Academic Skills



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5 Back to School Tips during the Summer

Well it is that time of year again. Back to school. Can you smell the freshly sharpened pencils??? I know I can. Except this year is unlike any other because well 2020 has been a dumpster fire. As you all know I currently teach in a 3-5th grade self-contained and to say that I am feeling all of the emotions this back to school season is an understatement. I want more than anything to get back into my classroom, my happy place, but is it safe? 
I know that I am guilty of over prepping each summer in hopes that my school year won't be as chaotic, but how do you prepare for a school year that is going to look differently regardless of being in person or at home to teach from a distance. So my friend Kim (from Little Ms. Kim's Class) and I have decided to bring some quick tips to you via instagram (more on that later) on how you can prepare while still refreshing your mind and soul during the summer of 2020. 

Keeping a loose schedule for myself keeps me from constant Netflix binges and feeling like I've wasted my summer. I thrive on being productive. That can be school stuff, social outings, organizing my closet however I really really love T.V. Anyone that knows me knows I can watch Bravo all day long--Where are my Bravoholics at??!! So I use my planner and make a simple to do list of things I would like to get done each day. This list usually consists of any errands I need to run, working out on my #notapeloton Peloton, taking the puppy somewhere, or spending time with friends and family. I will be honest that I rarely get everything done on that list before I decide to sit and binge on my latest Netflix or Hulu show, but it helps me get somethings done! Now, for the BUT. It is in my type A style to be scheduled and prepared for everything BUT it is summer and as a teacher we are given the gift of time. SO as my favorite NY Housewife says: Come from a place of YES. If someone asks you to do something fun---throw the schedule out the window and say YES! 
A friend asks you to go on a boat--- YES! 
Your sister wants to get a pedicure---YES!
Your dog is extra cuddly and want to nap-- HELL YES! 
A schedule in the summer helps me feel like I got the most out of my time off BUT I am very happy to throw mundane tasks like deep cleaning my bathroom with bleach and powdered TIDE to get some sun on the lake! 

This one is simple. Only prep what you prefer over the summer. If you love to laminate and Velcro all the tasks then do it! Your summer is precious and you should plan and organize your most preferred tasks during this time! I personally love to set up my data sheets and curriculum mapping. They make me feel accomplished and well versed on my students needs. Read this over and over again: Do things you enjoy during the summer. All of your stressful, boring, mundane, or anxiety inducing tasks can wait until the start of the school year when you have the help of your paraprofessional! 

Speaking of mapping out curriculum! I have my masters in curriculum and instruction so it is a true passion of mine to take the common core standards and make sure I am able to give my students with significant disabilities access to those skills at their level! Using a year at a glance or curriculum map is something that your future self will thank you.  I am not saying you should lesson plan every day or plan out each week, but setting up the themes for each month, organizing the resources you use year after year in a document which will help the detailed lesson planning you do each week during the school year. I wrote a blog post about how I curriculum map for the year which you can read more about here 

Here is a little glimpse of my curriculum map template!
I break my map into 6 topics for each month: Holidays and Themes, Reading/ELA, Gramma & Spelling, Math, Science & Social Studies, and Life & Social Skills. If you want an editable version of this curriculum map you can click here Don't worry it is FREE! 

This is probably the least fun of all of the tips, but it is so necessary. I feel more confident as a teacher if I have my students IEP goals engrained in my mind. This helps when mapping out the curriculum, purchasing resources, making resources, etc. I make individual data sheets for my students and my biggest tip is KEEP IT SIMPLE! Have the data clearly identified, any tips for taking the data if paras help you out, and an easy way to track scores (i.e; +/-). I try to write goals with only running records, checklists, or curriculum based measures for collecting data so I don't have to deal with making a million copies of work samples! There are so many data templates out there, but in all honesty the ones that worked the best for me were simple data sheets with no frills and were 100% tailored to my students goals. 

