Friday, January 6, 2017

Increasing Independence in the Self-Contained Special Education Classroom ALL DAY LONG

Independence....true independence... is top priority as far as I am concerned. True independence refers to an individual being able to complete a skill across all settings, for an extended period of time, in all situations, with no one present, and in the absence of supports mediated by others. These are tough criteria....and it takes a lot of work for our learners to acquire these skills. 

I am all for keeping strategies in place that my students can access on their own. After all, it is these strategies...or prompts...that may help maintain a skill long after a student leaves the public school system. Examples include:
- schedules
- alarms
- visuals
- video models
....and so much more. 

I am always looking for ways to build independence into the day for my students. I have 6 students and 6 instructional aides in my classroom. Many of my students work 1:1 for large portions of the school day. Having a 1:1 classroom is amazing when it comes to teaching many of the essential skills my students need...however, it can sometimes unintentionally get in the way of independence. 

Nothing makes me crazier than seeing a student sitting around un-engaged waiting to be told what to do next. 

Here are some ways I work on INDEPENDENCE all day long in my middle school self-contained classroom. 

At the middle school we no longer are doing "morning meeting". I wanted to find a way for my students to maintain previously mastered skills and target new age appropriate ones. 

All of my students now have a morning routine that they have learned to follow. My students should be coming in from the bus/drop off, walking to the classroom, and immediately beginning this routine. Ideally this occurs without verbal reminders from staff. Most of my students do this beautifully every day. It wasn't always so independent....but I am so proud of their progress!
All routines include certain similar steps -- unpacking, putting folder away, putting backpack in locker, signing in, etc.. Other steps are individualized. One student completes a stretching routine provided by his PT, others have various versions of calendar skills or weather pages. I use this as ONE opportunity to maintain previously mastered skills (e.g. calendar, weather ID, handwriting, typing, etc.). One student may handwrite a sign in sheet complete with time and date, another may copy his name by tying onto a sign in sheet. We include what is functional for that learner. Everything is individualized.

Here is an example of some pages from my MORNING BINDERS. These examples are from a few different student binders. One student is working on tracing the current date. Another student is moving velcro pieces to identify todays weather and date. This student knows to reference our main board where we have already written the date and weather.

Some more advanced skills I have had students complete in the past:
- check for local weather and temperature
- graph daily weather on a monthly bar graph
- identify appropriate clothing for the day
** You could add this to a morning routine students complete BEFORE coming to school--- then students can identify appropriate clothing and learn to dress themselves at home. This is a GREAT FUNCTIONAL skill for students with special needs. 

The morning routine in school typically takes my students anywhere from 5 minutes to 15 minutes. Once completed they know to immediately turn to their FULL DAY SCHEDULE to see what is next.

This, of course, is a massive part of the day for my students. Their full day schedules help identify what is happening all day long. Successfully implemented full day schedules can help eliminate many inappropriate behaviors caused by sudden changes/transitions. We work hard to change these daily as much as possible. Since many of my students work 1:1 in our classroom for much of the day...we have the flexibility to switch programs around. This helps prevent memorization of the schedule and work on flexibility with schedule changes.

Here are some examples of full day schedules in my class. Some students use visual schedules....other written schedules. Some students have hard copy schedules on their desk...others have electronic schedules on their iPads.

Most students have many "mini" schedule or "schedules within schedules". Within the full day schedule they may have many mini schedules (e.g. Morning Routine, Leisure Schedule, Social Interaction Schedule, Exercise Schedule, Hygiene Schedule, End of Day Schedule, etc.). If a student recently mastered an essential skill...I maintain it here. Many of my students complete Independent Hygiene Routines, Exercise Routines, and Leisure Schedules daily. MAINTENANCE IS KEY!

Students learn to follow the steps in the chain.... identify next task in schedule, get materials from drawer/shelf, bring to their desk, complete activity (with or without instructor), clean up materials, return to schedule. We can easily build in a ton of language skills to this routine.

There are 2 types of leisure schedules that run in my classroom. INDEPENDENT Leisure Schedules and COOPERATIVE Leisure Schedules. The names basically describe the main difference. Many of my students have specific IEP goals where they are learning to follow an independent or cooperative schedule...and where they are learning to properly complete independent leisure skills or cooperative activities.

Here are some examples of some of the Leisure Skills we work on through these schedules:

Here is one example of a written Cooperative Leisure Schedule presented on a laminated piece of paper. Students in this schedule take turns writing their name on the left. The person whose name is recorded gets to choose the next game and amount of time from a pool of options. Students work together to set up, play, and clean up each activity. 

Here is one example of a visual Independent Leisure Schedule presented on an iPad. 

Many of my students have learned to follow alarms. Others are currently working on it. Since most of my students have personal iPod Touches or iPhones, I use alarms on their devices. Students will have alarms set for small group activities, lunch, APE, well as certain independent or cooperative tasks. For example, some students have an alarm stating "play a game with a friend". When it goes off... they know to stop what they are doing, locate a friend, and ask to play a game. I love maintaining skills through alarms....not to mention alarms are one of those great prompts that we can effectively leave in place for the long run. WIN!

Similar to Morning Routines, my students have learned to end their day by completing a mini schedule of activities. It varies student to student. Just like in the morning...I take the opportunity to build in maintenance of recently mastered skills. Are you seeing a pattern....MAINTENANCE MAINTENANCE MAINTENANCE!

Some of the skills I find useful to include in end of day routines include.... completing a daily journal (typing or handwriting), email parents information about the day, signing out, cleaning desk, re-setting personal materials, and classroom jobs.

Here is an example of a visual End of Day Routine:

Here is an example of Classroom Jobs. The one on the left has visuals for students who are non-readers. Student pictures are put next to each task by each student does one job. The picture on the right is an example of a written COOPERATIVE class job list. Students work together to cooperatively complete all jobs. Class jobs are an excellent way to work on vocational skills!

How do you foster INDEPENDENCE in your classroom? I would love to hear your ideas! :)