Using Station Binders to Differentiate and Make Teaching Easier!

In the morning I have all of the same students for both Language Arts and Math classes, so I run the class as a block. This way I can run stations and individual work with math and language arts skills (along with independent life skills) scattered throughout our morning.

One way I make differentiating easier for each student is by incorporating binders.

Station Binders: Each student has a "work binder" that they use during their journal, math, and language stations (they also have a morning binder which I will discuss in a later post).
I separate the work for each station with labeled tabs. What's great about this system is I usually put work in their binders for several weeks at a time, so it is ready to go and I don't even have to think about it until we start to run out. Also, if several students are working together at the same station at different levels, no students are singled out and given the wrong work.

Math Binder Work: For our math station, I have students work on the topic of the day in a hands-on way first. Each shelf next to where we store the binders contains the math activities for a certain topic that corresponds with these math life skill worksheets.
For example, the worksheet below works on more/less, so the students would work with groups of manipulatives counting and choosing which one has more or which one has less or will complete some of these task cards. Then they would each finish the worksheet in their binder that is at their level.

Other math topics include money, time, directions, and sizes.
Each day of the week is a new topic. So we review money on Monday, directions on Tuesday, more/less on Wednesday, sizes on Thursday, and time on Friday. If a student masters a certain level for a topic, I move them up to the next level for that topic.

Journal Binder Work: I use these differentiated journals which I love because literally every single student in my class is able to complete these and they are all journaling about the same topic.
I can even have a student at each of the three levels working at the same time: one will be cutting and pasting pictures to complete their sentences, another will be tracing and copying words (as pictured below), and yet another will be looking at the classroom sample to write out their own journal.

When completing their journals, all students need to first either color or draw the picture. This is a great time to work on skills such as color matching, copying, and problem solving ("We don't have markers here, where can you get them?" or "Your classmate is using the color you need, what do you do?" Then they read the title, and my device users find it on their device or type it out. All students then use the sentence starters to complete the sentences. My higher level writers might also add a sentence of their own at the bottom. Any students who finish quickly can also type out their journals.

(These journals are great for higher level students and also have three levels).

Language Binder Work: This station is a little different, as it really isn't a group station. However, having the work ready to go in binders helps staff know where the students are at and keeps materials in an easily accessible location. I am always collecting data at the language station as we work on IEP goals during this time.

If my students are able to recognize some words or word shapes, I have them work through the Edmark Functional Word Series (amazon affiliate link). I love the predicability of this program and see results with my students!

My students who are not able to complete Edmark work on these household vocabulary units. They are working on recognizing the pictures of various household items, and may graduate to learning the words as well. This 280 page household vocabulary pack is much cheaper than the previous mentioned program :)

Unfortunately, it isn't shaded in in the example above, but I love the progress graph attached to the data sheet so students can help track their progress.

Since incorporating these binders the amount of prep work I had to go went down considerably, as all I had to do when I noticed we were getting low on papers was just print more out! And I know that my students are getting the practice they need, with the level of support they require. Do you use station binders in your classroom?

Visual Color Coded Calendars for Students with Special Needs

Whenever we are about to start a new month, it's time to prepare our color coded calendars! These are ESSENTIAL in my special education classroom. My students absolutely love filling out and coloring their calendars as it really helps them know what to expect for the month.

Time can be such a tricky concept to teach...what exactly does tomorrow mean? When we have a field trip at the end of the month, how long do we actually have to wait for it? Using these calendars daily helps students better understand the concept of time, days, and calendars.

Students fill out their calendars using the level of support they need, whether it is tracing all of the numbers, writing half (either 2-10 or 2-20, I always include the 1 so they know where to begin) and tracing the higher numbers, or writing all of the numbers by themselves. This is great number and writing practice.

When it is time to color code our calendars, I like to make my students pay attention and copy the example I do in the front of the class or fill it out simply by my explanation, such as "The 26th is a special day, we have a school assembly! Color that date green."

For my students who can't follow along with this yet, I outline the dates in the correct color before they trace/write their numbers so they can follow along with the level of support that they need.

Once students complete their calendar for the month, I have them hole punch and put it in their binder under the calendar tab. Each morning, during our morning meeting time, we open our binders to our calendar pages and cross off the days that have passed. We also use this time to talk about what has happened and what is coming up. The colors are a great visual way to talk about events and time passing.

For additional calendar practice for my higher level students, I have a worksheet that asks questions about the calendar, such as "How many days are in this month?", "How many Tuesdays?", "What holidays/special events are happening this month?", etc. You can also have students write a paragraph about what they are looking forward to in the upcoming month.

