Friday, June 29, 2012

Last Day

Last Day...

I had intended for my next post to be a continuation of my previous post on data collection, but I just couldn't let today be over-looked.

Today was my last day at school, both with students and in general.  My resignation was effective today, so I have no workdays, no professional development, nothing left.  It has been a really difficult day for me.  Not only did I graduate 3 of my students who have been with me since our school opened, but it was also the last day I will work in NC!

Don't get me wrong, I am really excited about my family's move "across the pond", but I am really going to miss my life here.  I have taught in my county for 12 years.  I have made many friends and I have some incredible colleagues.

I always get emotional on the last day, because in Special Ed., you usually have kids for multiple years and they become almost like your family.  I refer to my class as "my kids".  They aren't my students, they are my kids.  I have personal kids and I have school kids.  I teach so much more than reading, writing, math, science and social studies.  I teach manners; I potty train; I teach independence; I teach self-expression.  Today I got to look back on how we have grown as a class and it amazes me.  It amazed and overwhelmed me.

Three times this week, a new staff member commented to me about how well behaved and vocal one of my students was.  It has been a gradual progression with this student, so people who have been at our school for a while don't see the change like a new comer does.  I have been feeling nostalgic this week, so it really took me aback, because if you knew this student 3 years ago, you never would have thought we would be where we are today.  Three years ago, I had bruises ALL over my arms & legs from where she would hit & kick me or from when I would trip over furniture when I attempted to hurdle an object to catch her before she bolted out of the door.  She didn't talk and you couldn't get within 5 feet of her without her hissing and lashing out at you.  I had to call 911 once when she escaped.  She ran so often, the Sheriff's Department provided her with a GPS bracelet!   Today, she greeted everyone as they came into class.  And today, she also sat in close proximity to others during our Talent Show.  I have not only been able to teach with the door open, but we don't have to keep our door alarm set!

Another of my kids who has been with me since the beginning, not only walked down our "aisle" to Pomp & Circumstance, but he wore his cap for the entire ceremony and even let me put 2 medals around his neck.  This is a kid, who 3 years ago when we went to Special Olympics, it took 3 of us just to get him from the competition area to the awards podium.  When I tried to pin the ribbon on him, he punched me.

One of my students even sang in the Talent Show today!  The kid has always been a ham, but he was the kind of kid who was constantly moving, even when he was sitting still.  And goodness gracious, if he touched anything, it would bounce on the floor 800 times because he would fumble so bad trying to pick it up and there were times when he would fall down in the process.  Today, he stood on stage, swaying to the music (very appropriately) and didn't fumble with the microphone at all!  His song was beautiful and I wasn't the only one who cried when he sang!

I have watched this group of kids go from a rag-tag group, to a polite, well-behaved class.  Don't get me wrong, we certainly still have our moments, but today was wonderful.  Compared to other days this year, it wasn't much different, but compared to days that first year...WOW!  We sure have come a long way!

I am mentally and physically drained from the emotional roller coaster I have been on this week, but especially from today.  When I was finally ready to leave today and my room was bare, I must have stood in the doorway for 5 minutes having one of those movie moments.  The one, where the past flashes before your eyes and you remember exactly where a certain person was at a certain moment in time.  I won't even teach in room 1407 again and I cried for a little while.  I could go on crying, but I know that I have left my kids with great skills that will help them in the future.  Although, that gets me crying for a whole other reason...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Data Collection

One of the things that no one every told me how to do when I began teaching Special Education upteen-thousand years ago was how to collect data.  Don't get me wrong, my undergrad classes emphasized the importance of data collection.  Those classes just never taught me HOW to collect data.  Through the years, I have realized that I am not the only one out there struggling.  Some of my district peers don't do it at all.  I don't think it is because they don't care, I think it is that they just don't know how to get started.

Since my first day in the classroom I have collected data, but it has been very haphazard.  For years, I knew that if someone had to come in and pick up where I left off, they would wonder what all those scraps of paper were on my desk!  Writing progress reports or report cards was horribly painful.  My husband always hated the week before report cards went out, because our dining room (not just the table, but the floor as well) would be COVERED with paper.  I would be so frustrated & cranky that its a wonder he never ran out of the room screaming!

By a stroke of luck 3 years ago, I finally figured out the data collection mystery.  It was a huge amount of trial and error those first few weeks in my new classroom.  I don't have a clue why after all these years, it finally clicked, but it did.

Here's what I finally figured out:
    1.  Just do it!  (make the time & just write it down)
    2.  Not everything has to look the same
    3.  Make sure it is idiot proof (no offense to subs, but a sub in a special ed class is already shell-
         shocked, so don't over do it with a complicated process)
    4.  Make it as convenient as possible (make sure you have a place to write it down with as much pre-
         filled in as possible & something to write with--don't laugh, you'd be surprised!)

