Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cognitive Exercises for Improved Reading

Weaknesses in visual processing, tracking, sequencing, and memory can get in the way of the reading process. Furthermore, reversals of letters, numbers and words can make the learning process taxing and frustrating.  However, these are necessary skills that are the foundation of reading, and many young learners need to strengthen these areas of cognition before they can learn to decode our language with success.  I am now offering a sampling of the workbooks, Reversing Reversals Primary, Reversing Reversals and Reversing Reversals 2 for followers of A Special Sparkle. Through fun, game-like activities such as coloring activities and mazes, children can quickly gain the skills needed for improved decoding and reading comprehension.  Free Sample
To learn more about these products: Click here 


Monday, December 16, 2013

Stick to Those Routines: How to Survive Your Final Week!

Hi Y'all!

This week marks the last week of school before the Holiday Break for many of us. While the anticipation may be exciting and the end cannot not come soon enough, it is this week that we really need to stick to our guns! As educator's we know the importance of clear expectations and routines for smooth classroom management. But with the holiday's approaching and our inner tanks running on empty, it can be hard to stick with these routines. We are run down, spread thin, and just trying to make it to that glorious day before vacation. This makes routines and consistency even more imperative! Below are some reasons why:

What are routines?

Routines are repeated, predictable events that provide a foundation for the daily tasks in a child's life.

Why are routines important?

Routines support the self-regulation and executive function on children of all abilities, in that it prepares students for what to expect in any given day. Children with and without disabilities often lack key social skills necessary for success in life. So much of a young learner's life feels unpredictable. For many children, especially those with special needs, the unpredictability of certain aspects of their life is too much to handle. Social issues and academic expectations are challenging enough. It can be nearly impossible for some children to navigate tricky social situations, so we can image how challenging it can be to do this while figuring out how to stand in line, when to ask a question, or how to get the teacher's attention. It is important that as supporters of our students' learning, that we make every attempt to provide clear, consistent routines. This alleviates the uncertainty of the school day and classroom expectations, and allows for opportunities for instruction and practice of more complex, unpredictable situations.

What can teachers do?

Teachers can create a predictable routine for their students. These routines can (and should) be individualized to match children's needs in order to support their development, especially in regards to self-regulation and executive functioning. Individualization of these routines means that the sequence is the same, but the actions, timing, and requirements may vary to accommodate the child's needs.

As students and teachers are itching to get out for vacation, our behavior starts to shift. What was once a seamless transition to the lunchroom now sounds like a troupe of rabid monkeys at dinnertime. What was once a beautiful example of morning meeting, is now a quick, annotated version to avoid issues and move on to a more "fun" activity. We are better than this! Our students are better than this!

What should we do?

Most of us spend the first few weeks in January re-introducing and practicing our routines. Why should we have to wait? By maintaining our high standards that final week, we are able to better tailor or practice and instruction of these routines when we all arrive back at school. It also acts as an opportunity for students to be held accountable for their behavior before those chaotic weeks at home. 

Besides the above reasons, continuing to hold students' accountable for their behavior by maintaining a clear set of routines and expectations will only make your life easier! Why would you want to have a 120 hour tension headache when you could just teach and support as you have been all year? Trust me - by expecting your students' to maintain their adaptive behavior they have learned throughout the school year and ensuring you are providing the most adequate academic and social support, you and your students will be much, much, happier and successful!

Enjoy your last week before freedom, have a joyous holiday season and a happy new year!


 photo Rae_zps7708f184.pngPhotobucket

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Sparkling Holiday Winner!

And we have a winner!!! Thank you to all of you who participated! We'll be sure to have more giveaways in the future!

