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Teaching About Halloween in Special Ed

Do You Teach Halloween??

So for years I was in an elementary public school setting that seriously frowned upon teaching anything relating directly to Halloween.  Kids were not allowed to dress up, and we did not have the parades around the track or parking lot I remembered as a kid.  I always respected this policy, but it also bugged me.  Why? There are a couple of reasons I think we should be allowed to teach about Halloween in a public school setting.

At the end of this post is a link to a FREEBIE to inspire you to teach about this holiday!!

  1.  There is a lot of history tied to this holiday.  Customs and traditions began long ago as a way people believed they were protecting their crops and families. history of halloween1

By the 1950’s the tradition of going house to house asking for candy began.

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Today, this is still a very important economic holiday for the United States.

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2.  The other reason I feel it is important to be given the option to teach about this holiday is that if you have a special ed class, especially that contains students with autism, this time can be confusing and scary.  trick or treating1

Putting a costume comes with all kinds of sensory issues for these special kids, and interacting with strangers in order to get a bag full of candy can lead to frustration and anxiety.  trick or treating2

If we could talk about these traditions in a safe and structured way in the classroom, perhaps more of our students with special needs would be able to enjoy trick or treating or simply dressing up as their favorite super hero.trick or treating3

So, I know there a lot of people out there who do not celebrate or believe this is truly a holiday.  However, I think there is a respectful and appropriate way we can teach about Halloween.  So, if you are allowed, would you teach Halloween?

If you are interested in a unit on this holiday, designed specifically for students with special needs, especially autism, click on the image below.

Halloween Unit 2

And now for the FREEBIE!!  Click below to download my Halloween Spelling booklet for FREE.

Halloween FREEBIE

Not Your Average Novel Unit

Do you do read-alouds in your classroom?  I taught in a class for students with autism for 10 years.  I had students in grades kindergarten through 5th grade.  Some students were early readers, some students could not even identify their name.  Some of my students could hold an hour long conversation with me on the fine features of Thomas the Tank Engine and some students were unable to utter a single word.  I was tasked with helping every single student grow and thrive while learning what their typical peers were learning a few classrooms away.  One of the ways I did this was by reading novels to the class as a whole group activity.  Sounds a little crazy, but it was great.

My “not your average novel units” were born from this amazing experience.  I was not reading these novels to my students for a comprehension purpose.  I was reading to them in hopes of connecting on a personal level.  I was reading to them in hopes of teaching them to sit and listen (or at least be quiet) while an adult was speaking.  I was reading to them in hopes of sharing my love of books and stories.  So, with each chapter, I found myself trying to come up with an activity that would help them make a deeper connection to the content without relying on their ability to decipher and comprehend what I was actually reading.

These novel units do just that.  With each chapter, I develop one or two activities that tie to a concept introduced on those pages.  This isn’t as easy for me as it seems.  With each novel unit I start, I worry, “Will I be able to think of what to do with the next chapter?”  Sometimes the idea comes right away as I am reading.  It is easy to see a thread to pull on and use to build a great activity.  Sometimes, it is not so easy.  Sometimes it is REALLY difficult.  Some chapters, I just want to skip.

When I was doing the novel unit for Where the Red Fern Grows (a favorite story of mine from childhood), I totally forgot that one of the characters in the story falls on an ax and dies.  It took me 3 days and LOTS of conversations with my daughter (who was home from college) before I could come up with an acceptable activity.  I really just wanted to skip that chapter, but in the end, I decided it related to when you really need to call 911 and when it is not really necessary.

I currently have competed over 20 novel units.  They take me a long time, usually about a month.  There is a lot of love, time, and thought that goes into creating these.  If you are looking for a different approach to teaching your novel units, check these out.  I hope you love them as much as I have loved creating them.  Click on the image below, to download some free activities to go with the novel, Matilda by Roald Dahl.

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Here are the other novel units I have in my store:  Special Needs for Special Kids.

Be sure to sign up for my FREE Resource Library.  You might even find one of these novel units there completely FREE!!

Go to the top of this post to subscribe.

Being a Good Sport

cam newton

As I watched the Superbowl on Sunday, I couldn’t help but notice the behavior of these “idols” to many and hoping they would live up to their image.  For the most part, it was a great game filled with excitement and some disappointment.  But, there were some times that emotions ran high and our idols were less than idealistic.

Monday morning found me struggling with this idea of being a good sport, and how important it is to teach our students this quality in a structured, focused and purposeful way.  Many typical kids learn these skills from coaches and other adults who influence them while honing their athletic skills on the court, field or pool.  However, what about those students who simply do not have the skill or desire to play a competitive sport?  These skills are equally important, and we need to teach them at an early age.

