You’ve now spent a valuable amount of time and energy on schedules, visuals, communication devices, building relationships with parents, collecting and entering data, preparing for STAAR Alternate 2, doing paperwork, communicating with other teachers, diffusing situations, etc. You could elaborate. You’re barely halfway through the year, and you’ve moved a mountain. You’re likely exhausted, and there’s still so much to do. Remember to stay positive, find joy in your students and milestones, both professionally and personally, and continue with your goals. Don’t let your momentum falter. Here’s some advice for this month.
Focus Efforts on Student Progress
Try to push out of your head what you’ve spent so much time and effort focusing on in the earlier months. If you haven’t yet done it, you need to switch gears. If you have schedules, procedures, expectations, and everything else in place, really make an effort this month to spend the majority of your time focusing on student progress. Throw yourself into your students. Enjoy your students. If they’re having trouble meeting their goals, focus on what they need. If they’re mastering their goals, figure out how you can increase the rigor. Tune out everything except creating an enjoyable work environment for yourself, your paraprofessionals, and your students, and make learning fun!
Work Skills and Transition Planning
Help Prepare Students for Life After Graduation
If you don’t have a work skills program or even independent living and recreational activities set up for your students, this is the time to put some thought into it. Academic learning is incredibly important for our students, but they need to learn essential work skills, independent living skills and recreational skills cannot be ignored, particularly at the secondary level. The clock is ticking and their time with us slipping by. We must look at their transition plan and ensure things are on track. Students need to be prepared for life after graduation, and this may not seem very important at the elementary level, but children grow up fast, and considering that it takes a little longer for our students to master skills, the earlier that they can begin, the more prepared they will be to find greater independence as adults. Some students will be preparing for a work environment, and some students will be building independent functioning skills. Regardless, we want to prepare our students to be able to participate in a variety of work, independent living, and recreational activities when they leave school. Start by assessing the student’s current skill levels and interests. Collaborate with parents for input.
Here are a few ideas that might inspire you to create a program for your students, both in and out of the classroom:
- Consider starting a garden. Administrators will usually be more than cooperative to provide a small piece of land for special needs students to learn and beautify the campus. A garden can be a great opportunity for you to invite clubs on campus to work with your students. You can work science lessons into this program as well. The PTA can be an amazing resource when trying to get needed supplies. You can also go to your local nursery to ask for donations. Think about putting a message to parents in your monthly newsletter asking for donations of gloves, tools, plants and bags of soil. Create baseline data to determine the skills needed for starting a garden.
- Speak with your cafeteria manager about tasks your students may be able to help with various cafeteria jobs. Some jobs might include refilling utensils, condiments, and napkins, washing and drying trays, etc. There is an enormous amount of work to be done in a cafeteria, and it also gives students an opportunity to practice many important skills, such as how to:
- socialize with staff/coworkers
- gradually follow multi-step directions
- maintain proper hygiene
- say “excuse me” when working in proximity to other professionals,
- find needed supplies
- ask for help when needed
- If you have a student, who is very social with other people, perhaps you could train them to be a greeter. There is a lot of traffic into the school in the morning, and it is nice to be greeted by a friendly face. Of course, you would need to select the right student for the job, but it can be a very exciting experience for a student to learn when and how to greet a visitor. If the students know their way around the school, they can take visitors who are lost to the front office, nurse’s office, etc. Give this student just as much as they can handle to feel successful.
- Some students can help with work in the front office or library. Some might be able to help with books or dusting. Others might be able to fill “office orders” for the front office, stapling, collating paper, putting papers in envelopes, shredding, etc. They can give the front office a work order slip, learn how to fill the order, and then return their work to the appropriate location.
- Some student might be interested in a coffee program. You could use Google docs to have teachers on your campus fill out coffee orders for delivery one or more times a week. If you can get an automatic coffee maker donated, even better! Student can fill orders and deliver them to their destinations. This could also help you raise money for needed classroom supplies or your garden.
- There are work skills opportunities for students in the class, as well. Students could wrap and seal utensils in napkins to be placed in the teachers’ lounge. If you have a club on campus that sells popcorn, you could arrange for your students to fold and deliver the boxes. More simple tasks could be sorting items such as utensils and pencils with visuals.
- If you have access to a washer and dryer, students can launder athletic jerseys and sort them by number.
Remember, no matter what work skills program you are setting up, create ample training visuals, a rubric to rate student performance, discuss their efforts with them after the job is completed for the day and PAY THEM for their work (this incorporates functional math skills). Let them feel the satisfaction of a job well done, or use their lack of effort as a teachable moment. Pay is based on task completion. Those who work hard are compensated and will be able to make purchases in your classroom store a (token economy).
As you plan these activities, utilize the “criterion of ultimate functioning” to select appropriate activities. Remember, teaching teams begin by considering whether skills are functional (i.e., usable in daily life) and age-appropriate (i.e., typical of same-age peers who are nondisabled) before including them on the Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Look for Training Opportunities
It should go unsaid, by February, that you need to have a strong system for collecting and analyzing data. If you’re having trouble, look for training opportunities in your district or at your local education service center. All instructional decisions are supported by your data.
STAAR Alternate 2
Identify Accommodations to be Used on the Test
You should have a pretty good idea of what accommodations your students are going to need on the STAAR Alternate 2 assessment. These accommodations must be listed in the student’s IEP and available during testing. Make sure you are using these accommodations consistently in the classroom so that the students are set up for success when testing.
Begin making plans for what your students will be doing while you are testing. What kind of coverage will you have while you test? What will your lesson plans look like when a para may be overseeing your class while you test? Think about ways to maintain your classroom structure while you are away.
Keep Your Students on Their Toes
Your class may have a good routine going at this point, and that’s so important for students with special needs. At the same time, routines can become monotonous, and when the classroom environment gets boring, misbehaviors begin to pop up. Your students may know what’s expected of them at this point in the year, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t begin to test the waters when they get too comfortable.
Try to think of ways to keep your students on their toes within the structure you have built for your classroom. Consider finding new jobs for your students to do around campus. If your campus has outdoor activities planned for the spring, plan a campus beautification project where students pick up litter. Create a math activity and motivational game out of picking up a designated amount of litter and counting each piece to create a graph. Celebrate students who worked hard to beautify the campus. To really make this effective, find a way to have general education peers participate alongside your students.
You are deep in the year, approaching the three-quarters through mark, but not quite. Strengthen relationships with your coworkers, because you still have a lot of work to do. Prioritize what is most important so that you can keep your momentum going without burning out. If you need help, don’t be afraid to reach out. If you need help or clarification, contact your regional ESC CAN specialist.