This Week in 206: Using Weekly Themes & Goals to Provide Training & Support for Classroom Staff

Hey Guys! This is my second week back to school and I am excited to share my new approach to staff training this year. I tend to fall into the "we have no training time" trap and the extravagant plans I have for staff training fall to pieces as we scramble to put out fires in the little amount of time we do have set aside for meetings. This year, I am trying a new plan and I am VERY hopeful about it!

The first thing I did was set up a Staff Information Station on a whiteboard near staff cubbies. There I have posted inspirational quotes, schedules, calendars & staff reminders for classroom expectations & strategies (download my Staff Strategies Cheat Sheets here). 
This is what my Staff Information Station looked like during initial set up (It is now VERY full of information!).

The next step in my plan is doing weekly theme based trainings for staff. Every Monday (or preferably Friday afternoon's before leaving!) I set up our This Week in 206 board in order to let staff know in advance what our weekly goal is, the reason why it is important, a few quick tips or reminders for getting started with implementation and an inspirational quote or statement related to the theme. I will be posting our Weekly Themes each week in hopes that it is beneficial for your classes (and that it motivates me to keep at it!) 
This is our Week Two Theme (See more below)
This week we are focusing on Fading Prompts from our classroom routines. Many of our routines are similar to last year's (and the year before!) Have we added new activities? Yes! However, overall things follow a similar format and there are visual supports in place for students to help them learn new/modified routines. Our first week back involved a LOT of prompting. Now that we are seeing some student initiation and success it is time to start systematically fading out our supports so that our students do not become dependent on them. Leaving prompts in place when they are no longer needed can create confusion for the student (Is the staff "prompt" actually a part of the task? Is it the new cue to perform the task? Can I do it on my own? Do I need permission to perform this skill?) and often leads to prompt dependence (in my experience). 

Many of our classroom routines are taught as chains (a series of tasks, steps or skills which are linked together to perform the larger task). One common classroom routine which is taught as a chain is the Arrival Routine. This routine may include MANY steps - think... walk to classroom, greet teachers, greet peers, unpack backpack, put lunchbox away, put communication book away, put coat and backpack in cubby (or locker), write schedule, etc. When teaching chains, I often include some type of support which will remain in place after staff prompts have been eliminated and I typically use the Graduated Guidance prompting technique to use only as much prompting as needed. Graduated guidance is a prompting strategy used in Applied Behavior Analysis where staff prompting is increased and decreased immediately based upon moment to moment student performance. I often look at the data from the previous opportunity to see which steps the student seems to already understand as well as which ones he/she needs the most help with. This allows me to anticipate when I may need to move in with a prompt and when I can allow the student to attempt independence. This way I am making data based decisions to guide my prompting and ONLY PROMPTING WHEN NEEDED.

So, this is our goal for the week - removing staff prompting as much as possible (only prompting when & how much the student needs) while still closely monitoring and tracking progress and, of course, providing lots of positive reinforcement for independence and student initiation. 

I have said this so many times to my staff in the past and I think it is worthwhile to pass along to you as well: Our ultimate job is to ensure that our students do not need us to be here anymore! Independence is the most important achievement a student can make. Can we leave certain supports in place and have the student still be considered independent and successful? Yes! A visual schedule is a support the student can access without another person present. Hand over hand guidance or step by step verbal prompts (which are my biggest pet peeve and a whole other post for another day!) are socially mediated and so someone must be with the student, which does not allow for independence.

Trust yourselves and your students, monitor for readiness, mentally prepare yourselves and your staff for what it feels like to take a step back & let your students shine!

Have a great week everyone :)
~Kristine 

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Facilitating Communication from the Start: A Back to School Guide


{Guys... We are running an exciting Back to School Giveaway from Sept 1st to the 8th!  
Check out the details below. But FIRST, I wanted to chat with you a bit about getting back into language facilitation while you're getting settled in back at school this fall!}

If you've worked with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, you know that verbal and non-verbal language, communication & social skills are at the top of the list of challenges they face (to varying degrees). Not having the skills or being able to generalize those skills in order to effectively communicate is not only frustrating and limiting to the functioning of your student out in the world, but it can also cause lots of other issues, including challenging behaviors. Needless to say, one of your biggest jobs as a teacher of students with autism is to support the language needs of your students. ALL LANGUAGE, ALL DAY, EVERY DAY is the new motto of our classroom & I hope I can persuade you to adopt a similar one.

