Our Morning Classroom Routine: Coming in and Classroom Jobs

Especially important in the special education classroom, is a consistent morning routine. When students know what to expect and there are no surprises, things run a whole lot smoother. As an extra bonus, it makes things easier for the teacher as well!!
Morning Routine and Morning Meeting - predictability for special education class helps the entire day run more smoothly!

My students come in anytime between 15 minutes before the bell rings to 5-10 minutes after the bell rings. Before the bell rings, I'm very relaxed with what they choose to do. Some students prefer to just sit at their desk, others follow a sensory diet, and others want to get started with their daily tasks, but oddly enough, no one has ever picked a "free time" choice, even though it has been offered!

Once the bell rings...I'm going to shock you all and you're going to think I'm a terrible American...I don't care if my students stand up and say the pledge or not. I certainly model it, and I encourage students to do it, but if they don't, no big deal! This mindset definitely comes from a couple of years ago when I had a student who would "go off" at requests like this that interrupted his morning routine and it wasn't worth it! Plus, this is a few of my students' sensory time, and I'm not interrupting that! And, when else do you ever stand for the pledge?! The national anthem at games, sure, and we practice that, but sorry, forcing a student to stand for the pledge is not worth having our morning start on a bad note. Okay, bunny trail/tangent over, back on track!

Once the pledge/announcements are over, I expect student to sign in and complete their morning job. As students walked into class, they grabbed their binder. In this binder, they have their individual schedule and their sign in sheet. For the sign in sheet, some students use a name stamp, others work on writing their first name, other work on their full name, the date, and the time.

Psst...I bought name stamps from Discount Rubber Stamps last year for my students who could not write and was super happy with them! You can customize the font and color, and it lasted all year and is still going strong! Oh, and they were only $3 each (now $4, but still a great deal)!

A trick to help your students stamp their name right side up instead of upside down, put a sticker on the side that needs to face them - boom - worked like magic!

After signing in, students complete their jobs. Our jobs rotate monthly and almost all students will have a turn to do each job. I assign jobs by putting their name or picture next to the job title as seen below. I modify the jobs for each student as needed. The bottom jobs are my "extra" jobs that don't really need to be done, but students need something to do!

Our jobs have included:
Calendar: Goes to our class calendar and adds today's date, fills out yesterday, today, and tomorrow by days of the week, sets our classroom block calendar, and then being prepared to tell the class what day it is (ex. "Today is Monday, August 10, 2015").

Weather: Looks up weather on the iPad, fills out "the weather is" strip, moves the arrow to the correct spot on the temperature chart, and fills out what we should wear today based on the weather. Get our temperature chart here.

Attendance: Moves student and staff pictures to either home or school depending on who is at school for the day.

Copier: Makes copies of (or just grabs from the folder if our little copier is broken like it was for the second half of the year) each student's daily sheet and passes them out.

Lunch: Look at the weekly lunch menu and easily finds pictures on his/her device or types in the iPad to get a visual of the hot lunch option for the day.

Clean: Wipes down white boards

Music: Chooses a youtube video (classical music option) to softly play during morning work time.

Books: Make sure books are in their correct bins.

Not one of our current jobs, but pencil sharpening is a good one to add if needed too! Any other jobs that you do with your students? I'd love to hear about them!

Check back later this week for a post on our actual morning meeting part of our morning! Can't wait to share it with you. Make sure you are following somehow so that you don't miss anything! :)

Update: see part 2 here.

Student Greeting Card Business for Students with Special Needs

I'm not going to lie, we have a really awesome transition program at our school that has created real businesses to help our students get work experience and to earn money for community outings, like our coffee business. This next business I want to talk to you about is our greeting card business.
Now, the teacher in charge of this business has been doing this for several years now, and is a rock star at all of this, so don't be intimidated by all of the different styles and cool things we have on our cards. You can start simple and add more once you can!

In order to make your cards you will need:

Stamp Only Cards
Paper Cards

Other optional materials:

Holy moly, that was a lot of links and a lot of searching. You're welcome :) These are affiliate links, so while it costs the same for you, I get a small percentage if you choose to purchase anything from those links.

