Friday, August 4, 2017

Good much paperwork!

Happy Friday! 

I have to admit, I'm jealous of some of you that are still in 100% summer mode. I hope you continue to enjoy your time off until the very last second possible! 

Unforetnuley, the rest of us are gearing up for back to school season. Prepping our rooms, sweating our caseloads and fighting tooth and nail to get support and resources to make the school year a smidge easier. 

I'm here today to share a new idea I had when sorting through my new caseload this year. I know how overwhelming it can be to be handed a caseload and expect to know the kid before even meeting them. 

***Honest truth right here: When I first began teaching, I was given 14 IEPs (each with a minimum of 35 pages) for my self-contained classroom. I knew the importance of the documents but I was trying to balance remembering passwords for 8 different district programs, policies, and procedures of my new school and district.  I was also trying to survive without any money! I hadn't worked in 8 months due to student teaching and I wouldn't get my first paycheck until a month AFTER school started. etc. etc. You get the picture. Do you think those IEPs were read? 

Sadly no. I skimmed them...if that counts, but couldn't really tell you about each kid.  I was LOST! There was so much info in that pile of paper I didn't know where to start or what was the most important thing to focus on.

Have you felt the same? Or Feeling this way right now? 

If so, hopefully, this workflow sheet will help! Here's what I do: 

  1. Get a paper copy of the IEP or access a copy on your district's IEP application. You will also need to print a copy of my FREE IEP Workflow sheet -one per student. Follow along with the pages until it's filled out. You will have a much more clear picture of the student and understand how to prepare your instruction and classroom setting from the following information: 
  2. Page 1: Student Name is easy if there is a nickname they regularly call the child be sure to note that. If it's not in the IEP, hopefully, the parents will tell you on the BTS survey or you can ask during your initial phone call. It's also a good idea to track communication with parents in case there's an incident later in the year. 
  3. Include DOB. Don't be like me and forget a kids birthday. :( Gosh, it sounds like I'm a horrible teacher....
  4. Include sex of the child.  I skipped over that this summer during ESY. I was shocked when I had a girl show up in my class! **NO JOKE...another embarrassing moment**
  5. School ID is important for attendance, transportation, and meals. 
  6. You need to know Annual and FIE dates to gather data appropriately
  7. Qualifying disabilities.  Most disabilities are going to be fairly common especially primary and secondary qualifications, but if you get to tertiary and quaternary disabilities you may not know what they are. (yes, some of my self-contained learners have 4 disabilities) If you happen to know the rare disability-your support staff may not.  Do some research how disabilities affect learning and behaviors. 
  8. I include the instructional code(IA).  Sometimes coming up from elementary they have my kids in more gen ed time, but at the intermediate school, the rigor jumps so much-my kids benefit more from a special ed resource instead of inclusion. Therefore the IA setting changes. 
  9. Does the student receive transportation services? If so, find out that bus number for AM drop off and PM pickup. Make sure they are where they need to be. If they don't receive transportation services, collaborate with parents for drop-off and pickup. 
  10. Medicaid billing. Due to my students receiving personal care services, we bill for Medicaid funding.  I don't want to skip over a student that can receive Medicaid funding...although our coordinator would track me down if I wasn't billing. 
At this point, I have just verified my student is supposed to be in my self-contained setting based on the above information.  

  1. Now I want to get to know the kiddo by reviewing his FIE, PLAAFPs, Accoms & Mods.  I jot most important info and jot down notes and questions if I need clarification from family or previous staff. 
  2. Page 2: I list all related services the student receives so I know who will be coming in to service the student. 
  3. I NEED to know communication methods.  I can't have the student arriving at school and I'm guessing if they will need signs, visuals, a device or can just adapt to verbal communicating. 
  4. Allergies, medical needs, etc. Include everything you can in here. Check with the nurse and double check with the parents. Asthma, birthmarks, medicine at school, tactile sensitivities, needs food chopped up, can only drink with a straw, gluten free, only eats food from home, lactose intolerant-no milk. I also include hygiene info here. The student is independent in the bathroom, the student is in pull-ups with 15 min timer, the student won't request bathroom, student hates flush of the toilet, the student will overflow sink when not monitored, etc. 
  5. Behavior and BIP. Include as much as you can in here too. Describe what a 'good moment' and a 'meltdown' might look like. List triggers, and supports to help students during a crisis situation. Talk to parents and previous staff. 
  6. Likes and Dislikes. This is another NECESSITY. You can't start the school year without know what the student likes and dislikes.  Talk to previous staff, dig deep into the paperwork, ask the parents before school starts.  If you aren't able to complete any of that-use a reinforcement assessment on the first day and find out what the student will work for.  They usually won't work unless they get paid. I definitely wouldn't work if I didn't get paid (despite how much I love my job.)
Page 3 is a goal grouping sheet. Some of my kids have similar goals.  I group them together so I can plan my lessons more effectively and know which standards or skills I should focus more heavily on. 

