Meet Kate and her K-2 Classroom!
Students sit in table groups where they eat breakfast, snack and do any whole group instruction (usually Science). The rest of the time, the students work at Centers. There are two teacher led centers, independent work stations, and a one on one discrete trial center. There is a large carpet in the back of the room for morning and afternoon meeting as well as a place for students to read. My absolute favorite thing in my classroom is the privacy room dividers. They are lightweight and easy to move so I can quickly minimize distractions and set them up or change them around if needed. This helps create more quiet work spaces.
All About the Visual Schedules
The students all have individual visual schedules posted. My students live and breathe by their schedules. It is the first thing they check in the morning, the last thing they check before they dismiss, and frequently check throughout the day. I have an AM morning schedule and then when the students are at lunch/recess, I flip it to the PM afternoon schedule. My favorite schedule tip: teach the unexpected! At a PECS training, they talked about how important it was to teach “Surprise!” A surprise can be positive, negative, or neutral. Ours is titles “Something different” with a picuture of a surprise face and a lightening bolt to catch their attention. I have used this for little changes such as a holiday craft or bigger things like picture day in the auditorium. My students are learning flexibility and it won’t be such a disaster when there really is a change in our schedules. I also have a bigger, whole group schedule that I use during morning and afternoon meeting. We use to in the morning to go over what’s happening that day and in the afternoon to check in about what we’ve accomplished and what we have left to do. The schedules also tie in some visual behaviors of “First we work at centers, Then we have a sensory break.”
Small Group Instruction
The majority of my instruction is small group or individual. So the students rotate between centers and follow an individual center schedule. I consulted with Laura Brown from RCADD (Resource Center for Autism and Developmental Delays) when developing these to make them simple and easy to follow. Clifford and Pete the Cat are for small group instruction by myself or one of my paraprofessional. We also have a minion table for individual discrete trials. A colored star means “Independent Work Station.” I have 3 independent work stations: Red, Blue, and Yellow star. The color of the star correlates with the location. Then, once the student is at their correct star for independent work station, they use the Centers pocket chart to find their name. The color of their name correlates with the work system to use.
Visual Behavior Management
I use a whole group colored behavior clip chart, where the students can move their clips up and down for good and bad choices. I do not use this with every student as they are not successful with it. I have a few students who understand what it means to be a “Super star” or “Sad face.” The most powerful behavior management tool is to know individual students’ reinforcers. I use a visual choice board for students to pick what they are working for. I constantly refer back and remind the students what they are working for. I sometimes will have the item in my hand and bring it within eye sight for some students to show them what they are working for. And as long as the student completes their task/complies with instructions, they get whatever they worked for. Now, there are instances when students need to take a break or go to time out because they are not making good choices (yelling, running, hitting, overstimulated, etc.) So the student is removed to a less populated area of the classroom to take a break. In a few minutes, myself or a Paraprofessional will go over and remind them to make good choice “quiet voice, hands to self, walking feet, etc.” and reminds them what they are working for. The student is then able to try again and when they comply/complete task, they earn their reinforcer. When a student needs to complete a non-preferred activity, It’s easier to entice them with reinforcement then to force them to do it. Again, the use of visuals is so important to show students the right way, remind them, and reinforce them when they are following the expectations.
Paraprofessionals as coteachers!
My paraprofessionals are absolutely fantastic and it feels like they are co-teachers. My paraprofessionals lead small group instruction, prompt using a least to most hierarchy, and lead whole group transitions to lunch and recess. Each paraprofessional has a schedule to follow so they know which student(s) they are working with at a specific time or which center or station they are managing. After I attended the PECS training, I shared the information with them and they implement PECS in the classroom. They take both behavioral and academic data everyday and again, they have a schedule so they know who to take data on at a certain time of day.
Organization is key!
Organization is probably the most important thing for my classroom to run smoothly (maybe after schedules..or visuals…) because it is for the safety of the students as well as the sanity of the adults. I have students who put inedible objects in their mouth constantly. So motivating items such as Play doh has to be in the correct bin with the lid on it out of reach of the students in order to keep them safe. One piece of advice that my coach Jenny Stetson gave me was to think about the flow of the day when setting up my classroom. So therefore, the student schedules are on the bulletin board by the door/cubbies since it is the first and last thing the students check. Organization is key for a cluster program because there cannot be any downtime or wait time…or a student has run away or is distracted and is under the table, or put something in their mouth. So I try to simplify as much as possible and as soon as the students come to my table to work, their task is in front of them. Independent work task boxes are color coded for specific students and numbered so the students know which tasks to complete, how many they need to complete, etc. Small group instruction materials are all within arm’s reach of my teaching table…as it is not possible to get up and get something from another area of the room.
It takes time to build a cluster program for students with Autism. There is ALOT of work that needs to be done, but it does not need to be done right away (or else you will burn out!)
My name is Kate Kuempel and this is my 9th year teaching Special Education in Chicago Public Schools, but my first year teaching in a low incidence/cluster classroom. I am originally from Philadelphia, PA and attended Duquesne University in Pittsburgh for my undergraduate (B.S. Early Childhood/Elementary Education) and graduate (M.S. Special Education) degrees. My classroom is a K-2 Cluster Program in the northside of Chicago. I currently have 10 students, mostly all diagnosed with Autism, Developmental Delay and Orthopedic Impairment. I love this job because every single day I am blown away/moved to tears by what my students are able to do.