Once I figured that out, it was easier to actually collect the data in a way that would work for me.

I think this was the most difficult thing for me to overcome.  I always thought that when it came to data collection that 1, single format would do.  Not sure why, but for years it was what I tried to do.  I only collected data on a single skill.  If I had a kid whose IEP dictated that they work on letter identification, I was a champ at collecting that data...on sticky notes...or...note cards...that would then get lost in the pile that would always over-take my desk.

But when I had behavior goals to address on an IEP...DOCUMENT?  Seriously???  How in the world do you do that?  I had no clue.  It was obvious that the kid was making progress on the goal, but if I had ever been called out on my documentation, I would have been hard pressed to provide ANYTHING!  I could provide behavior contracts for some kids, but only a few.

Moving to an Autistic class forced me to address my inability to handle these situations.  Let's face it, 90% of an autistic class is behavioral.  I was really going to have to step up my game.  Thank goodness for the internet.  I found a few data sheets that I used for a while.

Just a little while was all I could manage, because it still wasn't working for me.  How was I going to do this?  I had 2 kids in my room that first year whose parents scared me.  (You know what I mean)  I wanted to be on point if I was ever asked to provide my documentation.  How was I going to do that?  I decided to do what I do with my kids.  I worked backward.  What was I trying to get out of my data collection?  I wanted to be able to support my IEP goals.  Once I figured that out, it was a little easier for me.

Once I figured out what I wanted to obtain, it was only a matter of figuring out how to go about collecting the data.

Not everything has to look the same...
I was trying to fit everyone into the same data collection box.  I don't do that with my kids.  They all have different schedules and work stations.  Why do they all have to have the same data collection process?  They don't.  It was amazing how freeing that thought was!  Can't believe it took me so long to come to that conclusion!

The data sheets I found online were great for some skills, but not for others.  So I began to play with my own.  I decided what worked best from each of the ones I had been using.

First & foremost, time!  I needed to be able to document on the fly, because coming back to something in my class is a luxury I just couldn't afford.  I also needed to be able to have it readily accessible, because if it wasn't, I wasn't going to get it down.  (see aforementioned statement)

Second, simplicity, anyone needed to be able to do it:  Me, my TA, a sub, my teammate, the Art teacher.  I had to make it as simple as possible, so I didn't have to stop and explain or have to go without.

The one thing that is on each of my data sheets, regardless of what it looks like, is a key.  That way, I don't spend time explaining everything when there isn't time.

Everywhere in my room, you will find pens!  They are velcroed to the underside of bookshelves (so they don't end up in someone's mouth).  They are in containers around the room, I always have at least 2 stuffed in my back pockets, they are everywhere.  I decided a long time ago that I liked colored pens.  It makes it easier for me to compile data at the end of the quarter/skill/IEP process when they are colored.  Looking at only black ink can make my eyes hurt & then I loose track of where I was.  Colored ink makes compilation much faster.

Placement of the data sheets is important too.  For years I always tried to keep everything all together in a notebook, a rolodex, a notecard box, a single clipboard and many other places.  That was INSANE!  It was never where I needed it to be, when I needed it to be.  Now, I have data sheets taped to the backs of file folders, the bottoms of tasks and the bookshelf.  I have multiple clipboards now.  My ABC documentation is next to my timeout area, because I usually have to sit with someone to keep them in timeout.  My group documentation is in the large group area, teacher time data is taped to the folder that each student's work is organized in for 1:1 time.

Life is so much easier now and report cards are less nerve racking!  In hindsight, this seems so easy, but it was the most difficult thing I have ever had to learn in Special Ed.!  I feel great about my data collection now.  I am no longer scared to send report cards/progress reports home to "those" parents anymore.  I have a TON of documentation to support my comments now!

Lesson learned!  (I will post some examples of my data sheets and "hiding" places in my next post)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Adaptive Books

I think that I have done all that I can do to prepare for this move until we get closer to the final countdown!  So, in the meantime, I am focusing on my class.

In packing up and reorganizing my classroom, I have been thinking a great deal about things that are critical to an Autistic classroom.  While there is a ton of information out in the world about structured teaching, schedule creation and behavior management, there is little in the way of how to incorporate non-verbal students into daily language instruction.  If you have worked with non-verbal students, you know that there is often more going on than ways to communicate.  There are hundreds of ways that we work around communication difficulties in special education and this is just one small, small way I begin incorporating those skills.

