Monday, March 20, 2017

A Chance to Catch Up

One of my students has autism. Although he has trouble staying focused and is missing some social skills, he doesn't have major communication or sensory issues that impact his learning. This is his second year in my class. I keep finding that my assignments and activities are not challenging enough for him. He finishes work quickly and with ease, as long has he remains focused. 

I use technology a lot to meet the needs of individual students. One website we use for reading, Moby Max, progresses students through grade level material. At the beginning of the year I began all my students at a kindergarten level in Moby Max. I figured it would give students the opportunity to experience initial success in learning. 

A month ago this student maxed out Moby Max Literature. It showed him reading at an 8.8 grade level (although he is only in 7th grade). This level of reading is easily comparable to his peers in the general education setting. 

In speaking with his mother and my administrators, we decided to give him a chance to attend some general education classes. Starting the day after break, he will be attending a general education English, Math and Social Studies class. He is going to have to get used to having some homework. He is also going to have to get used to being challenged and maintaining focus. He will have to read for understanding and produce something related to what he has learned. I look forward to seeing how he does with these new challenges. I am really hoping he succeeds and can continue to be challenged more in the future!  

Monday, January 30, 2017

Swimming

As a class, we go out into the community to learn once each week. Last week we went to the YMCA to swim. I always enjoy swimming with my students. They love it and have gotten so much braver as they have opportunities to swim in PE class and at the Y.  They learn lots of small lessons every time we go: how to be polite, dressing/undressing, putting things away in lockers, remembering where one's locker is, and general pool rules and manners.

Last time, two of my students were able to take a test to swim in the deep end. They had to swim the length of the deep end. However, this time, the test had changed. Before swimming the length of the deep end, they had to jump in the pool and tread water for 30 seconds. Neither of these students had learned to tread water before. Although I was convinced they could, they were not quite as convinced. One student particularly struggled. I was trying to teach him in the shallow end and he kept putting his feet down, as he is pretty tall. He was on the verge of giving up when the lifeguard gave permission for him to try it at the edge of the deep end with me in the pool next to him. He jumped in, treaded water for 30 seconds (although he looked like he wanted to give up after about 20) and then swam the length of the pool. I was so proud of him for not giving up, even when it became difficult.

Another student, who in the past had clung to the wall the entire time, walked 1/3rd of the way into the center of the pool and even went under water in order to get a diving stick off the bottom of the pool. It is so fun to see each student improve as they become more comfortable in the water.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

AAC Awareness Month

This month is AAC awareness month. For those of you who might not be familiar with AAC, it stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. AAC includes any form of communication that is not oral speech (gestures, facial expressions, use of communication devices, pictures, etc).  In honor of AAC awareness month, I thought I'd share some of my experience with AAC and some things I have learned along the way.

Over the last couple years, I have learned a lot about AAC use from my students and colleagues. Currently, I have four students who are nonverbal. Three of these students use a device, similar to a tablet, to communicate. They are each at different levels of communication. Since so many of my students need AAC devices, we do some activities as an entire class using an app on our classroom iPads. It has been fun to see all my students benefitting from this form of communication.

Contrary to popular belief, the use of an AAC device does not impede learning to speak. Actually, research demonstrates that those using AAC devices, often begin speaking more. I have seen this clearly with one of my students. In the last year, his verbal speech has increased significantly as his use of an AAC device has also increased. Today he even said the word "communicator" to describe his device. Both his speech pathologist and I were surprised. It's fun to actually experience what I have been told research shows. As a result, I have learned that the earlier a person can start on an AAC device, the better, as vocabulary is likely to continue to increase with age.

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend (as well as present) at the second annual Indiana AAC Summit.  I have implemented a lot of high tech AAC in my classroom. However, I really didn't have a lot of low tech options for students. After returning from the conference, I printed off some boards that match the home screen of the devices my students use. I also printed off some symbols and words (matching the buttons on their AAC devices) for specific things that students might need to be able to communicate in the hallways.

We have one student who has struggled with indicating the need to use the restroom. His device has been broken since the beginning of school, so we have been using an iPad for his communication. However, he usually doesn't take it with him when he leaves the classroom.  Up until my printing of the boards and cards, he would wander around the room or get upset when needing to use the restroom.  We would take him to the bathroom every couple hours to prevent an accident. This often caused frustration because he would have to sit in the bathroom even though he didn't need to use it at that time. The day I printed the cards, he walked over to one of my aides during specials, grabbed the bathroom card and tapped it ... the same way he taps the icon on his communicator. We have only had one accident since printing these cards and that was when we forgot to carry our cards with us. He also flipped through the cards at one point and indicated "all done" and walked to the classroom door.

