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Meet Jessica and her center-based classroom!

My classroom is set up and sectioned off using blue partitions to create different work stations within the classroom that my students rotate through throughout the school day, there are six stations; one-on-one with the teacher, one-on-one with a paraprofessional, computer, desk work, fine motor/basic skills with work boxes and file folder activities, and sensory station in the classroom.

The General Layout of the Day

The students do two, twenty-minute (out of a total of six) work stations. The students then have a designated twenty minutes for snack and bathroom break. After that the students have two more work rotations before taking a recess break. One great thing is that we have a fenced in small playground available to curb the chance for elopement while outside. After we return to class the students have two more work rotations before the students have lunch, specials, and recess. When they return to the classroom we have what has become “quiet time” where I put a relaxing video with music on, we turn of the lights and the students have time to engage with tactile sensory items such as sand, slime, floof, playdough, rice etc. or any other item that calms them down.

Our afternoons are a little more flexible than the mornings. We have specialists who come into the classroom to provide different “electives” so to say such as library (Librarian), robotics (STEM teacher), or cooking (done with our SLP, and OT). After the elective, or instead of we do two week rotations of either the Science or Social Studies curriculum from The Autsim Helper. This is the first year I have used these curriculums in the afternoon but it has provided another element of learning for my curious and exploratory students. We end our day with another snack time and music. If the students don’t want snack they participate in sensory activities for themselves.

Starting the Day Right: a Digital Calendar Routine that gets everyone involved!

My students start their day in our school wide “Movement Lab”/Sensory Room that has items such as a crash pad, sit and spins, yoga balls, etc. After their soft transition into the day we return to the classroom where we go through our digital calendar routine. This is something I just started using this current school year and it has been such a game changer! I was able to incorporate the student’s photos and using AirPlay I am able to project the iPad screen onto our whiteboard and pass the iPad around for the students to take turns with. We have basic slides that stay in the PowerPoint every month such as attendance, lunch count, a survey, weather, and zones of regulation. One student begins by moving the photo of each student in the class to either the home, or school section on the slide, I also included picture of the staff in the room to be included. Once one student takes attendance he or she passes the iPad to another student to start the lunch count. This has been such a powerful way to teach about taking turns and self-advocating for a turn! Each student says if they have home lunch or school lunch that day. We match our written rules to pictures of the rules. And then we do a survey. This in particular has been so powerful for my students. Each morning I give them a choice between two things (foods, activities, movies, school subjects, classes, etc), and the students pick which one they like better. After each student (and staff—the students seem very amazed that I have preferences too!) makes a choice, we count how many chose each object and then determine which group is greater! The students are becoming more self-aware, making choices and decisions, and becoming more socially aware as well with what others prefer, along with learning some more advanced math skills. We break to Youtube for a Days of the Week song before a student chooses what day it is. Then a student shows us the date. This has also been great to see, students being self-aware of what month, day, and year it is on a regular basis! I have a student on a communication device who types it out for me every morning even if he isn’t the one doing it on the iPad for the class! We determine the weather and listen to a song, before we use the zones of regulation and each student has a turn to place their picture in the color zone they are feeling (blue, green, yellow, red). My students with more language skills have been answering questions like “Why are you happy today?” or “What is making you sad?” Which has been great to see and hear about! Even my nonverbal students, who did this hand over hand at the beginning of the school year, are now using the zones chart to actively tell me how they are feeling. A few very socially aware students also put other students in the red zone if that particular student is busy having a behavior instead of participating in calendar. We listen to a song about feelings and then each student gets a turn choosing one song (usually from the PinkFong playlist) for us to listen to. It has really been incredible to see the remarkable self-awareness and advocacy my students have developed by something so simple! This time of our day, every student participates and I would dare to say that there is usually 99.9% engagement with the calendar routine every day in my classroom. I have incorporated patterns, colors, numbers, letters, and quantities some days just for something extra and different. It seems that even if I sneak some academic slides into my PowerPoint, the students don’t mind because it is so dang fun!!!

Individual Schedules for Everyone

Student schedules are posted on their individual cubbies. Depending on the student they either have a picture schedule—using PECS—or a written schedule. Picture schedules are made in advance and students either take the icon off and put it into a pocket Velcro-ed to their cubby and then transition to their activity, or look at the picture and then transition. Written schedules, are laminated and changes are made with dry erase markers to account for different or special activities.

Teaching Communication and Using Individualized Behavior Plans

As an overarching theme, we do really promote the use of functional communication for all students (in whatever communication method works best for them), as well as having a designated break area in the classroom that we use the beginning of the school year to teach the students how to use appropriately instead of using behavior to escape. These two things are pretty universal as far as management and applicable replacement behaviors. Maladaptive behaviors that are serving functions other than access or escape are dealt with according to specific behavior plans for each student.

Brag on Your Paraprofessionals

Anytime I have a chance to, I really have to brag about my paraprofessionals. I came into this classroom as a first year teacher last year being the youngest member on my team, and someone who had never been the leader of a classroom. It definitely took me time to get some ground under my feet as far as taking the lead, and giving direction, but I have come into myself as a teacher and leader and could not have lucked out with the hardworking, amazing, dedicated women who have been my paraprofessionals the past two years. In the classroom, my para’s handle a lot of day to day business. We had a training session on data so they take both behavioral and academic data for students (frequency, duration, time sampling), they assist in transitions, they run rotation stations in the classroom. We really are a team and are able to support each other’s weaknesses, and celebrate and follow strengths. At the beginning of the year (and as it changes) I create a binder for my paras that has the IEP goals, and behavior plans, and other relevant information about the students so they know what we are targeting and they know what the students need. Ultimately we are all here for the kids, and that’s our main priority every single day.

Every child deserves someone who will always fight for them.

Goodness, this was just a year ago that I was a first year teacher. I would have to say, whatever you do, do with confidence, and do it for the kids. There are so many times I feel overwhelmed and stressed and like I am not good enough, but what always gets me through any sort of feeling is reminding myself why I am doing this, and it always comes back to the kids, because that’s why I’m here in the first place. It is so easy to get distracted by drama with adults, and overbearing parents, and administrative issues, but in the end you have to do your best, and make the choices that are going to benefit the students the most. Every child deserves someone who will always fight for them and be an advocate with their best interests in mind, and that should always be their teacher.

My name is Jessica Courville, I am 23 years old, and I teach a center-based autism specific classroom at the elementary level with students Kindergarten through Fifth grade. Though this is only my second year of teaching I have been working in the special education field for 7 years now. I started volunteering in significant special needs classrooms in while I was still attending high school and since then have worked in ECSE preschools, and significant support needs classroom at the elementary and middle school level as a paraprofessional. While getting my teaching degree I worked for a behavioral therapy agency where I obtained my Registered Behavioral Technician certification and provided ABA therapy to children ages 3-17. I love my current job and field without a doubt and cannot picture myself doing anything else. One interesting fact about myself is that while attending college I was on the speech and debate team and competed at the national level in debate and speech performance!

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