Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Classroom Visits

This is my first year teaching as an exclusive BD teacher. In my previous positions, I work with students who may have had both academic and behavior goals on their IEPs. Now, I share my students with academic special education teachers. It is a pretty nifty system most of the time. But, sometimes working exclusively with BD kiddos, I get stuck in a rut and visiting other classrooms can be a way to dig myself out!

My principal and superintendent granted me the privilege to visit two BD classrooms in neighboring school districts today. It was both comforting and enlightening. The teachers that I spoke with shared many of the same concerns about their students as I have. Students refusing to use or carry behavior tracking charts, other teachers not taking the behavior charts seriously, and finding time to teach the necessary social skills when there is so much pressure to use special education time for work completion.

However, I also did gain some valuable ideas about teaching methods and curriculums to use back in my classroom. One teacher chose to use some behavior specific programs. The other two teachers chose to use a variety of materials, including games, to help students learn social skills. I think that each teacher needs to find what works best for his/herself and his/her students.

If you are given a chance to spend a day visiting classrooms, especially at other schools, be sure to jump at it! It just might be the refresher you need!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Have You Filled a Bucket Today?

One book that I love to read in my classroom is Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud. I like to read this story in conjunction with an actual bucket and objects to put in the bucket.

When I read this story, I have students write down things that they or others have said that would be bucket fillers and things that they or others have said that would be bucket dippers. After I read each statement aloud we either add something to the bucket or we take something out. It is a visual way to show how out "buckets" work and the things we say and do do affect others.

Try it in your classroom!

Behavior Tracking Charts

In special education, we are required to track student progress on a consistent basis. In my case, I do this daily for most of my students. For these students, they carry a "Behavior Tracking Chart" with them throughout the school day. The chart looks something like this:

Students are expected to carry this chart with them to each of their classes. I figure a percentage of positive (+) out of a total number of marks given. For example, if a student earns four +'s for the day and four -'s, then he/she will earn a score 50%. I then average these percentages over a two-week period and enter that data into the student's IEP.

If the student is entitled to or benefits from breaks, I use the "Breaks" column to track this information. I also make sure to read any comments from teachers and address those as necessary.

Reasons these charts work well:
  • The charts provide immediate feedback to a student on their behavior during a particular class period.
  • Stakeholders (parents, teachers, administration, etc.) can get daily reports on a student's behavior.
  • Behavior can be seen to have its rises and falls and patterns may begin to emerge (issues with particular teachers, times of day, certain subjects, certain days of the week, etc.).
  • The chart can be used for the student to earn rewards.
Difficulties with the behavior charts:
  • Sometimes when a student earns a minus (-) for his/her behavior, she/he may "fall off the wagon" for the rest of the day.
  • The charts are not necessarily private since they are brought out each class period. They can cause peer issues of teasing.
  • Students may not really care about how their day is going so the chart doesn't have any "teeth."
  • Teachers may have other behavior issues with students that are hard to track on the chart.
As you might assume, problems also arise with this type of data collection. The most frequent issues I run into are:
  • Students refusing to carry the chart.
  • Teachers not filling in the chart.
  • Students "losing" or destroying the chart when they receive a minus (-) sign or poor overall score.
  • Students not taking the chart to particular classes.
Solutions that I have tried with these issues include (none are perfect!):
  • Offering rewards for returning a completed chart.
  • Having students serve lunch/recess time in my classroom.
  • Having the chart move among just teachers.
  • Switching the students data collecting system.
  • Reminding teachers to ask the students for their charts.
  • Having the student carry the chart only on certain days of the week.

I hope this chart can help you and your students track daily behavior!

Time On Task

We've all seen the kid who blurts, who is constantly out of his/her seat, who reads when she/he should be writing, and who is constantly talking to peers. Or, a student who refuses to do anything at all!

As a teacher of students with behavior disorders, general education teachers often share a concern with me that a student is "off-task." When this happens, I like to do a "Time-On-Task" (TOT) observation.

The form that I use for a TOT observation is simple (see below) and the physical observation only takes 10 minutes. When I go into the general education classroom to do the observation, I take the form and a stopwatch. The next thing I do is locate the student I am to be observing and then choose a peer that I will be comparing my subject to. Then, every minute on the minute, I check to see if both students are on task. If they are on task, I make a checkmark in each students' "On-Task" column. If not, I make a checkmark in the "Off-Task" column. I do this every minute on the minute for ten minutes. I am then able to calculate a percentage of time-on-task.

While this observation is helpful and is numerical data, it isn't necessarily a tell-all. Even as adults, we know that even we aren't on task 100% of the time. Everyone's mind wanders. Everyone gets distracted. Everyone gets excited and blurts out an answer. These things also need to be taken into consideration before a student is considered for support services for off-task behaviors.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

About My Classroom

Currently, I work in a fifth-eighth grade middle school. In my position, I exclusively work with students with behavior disorders. These students have assigned times with me at the beginning of each school day and/or at the end of each school day. The rest of my day at school is spent addressing various behavior needs as they arise, conducting observations of students, collaborating, and attending various meetings.

I am blessed to have a program paraeducator who helps to keep our room running smoothly. There are also several other paraeducators that assist students in the classrooms and escort students around the school building. These great women (I don't work with any male paraeducators at this time!) also assist me with crisis intervention services.

