I enjoy getting my room ready for the new school year. As a science teacher, it involves bringing life to my class. Filling aquariums with new fish, adding posters illustrating concepts and setting out materials that are perfectly organized (Take a picture, it won’t stay that way for long). After a professional development session on autism I began to think about what I could do to help students with autism in my classroom. Current rates of autism by the CDC are about 1 and 59 in schools(Source). I remember over a decade ago when this began to be a conversation in the classroom. Since then, I have worked with many autistic students.
Autism spectrum disorder causes a wide range of learning disables that are unique to each child. As the saying goes, “If you have seen one autistic child, you have seen one child.” They are all uniquely different. Legally we are required to use adaptations through the IEP process and Section 504 plans. To better autistic students experience in my classroom and also meet my legal obligations, here’s a list of things we can do in our physical space to help out.
Create an organized classroom space: Autistic students prefer routines. That means materials in clearly marked spaces will reduce stress. Simply putting a notecard with the word “Paper” clearly marked above the space is helpful. This isn’t something I would normally do in a middle school classroom, but making my space easier to navigate will help everyone.
Weekly and Daily Agendas: Providing a schedule of class assignments and daily activities is very helpful. I currently have a section of dry erase board dedicated to our daily schedule. This could be done on poster paper or even included in a classroom PowerPoint. Some students may even prefer a printed schedule. Along with this idea, giving students a heads up when major assignments are due. This helps them regulate time so they are not surprised when a big project is coming.
Alternate Media: Kids on the spectrum can have difficulty with visual or auditory learning styles. Know yourself. If you love to tell stories as part of your lessons, look for visual materials to back up your work. Consider websites like screen castomatic to record lessons so kids can play them back.
Quiet Spaces: Autistic students can easily become overwhelmed by noise and stimulation from the modern classroom. Have plans in place for a quiet space. Even a trip to the conference room is helpful. In my case the filters and bubblers on my classroom aquariums make a lot of background noise. Giving students space to decompress will go a long way in reducing stress.
Reflecting on these small changes, you may notice that many are good for all students. The benefit to the educator is you are enhancing everyone’s experience while meeting your legal obligations to your students who are in most need.
With a new school year upon us, middle school teachers are often faced with the task of connecting to their advisory groups. Every year is different, from the kickball champions of the world to my Harry Potter groupies, advisory groups are as diverse as the personalities that make them up. With this understanding, here’s my favorite activity to get the year started right.
My Grandma has a grocery story: A name game. Every year there are kids that don’t know each other. So rather than saying “hey you” all year long, we play a fun game that helps everyone (including me) learn their names. It runs like a spelling bee.
All kids stand at their desk
Student 1 says, “My grandma has a grocery store and she sells Apples.” (the product can be anything that starts with the letter A.
Students 2 then repeats what student 1 says, however they have to address it as “Tim’s grandma has a grocery store and she sells apples.” Adding the previous students name and what their grandma sells. Then student 2 would say :My grandma has a grocery store and she sells bananas.” Or any product that starts with the letter B.
This pattern continues, having each student name all the previous students and what their grandmas sell. Its great fun. You can be lenient the first time around to make sure everyone learns the previous students’ names. Additionally, students with learning challenges may need some additional support. After the students make it around one time, I often allow them to pick other items not in alphabetical order, this increases the complexity. At this point if a student can’t remember a name or product they sit down like a spelling bee. Although this game sounds simple, I am hard pressed to get through a group of 20 kids in 30 minutes, so keep good notes, this could be a multiday activity.
Advisory Kickball Team Building
In this series I would like to reflect on the use of Chromebooks in a 1 to 1 setting for this past school year. Most references in this topic are from science class, but I believe they can be applied to any classroom.
As I look back, there are clearly some winners and losers in terms of education quality in my classroom. Overall the winners include
It was much easier to get materials out to students, less paper shuffling and a very efficient class set up. Watching video clips for instruction was a breeze. Simply plug in head phones and click a link and everyone was where you needed them. Possibly my favorite aspect was the ability to group and reteach struggling students. This was largely due to recording classroom instruction, posting all assignments in Google Classroom and having materials quickly available for students. This allowed me to accelerate those who mastered content by sending them to the next module. Reflecting on the low points there were also some losers. The two biggest I would suggest are. . .
Kids will be off task on a digital device, no matter how good they are. Adults will do the same. So one of the biggest issues I see is how easy it is to play a game, look up a YouTube video or generally not get your work done. In the pre-one to one days it was easy to visually monitor who was on and off task. You looked around the room and if a kid wasn’t working, your redirected them. But in a one to one classroom, its very difficult to notice. Every student is looking at a computer screen but not every student is working on task. There is a myriad of little pop up games that kids can use online, so its important to physically place students where you can easily monitor their work. The other major issue I see if the loss of physical writing skills. 1 to 1 classrooms make this too easy to gloss over. Everything is digital, kids frequently copy and paste and the ability to construct meaningful thoughts on paper is increasingly difficult. I don’t believe writing on a computer and composing on paper are the same skills, this would be a great education research topic.
As I look at the future and how I will manage my classroom this year, I will be creating structured time to write and think that don’t involve Chromebooks. This involves the use of simple exit tickets, that students write and reflect on their classroom experience. I will still maintain a physical notebook, I believe the idea to collect thoughts and create on paper is a fundamental skill that every student needs.
I would like to experiment with instructional delivery with a 2 to 1 model. Having two kids to one computer. With the idea that they are using the device to learn and create together, reducing the one on one off task time.
In closing, the idea that Chromebooks (laptops, iPad you name) are magical in an educational settings is not necessarily the case. They are an educational tool like anything else we use in the classroom. A thoughtful implementation is necessary. Additionally, kids need to understand that there are basic timelines and expectations to get work done. With this in mind I look forward to teaching these behaviors prior to the start of regular instruction. My lessons will look like this:
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