After the 1st week of school with the kids, I go back to re-read and make notes on the paperwork trying to answer questions I had from the paperwork. You know....something wasn't described well or info you think is important should be mentioned in the next ARD. I just make a note in case the student moves-the next case manager already has it on hand.

After completing each workflow, I place it in the student's binder that houses all of their work samples and progress reports. 

Whew. That's a lot! I hope that can give you a nice flow of what to look for in IEPs for new kiddos.  Let me know how the workflow sheets work for you during BTS! If you need anything else added or want an editable version, feel free to ask away! 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

IP sped recipes

Hey friends!!

I recently purchased an Instant Pot (I.P.) and have fallen in love with the quick and efficient method of cooking! I can't tell you how many times I've messed up a stove top meal and been so completely frustrated.  I would much rather cook with an oven but in Texas summer heat...I hate to turn it on.

For those of you who don't know, the I.P. is a pressure cooker.  Think of it as a slow cooker on steroids! It cooks perfect food consistently! A whole frozen chicken...BAM! Broth..BAM! Hard boiled eggs...BAM! Cheese cake, yogurt, soup...BAM, BAM, BAM!! You get the picture... It's AMAZING!

After being completely reliant on my I.P. for the first few weeks, I decided to try it during E.S.Y. (extended summer school). We made popcorn and my kids loved it!!! There are quite a few kid friendly recipes out there that are really easy and yummy in the Instant Pot.  I have included a freebie to the Popcorn recipe for you to try with your kiddos!

Free recipe

I would talk with your kiddos before hand and let them know the Instant Pot uses pressure and it is hot, they may hear or see steam and there is nothing to be alarmed about.  The first few times at home, the steam and pressure settings were a little intimidating.

If you don't have one, I purchased mine off Amazon and it comes with 2 spoons and a steam rack. Another tip-before using it at school, you will want to complete a water test and become familiar with the I.P. recipe before taking it to the kids.

 I did not have access to a kitchen area during E.S.Y.  I also do not have a kitchen with my current school to be able to cook with a stove. Therefore I've been pretty creative with our cooking endeavors. I have used the following appliances in the past to make recipes in the classroom:

  • Crockpot: chili, nacho cheese, potatoes
  • Blender: shakes, smoothies
  • Griddle: pancakes, bacon, eggs, sausage
  • Waffle maker: waffles
  • Quesadilla maker: quesadillas with ham or pepperoni
  • Microwaved: 3-2-1 cake

Click on the images below to purchase on Amazon:

**All Amazon links are affiliate links.

What have you used in the past to cook recipes? What are your favorite go to recipes (edible and Non-edible)? I'd love to read in the comments below!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


Happy 4th of July!! I hope everyone has an awesome Independence day!

Today I'm going to be sharing my first experience teaching Extended School Year (ESY).  I've never taught ESY before, but it didn't take me long to realize these are the toughest kids in the district because they need the most routine, structure, and support.

What is ESY?

ESY is a federal service for students in special education ages 3-21. ESY services vary per student depending on their needs.  They type of service, amount, and duration are determined by the IEP meeting.  Transportation is provided and services are in the LRE (Least Restricted Environment).

How do they qualify?

Students qualify for ESY based on regression and recoupment of skills based on data collected via evaluations, progress reports, observations, service logs, parent and staff input. What cannot be recouped 'during the first 8 weeks of the next school year?'

Here are 2 Google Drive forms I created.  The first one I created for my (school year) students I sent to ESY.  I created the ESY Information Form, filled it out and sent it with the box of materials for my students.  If you followed the link, you should be able to add to your drive, then modify or fill out to suite your needs.  Here's a screen shot of the download button.

Here's the form live:

Here's a sample of the information once the form is filled out.  I sent a copy of the excel sheet to the ESY teachers (in the student's box).