Next step would be to find a card design that you like and write down the directions step by step when you create it. If it has a paper background or paper embellishments, write the sizes to cut it at (this is where the sliding cutter comes in handy, staff might have to measure and line it up, but then the student can slide and cut it). 

If you are using fun picture stamps (like the happy birthday owls or truck), students can color them in with colored pencils when they are dry.

You can order a fun stamp with your card business name and contact info to place on the back of each card. Like this one for example. These offers come up on groupon or living social all of the time!

I took a picture of a few of the cards we have to give you some examples, but see what you can come up with based on the materials you have, or start a card inspiration board on Pinterest :)

Our stamp only cards are typically $1 and paper cards are $2. We do offer package deals, see our order form below!

This card was created with two different card stocks and the cuttlebug made the cool Happy Birthday embossing. A sponge was pressed into a stamp pad and brushed over the top to give it that distressed- type of look. This is a $2 card.

This card was made with stamps, colored pencils and glitter! We would sell this card for $1.

How adorable is this card? The cuttlebug adds a lot with the fun textures and it's pretty easy for students to get the hang out. Cards like this are great because there is a lot of steps and you can work on it in an assembly type of system. One student might cut all of the background, another the papers, another the stamp, another putting the different parts together, you get the picture!

How cute is this on! The sky and the grass are made with a stamp pad, the truck is stamped along with the message, and then colored in by a student.

I love how simple, yet creative this one is. The "thanks" is inside the card, with a hole punch on the outside so that you can see the thanks. A sea foam sponge was used to stamp this cool design all over the card!

More fun with the cuttlebug here.

Again, you can see a couple of different punches and stamps, one colored paper background, and a ribbon makes up this $2 card.

Here's what our order form looks like. 
We send this form out to the other teachers in our building and to our students' parents as well. I like to send a form home with each field trip form to remind parents of the awesome opportunity they have to continue to support our community trips and our program!

We use 100% of the funds we make from this business to not only buy new supplies to make new cards, but to cover ALL of our community trip expenses and ALSO to cover all the snacks and food that we have in our kitchen! It's an amazing business opportunity that has huge benefits for our students!

Interested in buying our cards? Like our 'INSPIRE Greeting Cards' Business on Facebook or order directly from this website! *Note, our workers don't come back until mid-August, so you are not currently able to place orders on the website, but save it for later!

Back to School E-Book with Freebies from 25 bloggers + GIVEAWAYS!!!

It's getting very close to back to school time which I'm sure is causing a lot of us both anxiety and excitement. Let's focus on that excitement because there are so many exciting things going on to help you prepare for another successful school year!

This free e-book was created by myself and 24 other bloggers. We each have included a back to school tip and one or more freebies! Plus, it's a great way to find and follow other SPED teachers to continue to get fabulous ideas throughout the year. Click on the e-book below to download your copy!

And now for the giveaway, I am giving away a $25 gift card to my TpT Store PLUS these dry erase pockets. I love using these pockets with worksheets that can be used over and over again, or for when something needs to be laminated, but I don't have time, this gives it extra sturdiness. I seriously use these in some way every single day in my classroom!

Enter to win these pockets and the gift card to my store using the rafflecopter entry below!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

6 MORE Ways to Work Successfully with Paraprofessionals

Part of being a special education teacher is working with paraprofessionals. Classroom and individual aides are a necessity for many of our classes and we couldn't do what we do without them! As awesome as having aides is, I know it can be difficult to manage so many different personalities and to make sure that your classroom goals (and students' goals) are being achieved. I am by no means an expert, but have learned a few things and hope to continue to improve my ability to work successfully with the paraprofessionals in my classroom.
How to work with Classroom Aides in a Special education classroom

1. Give clear and specific WRITTEN instructions from the beginning. But it can't only be written, you have to say it as well. I have found that it is easiest when you can direct the aides back to something concrete that is written as opposed to both of your trying to remember what you said.