Heidi, you'll be getting an email from me shortly with part of your prizes, my authors will be sending you the other parts. Congratulations and Happy Holidays!!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Using Scripts to Encourage Language and Interaction

Hi everyone!  It's Chris from Autism Classroom News. Working with kids with autism, I am always looking for ways to increase their independence in social interactions and also working on ways to increase their language use.  Getting even some of our higher functioning students to use sentences in situations where they could use one word, as well as increasing how they use their language, is difficult.  Many of the students respond to prompts but they also become dependent on them.  So for instance, I can tell them what to say, but they often just repeat it and they don't become more independent.  They also sometimes repeat the prompt.  So if I say, "Say hi to Devon" often the student with autism echoes that.  So instead of saying, "Hi Devon," he says, "Say hi to Devon." Fading out those extra elements becomes difficult.   In addition, if we are working on social interaction with a peer, having an adult involved feeding lines to the student really interferes with the interaction.  So I thought I would share some strategies today about how to encourage language and independent interaction in less intrusive ways that foster independence.

One of the first issues to think about is how you want to expand the student's language.  Research has indicated that if your student is nonverbal, starting with teaching requesting for desired items is the most effective.  It has the most power in that it is highly reinforcing for the student.  After those first one-word requests, you can expand by the number of words that the student uses, often by adding sentence starters like, "I want___."  However, once they begin to get "I want ___" then it makes sense to start thinking about expanding some of the functions of their language use.  One way is to start working on labeling items and commenting on what they have or what they need.  Simple sentence starters, similar to those you would use in the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) are a good place to start. (Please note that PECS is the process of teaching a functional communication system for students and is not the name of the actual pictures used.  Those are called picture-symbols or pic-syms).

 In the picture to the left, you can see a sentence strip a student would use to request help and another one where he or she puts a visual at the end of what he sees and then can read the strip.  In the one below you can see one where he says, "Can I have ___?" as another form of requesting.  The point of the sentence strip is for the student to be able to read the pictures (use them as a cue) to independently ask for help or tell you what they see. Games of I-Spy are great for teaching the I see ___ phrase.  This moves the student into a new function of commenting--or talking for more conversational reasons.

One of the things that I like about these sentence strips is that you can have the student use visuals on the fly to make different sentences so you can capture his or her motivation.  It is also easy to fade the sentence strip out by dropping more and more of the visuals out from the end.  So in the "Can I have" strip, you could fade it back to "Can I ______" and the student has to complete more of the sentence on his own.

For students who can read, it's even easier to make the scripts because you can write them out as you need them.  You can easily use a dry erase board or a laminated piece of paper with a dry erase marker to write out the cue he or she needs.  You can also use post-it notes or any piece of paper to give the student a cue.  This makes it much easier than when you have to find the right picture for those students who can't read and makes it a more efficient process.  And again, it's easy to drop the words off the end of the sentence to increase his independence.  The picture below actually used popsicle sticks that we either wrote on the fly or had ready as needed depending on the situation.  They became a good tool for conversation for the student as well. He would draw a popsicle stick out of a cup and make a comment or ask a question based on which one he drew using the script.  Then a peer could respond and ask him a question or make a comment that he had to respond to.  This allowed the interaction to be free of an adult reminding him of what to say.

You can use scripts of whole recitations, like the Pledge of Allegiance that is in the title picture at the top of this post with picture cues as a way to increase participation in classroom activities.  You can also use scripts like the one below for students to interact on the playground.  You can download the grid and materials for the playground chart below.  Essentially the student chooses a friend's picture and puts it on the left and then chooses an activity.  He then uses the script to go up to the friend, and say, "Chelsea, let's go jump rope."  When he done jumping rope, he moves to the next one.  He can use this chart independently to get kids to interact with him on the playground and there is a motivator at the end of it because the social interaction and communication is probably the hardest work he does all day.  You can download this chart below for free in my TPT store here.

You can also integrate scripts into schedules so that the steps of an activity include saying good morning to a peer or asking the front office staff a question when completing a task analysis of delivering a message.  