Of course it takes LOTS of practice but we need a place to start.  A social story is the perfect way to introduce this topic and start some good conversations.  You can download this FREE copy of my social story : Being a Good Sport by clicking HERE or on the picture below.

Being a Good Sport Social Story

I have created some activities that go along with this story and you can grab the entire unit in my store on TPT.  There are sorting activities for several different learning levels as well as a booklet for students to make.  Grab all 30+ pages by clicking on the image below.

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Being a good sport is not always easy, but it is very important.  Learning how to win and how to lose graciously is something every student deserves to be taught as well as witness from their heroes.

If Keywords Don’t Work, Then What?

Full disclosure: I used keywords when teaching my students how to solve word problems.

I had a K-5 classroom for students with autism.  There were so many different learning styles and needs just within my small class.  In addition, these students, for the most part, were severely affected.  Many did not speak, most did not read,  and some were working at a preschool or lower academic level.  The issue was: some of these students were in 4th and 5th grades.  I felt compelled to somehow teach grade level content.  It seemed hard for me to imagine some of them ever having to solve a problem like:

The train left the station at 7:45 pm going 65 mph.  If Smallville is 75 miles away, what time will the train get there?

But, some might have to solve:

You want to make brownies.  You need to add 1/2 cup of flour in the beginning and 1/2 cup of flour at the end.  How much flour will you need to make the brownies?

So, after some preliminary research, I grabbed onto the idea of using keywords.  I made every student a Keyword index card.    It looked like this:

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We would take the word problem, and not even read it.  We would just look for a KEYWORD.  Then the students would highlight it.  Boy did they LOVE to highlight things.  Then we would circle any numbers we found and put them together using the operation from the correct column where they had found the keyword.  It seemed like such a great strategy, until I came across this problem on the end of year test:

I had 5 apples in my basket on Monday. On Tuesday I increased the amount of apples so now I have 7 altogether. How many apples did I add on Tuesday?

Using my strategy, my students happily highlighted the word altogether, found it on their card and completed the problem:

5 + 7 = 12  I had 12 apples on Tuesday!!

They were so sure, so proud of themselves, and of course so wrong.

I so wish this strategy would have worked.  For students with autism and other significant disabilities, they really need a way to make things that are abstract more concrete or black and white.  I still believe that, but now I know a better way to make that happen.

  • First, you have to truly embrace and believe this is a worthwhile skill to teach to as many of your students as possible.
  • Second, you have to realize that because this is truly a difficult skill even for our typical students, it will take lots and lots of practice.  Really, LOTS and LOTS of practice.
  • Third, you need to bring in manipulatives to help the students turn this abstract problem into something more tactile that they can set up and understand.
  • Fourth, the problems need to be real.  You should use problems that are practical and make sense to the students you are teaching.  This will allow them to activate prior knowledge and make new connections that will help them solve word problems for years to come.

So, let’s look at how to work through a word problem with your students in a more appropriate and successful (not necessarily quick and easy) way.

Joe is allowed to watch 4 hours of TV at night.  He has already watched 2 hours of TV.  How many more house of TV can Joe watch?

This problem addresses a very real situation that your students may find themselves in.  There are two ways to approach this problem:  as a subtraction problem AND as an addition problem.  It is important to use both methods if possible to expand your students’ true understanding of what is happening.  Let’s work through it as an addition problem.

  1. READ through the problem.
  2. Talk through what is happening in general terms.
  3. Come up with some general estimates of an answer.  For example, would it be reasonable to say Joe can watch 5 more hours of TV?  Why or why not.  This step really helps you assess if the students are grasping what the problem is really about.
  4. Using a work mat, set up the problem using manipulatives.  I like to use a sticky note for the operation.  That way the work mat is always the same, and the student can choose the operation he/she wants to use to solve the problem.Aviary Photo_130903520626126502

5. Have students talk about and share with each other how they decided to set up their manipulatives.  The more they can explain what they are doing, the better they truly understand it.         Aviary Photo_1309035208021172476.  After talking through the solution, have students write the number sentence that represents the answer to the problem.                                                                       7.  Finally, have students check their work by solving the problem and seeing if it makes sense.

I am sure to many of you who teach severely affected students, this may sound way too complicated or even absurd.  But I challenge you to try it.  Students will only rise to the expectations that we set, and wouldn’t it be tragic if we set the bar too low.