In honor of all of my non-verbal students, I am starting with adaptive books.

When I first heard the term "adapted book", I had no clue what the term referred to.  I was moving from a resource setting to an autistic classroom, so I thought I might ought to attended a training in structured teaching since it had been years since I had attended any TEACCH training.  There wasn't much that I didn't already know, but the phrase "adapted books" threw me for a loop.  It was on our agenda and it was supposed to be addressed after an afternoon break on the first day of a 3 day training.  The training went longer than scheduled and "adapted books" was pushed back to the 2nd day.  When I got home, I did an on-line search and found NOTHING, nada, zilch.  I went into that 2nd day still completely clueless.  Needless to say, we only touched on the topic briefly and the discussion was extremely one dimensional.  We talked about a single way to to adapt books.  Over the years, I have adapted books many ways, depending on who I was adapting for.  Here is what I have learned:

      •            Copyrights are important!  That being said, you are allowed to copy books AS LONG AS YOU OWN THE ORIGINAL & KEEP THE ADAPTED BOOK ALONGSIDE THE ORIGINAL & you are adapting the book for instructional purposes.
      • Keep an open mind about how to adapt 
      • Check out The Dollar Store, yardsales, 2nd hand stores, library sales and even your classroom neighbor
      • Boardbooks are just as adaptable as paperback and hardback books
      • If you didn't save the file electronically, scan the pieces, because something will get eaten, lost, torn or bent until it is unusable
      • Just because a book has a torn page or a broken spine, doesn't mean you can't adapt it
      • Don't be afraid to pull a book apart
      • Putting a book in the freezer for 15 minutes will loosen the glue on the spine and allow the pages to pull apart easier and without ripping
      •  Decide WHY you are adapting the book
        • Are you focusing on the ablity to turn the page?
        • Are you focusing on each page on 1 specific aspect of the book?
        • Are you focusing on retelling?
        • Are you focusing on naming/identifying?
        • Are you focusing on a curricular skill (counting, classifying)?
        • Are you focusing on comprehension?

When I first started adapting books, I only focused on matching picture to picture.  Since that first day, I have progressed in why/how I adapt books.

Here is a book I made from a task I downloaded from (if you haven't checked it out, you should).  The student must complete the simple sentence to match the picture:
  2012-06-12 23.33.51.jpg

Here is a book I created to teach one of my students to learn how to turn a page.  It was a book I found in the recycle bin in a peer's classroom, because the binding was shot and had been taped too many times to count.  Once I laminated it, it didn't matter:
2012-06-12 23.32.54.jpg

This was one of the first books I made.  It was the only type of book I learned to adapt from my class.  I purchased a few copies of this book from the Dollar Store and cut it up.  I originally purchased 2 copies, but since the pages were double sided, I was only able to cut out certain pictures.  I can't believe I didn't think about that before, but sometimes it takes a few trials to make something work.  My goal for this book was just to get one of my students to sit with a book.  I needed a board book, because I needed it to take a beating. Since it came from the Dollar Store, I wasn't too upset when he threw it against the wall or beat the desk with it.

2012-06-12 23.31.28.jpg

Here is another book I downloaded from BoardmakerShare (you REALLY should check it out).  This one I used when I taught simple machines.  My students had to complete the sentence using the correct tool.  It was both a labeling (because of the picture clue) and comprehension task.
2012-06-12 23.30.30.jpg

In this book, the author used the symbolate tool in Boardmaker to create this book.  There is nothing to match, but the words have corresponding pictures to them:

2012-06-12 23.28.51.jpg

Another favorite site of mine is They have a few free items, but their stuff is pretty cheap and it is perfect for what I need it to be:
2012-06-12 23.26.45.jpg

This was an unexpected find when I went to TJMaxx last year.  It was in the clearance bin and I think it cost less than $1.00 and I didn't even have to do anything to it to work!  Score!
2012-06-12 23.25.05.jpg

This is another download from  It is the simplest comprehension task I could think of.  The student always has two words to choose from:

2012-06-12 23.23.42.jpg

Another favorite of mine is  Our school has a subscription for each teacher K-2 plus our AU classrooms.  We use them as take-home readers mostly, but I have adapted them.  This book has three options.  In the first book I made, I highlighted the word so that the student would know what to focus on (in addition to the huge picture!).  Once the child was focusing on the picture, I printed a 2nd copy without the word highlights and the child still had to match the picture.  Somewhere in the abyss is the 3rd copy.  I covered the picture and the student had to figure out which picture matched the word.  

     (The picture refuses to load.  I will try to do a follow-up later with these pictures)

I hope that someone finds this blog useful to helping them create adaptive books!  

Good Night All!