Meet Jenn and her middle school classroom!
My classroom has multiple areas or stations set up that are a mixture of independent work stations and paraprofessional or teacher run instructional stations. Students work through their day by rotating around to these different stations with breaks sandwiched in-between while gaining independence and building on instructional skills.
All the Schedules
I have multiple types of schedules in my classroom because I make everything to fit the needs of each of my individual students. There are visual schedules, written checklist schedules, and first/then schedules in my classroom because each one of my students need a different type of schedules. There are 15 minute rotations with the schedules that allow the students the ability to work and then take breaks with short times of the day where they need to stay under control and focused and then take a break to regain that ability to work again. The students use them during most of their transitions until they get used to the schedule and then they will check them as they need to.
Individualized Behavior Management
I utilize Class Dojo in my classroom for my students. My students work hard all day to earn positive points and if necessary they lose them and that effects the time of the day that they “earn”. They can earn anything like books, drawing, computer, and their favorite toys. Individually I use first/then schedules with students, edible reinforcement on a specific schedule with students and also earn charts where the student earns 3 or 5 stars for an item of their choosing after a work session. All of these methods are geared towards the needs of that specific student. I was one of those teachers in the past that said I would not have a snack bin with items cut into small pieces and using that for students but, after having a very difficult time getting a student to lower the aggression I realized that it isn’t about if I liked using food in the classroom, it was about if it was something that was motivating and reinforcing to my students. That is truly what drives them to follow through with instruction and directives just like it is for us as adults when we go to work for a paycheck.
Couldn’t do it without my paraprofessionals.
My paraprofessionals are the glue that hold my classroom together. Without them, I would not be able to do my job. My paraprofessionals have many roles in my classroom they provide instruction, implement behavior plans, set up materials, prep materials, assist students with building independence, take data, and more. The tips I have for staff training is figure out a way to make time to at least once a week have a staff meeting where you can discuss current things in the classroom that are working and not working and also provide advice to the paras for those in the moment scenarios that we can’t always predict. I also utilize the trainings to introduce new strategies and ideas that are available through videos and blogs from other special educators. Like I mentioned before, my paras pretty much do everything in the classroom at some point or another. The main thing that I tell them that their job is to build more independence for the students. Unfortunately, in many ways they are trying to make it so that students don’t need them anymore. They work one on one with students and also in small groups on academics, behavior, communication, and functional skills.
Organization = Accessibility
I have found that the best way to organize things is to have a place that makes sense and is accessible to everyone that needs to get to it whether it is just you, the staff, or the students. When you have things that people need near where they are going to need them it makes it less work and more likely for those things to happen. I always have things like pens attached to data clipboards, Velcro on a wheel that it can be easily taken off, and a very well organized supply cabinet. My work tasks are also labeled well with schedules so that students know when they are going to be working on what task. This provides a sense of routine and structure that my students and the staff in my classroom need.
Work Tasks are the center of your classroom!
The other thing that seems simple but is sometimes a lot of work is setting up a work task system in your classroom and know that it is going to take time to build a lot of materials. Once you have this system in your classroom though it is going to be the center of your classroom. You will have students doing work that is productive and meaningful but things that they are confident in. This will give you the time that you need to work with your students individually on those IEP goals. It will also free up paraprofessionals to do more academic work and less on the behavior maintenance point. Having these tasks that students can do independently is a major component to every classroom. I have made work tasks for my classroom and feel that some of my homemade tasks are some of the best.
Words of Wisdom
Always do, in your heart what you feel is best for your students and believe in what you do. There are so many people working in your classroom and coming in and out of your classroom and there are going to be opinions and ideas thrown at you from every direction. Make sure that the decisions in your classroom that are being made are best for the students because at the end of the day, that is what your classroom is there for. Try to create an environment where your students can feel safe, learn, and build independence and do everything that you can to surround your classroom with staff that have that same goal.
My name is Jenn Adams. I have been teaching for 10 years. I have always known I wanted to be a teacher. I started with a bachelors in early childhood and elementary education. After teaching two years in first grade, two years in full day pre-kindergarten and one year of alternative education with middle and high school students I decided I needed to open another door and get my masters in special education. I went back and got my masters in special education and have now been teaching autistic support for five years in a middle school self-contained classroom. I feel that I have really found my niche by working with students with autism. I love my job because I get to help students become more independent every single day and watch them make progress in so many different ways. Along with my teaching experience I have been able to find ways to share my ideas through my blog Teach Love Autism (www.teachloveautism.com). I have also been able to share resources that I find useful in my classroom through my TPT store Teach Love Autism.