Thursday, August 20, 2009

Community Based Experiences

Community experiences are a huge part of my curriculum. We love to go out and about and I have students in and out every day. We go lots of fun places. Our school is in a very small community so we frequently have to plan our trips to nearby communities or even the "big city."
Here is my CBE plan this year:
  • Monday: 16 year old goes to Skill Development Center to work on vocational and home living skills
  • Tuesday: two students go grocery shopping to stock up their food supplies for the week (they both prepare their own breakfasts, lunches, and snacks as part of home living skills)
  • Wednesday: 16 year old goes to public library for vocational skills/volunteering (he dusts shelves and runs the vacuum)
  • Thursday: the whole group goes somewhere, sometimes together and sometimes in smaller groups
  • Friday: 2 kids go swimming at a nearby YMCA
Our Thursday trips are the most fun. Some of the things we will be doing include:
  • Trips to Blockbuster to choose a video to watch and purchase treats (this is great for my two kids who are blind/nonambulatory and don't eat by mouth as they get to put together the "voting list" of videos; this is also where they go on those times they don't accompany the rest of the class to a restaurant outing)
  • Trips to Barnes and Noble bookstore (read books/magazines, listen to music, get a snack at the cafe; can differentiate easily for everyone's needs/interests and it's FREE, except for the snacks)
  • Bowling Alley (we have an awesome one with Cosmic Bowling all day that is completely accessible and very inexpensive)
  • The Mall (or course! We are teens after all)
  • Nature Center (ours has a great hands-on museum with lots of multisensory experiences and is attached to a nature park with accessible hiking paths; and it's FREE too!)
  • Periodic special needs showing of current movies at a local theater with other special needs classes (great fun to meet up with good friends and we go out for breakfast/brunch first)
  • Restaurant trips (we tend to do "sit down" dining rather than fast food; fast food is saved for shorter trips like grocery day; we've also done buffets which is a real adventure)
  • Local "spa"/beauty salon (girls can choose hair, manicures, pedicures; boys can choose to soak hands/feet or go next door to the coffee shop and get a treat and listen to music)
  • Special trips to museums when they offer hands-on exhibits (most of my students have significant vision impairments so can't see most typical museum exhibits)
  • The zoo (we have two to choose from in our area)
  • Target, Super Wal-Mart, etc.
  • When the weather is icky or too cold we will also do an "inside outing," usually a video we haven't seen or playing wii and other video games (a class favorite for everyone including staff; we are AWESOME at wii baseball!)
For more great ideas check out Building a Program That Works. Make sure to read the comments!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What Works For Me Monday: binder rings

I've been busily adapting the May Unique unit on Sound. Between the books, picture symbols, word wall cards, sentence strips, and worksheets there is a lot of stuff to keep track of. The picture symbols are so easily lost, misplaced, or separated from their materials. Word wall cards and sentence strips get mixed up. And where is that worksheet when you need it? So....we needed some sort of organizational strategy. Here is what I'm doing:

Each of the books gets printed on cardstock, laminated, and comb bound. I put both the easy and advanced versions of the book in the same binding since we use both fairly interchangably. My kids can typically handle the content in the higher level material but need the lower level for vocabulary and literacy instruction.

I make a set of PCS symbols for key vocabulary to go with each book. Mine are 3" X 3" to accommodate groups and low vision issues. Each symbol has a hole punched in the upper left corner and are strung onto a binder ring. The ring is then clipped to the comb binding on the book. We use the symbols while we read to reinforce visual vocabulary as well as to talk about the book, answer questions, etc. The symbols are always with the book and I make duplicate symbols as needed for additional books so we don't have to "borrow." I prefer separate symbols to the preprinted communication boards (which are included with the unit) because it's easier to accommodate the needs of my students. I can attach them to a velcro board, hold them up in pairs, display them one at time for assisted scanning, remove incorrect answers for errorless learning, etc. Some of my low vision kids also require us to move the symbols to gain their visual attention. And some of my student prefer to pull off their answer rather than point/touch. Of course, those kids who have AAC devices will have appropriate overlays prepared as needed.

Sentence strips receive the same treatment as the symbols. I used the sentences from the simplified book for our sentence strips. This year we are learning about how words are used and how they make up sentences or messages. We are also working on our sight vocabularies. I used the Symbolate feature on Boardmaker for my sentence strips, reducing the symbols to the key concepts contained in the picture symbol cards.

