OK, I know I'm not the best at keeping up with my blog post schedule. In my defense it's a super busy time of year between 6 IEPs in 7 weeks (and anyone who works with kids with multiple challenges knows those things can be monsters, especially as the kids hit transition age) and some BIG things happening in my personal life, which I may post about in the future. In any case, this Works for Me Monday is about how I assign duties to my paras, which I thought would be an appropriate post for Labor Day.
Paras are essential to success in my classroom. I am fortunate to have 1:1 staffing (including myself) for my students. This makes it so much easier when someone has to be gone (I have one para on maternity leave at the moment; she will return just in time for a second para to leave for the same reason). We also have a complicated schedule with at least one student out in the community every day. I'm still trying to figure out how to work in out-of-the-room inclusion opportunities as we have a huge burden for state assessments, making it difficult to find the time in the kids' schedules.
I firmly believe in every staff member being able to work with every student. They all know they are expected to not only know and be able to meet the needs of each student but also be able to conduct all of the various programs. This benefits the students, who learn to work with a variety of people. As adults they will seldom if ever be in situations where they have the same staff for long periods of time. They need to learn now that it's OK to work with new people. For the staff, this policy prevents feelings of "ownership" for one student. Instead we are one big, mostly happy, family. And the staff can easily "trade off" when struggling with a difficult or frustrating teaching session.
Last year I ended up with an entirely new staff so I started doing what I called "Rotations." Each staff member was assigned a specific curricular area where they showed special skills or interest: Cognitive Skills, Assistive Technology Use, Physical Therapy/Adaptive PE, Sensory/Nielson's Active Learning, Computer. I set up the lesson plans and after Morning Meeting the kids rotated between staff members every 25-30 minutes, depending upon the day. This seemed to work well for us last year and we were able to accomplish quite a lot. The drawback was that my paras started to become so specialized it was difficult to fill in when someone was absent. In addition, they started to get bored doing the same tasks every single day. I tried switching things up but had one staff member who refused to give up her territory. In addition, it was difficult for me to make sure the kids were working on all their goals and to get around to each staff member to make sure they were correctly following programs.
Over the summer my middle/high school paras were pretty much on their own as I had to spend quite a lot of my time working the elementary students in our summer program. They revamped Rotations a bit and started all working on the same tasks at the same time so they could support each other. They still rotated kids around though. After talking with them we decided to leave that schedule in place this year. This has turned out to be a good decision since the state made significant changes in our requirements for assessments this year. We have added two new pieces to our curriculum: ALL and Unique (I'm still looking for a good early math skills curriculum; ideas anyone?). That means I need to take back the "leader" role in instruction and provide much more direct and hands-on support to the staff since most of these activities are new to them. So now we do math and reading every day (last year we focused on math on Mondays, Reading on Tuesdays, and Writing on Wednesdays; Thursdays were community and Friday was Sensory Fun/Therapy Day) with either science or social studies in the afternoon (depending upon the Unique unit). The students are basically in three groups by ability/interest and two staff members "specialize" in each student, although so far everyone is doing a good job of working with every student. The most challenging student to staff is my 16 year old who is out and about every day as there are some limitations on which staff can go with him. So this year, so far, my schedule looks more like this:
7:40-8:30 Arrival, ADLs, breakfast or peer time, positioning, leisure skills
8:30-9:00 Morning Meeting
9:00-10:30 Academics: Reading, Math, computer time, assistive technology use, ADLs as needed; also several of the kids do positioning programs and/or walking within these activities; 16 year old goes on walk about if schedule requires or does Life Skills/work bin tasks
10:30-11:00 Repositioning and stretches for everyone; ADLs as needed
11:00-12:00 Lunch preparation (3 do this) or meds and tube feedings (2 do this) paired with leisure choices or finishing earlier work
12:00-12:30 Break time for students and adults (kids work on independent leisure skills)
12:30-1:00 ADLs as needed and classroom chores
1:00-2:00 Afternoon group activity (science or social studies); 16 year old goes on walk about if scheduled or participates in group
2:00-2:30 Journals, ADLs, repositioning, get ready to go home
Monday is "Hear new concepts/words/numbers" where I introduce new material, the letter/sound of the week, the number/math concept of the week, etc. This is more focused on listening
Tuesday is "See new concepts/words/numbers" where I introduce visual/tactile vocabulary and we start asking the kids to identify and differentiate new knowledge from previous knowledge
Wednesday is "Use new concepts/words/numbers" where we start asking the kids to apply their knowledge by answering questions, doing simple writing tasks, cooking, art projects, etc.
Thursday is Community day for the whole class
Friday is Sensory/Therapy day with swimming for two kids in the afternoon; I also use Fridays to assess kids on how well they are doing with new and old concepts so I can determine where to start the next week (do we need to stick with what we are learning now or are we ready to move on)
I'm still working out the kinks in all this new-to-us stuff and figuring out where everything fits in. However, the overall consenus from both adults and kids is that we like the new challenges.
So, that's What Works for Me when making staffing assignments and setting my daily schedule. What works for you?