We are going to have some larger boards printed with the home page of their AAC devices on them. We plan to hang these in places around the school where our students often spend time (buss pick-up, cafeteria, gym, hallway). This will help in two ways. One, our students will have ways to communicate even without their devices (although they should always carry them). Two, other students will become aware of what AAC is and how it is used by our students.

Some helpful etiquette for communicating with someone with AAC:
-be patient, it takes longer to communicate this way
-only predict what they are saying if they give you permission to predict
-don't assume someone who uses AAC has cognitive disabilities
-do not touch or take their AAC from them without permission

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Success through Movement

Last week I was sitting in a training in which I was required to sit in a student chair for two consecutive days. By the end of the training, I was having trouble focusing and was uncomfortable. Although I learned the material presented, I probably would have learned the material better if I had been less concerned about how uncomfortable I was. I came to realize that my students face that same challenge every day in my classroom.  As a result, I decided to submit a proposal on the Donors Choose website for alternative seating options in my classroom.  
You can see my proposal here.  Also, any donation that takes place by September 5th using the code LIFTOFF during checkout will be matched (up to $50).  Please think about how you can be a part of bringing movement, core strength, and more learning to my classroom!  

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Transformation

School started two weeks ago tomorrow. In some ways, it feels like much longer. Yet in other ways, I am amazed at how far we have already come in two weeks.  The first hour of school this morning I saw something that brought me joy down to the core of who I am. I never thought students working together on a puzzle would bring me such joy.  

Let me give you some context. Two weeks ago the bell rang for our first day of class. I was running somewhat late to my classroom, where 11 sixth grade students waited for me. Thankfully, most of them were running late too as they tried to figure out how to open lockers and get to class. These 11 students and my two sixth grade students make up my Panther Success class. This is a group of students who will come to my classroom every Wednesday from now through the end of their career at Southside Middle School. The plan is for every student to have a teacher who cares about them and their success.  Our school decided to start the first two and a half weeks with panther success every day. For the rest of the school, this provides some routine and a good location to share rules and expectations. 

For me, it was a little more stressful, especially day one. I had one aide and we were trying to figure out how to welcome our 8 students to school, make sure they had breakfast, divide them up into their groups, provide the structure and routine they needed, and still make sure I was able to interact with the students in my panther success group.  Thankfully, my aide figured out how to manage all my students during breakfast and drop them off in their classes on the way to my classroom. She then helps with a few needs in my class before joining another teacher with my students in another classroom.  

The first few days were definitely stressful for everyone involved. Most of the sixth graders were stressed (both groups) as they adjusted to middle school. On day two I had a few minutes with my Panther Success group before my students joined us. I brought up my students for discussion, explained some things, and answered questions. They had some good questions those first few days.  One of my students is nonverbal, but makes a decent amount of noise. Initially, this brought a lot of stares and some frustration from my other students. The first time I fed a student Pediasure using a syringe (without a needle), I thought eyes would pop out of heads.  Every time I did something new, I would explain it to my class. 

What a difference two weeks makes. Today, I planned an activity that everyone could participate in equally. Students were supposed to read, work on puzzles, or do homework. Most ended up choosing puzzles. Before we even got started, one of my Panther Success students suggested that my other student might be hungry and want his Pediasure before we got started with anything else. She then proceeded to check his backpack and help him get what he needed out for the day. 

Later, as they were working on puzzles around the room, I saw the same student talking with my nonverbal student and engaging him about his puzzle. It didn't matter to her that he couldn't respond. He was happily working on his puzzle with a friend. Just a few minutes later I turned around to see three boys on the floor working a puzzle with another of my students. It didn't matter that he could have done the puzzle by himself. They had chosen to get down on his level and talk with him about his puzzle while they completed it together.  

I am still amazed when I think back on the looks of fear and confusion on their faces during the first few days of school compared with the natural interaction I witnessed today. What a transformation! I am so thankful that I got to witness this today and can't wait to see how these friendships will grow over the next year.