Sunday, July 17, 2016

The {Ultimate} ABC Cookie Tray Pack!

I am super excited to share this with you. Not only because I love it, but because I'm excited I finished it. I always struggle with alphabet sets. By the time I get to letter P I'm usually pretty burnt out and can't figure out how to keep going. The last three letters were painful actually, but I did it!

I've had this idea in the back of my head for a while now and I finally buckled down and got it out on the computer screen! This pack includes 4 different activities for each letter of the alphabet. The activities are meant to start easier and get more difficult, allowing you to differentiate for your students as needed. You could always print multiples of each activity page too if you needed. My storage suggestion for this pack (since it's larger than the others) should accommodate page multiples if you choose so.

The first activity is pretty simple. Using some type of magnetic dot/item, students place them inside each of the circles to create the capital letter. (Only capitals are included for this activity at this time)

The next activity is sorting capital and lowercase letters. There are cards with capital on them and cards with lowercase letters on them, all in different fonts--meant to make students think, not be tricky!

The third activity is finding the letters. Both capital and lowercase are included. Students look at all the letters in the circles on the picture and place a magnetic dot/item on top of the correct capital or lowercase for that activity page.

And the last activity for each letter is a beginning sound sort. There are 3 cards that start with that letter (except 'X' only has 2), and then there are 3 cards that do not start with that letter. The cards include both pictures and words.

Now here is how I'm storing this one. I purchased this accordion file from Walmart and it is perfect because it's already tabbed for each alphabet letter.

Behind each letter tab are the activity pages for that letter and the pieces for each activity page, placed in their own baggy.

The one thing I struggled with for this one was placing the cover page on the front. Usually I laminate it to the front of a large envelope for storing everything. With the size of this pack I knew that wasn't going to work. I laminated the cover page first then closed my accordion file to mark on the cover page where I needed to cut it. Then both sides were attached to the cover so that when the folder is closed they come together as a whole. I punched a hole in the middle to pull the rubber band through so that it would still be functional to close the folder.

You might have a different way of storing them but I wanted to at least share with you what I came up with. You could even do a binder and put the activities for each letter into page protectors. Whatever works for you!

If you'd like to purchase this pack you can click {here} or click the cover image above. If you'd like to give this one some practice before you purchase it, then click {here} or click the cover image below to download a freebie! This freebie includes all the activity pages for the letter 'Dd'.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

How to Save Money as a Special Education Teacher

I can't possibly be the only who has noticed how much social media is affecting my wallet. And not just in the world of teaching. In life in general. I follow fashion bloggers and interior designers on instagram that make me feel like I need to always be re-decorating my house and stocking up my closet.

I've also noticed how out of hand this trend is getting in education as well. I run an Instagram account for my blog and I follow a ton of teachers also on Instagram so I can get great ideas from them. But it is so easy to get carried away with determining what you ACTUALLY need for your classroom and what is just filled with hype.

I've made a list of 5 money saving strategies I've begun to implement to help my pockets when it comes to the classroom. 

1. Sleep on It

As exciting as a lot of the things other educators may share on Instagram are (hello light boxes), as a special education teacher there are A LOT of things that really just aren't practical or necessary for our classrooms. When there's a lot of hype around a product being shared a lot on instagram, blogs, facebook, etc. It's hard to resist. Everyone has made it seem so fun and exciting and you want in on the action. I can't help but compare this to the recent light box craze. Don't get me wrong-- light boxes = awesome. The signs teachers are making for them = also awesome. BUT how would I realistically utilize this in my classroom? Just as a decor piece? If so, it's not something that I NEED. Could I use it during instruction with my students to make it fun and engaging? If so, then maybe I can score it on sale. But first, let's sleep on it. Before jumping in the car and running to closest craft store, sleep on the idea. Really give it a lot of thought. How can I use this item and what can I use it for? Is it going to be that beneficial to my instruction? If you end feeling like yes it is, then you know it's a purchase worth your money. If you just want one because everyone has made it seem so fun and exciting, then do yourself a favor and save that cash.

