Author Archives: spedadvisor

About spedadvisor

College instructor in the college of education, supervisor for student teachers in early childhood and special education. Devoted mother to a kindergartener and advocate to all children.

Behavior Boot Camp: Teach Calming Sequence

A calming sequence is a great tool to support students who experience anxiety:

This picture is an example of a calming sequence.

Behavior boot camp: teach calming sequence.

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How does a calming sequence help students in school?

All people live with some level of stress and anxiety but when anxiety gets in the way of daily functioning in school, then it becomes a problem.

“More than any other issue for children with anxiety, loss of emotional control can lead to removal from the general education classroom to a more restrictive educational environment equipped to deal with behavior challenges.”

-When My Worries Get Too Big- Carrie Dunn Buron

Tips about calming sequences for teachers

  • Students with autism and other exceptionalities may experience stress during the school day
  • The stress may manifest in different ways but could get in the way of their learning
  • Teach the calming sequence when the student is calm and organized
  • Ask the student what things make them feel calm and happy
  • Follow their lead on choosing a calming sequence that makes them feel the most relaxed
  • Use a combination of words and pictures to represent the sequence
  • Keep the calming sequence somewhere the student can access it during times of stress
  • Model the calming sequence and support the student through the sequence as they experience stress and anxiety

Here is a link to Carrie Dunn Buron’s book that I reference in the YouTube video:

https://www.amazon.com/When-Worries-Get-Too-Big/dp/1937473805/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2I2SQIJUK28WL&keywords=when+my+worries+get+too+big&qid=1553056209&s=gateway&sprefix=when+my+wor%2Caps%2C227&sr=8-1

Behavior Boot Camp: Penny Token Boards

Why use penny token boards?

Penny token boards are one of my favorite individual behavior support strategies! It takes some planning and managing on behalf of the teacher but can pay off big time!

Which students benefit the most?

A penny token board can help students with autism or other special needs stay engaged, learn and be successful in class. The board helps promote inclusion and ensures all students are successful. The penny token board is a great individual reward system for a student who does not respond to the classroom-wide behavior supports. This system is a visual representation of how the student is doing and when he or she will earn the reward.

A penny token board is one example of an individual token economy. The principals of this technique are grounded in applied behavior analysis. http://applied behavior analysis

I got the penny token board I share in the video at:https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Penny-Token-Board-Set-3039344

Target Behaviors

Pick a target behavior you would like to increase. One example of a target behavior is for a student to raise his hand with a quiet mouth. To increase the likelihood that this target behavior continues, you can reinforce it with the use of the penny token board.

How to use the penny token board?

The pennies are considered the “consequence” for performing a desired behavior. Start the board when the student has gotten away from a 1:1 reinforcement schedule. Each penny then represents about 4-5 times of the student performs the target behavior. Teach this board by starting out with 4 pennies on the board so students will quickly “buy into” this system. When the student earns the penny, provide positive and constructive feedback. This feedback informs the student about what behavior earned the penny. To learn more about positive and constructive feedback please read:https://spedadvisor.com/2019/02/09/provide-positive-constructive-feedback/

Make sure students have “strong” reinforcers

The penny token board are only successful if students are motivated so use highly motivating rewards. Make sure reinforcers stay “strong” by conducting a “reinforcer assessment”. This assessment helps you stay on top of what is most reinforcing for the student.

Offer a few choices on a choice board that you know are highly reinforcing.

Only offer reinforcer choices that are doable for you and your classroom. Earning candy or other primary reinforcers may not be appropriate but a quick 5 minute break in the peace corner may be more reasonable.

Never take away pennies

Once earned, the pennies cannot be removed. If the student doesn’t earn more tokens then they just don’t earn their reward…The penny token board should never become a punitive or reactive system. Using the board as a positive reward system will create the long term change in behavior that we all want!

I hope this is helpful and fun to start using with your students. If you have experience and success using penny token boards please share in the comments…



Behavior Boot Camp: Teach Social Behaviors

Teach Social Behaviors

*As we continue to discuss behavior support strategies, sometimes we forget about actually TEACHING social skills. We can’t assume students know how to take turns, manage interpersonal conflict and act appropriately in social situations.

*Social behaviors need to be taught just like any other skill. Finding time in your school day to teach social skills will pay off. Please watch my YouTube video and read the image from High Leverage Performances.

High Leverage Performances Number 9

Students with autism

Students with autism can lack social awareness. They may not be able to take the Point of View (POV) of their peer which can result in social behavior that is atypical at times. Students with autism still want friendship so teaching social skills will help with bridging some of the gaps in social behaviors skills.

