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One of the best tools a special educator can have is an treasure chest of visual supports.
Visual supports cover a large range of student needs. For students who have difficulty communicating with others and difficulty understanding what others are communicating to them, visual supports can be a life saver. I know they have saved me many times.
Visual supports present information in a way that is easier for kids to comprehend. They can be customized to meet the individualized learning style of each student. Sometimes they can be that one thing that gets the message across.

A wide range of needs can be met by using visual supports such as increase independence, understanding classroom and school rules, provide a system to organize tasks needing to be completed, aid in making choices, facilitate transitions from one task to another, clarifying what work is to be completed and in what order that work should be done. These are just a few of the things visual supports can do.

In the special education classroom, we constantly work with students exhibiting challenging behaviors such as anxiety, anger, frustration, eloping, and more. Visual supports are a great way to present behavior expectations and direction while diminishing some of these challenging behaviors.

There are many different kinds of visual supports. Today I will touch on just a few.

1) Visual schedules are a great way to communicate many different types of activities in a classroom. This can be done for the entire class or group within the class. For me, using them individually has worked the best.
One year I had a lot of students that were able to transition from center to center in the classroom. I needed something to help them understand what was on their schedule next and where they would be going.

With this type of visual support, they were able know the order of the work centers using the number on the cards and then they could also tell which center they should be doing. They matched the sea creature on the card with the matching sign at the center. In addition to helping the student it also was great for me because it controled the number of participants at each center.


2) Checklists and organizers can help by breaking down larger tasks into smaller more manageable steps. Checklists can contain pictures or pictures and text to aid the student in completing the correct steps in things such as arriving at school or preparing materials to go home at the end of a day.
Here are a few examples of checklist and organizer visual supports. Thanks to Chris at Autism Classroom News and Resources for sharing this.

 MINI SCHEDULES FOR GENERAL SCHOOL ACTIVITIES

3) Behavioral supports can help
manage and prevent challenging behaviors. These could include rules and guidelines of what to do in certain social situations such as fire drills, or asking someone to play. These are particularly useful in preparing the child for what comes next, and what will happen when challenging behaviors occur. Behavior supports can tell the student how to complete steps such as going to the bathroom, taking a break or asking for help.
FIRE DRILL VISUALS



 Check out how this next idea has designated partitions on the table to show the space for each person.  These spaces also have a reminder at each spot for the behavior expected while at the table.


LOVE THIS! Thanks to Autumn for sharing these great ideas. You can check out her blog post about these here


4) Routines in the classroom are another  great use of visuals. These great visuals  from Nicole Chavanne show a visual indicating when bathroom passes are available provide a great way to communicate using pictures. Visuals such as these can cut down on interruptions of the classroom and help students know when its okay to use the facilities. Check out these BATHROOM VISUALS
The visual at the bottom is a great reminder for students about the noise level in the classroom. 

 First/Then boards can be a simple type of schedule we can use to communicate. You can use these for schedule issues and behavior issues. The great thing about First Then boards is they can be used for the even the smallest behavior you are reinforcing. In the picture below, the student is being asked to FIRST raise their hand. THEN they can have their preferred activity such as the puzzle card shown here.


I found it worth my time and effort to spend some time making as much of the visuals ahead of time. For instance, I liked to make the first/then boards and the cards to go with them, get them all organized. Then when the need arises in the classroom you can pull the needed visuals and implement them quickly. 
Make sure your visual support tool box is well stocked and ready to go at any time. 






Token boards are a great way to increase compliance with non-preferred activities in the classroom and at home. They provide students with a visual means of telling when and how they will receive reinforcement. 


What's a Token Board
A token board is a visual system that shows progress toward a reinforcer with tokens earned for completing behavioral and academic tasks. They act as a visual reminder for the student about how close they are to the reinforcer. It helps to keep them more focused and reinforce positive behavior. The token board is an awesome way of decreasing those verbal reminders we constantly repeat to students, of what is expected. Instead of repeatedly stating your expectations,  point to the token board, saying "When you finish 2 more words you may....".