2. Learn their strengths and weaknesses. This can help you determine where to best utilize each aide in your classroom. And don't feel like you need to guess! Directly ask your aides what they feel they are good at and what they aren't. Communication is so important! Then use that information accordingly. For example, don't put an aide who is slow at taking data in your station that requires high data collection. You'd just be setting yourself up for frustration. Try to place an aide who is strong in data collection in this area, or see how you can change your collection to make it faster for the aide.

3. Pair them with students that will play on their strengths. And don't be afraid to switch it up if it isn't working. Another reason why it is so important to know your aides strengths and weaknesses. For example, if an aide has medical issues and can't lift, you aren't going to want to put them with your student in a wheelchair. Some aides aren't comfortable with non-verbal students and other aides excel with non verbal students and communication devices. Know your aides in order to best meet your students' needs.

4. Give feedback immediately when possible. If they don't know they are doing something wrong, they are going to keep doing it that way unless you say something. And the longer you let it go, the harder it will be for them to change. This isn't their fault, it's hard to change habits, so try to be specific and let them know when something has to change. 

5. Just like with our students, figure out how they learn best! Like it or not, a big part of our job is teaching our aides. Do they prefer to learn by observation or by written directions? Do they need to try it out first with you watching or without (sometimes by being there makes them nervous, and I have to be considerate of that while they are learning something new). Again, ask your aides how you can best help them. I'm sure they will appreciate this gesture.

6. Find a time to build personal relationships and also make it clear that that time is not during class. This is hard for me. I want to have a good relationship with my aides, but personal conversations can't happen during class time. This is a great expectation to have from the start, to welcome aides in before or after the bell to chat and show that you care, but when the students come into the room, they are the number one priority.

When you have a great relationship established with your aides, you will be able to achieve so much more in your classroom! So, I know it’s hard at times, but it’s worth it! So, go ahead, be an amazing leader and train your team well so your students can be successful :)

Then you'll want to check out more advice for working with classroom aides, with Sped Station up next! Click the ball below to continue hoping through special education blogs on this topic.

Stocking Task (aka Matching but with a Work Skill twist)

During the last few weeks of school, a parent donated a bunch of peg boards from an Optometrist's office. I knew we could do something awesome with them and it didn't take me long to come up with the idea to make them into stocking tasks!!!

We were able to make a variety of stocking tasks by removing pegs as needed. I found pictures off of Google or Amazon and copied and pasted into PowerPoint. I tried to figure out the size as closely as I could, printed in black and white, checked sizing first, and once it was correct I printed 7 color copies on card stock. And then handed it to our wonderful laminating lady at school. She's the best. Doesn't even ask why I'm printing 72 pictures of toothbrushes or gift cards :) But then I made sure to grab her and show her what we made!

After laminating it was as simple as cutting them out (you will definitely want a sliding cutter like this one, it's a lot of cutting) and putting a hole punch at the top. BOOM. Stocking task. 

My students seemed to really enjoy this one. I would ask them if they wanted to work at CVS or Walgreens, and then told them their job was to stock toothbrushes!

This next task is a bit more challenging for students, since the brand is all the same and only the amount in the package and the colors change. This is when I learned that grabbing pictures off of Amazon worked so much better because I could search by brand and then grab related items. 

I really like this gift card one because it can also work on logo / brand recognition! Also, I think students will be motivated to stock gift cards to places they know and recognize. Again, it was super easy to grab these images off of Amazon.

And here is the last one I created before leaving on summer break - stock the seed packets! I like how similar they look, but they also have different colors and pictures.

We didn't get to use them much this past school year since these were created in the last week or so, but I am really excited to offer this as another job skill for my students. And I have more peg boards, so will probably come up with more stocking tasks next school year!

You can download the pictures I used HERE from google drive. I printed about 7 sheets of each page, in order to have 7 of each item, but you could do whatever number sounds best to you!

