The following is a guest post from Jennifer Yeager. Jen is one of our outstanding special education teachers.
Three years ago my life was changed forever. Being a special education teacher, you never know where you will be placed or what beautiful children will be placed with you. Will I be a third grade teacher this year? Maybe an eighth grade teacher? Regardless of where you are placed one thing always remains the same…it will be a wild ride! The next stop on my journey took place September of 2010 when I had 5 students placed in my classroom. At the time, I have never worked with children who had Down Syndrome or Low Functioning Autism, but I knew I needed to immediately research best practice and anything I could to make sure these students were getting the most out of every minute here at school.
One crucial element to their education is multiple forms of assistive technology. One assistive technology resource they use are iPads. One student uses a communication program, Proloquo2Go. Proloquo2Go™ is an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) solution for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch for people who have difficulty speaking or cannot speak at all. It is amazing to see how his world opened up as he began to get familiar with this program! The other students also utilize iPad’s for spelling, reading/listening to online stories, research for social studies and science, and utilizing various apps to create and email their own stories. We utilize Smartboards, ELMO’s, and newly utilizing Smart Response Clickers with the students as well.
Another piece that we stress with the students is appropriate behavior. We use multiple forms of token economies within our classroom and throughout the school. In third grade each student had an individual token economy on their desk. I put five pieces of circular Velcro at the top of their desk and when they were doing an amazing job I would give them a Velcro coin. If they were misbehaving/not on task I would remove a coin. The sound of the removing Velcro triggers the students and reminds them of what they need to do. When they earned all five coins they earned a break. At the time, one student in the class needed more reinforcement outside of my classroom so I created a wallet, similar in idea to the desk system, so that it could travel throughout his day. It took about 3 months to modify this child’s behavior and after that we were golden believe it or not! The following year we did not use any token economies with the students. They understood the expectations and adhered to them. This year they are in fifth grade. Knowing they would be moving up to the middle school it was crucial to create a reward system that increased their positive behavior with other teachers since they struggle with generalizing; and with new teachers this would be a mountain to climb! I created a system where they earn tallies from other teachers which would convert to marbles that they would put into their marble jar when they returned to the classroom. They have to say, “I earned 2 marbles from Mrs. ____ for listening and following directions” or whatever they earned it for. This system is truly helping the students listen to other teachers and begin to generalize their positive behavior.
Another aspect of their education is life skills. It is important to teach the students how to behave in public places, how to handle money/shopping situations, and how to talk to others in real life situations. I plan many field trips with the students such as Bellas Pizza, Wendy’s, educational trips to the Mayo Theatre, and Chester Shoprite. We have planned 5 trips to Shoprite and the company has so generously donated over $150 in giftcards to the students so that they can pick their recipe, plan their lists, and purchase the items they need. For social interactions and money handling Medieval times has generously donated 8 tickets for our class so the students can see their show and work on these skills.
Again, as you never know where you will be placed, I will be moving to the middle school with my beautiful students to continue their education. I will continue to research new and innovative ideas to teach them so they not only are being taught exactly how they learn but in a fun and creative way! Thanks for reading!