I don't know about you, but when I am deep in the school year I rarely leave my classroom. This is not a great habit I got into, but I really hate to work on the weekends and evenings so the only way I could get all my prep, IEP writing, and general classroom organizing in was to work thru lunch and planning. Working in a self contained room is already isolating so skipping out on lunch with your colleagues can make you feel even more isolated. I try to make an effort to eat lunch with my colleagues for at least 15-20 minutes to form connections and know what is going on in the general ed world, but I also continue that thru the summer. It is so important to grab a drink or a bite to eat with a teacher friend to catch up on life--it is seriously good for the soul and helps to set up a collaborative work environment. I am so lucky to LOVE the team that I work with currently, but I haven't always been lucky--Just like your relationships with your students is important getting to know your colleagues outside of the classroom is important as well. 
Over the summer another very important task I try to accomplish is a get together with the paraprofessionals assigned to my room. In my district they are only contracted to work during student hours. This makes it super difficult to fill them in on student needs, get to know them and their family life, classroom procedures, and generally just bond together. Try to make some time to get lunch or go for a walk with your paras. If they are new to your classroom they will appreciate the gesture and if the are not new, it is a great way to reconnect after a few weeks or months apart!  

I hope you all enjoyed these simple tips! If you want to learn more head over to my instagram page and join Little Ms. Kim's Class for a series of Instagram lives on Tuesdays! We will be talking about all things special education and focusing on a new topic each week! Can't wait to see you there!

Teaching Reading Comprehension Skills

In all my years teaching in a self contained special education classroom the reading curriculum offered to me was either a fluency program or a A-Z reading levels. Both are great to help children learn HOW to read the words, but what about the comprehension skills that go along with reading fluently? In Ohio we assess our students with a state test beginning in 3rd grade called the Alternative Assessment. The first year I gave this assessment my students had questions on author's purpose, theme, what??? I was using EDMARK and PCI, which are both amazing by the way, but that did not prepare my students for success on this assessment. I was bound and determined to make these skills accessible to all my students, even the non or limited readers. 

I knew that I needed a Reading Curriculum that did not just focus on the children reading independently, but comprehending what was being read to them or reading on their own and applying the story to comprehension skills that are being taught in the general education setting. The only hang up?? I couldn't find ANYTHING that was appropriate for my classroom. So if you can't buy it...make it! I designed a monthly reading curriculum that would do just this. The skills covered were taken direction from the Common Core State Standards, but were displayed in an accessible way to my students. I took the knowledge I learned from my first experience with Ohio's Alternative Assessment, the Ohio Extended Standards, and my knowledge of my students way of learning (hello visuals!!!) and came up with a game changer in my classroom.

Each week is broken down into a five day lesson plan 
Day 1: Learn the vocabulary. This is broken down into three levels, pictures only, pictures and definition, and definition only. I also review the vocabulary every day before I begin each daily lesson. There is also a writing activity to use the vocabulary based on their skill level 
Day 2: Learn the skill. This is where the students will practice the skill of the week. Some of the skills that are in the bundle are main idea, character/setting/plot, making predictions, summarizing, and so many more. I know you may be thinking these skills are too much, but when you take away the stress of having to read the story and comprehend you can fully work on comprehension. Don't get me wrong, I still work on fluency/sight words/reading basic sentences and comprehending their meaning, but in order to expose our students to higher level skills we can take away stressors that can be hard for them (like decoding words) and this is when you will get the chance to do this! 
Day 3: You will read one of three leveled stories (all on the same theme) to your students. I love this because they are all learning the same topic/characters/vocabulary but at their level! If the student is not a fluent reader, that is can read this to the student so they can focus on comprehension..... let me repeat this: You can read this to your student. This is a program to teach, practice, an assess comprehension, not fluency. PLEASE still work on fluency with other programs like PCI and EDMARK (my two favorites) or with FRY or Dloch words! 
Day 4: You will take the skill and apply it to the story you read the day before. I like to reread the story with the student to keep the story fresh in their mind. Sometimes these skills are differentiated sometimes they are not it all depends on the skill and the need to pictures vs words. 
Day 5: You will assess the students comprehension on the vocabulary, skill, and content. 

There are three ways to get this resource in your classroom 
1. You can go ALL IN and purchase the yearly bundle (at a discount) by clicking here
2. You can purchase them monthly by clicking here
3. OR if you are still not sold you can join my mailing list and automatically get ONE FREE WEEK teaching your students Character and Setting adding your e-mail into the popup on the blog! 

I legit poured my heart into this resource and it is something that I fully believe in and use when I am teaching students that are alternatively assessed. I hope you all find as much rigor out of this resource for your students as I do mine! 

Teaching Multiplication in a Low Incidence Classroom

Multiplication. It is a math skills that allows math life skills to be completed in a faster timeframe. When I first began teaching in a low incidence classroom the idea of teaching multiplication seemed like a mountain I wasn't prepared to climb. How could I make this complex skills accessible for my students? Well the answer was simple (and also the answer to many of the questions about behavior and curriculum in my classroom). VISUALS.