Early childhood literature as social support

One of my favorite tools for addressing social behavior issues is to use early childhood literature to help support social learning. One practicum student in my class shared how she had students teasing one another. Her mentor teacher pulled a bin full of books about teasing into the classroom to read to hear students. As she read she asked questions, checked for comprehension and encouraged students to pair-share ideas for using kind and supportive language with one another. The book my student pulled to share with our class is called Just Kidding by Trudy Ludwig. Here is the link for the book online:

https://www.amazon.com/Just-Kidding-Trudy-Ludwig/dp/1582461635/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=just+kidding+book&qid=1550877013&s=instant-video&sr=8-1

Final Thoughts…

  • Teachers should explicitly teach social behaviors
  • Align the lessons with classroom and school wide expectations
  • Before teaching the skill, determine the nature of the social skill challenge
  • Continue to teach and reinforce the skill until mastery
  • One great way to teach social skills is with role playing!
  • Have fun with these lessons and know they pay off in the long term for your classroom climate and for students to learn social behaviors

Behavior Boot Camp: Provide Positive and Constructive Feedback

Please watch the YouTube video which shares more about this positive behavior support strategy.

YouTube video talking about providing positive and constructive feedback

How do you feel after receiving positive and constructive feedback?

As an adult, how do you feel when your coach, supervisor or boss gives you positive and constructive feedback? Does it encourage you to continue working hard or make you feel demoralized? Most likely it will make you feel amazing! You have a clear understanding of what you are doing well and what you need to work on.

Make the feedback specific…

When a student get’s specific positive and constructive feedback, it is not just a “good job”. With the student’s goals and targets in mind you are helping inform them with the feedback. The feedback will give specific information how to improve and what is going well.

How do I give feedback?

Feedback in written or verbal forms are both great ways to give feedback. Make sure the feedback comes relatively shorty after the student performs the task and provide ongoing feedback until the student reaches his or her goals.

This behavior support strategy comes from High Leverage Performances…Here is a screenshot of the High Leverage performances number 8. I reference this in my YouTube video.

High Leverage Performances screenshot

Behavior Boot Camp: Routines and Procedures

Please watch my YouTube video…and subscribe https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgQ8h0a1a59gTbXetGlEGGA?view_as=subscriber

Benefits of developing routines and procedures

Well thought out routines and procedures help create a calm, organized classroom. Students know what to do and how to do it. Without positive, routines and procedures, a classroom can easily fall into total chaos. Examples include: how we manage materials, enter the classroom, transition, and turn in work.

How do we teach routines and procedures?

Teaching routines and procedures starts at the beginning of the school year with explicit instruction. Just like academics, routines and procedures need to be taught, and reinforced. Establishing routines and procedures is one of the High Leverage Practices for special education and will be the bedrock for your classroom environment. I have linked more information about High Leverage Practices here. https://ceedar.education.ufl.edu/portfolio/ccsc-2017-high-leverage-practices/

Things to think about when setting up routines and procedures

Consider the age of the students. What is age appropriate for them? For example if you teach Kindergarten, the routine for entering and leaving the classroom will look different from a fifth grade classroom. Can your students handle materials being on the desks in tubs or do they need to be stored out of reach? There are many considerations but speak to your team, observe other classrooms and know it is ok to change a routine if it is not working for your class.

Support for students with special needs

Students with autism or other special needs respond well to classrooms with well established routines and procedures. Students with autism feel safe when they know what to expect. Focus on the transition routines for students with autism. Transitions are when we often see behavioral challenges from our students with autism. One great way to teach routines to students with autism is by using a social story. Here is a link to my YouTube video sharing what a social story is. https://youtu.be/lKl6cafmdVY

Consistent routines provide structure for students with autism which makes them feel safe secure and helps them understand what is going on during the school day.

Support for all students

Positive behavior support strategies such as this are helpful for all students. Students will be productive, calm and organized with these routines in place. Watch your mentor teachers around you and see how well run their classroom are. What would you do the same? Also think about what you would change or do differently? All of this reflection is important in developing safe and well run classroom routines and procedures.

How to survive and thrive your first year teaching!

Guest Q and A with a kindergarten teacher.

Erica, is now half way through teaching her second year in kindergarten.

I reached out to her to get some advice about how she survived and thrived during her first year teaching kindergarten. Here is some of her great advice:

Where and what grade do you teach?

I teach kindergarten in The Grants Pass School District.

One of Erica’s students creating chalk art

What was your favorite thing about your first year teaching?

My favorite thing about my first year teaching was building such strong relationships with my coworkers. When you are student teaching you build relationships at your school but the most important relationships are still related to your college. During your first year it’s really important to create strong relationships with the people around you because they will help you with understanding the curriculum, helping specific students, and making sure you get the supports you need to be successful and thrive.

What was the most challenging thing about teaching your first year?

The most challenging thing about teaching my first year was accepting that I can’t help every single student but instead I can only give them the tools to be successful. It was painful to let some of my kiddos who didn’t reach all the grade level standards or who didn’t get the proper supports in kindergarten go to first grade. Accepting that I can’t fix but instead can only support has made my second year emotionally easier.

What surprised you the most about your first year teaching?

What surprised me the most about my first year teaching was how much poverty/ trauma  there is in Southern Oregon. For some of these kids, we are ALL they have. Some of my students have gone through life events that I could not even imagine going through as an adult and all we can do is give them a hug and make sure school is full of love and support.

What is your advice for handling challenges communicating with parents?

I think the best thing you can do is rely on your teaching team and principal when it comes to challenges with parents. If you have a parent who is being unkind, I would advise telling your principal and asking for advice. Always ask for advice when you don’t know how to handle a situation. 