2. If It's Not Broken, Don't Fix It

Just because someone shares about something really awesome they've found, again, doesn't mean it's something you have to have or do. I LOVE containers. My para told me the hallway looked like the container store when I was moving out my classroom this year. I love containers so much I will passionately share with you my favorite ones on Instagram. BUT unless you're in NEED of new containers don't run out and by them because I said how great they are. If you already have bins for your books, use what you have! For example, I LOVE the magazine boxes that everyone keeps sharing from Big Lots. They would be awesome to put my books in. They look sturdy and they look like they hold books that are a little larger too. But I don't NEED them. I have containers for my books, and plenty of them. I have found great bins at the Dollar Tree for my books and I've had a lot of these bins for 6 years and they are still intact. It would be frivolous of me to go out and buy all new book bins at $3 a pop just because I liked the style or color. As my existing bins begin to break, THEN I can consider switching to this new style everyone raves about. But for now, I'll save that cash.

3. Donations

Asking for donations can actually be tough for some people. You feel like you're asking for handouts, but as a teacher you should never feel this way! You're asking for others to help you shape and mold the minds of our future! When I first started my toy boxes for my students to help increase picture exchange communication trials I was in need of A LOT of toys, and a lot of character toys. You know, the ones that usually cost twice as much as the store and are sometimes hard to come by at a thrift store, but these items are SO motivating for most students so I knew I had to have them. I sent out an email to my entire district. Explaining to them what I was doing and asking if their children had any small toy items they no longer played with. I gave them an option of where to drop them off or even offered to pick them up. I had an amazing turn out! Enough toys to start my new project and I knew that I could continue to shop yard sales, thrift stores, and clearance sections to work on adding boxes over time. What could have been a very expensive project to get going became very reasonable.

4. Donors Choose & Reddit Gifts

I know Donors Choose is probably something most of you have heard of. You've maybe heard of Reddit Gifts. That one is new to me and I used it back around Christmas time for the first time. And don't be discouraged with Donors Choose! I've had some projects funded and some haven't made it. But you never know until you try so why not give it a go! I've found these outlets to be great for getting that special item for your classroom you don't realize you need until that one particular kiddo walks through the door. Or maybe it's November and you realize you need some new sensory toys/fidget items and those can add up VERY quickly. With both groups, if they supply you with the materials they MUST remain at that school you are at the time they are given. I'm okay with that. Yes I did the work to get them, but at least I didn't have to pay my own cash for them and they're a benefit to my students. I had table tops for my cube chairs funded through Donors Choose and sensory toys purchased for my classroom through Reddit Gifts during their Secret Santa exchange.

5. Plan Ahead 

This one can be tricky depending on the time of the year and how much time you have to devote to lesson planning. But I always try to plan a few weeks ahead. If nothing else, at least plan any "themes" that I have in mind for the time ahead. How can this help you save money? Well, we are all huge fans of Teachers Pay Teachers, but we know sales don't happen that often, especially site wide sales where you save the bigger bucks. By planning ahead with your lesson plans can buy ahead of time during these sales to save on your must have resources. AND don't forget about your TpT credits! TpT gives you credits for leaving feedback on items you have purchased. Buying during sales always leads to a lot of credits for me. THEN when I realize I need something last minute I can use my TpT credits to purchase it, versus opening my wallet.

I hope these are some tips and strategies you can use to help keep that wallet a little tighter before the school year gets here. It's easy for stuff to get out of hand in the summer. So many people are sharing about so many awesome finds for their classroom-- eh hem, Target Dollar Spot. But don't let yourself get carried away. Make smart purchases and sleep on them! I promise you you can live without the rainbow colored file folders and cute pencil felt banner from the Dollar Spot :) Do you have any money saving tricks you use? Share them below!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

I Don't Know?!

Here's the short version first. I don't know what grade I'm teaching next year. 

Keep reading for the long version if you're the nosey type like I am. 

Back in January my husband and I moved to my hometown, Salisbury, MD. After living in Delaware for 10 years it's been an adjustment coming back. A lot has changed, but we're happy to be here and happy to be close to old friends! 