  • The students that are in this room vary on a daily basis. There may be many students in here or only a few. Students can get sent to this room for one of the following reasons:

    • Frozen Schedule
      • This occurs when a student has a lot of late or missing work that needs to be made up. These students are sent by a classroom teacher in most cases and should have a pass. These students are not allowed to eat lunch with their peers or go to recess (unless all work is complete before this time). Once work is compete, these students are sent back to class.
      • This can also occur when a student is non-compliant in the general education setting and refuses to complete work. He or she may have their schedule frozen until the “refused” assignment is complete
    • Poor Classroom Behavior
      • This occurs when a student behavior is preventing him/her or his/her peers from being able to effectively learn in the general education setting. Typically, we help the student get to a place where he/she is ready to learn and complete an assignment from the class from which he/she was sent. Then she/he is sent back to class.
    • Need for a Break
      • Many of the behavior students have the option for breaks written into their IEP. We set a timer for five minutes and allow the student to relax for a while, use the sensory swing, complete wake-up body, do some yoga poses, or use the sensory toys and weights. Then we send the student back to class after the five-minute timer is complete.
    • Leveling Systems
      • A few students are on leveling systems. This occurs when a students behavior has been poor for an extended period of time. Students on leveling systems have to earn their way back out of the BD classroom gradually over an extended period of time. Students in this room on the leveling system are not allowed to eat lunch or go to recess with their peers. Each leveling system is different.
    • In-School Suspension (ISS)
      • In most cases, students with a behavior IEP serve their ISS in the behavior classroom. These students should not leave the classroom without a valid reason (about to be sick, restroom usage) and should be secluded from other students in the room. If these students do need to leave the BD classroom, they are typically escorted by a teacher or associate. If these students have no more work to complete, they are expected to sit quietly and face the wall. Students in this room for ISS are not allowed to go to lunch or recess with their peers.
    • Need for a Time Out
      • Some students behavior becomes so unacceptable (to the point where they may hurt themselves or others) that they are sent or escorted to sit in the time-out room. This situation should be heavily supervised and the incident should be processed with the student following the time-out. Students are expected to be calm in the time-out room for at least five minutes before they are released from that setting. If a student is to be in the time-out room for more the 45 minutes, approval must be attained from the principal or other administrator.
      • Any other students that are in the classroom at this time need to be removed for their own safety and for the loss of an audience for the acting-out student. Other students may be sent to the office or other teacher's classrooms.

Negotiating with Students

As teachers (and parents, I assume), we want the children in our lives to be able to negotiate for their rights and privileges. However, when a student at school asks to do something a little differently, they are often met with confrontation and ridicule from their teachers. From my perspective as a special education teacher, I need my students to be able to advocate for themselves and negotiating is a life-long skill that can help them do just that.

Negotiating is a powerful tool to utilize with students. It can be motivating for them to have the power to choose which problems they will be doing. It can be encouraging to them that they do have some choice in how they will do a project. Many times, students are willing to do more than what we ask of them but teachers often limit this when they don't give students the chance to negotiate a deal with them.

Negotiating with students doesn't have to be time consuming. Today, for example, I gave a student a packet of 130 math problems. I asked how many he thought he would be able to do. He told me he would be willing to do 50. 50! How many students do you know that would happily do 50 math problems if that was what was assigned to them? However, when I gave this student the choice of how many problems to do, he was willing to do more than what I would have likely assigned in the first place.

If, in your case, you don't think doing 50 problems is enough, then you begin the negotiating process. This is where you can offer 75 (or more) problems and meet in the middle with your student. What a powerful skill you are truly teaching your students that would have been a lesson missed if you as a teacher were unwilling to negotiate!

Early Morning Exercise

Recently, I started doing morning exercises with my fifth and sixth grade students. I do this for a few reasons.
  1. Exercise boosts brain power. (Check out John Medina's book Brain Rules - I couldn't put it down!)
  2. Exercise produces endorphins (Those lovely "happy" feelings!)
  3. Exercise gets students following directions right away.
I run the session by having students draw tongue depressor sticks with an exercise, stretch, or yoga pose written on the stick. Each student draws one stick and we perform that exercise. These are the exercises, stretches, and yoga (kid friendly names) poses we are currently using (subject to be added to!):

  • 20 arm circles
  • 15 seconds of hurdler stretch
  • 30 seconds of bridge pose
  • 30 seconds of mountain pose
  • 5 deep breaths
  • 10 push-ups/knee push-ups
  • 30 seconds of tree pose
  • 10 seconds of downward facing dog
  • 10 knee bends
  • 30 seconds of chair pose
  • 30 seconds of candle pose
  • 30 seconds of toe reaches
  • 10 windmills
  • 30 seconds of rag doll pose
  • 30 seconds of butterfly stretch
  • 10 straight jumps
  • 30 seconds of child's pose
  • 30 seconds of plank pose
  • 30 seconds of a forward bend stretch
  • 30 seconds of table pose
  • 10 sit-ups/crunches
  • 10 jumping jacks
  • 30 seconds of peacock pose

Try this in your classroom at any time of the day to see if it helps your students to focus and be more ready to learn!

Special Education and Me

This morning while I was driving to school, I decided to start a blog based on my experiences in the classroom setting so that I could share with others what is and isn't working for me! With my recent obsession with the Web site Pinterest, I have become hooked up to several teaching blogs that have already helped me to improve my practice as an educator. I hope that this blog can do the same for you if you are a teacher. If you aren't a teacher and you have come across my blog, I hope that you get a chance to see education, and specifically special education, in a new light. For everyone that gets a chance to read my posts, I hope that some of them make you laugh, some of them make you think, and others help you to learn.

I decided to call this blog "SpEd Head" (SpEd is short for "special education") because I feel that my brain was designed think specifically like a special education teacher. I am always looking for ways to meet specific needs of specific students. 

Enjoy the posts. Thanks for stopping by here!