Visual are the key to success in our classrooms. They help students communicate their wants and needs, calm down, follow directions/schedule, and comprehend. Implementing visuals into math was going to give my students the academic rigor they deserved in our small group classroom. 
Before we can have visuals we need to know what to teach. I currently teach in Ohio and I am IN LOVE with the modified standards the state has put together, The Ohio Extended Standards. If your state does not have modified standards for students on a modified curriculum check Ohio's out Here (they are broken down in to ELA, Science, Social Studies, and Math). All the standards in Ohio are based off the Common Core State standards except for Social Studies (which is specific to Ohio history). 

When looking at the image above (taken from the standards are broken down in a, b, and c with A being the most complex and C being the least complex to the original standard. This is the basic frame work that I use to determine how to differentiate grade level standards for my students participating in a modified curriculum. I won't go into too much more detail on the Ohio Extended Standards but I HIGHY suggest that you take the time to look into the extended standards your state has developed OR check out Ohio's. It has been a game changer in my road map to creating a meaningful curriculum for my students. 

So lets get back to math: specifically multiplication.  I realize that some of your students may still be working on basic math skills. However, I am a firm believer in exposing your students to rigor and I am willing to bet that you will be amazed at what your students can accomplish.  I created a leveled Math curriculum for grade bands k-2 and have begun grade bands 3-5 with a multiplication unit. This is how it is broken down: each unit has 5 skills all taken directly from the Ohio Extended Standards. 

Level One Skills: 
  • Represent products of 1's and 2's using arrays
  • Solve multiplication word problems in situations involving equal groups and arrays up to 20 involving multiples of 1's and 2's. 
  • Apply the commutative property using arrays involving multiples of 1's and 2's
  • Solve multiplication number sentences of 1's and 2's 
  • Identify the array that solves for the unknown whole number in a multiplication number sentences of multiples of 1's and 2's 
Level Two Skills: 
  • Represent products of number thru 5x5 using arrays
  • Solve multiplication word problems in situations involving equal groups and arrays up to 20 involving quantities up to 50
  • Apply the commutative and associative properties
  • Solve multiplication number sentences up to 7x7
  • Solves for the unknown whole number in a multiplication number sentences within 50 
Level Three Skills: 
  • Represent products of number up to 10x10 using arrays
  • Solve multiplication word problems in situations involving equal groups and arrays up to 20 involving quantities up to 100 
  • Apply the commutative, associative, and distributive properties
  • Solve multiplication sentences up to 100 
  • Solves for the unknown whole number in a multiplication number sentences within 100
As you can see the skills are very similar and accessible for each level. If your students are in 3rd grade and still working on counting skills they can count using arrays and accomplishing the beginning steps to multiplication! Introduce them to the vocabulary and math symbols that they will see in the real world. Who knows they might just need a new way of counting to master the skill! 

Data collection is an important piece to teaching math because 
so much of math builds on each other. My favorite part of this curriculum is the exposure to the different multiplication properties: commutative, associative, and distributive properties. The units can be mixed and matched based on skill. For example, I have a student who is in level two but has never been exposed to the multiplication properties then I will begin with level one in ONE skill. I keep all of this organized with the data sheet that is included in the curriculum.

This data sheet has every standard (aligning with Ohio Extended) included in the unit and a simple check list to show their mastery based on the standard as well as a place to record their pre and post test score to show growth. You will simply check a 3 if they are exceeding mastery, 2 have mastery, and 1 not mastered. This will help you develop each child's individualized math curriculum. I also love this method for tracking student progress because it is a clear map to future IEP goals and their present levels. Lastly, this data sheet will WOW your admin and parents. So often people underestimate our students abilities and this is an opportunity to show everyone that your students, even in a low incidence classroom, can accomplish high level math skills and participate in a curriculum that goes beyond basic math skills! Parents will be impressed, admin will be impressed, and you will be creating a culture in your school that your students are learning SO MUCH MORE than they expect! Its a wonderful feeling! 

Lastly there these skills can not just be taught once and never practiced again. In order to make sure your students can continue to get the practice of these skills even when you moved on to another standard centers were created. These will align with the workbook to a T. They are meant to be laminated so that they can be used in a 1:1 center, independent center, or para run center for reinforcement of the skills! 