How have you navigated work/life balance?

This is one of the biggest challenges that every teacher faces. You always have a long list of things to finish and it never seems to end. Remember you are allowed to say no! I made a promise to myself that unless there are special circumstances I will not stay past 4 PM and I do not go to work on the weekends. I work through my lunches and prep during every prep period so I can leave on time. Its worth it for me! I am a planner so Sunday nights I pre-plan dinners with friends during the week to make sure I still socialize. It’s easy to make school your life but balance is so important. I always plan a special event for the weekends as well so I have something fun to look forward to(this can be as simple as a Saturday morning hike)!

What are some ways you have taken care of yourself this first year?

Self care is so important! Some things I do include going to the gym after work, taking my dog to the dog park, meal prepping on Sunday’s so I have healthy food for the week, leaving work by 4pm, going to bed at a decent hour so I have energy for the next work day, and talking about how I feel with friends, family, and/ or coworkers. Remember that you can’t be your best self for your students if you aren’t taking care of yourself.

As a student teacher, what are the best ways you can prepare while in your teacher preparation program?

While in your teacher prep. program take advantage of the opportunity to learn about different teaching styles and classroom management systems. You will develop your own teaching style/ management system but it’s wonderful when you have ideas to build off of.

What advice do you have for job seeking when the time comes?

My advice for job seeking is to apply to as many districts as you can via the online portals. There are so many amazing job opportunities in the Rogue Valley, and outside of the Valley, and you will find the best fit for you. Don’t give up! Job interviews are very stressful but when you find the right school you will know!
When it comes to interviews you need to be yourself. You will be asked questions about concepts that you learned in your prep program but that’s only about 30% of the interview. The other 70% is if you would fit into their school culture. Be honest about who you are and what you believe!  

THANK YOU Erica for taking the time to share your insights and wisdom with us!

We are so proud of you and know you are making a huge difference every day when you show up for your students!

What is “masking” and autism?

“Masking” and Autism- Sometimes this is called “camouflaging” 

On social media (twitter) I have seen multiple people who experience Autism describe the concept of “masking” and autism. At an autism conference I recently went to, a young man with autism described how he was able to “mask” his Autism and at the age of 22 has recently received a diagnosis. 

What is “masking”?

•Masking is when a person who has Autism tries to blend in or go unnoticed among their neurotypical peers. 

•They will fly under the radar, try to go unnoticed and copy or mirror as best as possible the social scripts of their peers.

•They work hard to be the “good student” and not bring extra attention to themselves. 

•Research shows that those who have Autism level one (aka. Asperger’s) often camouflage.

•Masking happens when a person with autism is more aware of their social differences to the neurotypical world. 

•Girls with autism tend to “mask” more than boys on the spectrum.

Why is masking an issue?

•Masking suppresses the natural state of the person with Autism. 

•Students who mask are often misdiagnosed because they have camouflaged their symptoms. A misdiagnosis of mental health difficulties may happen. 

•A feeling of social isolation may happen because they are not able to be their true selves. 

•Masking can lead to loneliness, depression, self-harm, self-medication, anxiety anger and is most notably it is exhausting.

If you suspect a student is masking, talk to your educational team, a special education teacher, school counselor or other professional. Getting others involved will help support you as an educator to determine the next steps to take in helping the student.

The difference between an IEP and a 504 plan

Section 504 plan: 

The Law: A 504 plan is governed by a civil rights law 

Students with 504 plans: Qualify under the section 504 Rehabilitation Act 1973 (PL 93-112)

“No otherwise qualified handicapped individual…shall, solely by reason of his/her handicap, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance”

To be protected under Section 504, a student must be determined to:

(1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or (2) have a record of such an impairment; or (3) be regarded as having such an impairment. 

  • A 504 plan is a plan to ensure accessibility but does not include specialized instruction and services such as occupational therapy, speech therapy etc. 
  • the child’s disability must be negatively impacting his learning in the general education classroom
  • If your child has a disability and it is impacting their educational experience, and accommodations are all that are needed, a 504 plan is ideal.
  • An example is a quiet place to take a test.  
  • A 504 plan can stay with a person for a lifetime 
  • A written plan is created 
  • Periodic “evaluation” is required but no annual review is required 
  • There are no goals or progress monitoring 

The student’s 504 team will determine what these accommodations will be and it is the responsibility of the classroom teacher (and other members of the team) to follow through on the plan in class.

IEP-Individual Education Plan 

The Law: The IEP is governed by special education law 

Students with IEPs qualify under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Public Law No. 94-142 (last amended 2004)

  • A student must have one of 13 “disabling” conditions to qualify for an IEP. 
  • The disability must negatively impact the students access to the curriculum 
  • The IEP includes specialized instruction 
  • An IEP is used in public schools for students between the ages of 3-21 
  • A written plan is created 
  • Initial assessment is based on standardized assessment tools and a student must be re-evaluated every 3 years. Every year the team must meet for the “annual” IEP meeting. 
  • Goals are written and reviewed at least every year 

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