So what made us come back? Well my husband passed the Maryland bar while we were living in DE. Knowing it would be easier for me to find a job in MD versus him sitting for the Delaware bar we decided we'd look at moving back to Salisbury. Not to mention the price of real estate also played a part in our decision since we were also looking into buying our first home along with our move. 

Since we moved I've been commuting an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes (depending on traffic) each way. The drive is not bad. We don't live in a heavy traffic congested area. But losing that amount of time daily on the road is hard. By the time I make it home in the evenings it's almost dinner time and then bed time is short to follow. It's really made me wonder how 9-5pm-er's do it?! 

I planned to finish out the school year following our move with the hopes of landing a teaching job closer to home before the start of the 2016-2017 school year. Well we're a day away from July and I STILL don't know what I will be teaching next year. 

I don't feel discouraged at all. I'm still very confident that I will find something. I was spoiled the first go around and landed my first teaching job where I completed student teaching. I interviewed my last day of student teaching and was called and offered the job the next day. I spent my whole summer prior to my first year teaching thinking about and planning for my very first classroom. This go around, I have no idea what I will be teaching and it's tough. 

I want so badly to be thinking about next school year. Planning ahead and creating new resources. And that's hard when you have no idea what you could end up teaching. And since I want to land a job closer to home I'm open to any positions 3rd grade or lower, inclusion or special education. If I could handpick my job I'd love to give inclusion kindergarten a go, or even self-contained kindergarten. I have a huge desire to teach something different. I need that right now. But I know a new school will be change in itself so if I stay in pre-school I hope the change in school is refreshing enough to be the motivator I need. Those 5 year special ed burn out rumors are no joke. And there's the fact that I have 6 years worth of special ed. pre-school resources in my garage right now that my husband can't wait to see leave. 

Have you recently changed schools, grade levels, or moved? Any words of advice or encouragement?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

IEP Writing Tips & Planning Pages

I know that the IEP format varies greatly state by state. Some use online systems, some use computer, but not online systems-- I'm sure there's even some of you out there who could still be hand writing all your IEPs! Which, I think would be crazy, but at the same time, our online system frequently has glitches and I feel like I write out most of the IEP on paper first anyway, so it could still be a blessing for some.

Regardless of what the system looks like for you, I thought I could still share some tips with you. This is the process I use when I sit down to write an IEP. It's precise. I've spent the last 6 years perfecting it and every time I write an IEP I perfect it a little bit more.

Each year IEP writing for me includes IEPs for new incoming pre-schoolers, annual review meetings for pre-schoolers already in our program and revision meetings throughout the year. I'm going to share my tips with you from the experience of writing a pre-school IEP. I specify pre-school student because again, many IEPs look different among states, and can also be different for different grade levels. I might include stuff your IEP doesn't require, and your IEP might require stuff that mine does not. Either way I hope you still find these resources helpful to you in your writing process!

Before I get started I make sure I have a time sheet to keep with my paperwork. This isn't something we're required to do, but something I began doing myself this year just to keep track of how much time I spend on an IEP for a student. 

When I'm writing an IEP for a new student the first thing I look through is the evaluation report and while doing so there are several things I'm looking for. I can save time by using this page to fill in info as a come across it. 

The next thing I'm looking for are the areas of delay for the students. I list out both the areas of qualifying delays and the areas with a partial delay. A partial delay may still require a need area or even a goal on the IEP if the child still has skills under this domain they need support with. The areas with qualifying delays MUST have goals.

Once I've identified the areas where I need to write goals I move to the next sheet. I use one of these for each need area where I am writing a goal, so you'll have to print multiples of this one. I list the area of need at the top, then refer to the evaluation report to gather the students present level of performance in this area.

When I write goals I always write the annual goal first and then make my benchmarks from there. I included space for up to four benchmarks on this page. Sometimes you may have 5 depending on when during the year you're writing the goal.

Once goals are completed the IEPs we write look at additional considerations. This includes special transportation, 12 month entitlement services, and extended school year (ESY) services. This is typically stuff I add to the online system as I'm going through, but I've included it in the forms as well just in case.