If you want to check out this curriculum in my TPT store click here

If you are using my math curriculum (Grade bands k-2 or 3-5) share pictures in action (no student faces please) with the HASHTAG #SuperheroMath for a chance to be featured on my social media and win free products in my TPT Store 

Task Boxes on a Budget

Its January and while we all need winter break, those of us who teach in a Moderate to Severe Classroom know coming back from a break can be like the first day of school all over again. There are so many different ways you can keep structure in your classroom without pulling your hair out. 
First tip from myself, a fellow Moderate to Severe teacher is to not worry about teaching content the first week back. My students need time to readjust back into their routine and behavior management. This does not mean to just allow free time and choice time all day long. That will only get you further away from your goal! In comes TASK BOXES! These should already be a staple in your classroom and continuing on with your students routine (centers, whole group, etc) using task boxes in place of academic content will remind your students of the classroom routine and structure without stressing them out with tasks that are new and difficult for them! 

I like to change up task boxes every year or so, however, my current batch of kids have been with me for the past 2.5 years. In order to avoid a room full of bored kids I took some time over my winter break to assemble some new task boxes, all from...... wait for it..... THE DOLLAR TREE! Everything I bought was under 25$ Now that is what I call a successful shopping trip! So here is how I set up my  new task boxes in a couple hours and 3 easy steps! 

The dollar tree does offer a ton of bins that you can choose from, BUT I actually do not think those are the best deal. You can find shoebox size plastic boxes sold for under a dollar at Wal-Mart and Target. Have no fear I found a great alternative to house your lovely tasks. 

These bins are simply disposable cooking trays that were 3 for 1.00. I just write the task on it and the students match it to their schedule. More about that in the next tip though :) 

I love these bins because they are large enough to store many materials and they are super lightweight. Plus if they get damaged or ruined its not a big dent in your pocket! 

There are so many amazing products on TPT to help set up a structured work task system. Check out these links if you want to buy and assemble one made by these talented TPT authors:  

In my classroom, I am lucky to have students who are readers so I choose to do a simple and easy checklist. I just hand write out on a piece of paper the tasks the student needs to complete, the reward they choose, and a space for them to check is off! Simple, easy, and cost me no money at all! You can  even laminate it and leave out the task box number and reward so you can save on materials! Easy Peasy! 

Now the fun part! What goes in the task boxes! First I want to explain that if you want your students to be independent at this activity then you need to put MASTERED TASKS! I know I know, you want them to work on current IEP goals or Standards....BUT hear me out. Our students are easily frustrated and/or have learned how to avoid hard tasks (tantrums, sitting "pretending to work", thawing the objects across the room---you name it). So you can prevent this from happening by making it easy for them so they learn how to complete tasks. This will help your students in so many life skills areas and hopefully generalize it at home and in the future in their employment opportunities.
Puzzles are a great way to implant independent work. This puzzle to the right was the most pricey task box I put together because I got 4 at a dollar each. Since I am guessing my students will finish them fairly quickly I will put 2-4 puzzles in each box.

I also bought a simple foam alphabet puzzle. All of my students have mastered putting puzzles together and their letter but this is easy, not stressful, and a great way to sneak fine motor into a task box without the kids knowing!

I love this next task because it can cater to the girls in the classroom. These are pastel pipe cleaners and matching hair clips. This is an amazing fine motor tool and the kids will be busy matching colors. The pipe cleaners were $1.00 and the clips were $1.00 totally 2 bucks total!

This task is a life skill task. It is a simple pack of thank you notes with the envelopes. The students simply have to place the cards in the envelop and they are done! 10 cards came in this pack so it is something that they won't finish super quick! This task cost a total of $1.00! Simple, easy, and cheap!

I could not pass up these adorable little red cups in the paper products aisle at the Dollar Tree. You can use these in SO many different ways! Counting, letters, sorting! They were well worth the $1.00. I chose to make a task with close pins (also $1.00) to place around the rim of the cup. I don't even know if I could say this task cost me 2 bucks because I had a ton of cups and clothespins left over to make more task boxes in the future!

Plastic silverware is another great task that you can use to have students practice job tasks. I like to have the students sort them by type OR take one of each and roll them with a napkin like they would see at a restaurant! 

