A NEW Year !! STEP 1

 Do you have that LOVE/HATE relationship going on in your head as I do right now? Summer vs School?
As much as I LOVE it! As much as I hate it! The new school year is coming. Hurray!! 
My summer is dwindling quickly. Bummer! and there's so much left to be done.
Come along on a field trip of sorts. I usually do this all in my head, but this time I invite you to step in and take a peek while I setup my classroom. All comments and questions welcomed!

Where do I start and what should I do first?  Well luckily, I have done this a few times before so I'm not a novice. I have approached every one of the 35 years before this as if it was a brand new start. I think that is one of the things that has kept me challenged and my teaching fresh.
I know a lot of blogs have already been posting  tips for new teachers and where do you start on a new year, but perhaps I can add a twist or two from a well-seasoned teacher. Let me let you inside my brain as I am planning and setting up. Come on in!
Where to start? 

Where do I start?

The Physical Environment

Having a premium classroom environment is of the utmost importance.  How the classroom is set up significantly influences  student behavior and learning outcomes. It can not only effect the students, but the teachers as well. When you work with a group of students on the autism spectrum, it is  important to consider their need for visual cues and schedules that will help them understand better the expectations you have for them.

In my last post I was talking about social skills and physical environment is a key factor in managing social skills in a special education classroom and general education classroom alike.

Here are a few things I keep in mind when setting up the physical environment in my room.


What different types of instruction areas will I  need? In my classroom, I need: 1-to-1 instruction areas, small group area and a large group area. If my paraprofessional will be doing the same types of instruction groups then I will build in more than one of these areas.

1-to-1 areas. I design my 1-to-1 areas so the student is facing the wall and I am facing out into the classroom. This helps limit the visual distractions for the student and allows me to see what other students are doing. I need 1 individual desk and and 2 chairs for each 1-to-1 area I want to set up.

Small Group Areas.  These areas are usually smaller size tables. Sometimes I use a trapezoid or small rectangle table or a small kidney shaped table. I design the small group areas so the students' backs are to the least distracting portion of the room . I don't want them facing the hallway door where many people are entering/exiting. I don't want them facing areas such as the computer area. 

Large Group Instruction.  My large instruction areas usually are held at the students desk area in the center of the room.


I have kids who need to socialize and kids who appreciate a little more quiet when it becomes frenzied for them so I always try and build into my classroom a place to socialize and a place they can get away and "hide" for a little bit. I put my socialization area at the opposite end of the class on the rug so it doesn't conflict with the sensory area or the quiet area. My quiet area is a corner area that includes a small room. The room is equipped with a bean bag and an assortment of fidgets.

My computers are located on a built-in computer counter so I want to make sure I keep work areas that require more concentration (direct instruction lessons) away from this area to minimize distractions.

I want to make certain that my furniture placement gives cues about how many people are going to work in the area. Sometimes I do this with signs like the ones to the right. Placing small group tables with only the required amount of chairs communicates how many students should use this area at one time. This year I will be arranging  my desks in collaborative groups.  


I have been fortunate through several administrations at my school to know which room I'd be assigned when I leave the previous year. One thing I  do prior to leaving before summer is to create a map of where I want the furniture placed. The initial purpose was to help custodial staff when replacing furniture after cleaning, but it really helps me plan the travel patterns of the room and placement of group and independent work areas. I have used word to create my map as well as Powerpoint. All of the objects on the map are from the basic graphics library built into MS Office. Check out the one I have done for this year below.


Let's Talk Social Skills

How many times have you found yourself needing more help in teaching social skills to your group than academics?  I have!
Teaching greetings, conversation, proximity to others, turn taking, eating dirt, grass, and other objects, putting things in the mouth that don't belong and keeping hands out of inappropriate places are just some of the skills I have taught recently and that's probably just a short list that I can think of right now.  


I have found Social Stories™ to be the most useful teaching strategy when it comes to teaching not only social skills but safety skills (staying in the classroom), classroom routines (how to use the classroom bathroom) and academic skills, too. 

Social Skills or social interactions are so hard for some people, especially those with Autism Spectrum Disorders, but sometimes, also for those with other disabilities as well. As those that work with people on the autism spectrum,  we know that social skills are so difficult for people on the autism spectrum because they often lack the "theory of mind" - the ability to put themselves in someone else's shoes.

Social skills are so entwined with everything we do daily and they require that we attempt to view others'  perspectives.  It's no wonder people with disabilities but especially those on the autism spectrum often have difficulty being able to empathize and interact with others.

One of the best methods that works for me and for the kids I have worked, are short stories that are written  with clear, concise directions about expected behaviors with visuals showing what the student should be doing. They are called Social Stories™. 

In 1991 Carol Gray developed Social Stories as a strategy to teach people on the autism spectrum. You can check out her information regarding Social Stories™ at her website. http://www.thegraycenter.org/home

Clear, easy to understand pictures
  1. They  are simple straight-forward stories.
  2. They have clear pictures that depict expected behaviors and actions. Notice the example to the right. The picture depicts what I expect the student to do and the page is limited to two sentences of what I want the student to be doing.
  3. They contain simple, direct written statements about what is to be done in a particular situation. 
  4. The should convey to the reader , a better understanding of what they should do and what may happen in the situation.
  5. The end result  of using a  Social Stories™ is to achieve  better responses and decrease inappropriate behavior in specific situations.
  1.   Identify the behavior you wish to change.
  2.   Break down the targeted behavior into  clearly defined steps.
  3.  Take baseline data on the targeted behavior. 
  4.  Whether you use a prepared  Social Stories or write one of your own, make sure it has plenty of pictures. These can be photographic, hand drawn or graphical icons. Pictures depicting the desired behavior can greatly enhance the understanding of the story. 
  5. The number of sentences on each page of the story should fit the level of the student it is being used with.
  6. Introduce the story to the student. Read the story to the student. Discuss and model the expected behaviors being read about in the story. 
  7. Depending on the reading level of the student, the student could read the story to an adult.
  8. Reread this story, discuss, model and share it repeatedly on a daily basis until it is well-known by the student. 
  9. Its often helpful to reread it just prior to encountering the activity depicted in the story.
  10. Collect intervention data to determine if progress is being made. If it isn't, you may want to consider revisiting the story and trying again.
  11. When data shows improvement, and consistent behavior is evidently, then consider phasing out the story.
    Arrival at school social skills story
    I've used Social Stories™ for many years with students with autism and have even written a few of my own. I found that they are not only an effective strategy for people on the autism spectrum but also those with other disabilities. One that I recently wrote is about arrival procedures at school when they come by car or by bus. Another that I need frequently is what to do in a fire drill. 

To personalize my social skills teaching with my students when using Social Stories, I often personalize the Social Stories™ so that it has their name/pictures of them and the teachers and other adults involved in the situation. 
Arrival Visuals
Your Marvelous Monday FREEBIE for today is a set of visuals that go along with a social skills story I wrote regarding arrival at school procedures. You can also find my fire drill social skills story in my TPT store.

 See you next time!

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday