Monday, April 10, 2017

Classroom Organizing Systems

As special educators I feel like a lot of us use similiar resources in our classrooms. I always love seeing how other teachers organize the same resources that I'm using in my classroom. My peers are my biggest inspiration for new ideas in my classroom so I thought I would put together a post showing how I organize different resources I use in my classroom.

#1: I most recently shared this one on my Instagram. Organizing file folder activities.

I have been using file folder activities so frequently with my students that I decided I no longer wanted to keep certain themes/holidays in with those containers. I wanted them all out all the time. This allows me to give my students variety day to day and week to week for skills they need continual practice with. There's nothing wrong with using a previous holidays theme in my opinion and can help save me time. I needed someone to keep them and a way to organize them. I love these bins because I can still sort through them and see just what file I need. I cannot do that with the bin I used for the colors file folders, but that's okay. I don't feel like I might be looking for a specific one of those as I may with the others.

Since I shared this photo Teaching Special Thinkers has included cute labels for storing file folder activities! These are way better than my post-it notes AND available for Free in her TpT Store! 

#2: I use cookie trays a little differently in my classroom this year, but still organize them in a similiar fashion. 

This post is from another year, but I still organize them in these bins for the days they are planned for. For the photo above I had a file folder in each bucket with the student's name on it. That was the page they had for morning work on that day of the week. This year, each student does the cookie tray activity that is in the bucket for the day of the week during their 1:1 work time with the teacher.

When not in use I store them in laminated folders like this with the cover page on the front. 

#3: Teaching Special Thinkers has these amazing Easy Art Projects that are my go tos. There are a lot of possibilities for how to organize these, but this is what I came up with. 

I love these pocket folders because they are large enough to hold all of the pieces and if I have leftovers you better believe I am keeping them for the next year! I can then put them in one binder together and use the cover page from the product for the front of my binder. 

#4: Student materials and data are stored in color coded buckets.

I recently shared this in a post about color coding in my classroom but wanted to feature it as an organizing system too! Until this year I kept a file basket with a hanging file folder for each student. I'd keep notes from parents, their behavior calendars, work samples, etc in these files. The downside, I rarely took the time to file it so I would end up with a huge stack of papers on top of my file basket. By keeping all of those same things in student color coded buckets it's easy to stick the items right in their bucket, or in their binder quick and easy. I will never go back to my hanging files! 

What are some ways that you organize items in your classroom? I know there are a few more I wish I had snapped photos of to share with you, but I'll keep those for another time!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Handling the Color Coding Dilemma

Color coding in the classroom isn't a new concept in the realm of special education. Or at least I don't feel that it is. I think there are some common no brainers on how one might color code materials in their room, but we all have different ideas so there could surely be ways we've never thought of before. And surely there are some road blocks while color coding that can sometimes make you wonder why you started it in the first place.

I've put together a round up of what color coding looks like in my classroom. This is the first year I've really "driven home" the idea of color coding for my students and have used it in just about every aspect. I think the biggest  challenge of color coding in your  classroom is finding the materials you need in the colors you need.

For a small class you're going to go with your obvious colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. That's 6 color options that are pretty easy to find materials in, especially at back to school time when the store shelves are stocked with materials.

But what about when that class size goes beyond 7 and you're forced to resort to your "less common classroom colors". This might include pink, gray, teal, lime green, and maybe even black. Black's a pretty easy color to find resources for so maybe this was your first go to for student number 7. But what about when you have a classroom of all boys and you're trying to be nice and avoid the color pink? Enter white!--But maybe you needed white because your class size is JUST that big. I'd like to say I feel bad for you if you've hit that many colors but sadly that's my classroom as well.

I've had to play around with color coding as the school year has gone on. I've had new students added and as I make new materials for the students or the classroom that I feel should be color coded. One thing I would keep in mind: some materials just do not exist in the color that you need them in. Therefore, assign colors wisely. Or choose materials more wisely.

For example, my younger students do not have Visual Support Folders. However, those younger students were already assigned colors that it is easy to find file folders in (i.e. red and orange). So I had to order more file folders in "uncommon" colors like gray and teal. (No sweat I'll use them for File Folder Activities but you see my point here). This same rule can be applied to our homework folders. My pre-school students aren't assigned homework therefore they do not need homework folders. Again, it's easier to find plastic 2 pocket pronged folders in your primary colors than it is in pink, teal, gray, and lime green. However, Amazon can rescue you there. Amazon also helped me find 1inch clear view binders in these colors.

And of course you can't forget the bins. How could you forget the bins?! You'll need somewhere to organize and house each student's color coded materials and how dare you organize them in anything besides a container that matches their already assigned color!?!! Am I right? #OCDteachersunite

Really Good Stuff is going to help you out there. You might already, again, have book bins out the wazoo in ROY.G.BIV. but what about the other colors you've had to assign because your class size is ridiculous. (Am I projecting here?) So I ordered this set of really good book bins from Really Good Stuff.

