Meet Kristina and her K-2 classroom!
I have 7 students in grades K-2 who are with me the majority of the school day. Then, I have 2 other students who are with me for a small part of the day to work on social skills and work habits. My students’ skills range from limited verbal skills to gifted. There is usually only one assistant and I in the classroom at any given time. Sometimes I am in the classroom by myself with 4-5 students.
These are the independent work systems in my classroom:
- Task Boxes from Especially Education
- Work Boxes using a 3-drawer cart
- Daily Work from the Autism Helper
- Writing Center from the Autism Helper
My classroom is fairly large and long in shape. I use bookcases to create a square in the center of the room, which is used as our sensory/break area. Then, I have 4 group tables that we use for Centers on the outside of the inner square. Each student has his or her own desk. The desks are spread out around the room. I found that it works best for each student to have their own area away from everyone else. The students are not at their desks very often because we do Centers rotations throughout the day. When students enter in the morning, they unpack and go straight to their individual desk. They complete independent work boxes and eat breakfast. This takes about 30 minutes.
Next, we move on to centers. I use the center system that was created by Autism Adventures. There are 3 centers and each center is about 15-20 minutes. Students earn a clip for each center completed. Once they earn 3 clips, they get reward time (whatever they wanted to work for).
First, Then Schedules!
I have a class-wide visual schedule at the front of the classroom and most students have individual First, Then schedules that I got from Especially Education. They have token boards right on their schedule too. One of my high functioning students insists that his “schedule is in his brain” and that works well for him. I do have a written schedule available to him if he needs it. Being consistent with each student’s visual schedule is the most difficult part of the day because the majority of the time there 1 assistant and I with 7 students. That is why I chose the most simplistic First, Then schedule.
Zones of Regulation for behavior management.
My higher functioning students know that they must earn their 3 clips to earn reward time. For my other students, we utilize a token board. How quickly then earn a token depends on their needs. Once they earn five tokens they earn their reward. Most of my students like to work for the Ipad or computer. I think the best and most simplest strategy to use is “first, then.” Instead of saying, “you can’t do this because you haven’t complete your work,” I just always refer to their visual schedule and say “first work, then Ipad.” Nonverbal redirection works best. When students with autism are “talked at” too much they get overwhelmed and it creates more distractions for the other students.
I use the Zones of Regulation social skills program for my higher kiddos. It is a great program to practice identifying their emotions, identifying triggers, and practicing strategies to calm. I have one kiddo who gets really upset, but sometimes we have a hard time figuring out the function of the behavior. The other day, she was able to mutter “blue zone… blue zone.” This is a great start in her being able to identify how she feels and in turn be able to use a calming strategy to feel calm again.
Celebrating Our Mistakes!
I first got this idea at a professional development day on teaching English Language Learner students. The presenter quickly said something about creating a bulletin board that celebrates students’ mistakes towards the end of the training. I am so glad I was listening closely because a light bulb went off in my head! I have 2 students, 1 especially who is very high functioning autism and gets very upset when things go wrong. For example, when his paper gets bent or another student puts on his backpack by mistake.
I thought I would give this “mistake celebrating” a shot. The next morning, I very quickly went to the die cut machine to make the letters for the heading “Celebrate My Mistakes.” I taped the letters to a blank wall in my classroom. It literally took me 15 minutes. I think it is important to remember that it doesn’t have to be pretty; it just has to be functional!
Now, whenever a student or teacher makes a mistake we write the mistake on a post-it, yell and cheer, and stick it to the wall. I never thought I’d see my student jump for joy when his writing paper got wet or when they delivered the wrong type of milk. We even needed to create a rule that we only write one post-it per lesson because he wanted to purposely make mistakes.
Making paraprofessionals part of the team!
My paraprofessionals help me take data on academic and behavior goals and accompany students to specials. They are also in charge of things like the Spelling pretest and post-tests, testing students on fluency, and resetting independent work. This year it has been hard to have 1 Center that each assistant is in charge of because of our schedule of students coming and going, but in years past each assistant had a Center that they worked at and was in charge of.
When training staff, you have to expect to have to re-train. After they have observed you do it, explain it to them, and let them roll with it. But always expect to check back in and make some revisions. I also tell my paraprofessionals to let me know any suggestions they have. I don’t always have the right answers. My paras have come up with some great ideas that work!
Words of wisdom: motivation and independent work!
The best piece of advice I have ever received is “motivation is key!” If something is not working, or a student is demonstrating a lot of behaviors… is what they are working for motivating enough? I have a student where if you don’t have the right edible motivation, he will not sit down and work with you. Once you find it, he will sit with you for 30 minutes!
If I could go back in time I would tell myself… The first skill you need to start teaching your students is an independent work system.
My name is Kristina Fassett. This is my 3rd year teaching in a self-contained classroom for students with autism in Northern Virginia. Before classroom teaching, I was an ABA Therapist for 2 years in Long Island, New York. I received the best training at a private preschool for children with autism. I worked there as a teacher assistant for 1 year and I am eternally grateful for the knowledge I obtained there. I love this job because every year and every day is different. I like the challenge of needing to be flexible and figuring out what works for each individual student.
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