If you would like more resources on solving word problems, including:

  • Even more suggestions, like how to incorporate your really low learners
  • Small group practice problems
  • Worksheets that follow the same format as the work mat

Click on the pictures below:

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Teaching the Letter of the Week

Do you use a letter of the week strategy in your classroom?  I found it a helpful way to teach letters and sounds in a self-contained setting.  After years of tweaking, I came up with a lesson plan that not only was engaging and helped students make real world connections but greatly decreased my stress level.  First, I knew repetition was going to an important part to my teaching.  It was necessary for my students but had to have variation to keep their attention.

Note:  if you are a more visual person, watch the YouTube video at the end of this post.  It pretty much covers the same material. 

So, I started each lesson the same way:  with a song.  Each student had an alphabet chart so they could follow along.

alphabet board color

My favorite song to use was Dr. Jean’s I’ve Got the Whole Alphabet in my Mouth.

Next, we would read the letter of the week book.  By the end of the week, the students could read it along with me.

letter of week books

After the story, we would start to fill a large circle map.  I drew a large circle on poster board, added Velcro, and using a post-it note, placed the letter of the week in the middle.  Students would then take turns bringing up pictures that started with that letter.

circle map pics

Next, I would choose a group activity based on the day of the week:

  • Monday:  Scavenger Hunt
  • Tuesday:  Pick up the Plates Game
  • Wednesday:  Art Activity
  • Thursday: Cooking Activity
  • Friday:  Social Skills Activity

After the group activity, students would do an individual activity, again, depending on the day of the week.

  • Monday:  Circle map
  • Tuesday:  Letter collage
  • Wednesday:  Sorting activity
  • Thursday: Sorting Activity
  • Friday:  Assessment

Finally, I would end the lesson with some technology.  We loved using Youtube and Starfall.com.  There are so many cute songs and videos you can quickly find about the letter of the week.

If you would like to see if this method works for you, click below to download a FREE letter of the week unit to try from my store on teacherspayteachers.  It includes all the above activities and lesson plans.

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You can also watch this FREE 4 minute how to video on utilizing these materials:

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Using Color Coding for Differentiation

Our special education classes tend to have such a HUGE variety of learning levels and needs.  It can drive a teacher to insanity trying to come up with separate lessons for each child that is differentiated to their specific learning style.  Here is a quick way I found to take one task and make it accessible to more of my students.

We did a lot of cut and paste activities in my class.  Most of my students had difficulty writing, so I needed a way to produce a product for parents to see as well as a concrete way to gather data and perform assessments.  Pictured above is such an activity.  The students were sorting pictures with words into different word families.  This was perfect for my 3rd-5th grade learners, but not so much for my K-2 students.  So, I would outline the various pictures/words with a certain color that matched the color of the construction paper for that particular word family.  That way, it turned into more of a color matching task (with a high degree of distraction) which even my younger students could do.  For even more support, I would color in the entire square rather than just outline it.  In the end, I had one sorting activity that almost all my students could do with very little prep time on my part.

Consider trying this technique to easily make more rigorous tasks engaging and more independent for your lower level learners while still utilized grade level content.

Summer School : 2015

Friday was the last day of summer school for Jimmy in 2015.  It is the first time he has ever had the opportunity to continue his educational experience during the summer months.  As many of you know, we moved to Pennsylvania from North Carolina one year ago.  I was terrified leaving all of Jimmy’s support network and sad leaving all of our family behind.  BUT….  it was the best thing that ever happened for the four of us.  We still miss family and friends, but we have been able to visit and family has even ventured up this way!

So, one of the absolute best changes for Jimmy was the school system here.  This is in no way meant to be negative towards all the wonderful teachers, adults, and therapists who helped Jimmy from grades PreK though 10th grade.  You all did the absolute best you could with what you had.  But here, it is just so different.  Jimmy is in a school surrounded by so  much support and experts in the field of autism.  Every activity, every minute of every day is meant to maximize his potential and build his independence.  And the best thing….  that support continued throughout the summer with the same 8-2 school hours, 5 days a week, with the same teachers and assistants there ready to go.  Sure, he still had some meltdowns.  I still had to sign restraint and IEP waiver forms, but that is all the nature of the beast.  I never got a call.  I never had to drive 30 minutes to the school to pick him up.  They were equipped to handle whatever Jimmy threw their way.  Most importantly he loved it.

Of course, for me, it meant a few more precious weeks of freedom.  My days of freedom are quickly coming to an end.  I have just 3 years left before Jimmy is done with the school system.  After that, I don’t know.  He is still pretty tough to handle if you don’t know what you are doing.  So, the future is very uncertain.

For now, I am beyond thankful for the summer of 2015 and all it afforded me to accomplish for myself.  Now it will be down to NC to visit with family and relax at the lake for a couple of weeks!!