The second form I created was to include all the items I was sending to ESY. **sorry for the upcoming rant** I get it. You may not want to part ways with YOUR materials, YOUR resources, YOUR laminated task cards, file folders, and visuals.  The truth is....they're actually the STUDENTS' materials and resources too and they need ALL of those activities to be successful in the summer.  If you are going to make new visuals next year, send the old ones to ESY.  Sadly the things you send may not return, or be incredibly damaged...but if it helps your student be successful during ESY, they will be more successful in the fall when they return.  Don't just send 'busy work' and please, please, please, don't send worksheets when the student can barely write! **Anyways...sorry for the soap box! **
Here's the 2nd form. I added photos of all the items sent and attached it to the box so they could keep the student's things together and pack it back up easily. If you followed the link, you can also add this form to your dropbox by clicking the button that is circled below.

Here's what the live form looks like:
Here is a screen shot of my daily communication log. It's similar to my school year log, except it only has M-Th. Our summer school is Am only 4 days a week.

Daily Communication log

Overall, starting ESY has been so much fun!! It is definitely hard, but I'm getting to try new things with some kids I will be getting next year!  I've also made a quick and easy Grab&Go communication and schedule system, thanks to Christeen Reeve's clever Iris box ideas!

Grab & Go communication and schedule box
I'm getting to implement the task boxes from Especially Education.  I have also become pretty fast at playing tag with one of my 95* Texas weather and sliding down a slide! I also found a cool idea when buzzing for a janitor taped to my wall.  I always hate calling for a 'pee cleanup.' This school has codes!!!! Code 1=blood, code 2=vomit, code 3=urnine/poop, code 4=liquid. GENIUS!!!

What are your experiences with ESY? Do you have any suggesions, comments, ideas? Share them below or on social media. #spedESY

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Awesome April Activities

April is more than likely my most favorite month of the year! There are so many fun things you can teach during this month relating to: 
  • April Fools Day. What is your favorite April fools joke for school? 
  • Autism Awareness
  • Life cycle of chickens, butterflies, and flowers
Here is a fun activity for your kids!! Mine loved seeing their 'hair grow.' 

This one is amazing too! warned: this can stink up your room!! We couldn't figure out what the smell was, but it was so fascinating to watch it grow and label the different parts.
  • Water cycle (related to rainy days)
  • Easter
  • Earth Day (reduce, reuse, recycle)
This is my absolute favorite cooking activity for earth day.  I would like to preface...If you use food coloring, wear gloves when rolling the balls.  Otherwise, it will stain your hands! 

This is a cheap work task that you can make from dollar tree.  I laminated and velcroed my pieces onto the correct bin.

  • Fiesta (if you're in S. Texas) These little pinatas are so perfect!! My kids also like to make quac and chow down on some chips!

Some other great resources specifically from sped bloggers that I use are:

What is your favorite month of school? Do you have any fun April activities to add to my list? Comment below!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Ultimate List of Assessments

Happy Saturday! I caught up on some much-needed rest this morning with our rainy south texas weather! I hope you did too! Today I'd like to share some great assessments for your special education class! {I have tried some of these assessments, others were suggested by amazing teachers in our special ed. online community.} 

The first three assessments might be a little pricey, but could potentially be provided by your campus or district. 
  1. Brigance from curriculum associates Let's get this one out of the way! I was required to complete this assessment in my previous district and I am not a fan. It does have a variety of assessments, but it was very cumbersome and to a first-year teacher, I struggled to administer it. It is very comprehensive and is great about assessing the needs of students up to the developmental age of 8 years.
  2. ABLLS (The assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills) The ABBLS covers areas including language, social interaction, self-help, academic and motor skills acquired by kindergarten. I have not personally tried this assessment, but here are some great blog posts from The Autism Helper,  a post from Adventures in the ATC, and Superheros in SPED to get you started. 
  3. AFLS ( The assessment of functional living skills) I would love to try AFLS.  It specifically targets functional living skills.  Have you tried it? 
  4. DIBELS Math and Literacy assessment. There is a FREE version too! It's great to show progress from BOY, MOY and EOY. 

