbol for that area and they will know where to go. Some students may need gestural, verbal, or physical cues at first. I will be adding a laminated sheet for them to Velcro their symbols on when they arrive at their area.

2. Explaining rules and procedures. When I worked with kiddos with autism before, I used the motto "When in doubt, use a visual." I may think that some of my kids understand rules and procedures just by me explaining them verbally. But a visual can't hurt. Some people would disagree. I remember when I was at TEACCH II we got into a discussion about this. One person shared that they thought providing visuals when the student was higher functioning was putting them at a disadvantage. But then someone else brought up the fact that we all use visuals to function on a daily basis. How could we drive without traffic signs- they help us to know when to stop, yield, when there's a bump ahead. We use visuals to help us function. So do kids with autism. Here are just a few of the ways I use visuals to explain rules and procedures:

{Circle Time}
visual structure to let students know how many & which activities we will be doing during circle time
after we complete an activity, such as singing the good morning song, I will take it down because it is "finished"

{Toileting Procedure}
visual structure to show students how to go to the bathroom
font credit: Miss Law's Primer Font

{Class Rules}
visual structure to explain class rules
other visuals will be used throughout the day- such as a "no hit" sign

3. Explaining learning activities. At TEACCH, I learned that visual structure can be used to give instructions, to organize activities, or to clarify.

{Two sets of instructions for craft activities}
visual structure shows students that they will complete 3 steps

{Sorting breakfast & dinner foods work task}
students know how many pictures they need to sort before they are finished & see that they are sorting breakfast & dinner items

{Sorting food & animals work task}
students know how many pictures they need to sort before they are finished & see that they are sorting food & animals
{Fine motor work task}
visual structure doesn't always= pictures!
students know to use the tongs to pick up the bones and put in the dog's mouth
students see how many bones they have to place in the mouth
finished basket on the right


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Setting Up My Autism Class- Step 2: Setting up Physical Structure

I learned that physical structure is key when working with individuals with Autism pretty quickly. I remember walking into the first Autism class I had ever been in when I was a sophomore in college and seeing all of the bookshelves, dividers, and crates that were used to separate everything. I think the OCD part of myself is secretly drawn to the organization and the idea of there being a place for everything. Fast forward ten years and going on 6 years of teaching and I am setting up my 3rd Autism classroom. My first and second classrooms that I set up for the same population of kids were complete different because I had a different set of kids each time, a different physical classroom, and different resources. I know that my current room will turn out completely different as well. Just like the saying "No two children with Autism are alike"- I guess no two classrooms for children with autism are alike!

When I started teaching children with autism, we had very little resources. I had to get creative with sheets and cardboard. I am very excited to share that this is not the case this go around! I was thrilled to see that I have bookshelves, fancy schmancy dividers, and even adorable rugs to section the room off. Armed with my mental organization about my new group and my plan for 7 centers, I got busy with my new paras. A lot of people prefer to draw out a picture of the room and label the different areas before moving furniture. For some reason, this does not appeal to me. I have to actually see the furniture in the spot to decide if that is where it belongs.

Step 2-Setting up Physical Structure
1. Draw It Out
2. Get busy! Take advantage of the shape of the room & furniture.
3. Try again!

Reading/Sensory Center

I started the arranging with my reading/sensory center. The class had this great little bench that they used in their reading area before & I was able to use my little bookshelf next to it to create a barrier. There is another small book shelf not pictured on the left side wall that holds the sensory items- fidget toys, vibrating animals, and rainmakers.

Leisure Center

The back of the reading bench forms a little desk area. The paras told me that they used this area for the little DVD players that the kids loved. I added two chairs and voila- the leisure center is ready!

Play Center

Usually each classroom is set up with 4 computers under the pod windows. Since I won't need that many computers, I was able to set up a bookshelf next to where the computer table will sit and turn the rest of the space between the bookshelf and the storage cabinets into the play center. I think having a play center with this group is very important- they will still be learning how to appropriately play with toys & we'll do a lot of structured playing together. Plus it's a great opportunity to work on playing cooperatively with peers. I'll discuss how I organized the play center in another post. Sorting through the tons and tons of toys was probably the most overwhelming part of setting up my new room but I was able to make it work and am really happy with how it turned out.

Table Time
I knew that I wanted to place the large area rug in front of the smart board for circle time activities & I wanted a table nearby in case we did some whole group craft, coloring, or tracing activities during that time. I decided to place two bookshelves directly behind the table to house all of the work tasks that will be used during table time. As the students rotate around the room, two of them will be working on individual work tasks with one of the paras. These tasks will be anything from simple fine motor tasks [drop the block in the container] to color and shape matching. I plan to cover the shelves with fabric so that it won't be so distracting for my kids. I added these great dividers on each side to cut down on distractions for the kids.

Work Station
The back of the table time bookshelves provided a wall that was perfect for two work stations for my higher functioning kids. I used my TEACCH training to design a left-to-right work station for independent tasks. The Autism Specialist left these four-shelf containers behind and I used them to create a barrier on the left side of each work station. I will place 4 activities in those containers for the students to complete. When they complete each task, they will place it in the "finished" basket that is on their right. I'm thinking that the work station on the left will be just for file folder type interactive work and the work station on the right will be more for adaptive/functional tasks. Higher functioning students will use both work stations.