It includes every color I've already assigned, additional colors I'm planning on assigning and I *think* I might have 1 extra bin in there.

I use our windowsill to store these bins. I hate that the AC unit is in the middle and I can't fit them all in a better row but this is my best option with how many colors we need.

Inside each bin the students have the following color coded items:

- Data Binder: I store previous benchmark data collection here and any work samples I keep.
- Math Notebook: spiral ring notebook for their math journal
- Visual support folders: (not pictured) but when we are not using our visual support folders I store them in each students color coded bin.

I also keep any IEP documents in their bins, the reader books they are working on, or are finished with and any packets we might be working on (i.e. Math Shape Journals).

Their parent communication notebooks are color coded composition notebooks and I've also color coded their breakfast/lunch tags too!

So how do I solve the dilemma of color coding? I think it comes down to considering your resources and being creative. The bins I shared above are literally *perfect* since they come in so many colors. From there I can find most the resources I've chosen at any office supply store or on Amazon for the less common colors. 

Color coding not only helps me stay organized, but I think it's helpful for our students too. It's easy for them to remember their assigned color and find their materials easily when asked. Do you color code in your room? If so, how many students/colors are you up to using?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Visual Support Folders-- Game Changers!

Visual supports. You need them, your students need them, but they are literally every.where.

Maybe it's just me and maybe it's because my classroom is small but I feel like I'm constantly juggling visual supports. Supports needed at different times and no where to keep them. Every area of our classroom is "multi-purpose". I feel like I have nowhere to keep student visuals. AND on top of that, due to the age range in my classroom, I can't just leave things sitting in reach at all times. I almost have to hide individual visual supports when my students are together as a whole group because the younger students will remove pictures from others visual supports. (Despite having their own)

SO I had a genius moment over Christmas break and decided each student needed a "visual command center", a place where all their necessary visuals were kept in one spot. A folder that corresponded with their assigned color in the classroom. A folder that would be portable and easy to set aside. A folder that kept everything in one spot for that student. I started using them when we came back from break and I am in love! They have been a wonderful addition to our classroom and it's been a labor of love to put the file together to share with you all. I want you to experience what I'm experiencing with this management piece!

For my students I set up each of their folders with their corresponding color of materials in the classroom. Each student's folder has their name at the top and classroom rules reminder on the front.

When you open their folder up you have their daily schedules to the left and their work/earn charts on the right along with any tasks steps we might need to put out for certain activities.

To avoid juggling too many little token pieces I simply use check marks with dry erase markers on their earn charts since the folders are laminated. Students know they earn their check marks for completing their work.

On the back of their folders they have a first/then board and earn choices at the bottom. The earn choices selection allows me to keep their top reinforcers readily available so they can make their choice for what they want to work for.

Most often our folders stay folded so that we are flipping back and forth between the daily schedules and the work/earn chart.

I keep a page up by our calendar with their options for specials. When we do our schedule review each morning I put what special we have on the board I also go around and add this specials card to their daily schedule.

With my multi-grade level classroom my pre-k students actually follow a different daily routine for most of the day and they do not have visual support folders. This makes it easy to store the specials choices on one page. If this was something happening with my entire class I would need two pages to store their options.

**These schedule card options are from Especially Education. I purchased her scheduling packs at the start of the school year and have been using her images. If you purchase my visual support folder pack you will get schedule cards included in case you do not already have a set. I recommend continuing with whichever schedule cards your students are familiar with.** 

As things are checked off of our schedule I either remove students cards or they remove them and give them to me. I put them all in one cup and since they are color coded it is easy to re-sort at the end of the day.

They also make great transition cues. My students will be finishing up our morning fitness song on the Smartboard while I set their folders out at the table. When it's time to transition they know to sit where their color is.

At the end of each earn opportunity I erase their check marks and their charts are ready to go again for the next set of given tasks in the classroom.

When we are not using their visual support folders I simply stick them in their color coded buckets. This helps me always know where to find them when I need them and the students know where to look for them as well.

 *The picture is blurred to hide student names, but it still gives you the idea.*

Could you see yourself using these in your classroom? You HAVE to try them if they include some visuals you already have going for students. I can't even begin to tell you how awesome AND helpful these have been for me and my students! When you purchase the pack you get rule cards, task steps, schedule cards, and the materials to place onto the folders for set-up. The rule cards, task steps, and schedule cards are all color coded and available in 13 different colors--you know, to help meet your classroom needs once we you have 11 students. Oh, that's just me? I digress... The pictures for these cards have been made with Smarty Symbols and you can click [here] to purchase!

The purchase pack also has a file for a set-up guide to help you know where what goes on the folders.