Word wall cards are key words and sight words from the sentence strips. To some words I add a picture symbol to aid in recall. Other words (Dolch words) I want to teach as just sight words or the picture symbols are far too abstract so we might as well just learn them as words. We will use the word wall cards throughout the year, adding to them as we go. They will be used for vocabulary, sight word reading, alphabetics, phonics instruction, and anything else I can think of. These are put into their own collection on a large ring binder in alphabetical order so we can easily find and pull the ones we want to work on. I'd like to find a way to display them on a true word wall in my room but there are space issues as well as problems with my one ambulatory student constantly pulling them off to use for picture exchange (he gets the idea of exchanging a symbol for something he wants but he doesn't really care what the symbol is, any one will do; so we have to be careful what symbols we leave within reach, which would put the word wall way out of reach of the other students visually and physically).

I make a master copy of the worksheets that go with each activity and place them in page protectors. While we are within our copy budget we can copy them for student use. Eventually we may have to start writing the questions and answers into the kids' data notebooks. The worksheets go into a 3 ring binder. I also print and laminate picture symbols matching the choices on the easy worksheet. These are placed in a zippy bag and slid inside the page protector. I have two sets of questions: easy and advanced. The advanced questions are based on the question prompts at the bottom of the pages of the advanced reading material. These do not have picture cues as my students who use this level either use auditory scanning and/or yes/no responses to answer.

The 3 ring binder also contains the activity guide from Unique, my own notes on activities and adaptations, and any additional activities. For instance, with the sound unit we will be doing an experiment with vibrations, comparing loud/soft/high/low sounds, polling peers about favorite types of music, and traveling to Barnes and Noble to listen to different kinds of music. This binder will also contain assessment notes for the kids, notes on the activities for future use, photos, etc.

At the end of the unit all the materials will go into a 2 gallon (or bigger) zippy bag for storage and future use. We use picture symbols in our library cabinet for self selected reading so the books from the Unique units will be available through this format for selection. The picture symbol list lets us include physical books, audio books (on our ipods or CD), and computer books.

We also use binder rings to create portable communication symbols sets for our students. These might be transition cues, wants/needs, I'm upset and this is why, fringe vocabulary for particular activities, restaurant menu choices, etc. Most of my kids who use picture symbols have at least one set of cards with yes/no/more/stop and other important-to-them messages attached to their backpacks. We have also used them for "what to do when __ happens" cards to cue staff, to create photo dictionaries of sign language/gestures, etc.

So, binder rings work for me when I'm organizing materials. What works for you?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Some of my favorite cause effect computer programs

I received a comment on my Smartboard post asking for recommendations for programs and activities to use on the Smartboard. I'm happy to share some of my favorites (and wish list too). The commentor of mention works with early childhood so most of what I will list here are primarily cause and effect and early learning. Also important to note is the fact that I am freely sharing my opinions with no obligations to the companies mentioned. I have received nothing in return for mentioning these products on my blog.

As I've said before, I've never used the Smart software nor have I had any training in using the Smartboard. The board itself is very straightforward and easy to use as it is essentially a giant touch screen. There are a number of good sources for more ideas on how to use the Smartboard: Talking Smartboards and Much More and Teacher Love Smart Boards are just two of them; check their resource lists for even more.

Some of my favorite programs that my kids love and/or that would work well for early learners include:
Big Bang by Inclusive TLC
The Choose and Tell series from Inclusive TLC (just be aware that the vocabulary is British)
The SwitchIt! series from Inclusive TLC
The cause effect videos and other activities available from Priory Woods School (student favorite and free))
The SimTech single switch collection--especially the Sights and Sounds series
SoftTouch has several titles that are good (Attention Teens, Away We Ride, Teen Tunes, etc.) including these specifically for preschool (which are available as individual titles as the bundle is a bit on the pricey side)
Switch Man from R.J. Cooper
Sensory stories from Pete's Stuff (loads and loads of fun! oh, and free!)
Itunes or Windows Media Player visualizers
And any of the kid-friendly websites out there are great to use as well (Kate at TLWMSN has a great post outlining some switch friendly sites, Power Point collections, and more special needs software )
I also use both Intellitools Classroom Suite and Boardmaker activities extensively
In addition I recently received My Own Bookshelf (SoftTouch) but haven't had a chance to try it (my LCD projector is on the fritz so no Smartboard and haven't had time to install the program yet anyway)
And Power Point books are also great on the Smartboard

As far as access, most of my kids use an AbleNet jellybeamer (or two if they are two switch scanning). I have two who access directly on the board as well.

Kaleidoscope 2
Intro to Cause and Effect
Wheel of Sounds
Cause and Effect Cinema
More of the SwitchIt! series

Saturday, August 8, 2009

And a Big Blogland Welcome Goes To...