I first started using token board systems to increase positive behavior while in the halls and special activities such as music, lunch, art, and P.E. It worked so well, I soon extended it into the everyday activities of my classroom.
If I had an unusual behavior I wanted to work on with a particular student such as sitting in a chair, I used a token board first. And many times, it was perfect!

 There are many different types of token boards you can use. There is no one correct type. Use what works best for you and your students. I usually use very simple token boards to eliminate artwork that may be distracting. Some students will work harder if the token board contains pictures they like. You may need to experiment to see what is best. You may need a variety of types of token boards to meet the needs of your students because as we all know, no 2 students are alike. One of the greatest things about token boards is they are so modifiable. They can be super simple or more complex to meet the need of the task/behavior and student.  A token board should include the following parts.
  • A reinforcer/reward section - what is the student working for
  • Tokens section - what tokens  have been earned
  • Quantity of tokens needed- how many do they need to earn?
Here are a few of the token board series I frequently used. The cards have different amounts of token spaces on them so I can use them to increase the work/behavior reinforcers as the students become successful.




How to use Token Boards:

  1.  Select a reinforcer the student is interested in. Perhaps you have a student that loves princesses. Then perhaps having a princess on their tokens will be particularly motivating to them. Dinosaurs, pennies, keys, smiley faces, Sponge Bob Square Pants, Thomas the Tank Engine are just a few of the other tokens I have used. 

    I often had a board in the classroom with the token reinforcers that were available. The students could select which one they wanted to use on their token card. Making sure the token reinforcer and end reward is motivating to the student is key to token boards being successful.
  2. Select the behavior or task you want to be completed. It's important to use one that is attainable and broken down to the simplest step. (e.g. If you want the student to complete a math assignment of 4 tasks or problems, but they can't complete 2 make sure to work on completing 1 first then build up to 4 when 2 and 3 tasks have been mastered.
  3. Each time the student successfully completes the requested task/behavior then hand him a token to be placed on the board. (e.g. If you are working on sitting in a chair. 
  4. Keep the board in view for the student to help with attention.
  5. When the student has earned the designated amount of tokens, give them the agreed upon reinforcer.

Teaching Token Boards:
  1. Two options
    A.  Begin with a token board that is almost complete. If using a 5 penny board, for 1 example, pre-load the board with 4 pennies. When the student performs the desired behavior, place another penny on the board and immediately reinforce the student. Always place the penny on the board in view of the student and pair with verbal reinforcement each time.
As the student becomes more familiar with the token board, preload the board with fewer pennies until you reach the student’s current ability level. The ultimate goal is to start with an empty board.


B. Begin with a token board with minimal spaces for token such as 1 or 2. As you progress, you can change the card to other with increasing amounts of token spaces on it.
When introducing the token board, the teacher may manipulate the board and tokens. As student understanding of the token board increases, allow the student to manipulate the board and tokens.

Token boards can be used in a variety of ways and lend themselves easily to many different situations. How do you use them in your teaching?


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We all work with struggling readers, especially in Special Education.  In previous posts, I wrote about working on improving skills in comprehension. You can find SEQUENCING here and MAIN IDEA here.
 Today I want to focus on those students that have reading decoding issues. 
 No matter what reading issues students have, we want to make sure they receive all components of reading instruction. Our kids often come to us reading several years behind their grade level as or not reading at all. We want to make sure they get a well-planned reading instruction, not just instruction in the area in which they are behind.
What are some things we can do in our reading blocks to help these kids?