As you're getting your classrooms ready & heading back to school (for those of you who are winding down your first month... I hope it's been a great one... sorry your summer was so short... it's never too late to bring in new strategies so keep reading!) it's the perfect time to start thinking about how you are teaching & eliciting from your students (with or without autism). 

Eliciting Language - What is it and why is it important?
Eliciting language is essentially setting up situations where the student will need to communicate in order to access something desired or needed. For example, if the student is working on writing his schedule and there are no pencils in the classroom, he will need to 1 - look around for a pencil, 2 - ask to borrow one if a classmate or teacher has one in view, 3 - ask someone for help (or better yet, use a "WH" Question to find the item). If it is lunchtime and the microwave isn't working, the student will need to find another way to heat up lunch, eat lunch cold OR ask someone to help! This is a big one - remind me to put this in my Sub Binder - make sure everyone knows that you don't immediately side step out of the way when a student with special needs enters your space and needs to pass through... Lots of people are polite. Lots of people "in the real world" will likely move aside for your student in the community too. However, some people may not notice they are approaching. Some people may not know what their intentions are. Some people may be intimidated when your student becomes a larger adult. I think we know where this is going, if your student is used to people always moving aside and never using the language skill of stating "excuse me" (and the social skill of waiting until the person moves out of the way) the likelihood that they will run into someone or become very frustrated when this expectation isn't fulfilled is pretty high. Set your kids up for success. Show them what they need to do. Make them practice. Even when you're in a rush. Even when you're having an important conversation with your supervisor in the doorway and it's lunch time. Even when... you get it. All language. All day. Every day. 
Note: This doesn't mean that every time the student needs to do a given activity you will purposefully put up a road block to elicit language, but it means that you will periodically use this instructional method to teach language skills within the context that they need to be used.

Another important strategy for teaching language skills and eliciting the use of those skills when they are needed is using visual cues. From communication choice boards to written scripts and/or text cues, visual language supports can be extremely beneficial to your students. Using pictures and words helps with comprehension so that your student is selecting the word(s) he/she intends to use. If you're setting up communication choice boards (check out this FREEBIE), you are providing your student with a limited and manageable array of choices to use when communicating. This can be set up for specific activities (e.g., the different words and phrases needed during a game are very different than math) or can span the whole day and be more generic (think basic needs - bathroom, break, water, etc.). When using visuals which are activity specific, put them where the activity takes place, or have the student bring them along with their other materials for that task. This "I Need to Go" Door Sign (included in the Back to School Resource Pack) is the newest visual I have put in place in my classroom & I'm super excited about it. I have LOTS of independent students in my class guys... they know what goes where, they know their routines, they can follow complex schedules, and yet standing at the door waiting for an adult to 1. Notice them and 2. Ask them what they need was at an ALL TIME HIGH in June. My plan is to have the language supports in place AND IN THE PLACE THEY'RE NEEDED in order for my students to begin initiating language use in order to access what they need. What we don't want to do is teach our students that the behavior that gets them access to what they need is running out of the room (at which point an adult intervenes & ultimately discovers the need & prompts the correct request then grants access) or being off task in the doorway for 10 minutes waiting to be "discovered" by an adult. No, we want the student to come to the step in the chain (whether the chain is bathroom use, unpacking and going to the locker, going to the lunchroom, etc.) where they need to communicate information with an adult and to make that communication happen so they see that their words have meaning & their words are what get them what they need.

Guys, language is power. Language is essential for success. Language is essential for a high quality of life. Help your kids get there! Please feel free to reach out to me at any time with ideas, questions, etc.

~Kristine

Here Are the Giveaway Details:
1. Like Smarty Symbols on Facebook
2. Comment below about what your biggest challenge is heading back to school
4. GOOD LUCK! There are some AWESOME prizes up for grabs :)

Next, hop on over to Autism Classroom News HERE for an awesome blog post about Steps to Building Classroom Teams!


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