Kate pointed out a couple of new-to-me blogs that I spent some time checking out today. They both read my blog (:-) ) so I thought I'd say "hi" and give them a shout out here as well (even though I'm pretty sure most if not all of you read Kate's blog, considering how many hits I get from TLWMSN).
So, welcome to the clan Monica from Building a Program That Works and Exceptional Paradise. I look forward to reading more of what you have to share.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Plan for This Year (2009-10)

Mel commented to ask if I would post about how I plan my year and if possible include a long-range plan/curriculum overview. When you work in a specialized program like mine, long-range planning and curriculum are a huge deal. I don't have a set curriculum to follow, no teacher's guides or text books, no "curriculum map," or any of those other helpful things that tell other teachers what to teach when. My curriculum is highly differentiated based on the individual needs of the students and is focussed around their IEP goals as well as alternate assessment needs. That being said, I do have a framework for our activities. Of course, anyone who knows me at all knows I've never done anything the same way two years in a row :-) but I'll give it my best shot to try to explain my planning process.

Last year our curriculum pretty well centered around the topics in the News 2 You publications as well as holidays and special events (like the election) that came up. And every spring I plan a lengthy thematic unit that we spend several weeks on. Last year I did The Wizard of Oz. The two years prior to that we did Rainforests and Oceans. And then of course, as I posted, things went pthhhthhh and deflated after we finished with Oz and state assessments, although it perked back up when we did our We Shall Remain unit.

I used to try to be really "theme-y" and ranged from a new theme a week (what was I thinking?!!?) to a theme a month. I would research on early childhood websites for ideas, since they are all about themes, and "age up" for my students. I like themes, I mean REALLY like them. But, man, all that planning and work gets old after awhile. And I found out that we don't like to repeat the same themes/activities from year to year. I work with the same kids and (hopefully) staff for multiple years and doing the same things over and over (and over and over) just gets boring. We need more spice than that. So themes worked for me for about half the year, usually getting disrupted in the after-holiday doldrums or madness of state assessment season. Now don't get me wrong, there are some themes, like Halloween/pumpkins/fall, that we do every year (check out the Mad Science party we did last year and will probably do again this year--too fun!). And I've done enough themes that I've collected extensive materials for some of them so we try to find ways to use that too (for instance, we did the Unique summer curriculum on Oceans and used all the stuff from a previous oceans theme during ESY). And I'm one of those middle-of-the-night-brilliant-ideas people too, so sometimes "the plan" gets scrapped for one of those or for a new idea I've come across (for instance the brilliant set of activities Kate did around The Princess Bride).

This year I'm changing things up yet again (surprise! NOT!). I was able to purchase this year's Unique middle school curriculum so that will probably be the central driving force of our curriculum this year paired with the News 2 You topics. So far I like what I've seen, even though I have to do quite a bit of adapting (no news there; it's a good thing I like to do that and at least I don't have to come up with much content). Now, just a note that this is really only a small part of our daily/weekly curriculum as I also have kids going out into the community for shopping, leisure, and vocational experiences. And then there are the therapy activities, peer time, daily living skills training, and all the other things that are part of daily learning with these kids. And if by some chance Pete Wells comes up with a new literature unit like the Wizard of Oz, we'll probably add that in (are you reading Pete? I have requests if you're game!).

So my "general" daily schedule should look something like this:
7:40-8:00 Breakfast/peer time
8:00-8:30 Personal care/hygiene
8:30-9:00 Morning Meeting activities
9:00-10:30 Academic rotations (Unique/News 2 You, computer, IEP goals/state assessment)
10:30-11:00 PT activities, leisure skills
11:00-12:00 Lunch programs (cooking/prep, eating, clean up, personal care/hygiene)
12:00-12:30 Leisure skills (adult lunch breaks)
12:30-1:00 Chores (dishes, laundry, dusting, etc. around classroom)
1:00-2:00 Whole group activity (game, literature, art, cooking, science experiments, etc.)
2:00-2:45 Personal care/hygiene, home notes, leisure choices (as needed), departures

Interspersed into this schedule are community outings (job sites, shopping, swimming, etc.) and therapies. A couple kids go out to inclusion classes and we have peer buddies who come in for activities as well.

So that's it, kind of. My curriculum plan is a dynamic, constantly developing process. My advice for others trying to figure out how to plan their year is to keep it simple. Start with your state assessment requirements and add in IEP goals. Then look at what kinds of activities you can do to meet those needs. And it's often fun to develop yearly class traditions (pumpkin patch trip, Christmas shopping extravaganza, Mother's Day brunch, etc.). A unifying factor like Unique, News 2 You, Weekly Reader, etc. can also be very helpful in guiding content learning. Have fun planning your year!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Works for Me Monday: Data Notebooks

Some of the other blogs I read do weekly posts on various themes like Works for Me, Favorite Photo, Wordless Wednesday, etc. So why not do one of my own?