I don't have a picture of my last two centers- computer and listening. The computers for my room are not set up yet and won't be until closer to the start of school. I'm still playing around with the location of my listening center but I will update with a picture of it as soon as I decide. I'm currently teaching ESY in this room so I am sure that I will make some changes once the kids show me what areas are working and which are not working. Like I keep saying, it's important for me to be flexible and be up for making changes based on my kiddo's needs. I also hope to post some pictures of my co-workers room. She teachers the older kids with Autism and I just helped her set her room up a few weeks ago. I think it is a great example of how to set up a room for kids that are focusing more on academics rather than the readiness skills that I will be focusing on. My next post will be on setting up the visual structure of my new room. Stay tuned!

{View from Classroom Door}

{View from Reading/Sensory Center}

Monday, June 10, 2013

Setting up my Autism Class- Step 1: Getting mentally organized

I wish I had taken a picture of what I walked into when I went to visit my new classroom, located on the first floor of my school. Before me, the actual classroom that I'm moving into housed the Autism Specialist's office. She is relocating and left a ton of goodies for me. Her stuff was mixed in with all of the furniture, manipulatives, and toys, toys, toys moved over from the actual class that I am taking over. Combine all of that with my own personal materials and we had a disaster zone. I kept thinking "I don't know where to start." In an effort to help others who are in this same position, I'm going to share the process that I went through to get my room organized & set up.

Step 1: Get mentally organized
-What population will I be working with?
-What is the layout of the classroom?
-What areas will we need? Circle time area? Teacher desk area? Storage area?
-What centers do I want?

 I thought about the population that I would be working with- Pre-K and Kindergarten children with Autism. Pulling on my past experience with this population and my TEACCH training, I know that they are going to require ALOT of physical structure in the room. I think discussing this requires a post all of its own but during step one I'm just thinking about it, not actually doing it yet.

I also needed to look at the layout of the classroom before I got started. I needed to know where the outlets were for the computers & to take advantage of the areas already set up for storage. I was able to see that there are a few areas in the room-like the corner next to the counter- that I could take advantage of and use as a barrier for a center.

I talked with the teacher that had the class previously and with her two paraprofessionals (now mine!) and decided that I would (at least for the beginning) try to keep the same centers that they used. I knew that I needed a teacher area, a circle time area, a table time area, and a computer area. I talked with my paras and they also have had a reading/sensory bin area, a DVD player area, and a play area. I'm going to also add two individual work stations for higher functioning kids and a listening center. I'm still considering a play dough center but I remember how messy that was when I taught preschool before. Also still considering a puzzle center or smartboard center. I try to be really flexible and remind myself that I can make changes to the physical structure throughout the year but right now I am settled on 7 definite centers:
1. table time
2. computer
3. reading/sensory
4. DVD
5. play
6. work stations
7. listening

Each center will have space for 2 students; except for computer & listening- only room for 1 at each.

Okay. Now I am mentally organized. I have a game plan and I am ready to get busy! My next post will be about setting up the physical structure of the classroom.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Last Day of School Surprise

As the school year was coming to an end, I've been working really hard on getting organized for next year. I already had so many plans for incorporating more games into my lessons & I had created many of those and starting teaching my kids how to play independently. I also had already organized most of my materials into themed notebooks- moving away from the file folders, gallon Ziploc baggies, and tubs that I had used previously. When the last day of post-planning arrived, I only had 1 small paperwork task left before I was completely finished for the year and off for my two-week break before Extended School Year started. But then came the surprise.

I have been moved to the Autism Program. I have many mixed feelings about this- I am both excited and anxious- but one thing I am certain about is that I will be placed where I am needed and I will quickly fall in love with those kids. I have missed using all that I have learned at TEACCH trainings and being with the kids that made me fall in love with SPED. This will give me an opportunity to get back to my roots. But I was so organized and ready for next year!!!!

Oh well, no time to focus on that. I have a room to get ready! I thought this would be a great opportunity to share how I am setting up my Pre-K and Kindergarten Autism classroom so stay tuned for pictures & tips to come.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Extended School Year

This will be my first year teaching extended school year. I'll be working with a small group of 5 & 6 year olds. Extended School Year- or ESY- is an opportunity for students with special needs to get extra practice on their IEP goals to help in preventing regression or to have additional time to work on emerging skills. I'm excited to get a chance to work with this group of kids. I'll only have them Monday through Wednesday for 3 hours a day for 4 weeks so I really won't have too much time with them. I have been looking through their goals to see what they have in common. Most have goals related to expressively or receptively identifying colors and shapes and rote counting to 10. I've decided to stick to one theme and try to incorporate those basic goals into our circle time using that theme. For the four weeks, I'm going to focus on "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" I remember using this book a lot when I taught special needs preschool & my students really loved it. I found my old CD with the song version of the story & plan on singing that everyday during circle time. I just did a TPT and Teacher's Notebook search and found an activity for all 12 days of ESY. Here are all of the FREEBIE's I found:

Day 1: Introduce book & vocabulary using cards found here.

Day 2: Color the emergent reader found here.

Day 3: Roll a color word game found here.

Day 4: Shapes game found here.

Day 5: Animal count found here.

Day 6: Letter discrimination found here.

Day 7: Smartboard games found here.

Day 8: Color words cards found here. I plan to handwrite the words for them & laminate and Velcro the pieces to create interactive cards.

Day 9: Candy sorting found here.

Day 10: Counting practice found here.

Day 11: What do you hear? found here.

Day 12: Brown Bear Bingo found at my TPT store.

Here are some other great resources if I have time:
Brown Bear unit at 1+1+1=1.
Story Patterns here.
Check out my Brown Bear Pinterest board for more ideas!