I also have worksheets that work on writing the months, matching months to their picture or abbreviation by cut and paste, and a worksheet for each month that works on picture identification and/or word identification (as seen above). Some of my students are more accurate when they count and write at the same time, so you can see in the example above, the numbers are written in each picture or word. For my students who aren't able to recognize words yet, I just cut off the bottom portion of the worksheet or have them try their best!

Using these calendars has seriously been a lifesaver for my students. I even have a few students make two so that their parents can use them at home with them as well! These calendars have just been updated for the 2016-17 school year and you can download the preview here in order to try out the August calendars for free!

Fun Ways to Prep for Next School Year during the Summer

Being a teacher definitely has its perks and summer is definitely one of them! After we put all of our energy into our classroom and students for a year, we need these months to relax. But, also, like most good teachers, it's hard to turn off our teacher brain for the summer. After all, we do ENJOY our jobs :)
Here are a few of my favorite fun ways to prep during the summer. No paperwork, just fun classroom stuff. Plus, the more you pin, um I mean prepare this summer, the easier your school year will go!

Garage Sales: I love finding unique (and cheap) materials to use with my students while shopping yard sales over the summer. Think materials for work boxes, games, books, etc. Some of my best finds were these pill boxes that I made into 3 different work task boxes. I've also stocked my game cabinet for cheap this way. And you can find so many sensory things at garage sales too.

ALL of the laminating: There is something about laminating that makes me so happy. And it's so nice to get stuff laminated without a deadline. Do some laminating while watching movies on summer nights and you'll have tons of fun resources to start the year with! I recommend doing some file folders, task cards, or adapted books.

Brainstorm: How do you want your classroom to run next year? How do you want to set it up? I love searching classrooms and ideas on pinterest and reading through blogs to get all sorts of ideas for the year. I also like drawing out my classroom layout so when I get into my classroom I can move things around and have a idea of where I think everything should go.

Pinterest! Is there seriously a better way to get new ideas? I don't think so! Surf pinterest and get some awesome ideas for your class next year :)

Follow me on Pinterest! I'll be pinning ideas all summer long!

And don't forget to...Relax! Get tan! Read! Have fun! Do whatever you love that you don't have time during the school year. I highly recommend sleeping in ;)

Unique Ways to use Bingo Games in your Special Ed Classroom

Bingo is everyones favorite educational, vocabulary game, right? If it isn't, you must be doing something wrong. Picture bingo is the absolute best! It works on so many skills, keeps kids involved, and adds some fun into your everyday lessons.

We use bingo when working on various vocabulary skills and while discussing various topics or community outings. I usually pick out a card, talk about it...("This is something healthy at the grocery store, it's in the produce section, carrots and beans are some of these, VEGETABLES! Find vegetables on your card.") and then I will be sure to show the card to my students so that they are able to match if they can't find it.

I love playing bingo in a variety of different ways in order to keep things interesting and also to work on additional skills. Here's some of my favorite ways to switch it up!
  • Object Discrimination: Instead of calling cards, if you have a projector, type the name into google images and show the pictures and the students have to state what they see and find it on their cards. 
  • Money Skills: Instead of bingo chips, use coins and have students “put the quarter on the ____”, etc. A great way to sneak in some money math skills!
  • Fine Motor / Fishing Fun: 
    Put paperclips on the calling cards and use a magnetic fishing pole (find it at the dollar store) to have students fish to call the next item!
  • Have students be the bingo callers: You can do this in multiple ways, ranging from using an AbleNet spinner that students can activate with a switch, to pulling a card from options (pick a card, any card), or giving a student full rein! They've been watching you, they might know exactly what to do! I had a student who when leading bingo would sound exactly like me, make sure to walk up and show the distracted student the card, give high fives as appropriate, and even used my little phrases! It was too funny. I could have left and let him run the class ;)
Storing ALL those BINGO boards! Now, let's talk storage. If you love bingo as much as I do (and you should), you will have a lot of bingo games! The easiest way for me to organize my bingo boards is in page protectors in a huge binder. I store all of the cards for one subject in one page protector, along with the calling cards. I DO NOT laminate my bingo boards. If I give a board to a student who is rough with their paper, I put their bingo paper into one of these clearboard sheet protectors. I do usually laminate the calling cards, especially if we are fishing or letting students run the game. Plus, I often using the calling cards as vocabulary cards as well. I love it when things have a dual purpose! Do you ever have bingo games that come without picture calling cards, I just cut up an extra bingo board.
I also find that bingo games make for excellent sub plans, especially when you need something at the last minute! How else do you use bingo games in your class? You can find these bingo boards (and more) in my community units. For holidays and common themes, I usually have good luck finding bingo boards with a google search!
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