Where do you think you could find peg boards if you don't have some randomly donated to you? I searched a little online, and you might be able to get them at Home Depot, or a similar home improvement store, and have them cut to the size you want. Would love to hear other suggestions!

Great idea from reader Lisa and blogger Jannike from A Special Ed Connection - use 3M command hooks with small white boards or something else you have laying around!
Then I got to thinking, command hooks on anything! Maybe even those foldable presentation boards.

Color Coded Visual Calendars for Special Education

I love doing calendar activities in my special education classroom. I try to make our calendar activities as age appropriate as possible, while also reaching my students intellectual needs.

I started doing monthly calendars again this past year, but this time with my lower group of students. See how I did calendar with my higher students here. It took me a while to realize that my lower students could complete a similar calendar but they totally can! So we ditched the individual Velcro calendars and started this instead. It also worked out great that I got some higher students halfway through the year and this activity was easily modified for them to be more challenging as well.

I color code our calendar so students can visually see what is happening that week, without the support of symbols. The color code key is simple (with only 4 colors) and stays the same, so students pick up on it relativity quickly.

So you can see with this one below I outlined the dates with their correct color. This student has the tracing version and traced (with assistance) the numbers and then colored in the dates based on our key.
Visual Calendars for Students with Special Needs - great for math, life skills, and helps students know what to expect each month

This next student received the black calendar and was able to write in the numbers while looking at her communication device page of number to make sure they were in order. Then she was able to follow along and color in the dates as I explained what we had to look forward to that month on the board.
So what do you think of that picture - is that a bunny or a spider?! :)

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, we go to our calendar and cross off the days that have passed. It's a great visual way to see what has happened and what is going to happen each month.

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.  

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. (For my students who aren't able to recognize words yet, I just cut off the bottom portion of the worksheet!)

Watch a video preview of this product below

Visual Calendars for Special Education - great for math, life skills, and helps students know what to expect each month
All of these calendar activities are available for purchase here in my TpT store. I love using them and think you'd love using them this year too!

Back to School Forms to Send Home

There are a few things that I specifically like to send home to parents (or pass out on back to school night). These include: an introduction letter, supply list, and questionnaire. I have stolen many of these from my colleagues :) but have edited them and made them my own! Don't start from scratch if you don't have to! I also pass out our syllabi on back to school night, but that's mostly just a formality since my classes are so individualized the syllabi don't really provide that much information, but it's required by all classes in my school. 

Introduction Letter:
I think it is important to show parents that you are excited and motivated to work with their young adult! Tell them who you are, why you teach, and what you are looking forward to this year. I have found that short and sweet is best. Parents are more likely to read it if it seems more genuine (aka not copied and pasted from someone who obviously does not sound like you).

Supply List:
My supply list changes slightly each year, but typically what I request is some basic classroom supplies....and try not to make them required, just very much appreciated!

Questionnaire / Parent Survey:
Again, this changes every year. (And I included two samples in the document I shared with you). It used to be much longer, but I wasn't getting many responses back, so I am trying to simplify it and hope for more responses!

Download my Back to School forms here! In order to use please "make a copy" or copy and paste. I can't give editing rights to the original or the form will get messed up with what everyone adds!

What did I miss that you usually include?

This is part of a Special Education Back to School hop! Check out the rest of the posts, starting at the beach ball below with Special Education Station!

Binder Work Station for Special Education

Someone recently asked about the binder station I had used in my classroom...so I decided it was time to post this video I took a couple of years ago.

Feel free to check out this video below for how I set up and organized my binder station.