On my last post about Unique Learning Systems Michie commented to ask about my data notebooks. Oh, data, how I loathe thee. It is so essential to doing what we do, measuring student performance, looking for problems, proving successes, etc. Why can't it be easier to deal with? The customizing, revising, printing, copying, hole punching, filing, storing, interpreting, compiling, shredding, etc. can lead a teacher to drink (only S*nic limeades, however, we are at school after all)! I've spent years messing with different systems and none of them really worked for me. There's the "fill in the circles" type and the "mark the rubric" type and so many others. There are even websites that will let you print out data sheets. I think that's where I always run into trouble. If it's too labor intensive I just don't tend to get to it, and printing and/or copying daily or weekly is labor intensive in my book. Add to that the fact that my daily lesson plans usually make it through about the first 15 minutes of the day (30 if I'm lucky) before they have to be adjusted to meet the students' needs, and taking data had become beyond frustrating for me, until I came up with a solution that works for me:

Sprial notebooks. Yep. That's it folks. Simple spiral notebooks. Each of my students has one. In it we keep all of our documentation from daily lesson plans (which I do during breakfast) to communication logs to cognitive skills data to behavioral charting. They are sort of like a daily diary of each student's activities. I start a new page with the day's lesson plans for that student and indicate where I need data (how many times does he initiate with his computer vs. gesture? what did she score on the sorting task? what level of assistance did he need to complete the laundry task?). The notebooks follow the kids around all day and whichever staff is working with them at the time knows what to do and what to record. There is also an overview sheet that explains the basic type/s of data for that student where I lay out rubrics, when to do tally marks, when to use +/-, etc. If they are asking multiple choice comprehension questions (or giving choices of any sort), they know to write down the question, the presented answer choices, and the student's response. If I need a specific way to take data I can just make an example right next to the lesson plan entry. Staff can easily take anecdotal notes as well, which is very helpful to me when evaluating effectiveness, problems, etc. We can attach photos of projects, actual worksheets, printouts from computer programs like Stages, Switching On, etc., and "sticky note data" (don't we all wish we'd bought stock in that company way back when!). I glance through everything every day to look for glaring concerns and more thoroughly once a week or so to compile data to judge progress. This is relatively simple since I generally use averages, depending upon what I'm looking for. I should probably create a spreadsheet for this but usually just do it by hand on sticky notes which then get used as place markers. That way I can multitask during activities like faculty meetings (I am one of those people who cannot just sit and listen; I have to be doing something with my hands and the other half of my brain at the same time).

Types of data most likely to be taken in my classroom (I know there are others than these):
right or wrong/+/-
tally marks
multiple choice (more than 2 choices)
levels of assistance/rubric:
0 = resists activity/refuses
1 = maximum assistance (according to student prompt system, generally hand over hand)/choices reduced to 1
2 = moderate assistance (according to student prompt system, usually a touch prompt, model, or other "large" prompt)/choices reduced to 2
3 = minimum assistance (according to student prompt system, usually a small visual cue, redirecting attention, etc.)/choices reduced to 3
4 = independent/no assistance/4 or more choices
For each trial the student can earn up to 4 points. I then create an average score based on points earned over points possible. So in a 5 trial activity the student could score 20 points. I can then estimate level of assistance:
90-100% = independent
75-90% = minimum assistance
50-75% = moderate assistance
25-50% = maximum assistance
Below 25% = resisting activity/need to reevaluate procedures
Now this is pretty general and I adjust the rubric depending upon the task. Sometimes we only use 3 levels, sometimes we use 5. I might also look at range (look at me using my fancy dancy math vocabulary) rather than average or otherwise interpret data. Is he always missing certain colors? Does she have a tendency to choose the answer on the right? Etc.

What I really like about this system is its simplicity. Everything is all together in one place for me. It's easy for me to pick up a notebook and write down what I want done as well as to make adjustments and changes as the day goes on. I can leave myself or the staff notes and they can do the same. Questions, needs, and concerns can be jotted down "in the moment" before they get forgotten or lost in the chaos, I mean shuffle. The mountain of loose data sheets is eliminated and the spirals are easy to transport from place to place. Plus spirals are a common tool used by all the students in our building so no one stands out. And because it's all "attached," nothing gets lost.

This is what works for me. What works for you? Leave a comment or link to your own blog.