FIVE Common Mistakes from the Special Education Classroom!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

As an admin, I visit several classrooms each week. I see great teaching, and I see not so great teaching. I’ve seen several running themes across my experiences. I’ve compiled the five most common mistakes I have seen in the special education classroom, in hopes to help you identify if
you’re making any and how you can fix it if you are! I promise it will make your life easier!

I think this one is HUGE in special ed. classrooms. Visuals should be included for schedules, embedded in classroom expectations, used in prompting, used within instruction and reinforcements, and to help calm students down. Visuals help promote independence and save time and energy of classroom staff.

My biggest pet peeve is staff presuming competence when a student is in crisis or even in instruction. In instruction, I’ve seen many teachers who ask students to read or even complete read aloud’s to students and presume that they know and understand all of the words without any visuals. It’s especially telling when students will complete work, and can’t answer any of the questions. Not always – but in many cases, we’ve broken it down to determining that the student didn’t have an understand what the actual meaning of the words were. Once we help shape that meaning, students have a better foundation to build comprehension on.

During meltdowns, we, as teachers, tend to revert to trying to talk kids out of their melt downs. Why on earth, when we use pictures during instruction for students, and give them visuals galore, do we STOP using them when they are in crisis mode!? We think we can talk them into stopping their melt downs. I’ll let you in on a secret to some- Visuals HELP! Even if we know that our kiddos can understand our words, visuals help to register the action, and many students are able to comprehend pictures before they can receptively understand and follow our words. I could go on and on honestly! But I’ll stop right here. J

I interview and help hire new teachers for our classes all the time. Another big mistake I see in interviewing teachers, and visiting classrooms, is teachers not implementing a classroom wide management system. When I ask this question in an interview, I typically get, “well I do different things.” When I press further, they can provide behavior interventions they would do for different students, but don’t seem to understand that even the students who don’t have behavioral issues can be a part of using the classroom wide management system plan.

Classroom wide management plans should be the foundation of your classroom. You can use clip charts, a token economy, behavior economy, any type of system where you are recognizing good behavior and providing a reinforcement for that good behavior across the classroom.

Here's an example of a token board:

Some easy websites that can get you started are…

& many of you are likely familiar with Class Dojo, but it’s worth repeating. 

I’m going to do some math for you here. Are you ready?

Down time + a room full of bored students = time for behavioral outbursts.

Do you see what I did there? ;)

But seriously, some teachers struggle to realize the importance of having their materials ready at the BEGINNING of the day, and NOT having students wait around while they prep parts of the next activity.

Just as important as being prepared it’s amply import to have a set schedule for students & Staff. It helps everyone know what to expect every day!

I’ve observed in plenty of classrooms where I struggle to not fall asleep, so I can only imagine the poor kids having trouble staying engaged as well. I’ve seen several teachers do the “stand and deliver” In special education- I can ALMOST guarantee you that your students are NOT auditory learners! So ADD some movement, some visuals, and let them get their hands on some manipulatives! Instead of letting students read about planets, having them watch videos, make a solar system model, sing songs, and research about the planets.

Do your students struggle with fine motor skills? There's no rule that says they have to do pencil paper activities everyday. Mix it up. Do some "Turn Its" or some dry erase marker fun. Just that change can make a task a bit more desirable for a student. That’s just one example, but think of how each activity you present can be presented in a different way to engage your students!

Let’s face it. As teachers, we are the decisive factors in our classroom. Haim Ginott said it best:


WHAT we say matters. HOW we say it matters. HOW we react the situations in the classroom matters. If a student only hears, “NO, STOP, DON’T” how do they know what they should be doing?  


That’s why we are in this profession. We want to be the difference makers in our student’s lives. We want all the work and interventions that we pour in to them to MATTER. So it makes sense that it starts with us.

Data Don’t Lie: 4 Ways to Use Data to Improve Your Teaching

Monday, September 18, 2017

It doesn’t matter if a special education teacher has been around for 1 year, 5 years, or 15 years. The common complaint I have heard from all of my teachers is how are they supposed to keep track of all of the data that they need to collect on a daily basis! It’s enough to make a teacher’s head spin. With that in mind, I’m coming to you today to give you 4 easy tips on how to use data to inform and even improve your teaching.  

1.    Collect data from a variety of sources
I love a good analogy but sometimes my analogies don’t always pan out like they should…so, stick with me here. Imagine you have to complete a dot to dot work sheet. The problem is that only numbers 1-25 are on the dot to dot. It’s supposed to go to the number 50. You connect the dots anyway. Dot to dot to dot. When you get to 25 you step back and look at your picture. Can you tell what it is? Not completely, but you may have a decent guess. 

In the same way that not having all those dots in your picture makes it harder for you to see and know the full picture- only collecting data in 1 way makes it harder for you to see the full picture of what your student’s abilities are.  

Ultimately, when collecting IEP data you should always make sure you are collecting the data in the manner that the IEP dictates you should be collecting that data. For example, if a student has work samples as the method of collection for a benchmark, collect work samples. That doesn’t mean though that you HAVE to only collect work samples. Could you complete some observations? Sure. Anecdotal records? Of, course! Portfolio? Maybe!

I’ll go a step further and give you an example. A student completes 10 math problems on addition with regrouping. If the teacher just looks at the problems when the student is done she can see that they are all wrong. The teacher can keep that as a work sample if that is all the IEP says she must record the progress by. On the other hand, if the teacher observed her and at minimum took anecdotal notes, she could see that the issue wasn’t the actual borrowing, it may have been a certain number that was messing her up.

I’m a firm believer that good data collection can tell us a story. So, the more data points you have, the better and clearer your picture can be.

2.    Point out the positives!
Seriously! In special ed, we tend to focus our efforts on the areas where our students need to improve. That’s our jobs. We look at gaps and work hard to help student’s close those gaps.
The problem is with that way of thinking that we are never giving our students credit for the areas in which they excel. Point out their positives and also help their self-esteem in the process. It’s a win-win in my book.

3.    Empower your students to monitor their own data!
I LOVE accountability. I also love letting students see their own progress. Even still, I love when you can have their record their own data and it makes a graph like the one below.
I had some students plot out their graph’s day by day, and by letting them fill in their own charts I saw their progress grow at a faster rate than a few other students who didn’t plot their own growth.

4.    Use Evidence Based Practices
Not only are evidence based practices rooted in science and are strategies and methods that research tells us work, a lot of time data collection is built right in to them. Task analysis? Yep. Chaining? Yep. Meaningful Data collection and analysis is built into these core activities.
Seriously. Become obsessed with EBP’s and use them daily.

These four things may seem small, but honestly, if implemented they can take your data game to a whole new level. Build a great big data picture then you can have Data that Don’t lie! ;)

In Laughter & Learning, 

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