Binder Section Materials shown in this Video:
Signs: PCI Environmental Print Series - this blog post explains how I use this curriculum
Say & Glue: Say & Glue for Language and Listening - I *think* this is the same book, if not it's very similar. You can download free samples to try before you buy!
Vocab: Household Vocab Unit - Kitchen Vocab (see all vocab units available)
Edmark: I love their functional word series. I've been using it a lot more this past year as I've gotten students who are able to recognize words easier. 
Social Skills Readers: Getting Along with People - it's a little outdated...but still has some good concepts that we work on while reading these!
Form: Personal Info Practice - Includes various levels for different students, to include matching, tracing, or copying.
Writing: Download an ABC tracing font and create handwriting sheets on Microsoft word! Or use journals (linked below)

Binder Section Materials I have added since:
Journals: I print off a pack of journals for each student depending on their level. Then they also grab the folder with the classroom sample journals in order to complete their journal.
Money Worksheets: I use these simple bill identification worksheets for my students who are still learning the difference between a $5 and a $10 bill. There are also coin ID worksheets available!
Life Skill Math Worksheets: Students complete these differentiated math worksheets one each day after completing a hands-on activity on topics of money, sizes, directions, more/less, and time.

Also, see this post for the aide descriptions of each station in my classroom including this binder station!

Update: I now organize our binders differently and don't have a "binder work" station anymore. As the needs of my students changed and I was able to introduce more group-type of work (such as my journals), I changed our binders to a morning routine/work thing which I will explain soon!

Student Coffee Business for Special Education

Our transition age special education students focus mainly on job skills and we are always looking for more real jobs that they can complete in our school. One of the teachers in our program came up with the most awesome coffee business model that was started this past year and has been a huge success! Teachers order their drinks in the morning through a google form, and then students make the drinks using Keurig machines and deliver the coffee to specified locations at specific times.
The teachers throughout our school love their coffee...the students baristas love the responsibility, it's a win-win situation! And even though this program is for our transition students, my class gets to help out when the transition classes are out on community trips and I have been so impressed at how quickly my students have learned the ropes and how seriously they take this responsibility.

Here's what our google form looks like. We have it set to open and close at a certain time each day, this way we make sure no more orders are submitted after we print them off!

In the morning, after the google form has closed and all orders have been submitted, the orders are printed off and arranged by time (we have two time slots we deliver). The orders include information such as who ordered, pick-up location, time, type of drink, and types of sweeteners/creams. Higher level students are able to take a label, attach to the cup, and complete the order on their own. Lower level students, who might not be able to read, are still able to do a lot independently due to the supports we have put in place.

For the Keurig's, students are taught to always choose the #3 or largest size option when creating their drinks. As you can see here the creamers are labeled with both letters and colors so that staff can tell students, "1 pump red" or "2 pumps of B." Similarly, the sugar/splenda/sweet n low are different color packets so it is easy to tell a student to put in the "yellow" packet, or whatever it might be. We have learned it is most helpful to put the creamers and sugars in first, before the cup is filled with a hot drink!

The coffees and teas are organized so that non-readers can be successful. Staff can tell students, "get a coffee from the blue basket", etc.

When a drink is prepared, it is then transferred to this cart for delivery. The label is either marked with the correct color, or staff tells students what color box to put the cup in depending on where it needs to be delivered.

The coffee/tea is delivered by the students to the various pick-up locations where teachers will pick up in-between class periods. Teachers are billed at the end of the week for their weekly orders. Each drink is $1 each. This has been a HUGE success at our school and is a great fundraising opportunity as well!

So what do you need to get started?
  • A Keurig machine - I bet someone has one they would be willing to donate. Otherwise you can find great deals at Kohls with a 30% off coupon and Kohl's cash! You will make the money back from this investment!
  • Drinks / K-cups - You can also find great deals on K-cups with coupons, or at ALDI, or even just on Amazon. 30-40 cents a cup is a good price to pay. Use subscribe and save on Amazon (and feel free to cancel once you receive your order) for a bigger discount! These breakfast blend K-cups are 34 cents each. Keep it simple on the flavors - I would recommend starting with just two types of coffee (decaf or regular) and maybe a hot chocolate. For tea, we actually just brew hot water and then let the tea bag seep for 5 minutes. 
  • Cups with lids (Keurigs brew up to 10 oz, so 12 oz cups work great - just enough room left over) - These are only 18/cents a cup (includes lid)
  • Creamers / Sugars are nice to have for those who like to sweeten their coffee! Buy in bulk! 
The links above are affiliate links, so while it costs the same for you, I get a small percentage if you choose to purchase anything from those links. Thanks!