And for me, the last consideration for the IEP is an explanation of the student's placement. The placement page shows what kind of setting the child is in and we have to explain/summarize why that child is placed in that setting. Again, this is typically something I just add to the online system when I get there, but I've also included this on the planning pages.

I hope this is something you'll find helpful while writing an IEP. For me this really helps me organize the information and my thoughts before entering it into the formal IEP system. By having the additional pages for the smaller sections at the end I can get everything done on paper--which might also be helpful if I find myself multitasking during maybe a staff meeting haha.

I've also included forms for when you are working on an annual review IEP for a student you already have. In this case the "process" can be a little different because you aren't using an evaluation report to base your IEP off of.

If this is something you think could help you out, click the photo below to head to my TpT store and grab a copy!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Tips for Smooth Transitions

I reached out to my readers on Facebook for some suggestions for this post. Every month on the 12th I write a blog post as part of the We Teach Sped group-- a group of special educators who are sharing awesome classroom tips and resources with you every day of the month. Click the link above to "like" us on Facebook and find the monthly calendar!

You all had awesome suggestions for blog post topics that I will keep using, but this one stood out to me for today!

With my pre-schoolers I have several strategies that we use to aid with transitions. Some students transition just fine with our overall classroom routine for a transition, while others may need additional supports to make the transition. Here's a list of the transition techniques we use; maybe there are a few you can take back to your classroom!

#1. Verbal Warning with a Timer
          - This is our "routine for a transition" if you will. Before we are going to transition to the next part of our routine I will set a digital timer along with the verbal announcement, "When the timer beeps, we're cleaning up for greeting time." --Just for an example. This works for a majority of my students this year. I have one who shows a little level of concern once the timer is started. For him, I let him know how long I set the timer for. Not that I think he fully has an understanding of the concept of time, but it seems to help calm him to say, "You have five more minutes with trains" so he knows he can still play.

#2. Option to Ask for 1 More Minute
          - I know quite a few of our pre-school classrooms utilize this strategy with different students with a variety of needs. For children who melt down once the timer actually does beep, we use a visual card to help prompt them to ask for 1 more minute. This helps the child feel in control and help decrease the tantrums. After hand over hand prompts to exchange the card, students begin exchanging on their own or using their words to request one more minute. My suggestion is to initially allow them to request this frequently. Maybe up to 5 additional minutes if your schedule allows. Once the concept is understood you can work on setting that max in place. Maybe they can ask 2 more times and then they have to make the final transition.

#3. Individual Visual Schedule
             - For some students an individual visual schedule may be needed to help them make transitions. We have a full class schedule posted in the room, but if a student is struggling to transitions from one activity to the next, giving them their own schedule to follow may be of more help. This schedule only has a certain number of spaces available so I might minimize what pictures are included, and be sure to highlight the transitions that the child struggles with the most.

#4. First/Then Boards
         - These are actually one of my favorites! I love using first/then boards in the classroom. I have two set up with a small binder. Then inside the binder I actually took an extra PECS book page and put it in the rings. This makes it really quick and easy to flip through and change out what you need on the first/then board. This is also really great if you want to give the student the option to make a choice for their board. You can set up their available choices inside the book for them to choose from.

#5. Give a Choice
            - This one might sound so simple, but giving a choice can really work for some students. If they struggle to transition to snack, then prior to the transition I will ask them, "Would you like snack today? Yes, please or no thank you?". The transition could be an issue because they just don't want to have snack that day. Or pair a preferred with a un-preferred to have the child pick what you want them to do. If they want to avoid the bathroom, then give them the choice "bathroom now, or book first?" This choice forces them into choosing the book, which may be the next part of your daily routine. By saying bathroom now, I feel that you've just given them the option to delay going to the bathroom, but it is still going to come up again. Then later on you can use a first/then to do bathroom first followed by a preferred activity. :)

What are some of your favorite transition techniques that you use in your classroom? I'm always looking for new ideas!