Finally, one of the newest ways that you can use scripts for kids who can read is to use texting.  If you are working in a system where the student has access to a device like a tablet or a smartphone, either through your classroom equipment or through a bring your own device program, texting is the easiest way to give social cues and scripts to students without having to interfere with the interaction by adding an adult to give him reminders. It also allows you to change the script based on the interaction of the other people involved.  For instance, you might plan that a student would ask about what movie another kid saw this weekend only to find that the other kid just went ahead and told him.  A static script means that the kid with autism (or other social issues, because other kids benefit from this as well) probably will ask the question anyway and it won't make any sense.  However, if you are using texting, you can change the question you suggest to him in the text after you hear what the other kid says....but be across the room and not in the middle of the interaction.  You can even leave blanks for the student to fill in like the one at the end of the message series below.

Regardless of the function of the language or the type of script you use, you will need to teach your student how to look at the script, read it to himself, and then look up to talk to the peer or adult.  This needs to be practiced repeatedly so that the student gets good at it and then he or she can use it on his own. This is true for texting as well, but it looks pretty age-appropriate for most of our students to look at their phone in a conversation while talking to a peer, so it doesn't stand out as much as if he was looking at a notebook or a piece of paper.

And finally, I think it's important to remember that we all use scripts at some point or another.
I ran across the cocktail napkin above and had to have it!   Unobtrusive and easy to use!

So, how do you increase and encourage language with your students?  Please share in the comments. You never know what you tried that might be helpful to someone you have never met!

Until next time,
Autism Classroom News

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Saturday, December 7, 2013

5 Free Nelson Mandela Activities

With the passing of Nelson Mandela this week, I'm taking the opportunity to talk about current events  for a few days with my students. Using these current events in sessions is so important to me. Typically our special needs students don't pick up on as much incidental learning as their peers. Current events are one of the areas I notice my kids need direct instruction and extra discussion or they will not engage.

I wanted to share 5 free resources I found this week to use with my students to discuss Nelson Mandela during speech and language therapy.

(Image from EduClips)

The first app, Mandela-History, is currently free from Quelle History. It has a cartoon story of the history of Mandela's life. There is even a comprehension quiz!  It also has a map and interactive learning games. This app is fantastic!

The second free app I downloaded this week is called Mandela- stories and games. In this one I love the real picture included in the story and the timeline activity. It's more appropriate for older students. 

There are also a few activities I downloaded for free from TPT. 

Mandela Reading Comprehension for 3-5th grade from Rick's Resources. 

This Cloze Reading activity, by Caroline Crow, is a great activity for middle school or high school students. 

With my younger groups, I'm going to use this coloring sheet and discuss the South African Flag. We will use it as a compliment to any of our articulation or language goals by 'earning' crayons! For example, for every 10 artic words, they will earn one color to color their flag.

Are you discussing Nelson Mandela this week? How are you conveying his significance in history to your students?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tactile Letters Help with Identification

One of things I love about my job is that I get to help students with reading deficiencies in hopes that they will surpass them.  It is fun to watch them grow through the years, especially when I start with them in Kindergarten.

Each year I begin working with kindergarten on letters and letter sounds.  I work with the teachers to make sure they are getting the same thing in the Reading Center as they do in the classroom.  One of my favorite things to do with them is use tactile methods for learning letters.  Here are a few we have used so far this year.

I bought these at the Dollar Tree last year.  They are tactile letter cards with glitter on them.
I made these for the students to use with Sharpie markers and glue.  It was really simple and easy to make them.  Plus, they are inexpensive to make.  I have also done with sight words for the older kids.

And of course, magnetic letters are also wonderful!

The students also have fun making the letters and saying the sounds.  The kindergarten teacher gets out the shaving cream quite often to make the letters, but I have not gotten that brave yet.  My space is more limited, so I find other ways to make letters.

We use play dough or clay to create the letters.
And another one of my favorites is to take hair gel and fill a plastic bag up with it.  The kids can write the letters "in the gel" and feel them.  They love when I get these out!
And, then there are pipe cleaners (now called chenille sticks).  We love to bend them up and make letters too.  We then use them for games as they hold up the letter when I say a word that starts with it.  So fun!
What are some other ways you help students learn letters and letter sounds in a fun and engaging way?

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