Do you do any similar jobs at your school? Please share! We are always looking for more opportunities for our students. I will be posting about some of the other school jobs we do soon, so be sure to follow me so you don't miss anything!

Setting Up a Secondary Special Education Classroom - Classroom Layout

Have you been thinking about how to set up your special education classroom? Do you feel like you never have enough space? Are you thinking how in the world am I going to be do more than just the typical desks in my room? I've been there. As a high school teacher, I have a typical high school sized classroom. I'm not complaining, it's not like a closet or anything...but I have to admit I do get jealous of elementary sped teachers and all of their space! I'm here to show you, that even with a small/normal-ish sized room you can do some pretty cool stuff!

I need individual desks that face the board, because I have two other classes that function more like typical classes that take place in my room throughout the day besides my morning block/caseload students. (Don't even get me started on the stupid kidney shaped desks in my room. Once you get a communication device and an iPad on that desk, there's hardly any room for work! So I've been in the process of switching them out to normal rectangle desks whenever I can find one.) I need about 8 desks for the morning and if I need more room for the other classes, I use our "reading desk" and "group table" for more seating. All of my students start the morning in their individual desks during our morning meeting/class time and then rotate throughout the room (and sometimes back at their desk) based on their schedule.

View from the back corner by the door.

View from the group table at back corner opposite the door

View from work task stations at the front of the room looking back at the door/entrance

You'll notice I also have unique obstacles to work around in my room. I have sliding barn doors that need to remain accessible... a tech door that is always locked and the tech people come in my room at the most inconvenient times, four huge poles along the walls, and one huge shelf against the back wall. I'm sure we all have some random stuff like that! Make it work for you. The poles are magnetic, so I stick stuff to them. I put posters on the tech door. The shelf stores a lot of the materials that we are currently using (even though its annoying I can't put any furniture on that wall!) And...well...the barn doors are just annoying. Ha. When you don't have a ton of space (or maybe even if you do) you have to use the walls to your advantage!

My work task stations are along the wall in the corner. I like this area for a couple of reasons. Students are facing a wall so they are less distracted. Also, they are out of the way so it doesn't feel like it takes up a lot of space.

I have my teacher desk perpendicular to the shelf in the back. There are a few reasons for this. I can run straight back to the computer easily this way when projecting or showing something on the screen. Also, when I'm working on my desk during lunch/plan, I often have students pop in, and this way I am also facing the door. I have a little desk behind me for when I'm working with or testing a student. This space (and the one on the other wall) gives students another option for a place to do 1:1 teacher work besides just their desk.  I like giving choices like this when possible. It also allows us to space out the room if certain areas are getting crowded.

Our group table in the back (as pictured in pictures above) is my FAVORITE! We do our journal in the morning here and any other small group work. This space is also great for playing games.

Students' binders and individual schedules are right next to to the door when they walk in so that the first thing they do in the morning is grab their binder and go to their desk. This is also where they leave their take home folders.

The bookshelf and reading area is in front of the sliding barn doors. I have a rug here because some students enjoy reading on the floor, while others prefer to use the desk. Books (most of them are adapted books) are somewhat organized by topic in bins.
Next to the books is our classroom game closet and then our bigger storage cabinet with manipulatives, puzzles, and other educational materials.

All student supplies are labeled and are located at the back of the room for easy access for students. I keep supplies like glue, markers, stamps, scissors, crayons, etc on these tops shelves and students are quick to learn where to find what they need and are mostly independent with getting and putting away their supplies. Under the shelf I store most of our sensory items, such as fidgets, lotion, weights, weighted vests, and headphones.

Hope you enjoyed that classroom set-up tour and I hope that it gives you more ideas for setting up your own classroom!

Continue checking out other special education teachers' classroom set ups by going through the blog hop by clicking on the ball below, next up, Sped Station!

Check back next week for back-to-school forms! Update: Check out and get free back to school forms HERE.
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