Socks are a mother great life skill to work on. I got a pack of 4 socks (with different patterns and colors on each pair) so the students can match and fold. The parents will LOVE this one I promise :) 
Now that you have taken the time to read about all about task boxes on the cheap you have earned your reward! (Hahaha little token economy humor for ya!) I created a freebie with 4 simple and easy sorting tasks and matching tasks to add to your bins! These are low prep and will keep the kids engaged! I included two simple sorts (emotions and fruit/vegetable) and two higher level sorts (Match the planets and Match the community places) 
   Lower level tasks 
          higher level tasks   

You can check them out Here!

How to Start a Classroom Coffee Cart in a Life Skills Classroom

A few months ago I posted a picture on instagram (@superheroesinSPED) of the coffee cart in my classroom. I got a ton of questions and requests asking for details of how I implement this in my classroom! I currently teach 3-4 grade life skills. We are just beginning to dabble in vocational tasks outside of safe cooking and file folder activities. I was really excited to get a coffee cart started but I'll be honest I didn't really know how to begin. Where do I get all the materials, will this is more money to start up then I am willing to spend.....well the east answer to that is yes it is a lot of materials and yes it CAN be really expensive. I say can because you can also be thrifty like me! I started with obtaining a grant thru my school to get a nice cart, a ton of creamers, sugars, coffee cups, was amazing! I was planning on using most of that money to buy the coffee makers and coffee but I have a generous parent who loved this idea and donated a coffee pot (my para donated the other) and she sends in so much coffee for us each week! 

Next, I decided how often the coffee cart would be open, I mean we still need to teach reading and math right!?! I personally decided to open shop once a week on Fridays to the staff in my building for .25 cents a cup. The teachers LOVE this and are so excited to have my students arrive at their door with a steaming hot cup of coffee. I make sure to let the staff know this money goes into the students "paycheck" and to purchase coffee cups. This money is not for classroom supplies. 

The students paycheck is my favorite part of the coffee cart! I was told over and over again by parents in many different meetings how difficult going into the community and shopping can be. Their children want to buy all the things! So once a month we take a field trip to the local grocery store to buy our cooking supplies for cooking lessons and then we walk down to the Dollar Tree, which is in the same complex) to buy something with their paycheck. The kids LOVE this and it truly connects working hard ---> Earning money ---> buying fun stuff! 

So let's start back at the logistics of it all! 
On Thursdays I send out a google form to  the staff in my building. This is the easiest way to get the information to the teachers and get their orders to me. Before school on Friday I write the teachers orders on each cup. Then we start making the coffee. During this step we use ALL.THE.VISUALS. Using visuals in the classroom are so important no matter what you are doing to implement independence and decrease prompt dependency. My school is a studio setting and each studio is assigned a color. We use the colors to sort the cup into first floor and second floor. An adult in the room fills the coffee cup and the students then add cream to the coffee (I like to use the creamers with pumps). I also want to note that I use coffee pots for this for three reasons. 1. They were donated to me 2. They make much more coffee at once 3. It is less expensive to purchase bags of coffee as opposed to kurig pods. 

Now we are off! we deliver the coffee to each teacher, asking for payment, and working on so many different speech skills. Students that use AAC devices get an opportunity to have conversations with people outside the classroom. Again I use visuals to help prompt verbal interactions while limiting verbal prompts! 

When the students are done passing out their coffee they are able  to work on the important life skill of cleaning up! We do the dishes and put all of our materials away until next week. 

I have created a product to help implement a coffee cart in YOUR Classroom! You can find it Here

Here is a ittle preview of what is included in this pack! 

Employee rules posters to keep the students on track while at work

Employee of the Month/Week. This is a HUGE motivator for the students in the classroom. I also like to use this in place of student of the month. I try to keep things as age appropriate as possible and typical 3-4 grade classrooms often do not have student of the month! 

Another great way to facilitate conversation while delivering the coffee is giving out coupons and implementing a coffee club. We like to give out coupons randomly and on holidays! The teachers loved getting the a free coffee coupon on the last day before winter break! 

The teachers are also given a coffee club coupon. They hand this to the students each week and once they buy 10 cups of coffee the next one is free! 

This product also includes a tutorial for google forms, a non editable order form if you do not have access to google forms, visuals (as pictured above) and a social story to help the students learn how to work at the coffee cart!

There are also a TON of other bloggers who have talked about a coffee cart in their classroom. I personally love Brie from Breezy Special Ed's post! She is the queen of high school life skills so make sure to check her post out here to learn more! 

Happy Coffee Making Friends!