📘Break up the independent reading time into several different smaller timed sections. The kids could spend a small segment reading with a partner. 
     📗Try letting the student listen to a partner read and then reading the same selection to their partner.
     📙Have them listen to stories online at sites such as on STORYLINE ONLINE  , or  JUST BOOKS READALOUD . One of my favorites for many years is  RAZKidsRaz-Kids does require a  membership fee, but is well worth it. On Raz-Kids which part of the A-Z Learning, students can listen to books being read for practice and even record their reading so teachers can track the progress.  
     📕 Centers - If you use reading centers which is a great way to get in reading practice be sure your students have the ability to do the center individually or if pairing partners, keep students with similar reading levels together.
     📗 File folders games are an excellent way to work on reading decoding skills. They can be specifically tailored to the ability level of the student. I used a color code system when setting up my file folder centers. For example; Reading file folders all had a triangle on them then all the reading file folders were in colored folders such as red for beginning, green for emergent and so on. 

Word Work
Providing time for students to practice working with words is extremely important. Word Work gives them time to play with the word, practice and explore all the possibilities. While there are way too many to mention in this post, here are some of my favorites.
What are some great ideas for Word Work time that you use?

     👉Foam Letters - these provide great tactile reinforcement and are great for letter sound work.
👉Letter Stamps - kids love these and these are a quite well used of capitals but also come in lowercase as well. These are a super way to practice stamping words. They are flexible to use when teaching any phonetic sound and kids adore stamping the letters. To spice things up I have different color inks the kid can use and this becomes a real higlight of center work for the kids.
Make it fun and flexible with easy activities such as these. They are easy to set up and extremely flexible no matter what phonetic skill you are working on. 


Reading comprehension is one of the most essential skills to teach, yet one of the most complex. It is an essential skill, not just in the subject of reading but many other subjects as well.
Sequencing is a key component in comprehension strategies. It helps us find meaning in the text we read, not only as students in reading and school but in a multitude of situations in real life.

What Is Sequencing?


📚 Sequencing is one of the core skills that help us to comprehend and make sense of what we read.
📚 It is identifying the parts of the story, such as what happens first, second,
        third and last.
 📚 It is the beginning, middle and ending of a story.

When we sequence what is read, we find meaning in what is read by using the details of the text, the order of the events and keywords to make sense of what we read in a larger context.
We use the parts of the text such as beginning, middle and end of the passage as well as keywords in passages such as first, then, later, afterward, finally and in the end, to place the details in order in the bigger scheme of what is being read.

Why is Sequencing Important?

In order to remember things we read and share with others, it's important to be able to tell things in order. Sequencing helps the information be more organized thereby making the retelling easier to understand. 
Recalling the information in chunks such as beginning, middle and end makes it easier to tell and remember.

What to do
Integrate sequencing into other areas of your teaching. 

Reading
Use great sequencing stories to introduce and practice sequencing.
Here are just a few books that work well to teach, practice and have fun with sequencing. Having taught primary age students for much of my career, one of my favorites is
 📚The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

 📚Bring the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema
 📚If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joff Numeroff
     
 📚There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Simms Taback

Many of my students had very low reading levels but I still wanted them to be able to sequence events and ideas. We started our work at the picture level. Here is a great simple way to introduce and practice sequencing at the picture level.

Writing

Pick an activity such as cooking or a science experiment. These lend themselves well to using a follow-up activity of putting the steps in order or even retelling how they were done.
Graphic organizers are a great way to begin writing and putting the events of what happened in the activity in order.

Math

Math provides an optimal method of integrating sequencing, math skills, directions and more. Take an easy recipe such as making no bake cookies or jello or putting together a snack. 
Perform these with the group, then have them illustrate the steps and the order in which they were done. Its also a great time to emphasize how important order is since often when we put cookies together in the wrong order, the cookies do not turn out well. 
Some great recipes I have used for this include:
Rice Krispies treats

Reindeer Poop Cookies - while these cookies may need a different name in your classroom they are great fun. 

Here is a great resource for no bake ideas. 

Science

Science is an excellent opportunity for working on sequencing skills. Practice sequencing following the steps of an experiment. Work on retelling how the experiment was done. Drawing pictures of the steps of an experiment is an awesome way to integrate science and sequencing.
That's all for now! 
Happy Sequencing!

Mary Ann
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