I'd love your feedback on how these are working for you in your classroom or if you think that will be beneficial for you!

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Our Morning Routine

I thought it might be interesting to share with you what our morning routine looks like. Especially since I am working with Pre-K through First Grade students! Currently at the time of this post this is my classroom breakdown:

1 teacher (hey that's me!)
1 para-professional
9 students in the classroom full time: 2 preschoolers, 3 kindergarten students, and 4 first grade students

Obviously the needs and expectations for this group vary. A lot. Starting with how the students get to school.

Pre-school students ages 3 & 4 ride to school on vans. My other students all ride to school on a bus-- the same bus thankfully, but the vans and the buses drop off students in two different locations. My para and I split this duty. She goes to the vans and I go to the bus.

We each bring our group back to the classroom. Generally she arrives back before I do. When all students arrive in the classroom they place their back packs and their coats in this basket.

Step #2, they sign their names in.

Step #3, if they go the cafeteria for breakfast they grab their name tag and walk down. At this point in the school year most of them (that go to the cafeteria for breakfast) can navigate to the cafeteria independently and into the line. My para will go down and meet them and provide the supports as needed.

I remain in the classroom with the students who do not go to the cafeteria for breakfast and the students who chose to bring their breakfast back to the classroom. Confused yet?

My 2 pre-school students stay in the classroom during breakfast and my para brings their breakfast back to the room when she returns. I have 1 kindergarten student who usually arrives late, she will also bring that students breakfast to the room if he is there. The remaining 6 students all go to the cafeteria for their breakfast. 2 of them, depending on the day, may decide to bring their breakfast back to the room. They can independently do that so I'm flexible with them and am in the classroom with the other students either way.

As students return from breakfast/finish breakfast they are to hang up their back packs from the basket and then go and use the bathroom.

While they have been eating I've hung up their coats (for the sake of not forgetting who came in with what) and pulled their notebooks and folders from their backpacks.

We do not have a bathroom in our classroom, but thankfully we're close to it in the hallway. Students who can go independently are sent down after breakfast and those who need to be walked down are taken once my para returns from the cafeteria.

Students have free choice/social time while we complete bathroom breaks, take attendance, and get all the ducks in a row for the day. This is great for students who request out of reach items we can embed that first/then opportunity in there and have them get their bathroom break in. This is also a great opportunity for students with social goals on their IEPs to interact with their peers or take turns during games. My para also takes her 15 minute break after all the students have finished with their bathroom break. When she returns, its our cue for the clean up timer and then clean up song to start our day.

As students are added to our classroom our routines are forever changing and being tweaked, but currently this is what's working for us. Are you a breakfast in the classroom or a breakfast in the cafeteria class?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Generalizing Rote Skills

There's a small possibility that topic might have you scratching your head. While rote skills come VERY easily to most of our students on the spectrum, there are usually a few who they don't. I have one student in particular who is working on identifying capital letters, lowercase letters and numbers more consistently. Student appears to know them, but does not identify them on a consistent basis.

To address these skills we're doing discrete trial training with flash cards and a strong reinforcer for each skill. Each time the student correctly identifies an item they receive a reinforcer. If it's incorrect, no reinforcer. Each time we use flash cards they are shown in random order. The student can count and sing the ABC song so if we showed them in order it would make it appear that the students does in fact known their letters and numbers.

Another key component to making sure that these skills are generalized is that we use multiple sets of flash cards. It would also be easy for our students to learn the skill but only in the context of the flash card if we're using the same set each time.

I wanted to make sure that I was using different sets of cards while working with my student so I went ahead and made multiple sets of cards so I could easily grab a different set each time we were doing trials. I made 3 different sets for capitals, 3 different sets for lowercase, 1 set of each with a picture cue and 3 different sets for numbers 1-30.

I used these photo storage cases to store each set. This keeps them together and makes it really easy to grab whichever one I need.

The mixed bag cases are where I combined different cards from each capital set, each lowercase set, and each number set to make a "mixed bag" set of flash cards.

I also created a data sheet that allows me to keep track of how many letters and numbers the student has been identifying on each trial. I can fill in the date of the trials at the top and also mark which flash card set that I used.

*This is not an actual students data- duh.

When I met with the parents of the student they were surprised to know that at school their child was not consistently identifying letter and numbers. They practice them at home all the time and the child is able to identify. Through our discussion we found that they were using the same set of cards each time. We talked about generalization and I pointed out to the parents that they needed to use multiple sets of cards.

Through frequent trials at school and at home said student can now identify 26/26 capital letters and 24-25/26 lowercase letters! I am so excited! I even went 3 weeks (that time includes winter break) without assessing him and upon our return from break he hadn't lost any progress!

Next on our agenda: focusing more on number recognition.

Need some flash card sets? You can grab a pack from my TpT store that includes all of the sets that I made. Click {here} or on the photo!