Meet Anna and her 2nd - 4th grade classroom!
Within my classroom, I have 6 main areas. One area is the whole group instruction area by the SMART board. I use this as the student’s “home base.” Then the classroom is broken up into 4 station rotations. There is a blue table, yellow table, purple table, and computer/iPad station. The blue table is always direct instruction to work on new concepts, the yellow table is IEP goal work, the purple table is fluency, and the computer/iPad station is skill maintenance. They rotate between these 4 stations for reading and math. The students are taught at each station for around 10 minutes. Each student has a visual schedule they follow to rotate through the stations.
I also am lucky enough to have a completely separate room within my classroom with a motor room area! When the students need a motor room break, the first thing they do is check in with how they are feeling using the Zones of Regulation board (see below). (The occupational therapist and social worker at the school have helped to implement this.) Once they move their picture to check into the zone of how they are feeling, they pull off the ring of cards that correspond with that zone and choose 3 activities to complete to become regulated.
This is a typical weekly schedule for my classroom:
Whole Group & Individual Schedules
I have a “Daily Schedule” up on the board in the front of the classroom that follows the typical daily schedule. For some of my students with intellectual disabilities and developmental delays, this type of general schedule is enough. We go through it together as a class first thing in the morning and then check it throughout the day to see what is next. For other students, they have individual schedules that they use. There are two sides of the schedule: green and red. The green side is “to do” and the red side is “all done.” Once they finish an activity, they pull the visual off and move it to the all done side. Then, they check to see what is next and pull off that card. They transition with the card and place it at the location of the next activity. For example, if the student is going to the bathroom, they pull off the bathroom visual and bring it with them to place on the Velcro dot outside of the bathroom. Once they are done going to the bathroom, they pull the visual off of the bathroom and move it the red side of their schedule. For some students, seeing the whole day’s schedule can be overwhelming. Therefore, I made a binder where only 3-4 activities are on the schedule at a time. Schedules can also be portable (on a binder, clipboard, etc.) or have a set spot in the classroom.
Class Wide Behavior System
I use a green, yellow, red class wide behavior system. As a class, we developed our expected and unexpected behaviors, and I have visuals posted alongside the behavior system in order to help reinforce this. The green section is “thumbs up” and the student’s picture is here when they demonstrate “expected” behaviors. Also on the green section, you will see visuals of all the reinforcers the students like to work for and earn throughout the school day. The yellow section is the sideways thumb that says, “refocus and make better choices.” It is student specific on when a student’s picture would move down on the behavior chart. The yellow and red sections each have consequences that go along with them. The red section is “thumbs down” and the students picture is moved there when they demonstrate “unexpected” behaviors. If a student’s picture moves down, we always use positive reinforcement and praise for them to move back up to green. For example, I have had a student who has laid under the table for all of reading centers and her picture was moved down to yellow. While the rest of the class earned a break, this student did not earn her iPad time. While she was upset by not earning iPad, she was motivated by staff to come out from under the table and complete the math centers coming up, so she can move up to green and earn iPad at the next break. While this system is successful with about 80% of the class, individual behaviors systems have to be put in place as well for some students. Some individual strategies that I use are count down strips and star charts. Countdown strips are 10 tabs labeled 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, then reward. They are used by breaking up a task into smaller parts and the students puts down a number each time they complete part of the task. After they put down number 1, they earn the reinforcer they are working for. Star charts are used by the students earning a star periodically throughout a work center, then once they earn all 5 stars they earn their reward.
Assistants play a variety of roles.
I have 4 assistants in my classroom this year and they have a variety of roles within the classroom. During reading and math centers, they assist with running the fluency, ipad, and goal work stations. They also assist the students with bathrooming needs, functional skills instruction, specials (art, music, P.E., library), inclusion, etc. Prior to the school year starting, I meet with my assistants to go over each student specifically. We discuss behavior plans, physical/medical needs, inclusion goals, communication method/strategies, likes/hobbies, behavior triggers, etc. I’m lucky enough to have 20 minutes with my assistants prior to school starting to discuss any behavior intervention changes, instructional strategies, etc. After my first year of teaching, I decided to rotate my assistants with different students each week. I have found this to very successful in decreasing students being dependent upon one assistant. This also has helped to eliminate behaviors when there are substitute paraprofessionals in the room since the assistants are familiar with all of the students needs.
Materials are organized for each station on Monday of each week. These bins are labeled for reading and math and stay at their designated station for the week (blue, yellow, purple, computer). Each student’s materials are labeled within the bins at each table. I create lesson plans for my assistants and they are assigned a station for the week. The students are grouped based on their IEP goals and present levels. In each student’s cubby, they have a task strip for all the steps they need to complete for morning/dismissal routine. They also have visuals for where to put their belongings. With the help from the Autism Helper, I decided to try out having 1 data sheet to take data on all of their IEP goals throughout the week. I got this cute template from Especially Education. When they are with me during reading and math, it is easy to pull their clipboard off the wall and take quick data. Thursday is also data day in my classroom, where I have the assistants take data at the other 3 stations.
I bought these awesome task box labels from Melissa Finch at Autism Adventures and put together the work tasks inside from the Work Task Mega Pack from the Autism Helper. J Now this is not the most color coordinated set up, but I worked with what bins I had and will worry about it looking pretty later! The most important thing is that most of my students are able to find the task boxes independently after just a few months! They each have a Velcro strip with 2 tasks cards on them. They know the routine of finding the first task, bringing it back to their desk, completing the task, putting it away, finding the second task, and so on.
Words of Wisdom
The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is, “to hold onto the good days.” Trust me, I have been there after a hard day at work crying on the couch, watching Friends, drinking a glass of wine. But, the next morning I focus on the funny stories, smiling faces, and the kids meeting their goals. If I could go back in time as a first year teacher, I would tell myself “you can’t do it all at once!” I was so stressed out trying to develop the perfect data collection system, behavior management system, instructional strategies, work tasks system, etc. all in year one! It has taken me 5 years to get to a point where I feel confident with how my classroom is set up and run. I still am trying to improve aspects of my classroom and instruction every year. I wish when I first start teaching, I would have taken my long to do list and broken it down into different categories:
- Have to do today
- Have to do this week
- Can wait until next month
- Can wait until next school year
At the end of each school day just remember, you are a great teacher, your kids are lucky to have you, and it will all get done!
I’m Anna Kupsco and this is my 5th year teaching. I have taught for the past 5 years in a self-contained setting with students with Autism, Developmental Delays, and Intellectual Disabilities. I have bounced around all grade levels at the elementary level. I have taught in a K-2, 2-4, and 4-6 classrooms. I am currently teaching students in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade. I love this job because nothing beats seeing a student’s face light up when they see you first thing in the morning or when they understand a concept! It’s not about how long it takes a student to achieve a goal, it’s that they don’t give up and have encouragement all along the way.