The second list is more budget friendly if you are looking to purchase out of your own pocket. 
  1. No prep sight word assessment from Natasha at The resource teacher.  My kids love to be assessed with this resource! Seriously. It's electronic as a PDF and we just click through as they read. The love to take charge and click as they read. It's way more fun the flash cards! 
  2. This Easy Math assessment from Especially Education is also a great way to take baseline for your special needs kiddos. I laminated the student page that way I can reuse when needed for years to come.
  3.  I love these Fry sight word rings from The Bender Bunch. They are color coded and on rings.  easy to grab and go depending on your kids' levels. 
  4. Mandy from A Special Kind of Class has a great set of Dolch sight word assessments that I love using with my kids! 
  5. Stephanie has a Literacy assessment binder included in her Kindergarten Spelling Curriculum! She also has this FREE progress monitoring resource! 
  6. Check out these FREE assessments on TpT!! 

This last list includes some great blog reading from other Sped teachers. Instead of reinventing the wheel, just click through some of the links below: 
  1. Traci from the Bender Bunch shares how to simply data with a FREE phonics screener. 
  2. Nicole from The Adventures in the ATC shares some great assessment ideas and tips in these 4 posts! 
  3. Here is an AMAZING idea to help with recording reading, fluency, WPM. Hop on over to The Resource teacher to learn about this FREE app
  4. This is a great post on how to assess Assistive Technology for your students IEP from Melissa at Autism Adventures! 
I hope you can find some assessments that will make your job easier! If you use an assessment that has worked in your class, leave a comment below. I would love to add it to the list! Have a wonderful weekend, unit next time...

Monday, February 6, 2017

Beat the Burnout

It seems to me that October and February are THE HARDEST MONTHS in teaching!! Anyone agree??? Both months also have multiple holidays and no days off!! October has Columbus day(usually teacher work day), Halloween, red ribbon week and sometimes spirit week for football! February has groundhog day, President's day (usually teacher work day), Valentine's Day and it is short a couple of days so it feels like you're cramming in some extra material in a shorter amount of time. 

With that being said, I always feel exhuasted, fatigued and burnt out by the end of these two months! 

How do special educators become burned out? 

According to John A. Kaufhold
"...the key variables causing burnout and attrition were: job stress, weak support by administrators, unreasonable caseloads, large class size and ineffective in-service programs."  

  • Misperception That Teaching is Easy
  • Non-Instructional Responsibilities
  • Lack of Support
  • Dealing With Multiple Disabilities
  • Handling Death
  • Problems of an Inclusive Classroom
  • Professional Isolation
  • Lack of Support From Parents
  • Discipline in a Special Needs Classroom
  • Budget Problems

I know I have struggled with almost all of these! Our job is hard! 

About 50 percent of teachers in special education settings leave their positions in five years. Another 50 percent of those who persevere through the challenges during the first five years of their careers will find themselves seeking employment elsewhere in the next 10 years. Both of these factors support the fact that the turnover rate every 10 years is about 75 percent for special education teachers based on a study published in the International Journal of Special Education. Source

 How can you avoid burnout during these hard months and for the rest of the YEAR?

First off, You are not alone! Here are some amazing special ed teacher-authors and bloggers!  

Secondly, don't be afraid to switch things up. I told myself, I wasn't going to be a statistic where I became burned out before 5 years.  Guess what? It happened.  By my 3rd year, I was done. I couldn't take it anymore and had to get out of my position.  Luckily, I found the exact same position in a different district and started with a clean slate. Wow! what a difference a new start can do for a teacher. :) Thirdly, find an output or a hobby you really enjoy to reduce or take away some stress. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF FIRST!  

Mrs D's Corner

Here are some things you can try to help reduce stress and hopefully prevent burnout. 

  • crafting, scrapbooking, painting 
  • read
  • laughing
  • music (play an instrument or listen to music)
  • time with your pets
  • crochet, quilting, knitting
  • yoga, Beachbody workouts, p90x, dance, hiking, skiing, kayaking, go for a walk/run, kickboxing, swim
  • sit down and not doing anything/meditation / clear your mind
  • video games
  • sleep late on weekends
  • funny memes
  • eat candy
  • talk to a close friend
  • mani/Pedi
  • massage 
  • hot bath / essential oils
  • Binge watch Netflix or youtube 
  • blog
  • color
  • bake
  • go to the movies
  • photography
  • spend time with family
  • disconnect from social media for a few hours / don't connect your email to your phone 

Lastly, Some inspiration quotes from some amazing SpEd teachers: 
Mrs Ds Corner
You Aut-A Know

The Resource Teacher
Simply Special Ed

Autism Classroom News

In conclusion I will leave you to think about this: