Thursday, August 12, 2010

Setting Up Our Classroom- What Does Your Space Look Like?

As I've been setting up our classroom this past week, I've been trying to decipher what the most important aspects of a classroom for students with special needs are.  I suppose it depends on who you talk to.  If you run a strict ABA program, you probably have more one to one teacher table set ups in your classroom.  If you run a DIR Floortime program, you likely have much more space and place more of an emphasis on your play or leisure time area.  I run something called the "Blended Model Method" which includes some ABA aspects, some DIR Floortime aspects, mostly TEACCH based and Sensory Integration driven.  Plus, I throw in the curriculum (or the more appropriate, "standards"), some functional skill work, and social skills. (You can click here for some of the other programs we use.)

Mash all those things up and hope for...

...A student who is able to read, count coins, add, subtract, use the computer for more than just playing PBSKids, respond appropriately in social settings, share toys with friends, and monitor his/her own sensory needs in ANY setting.  Hope for generalization (before 4th grade).

So, what in the world should this classroom look like?

Well, we need a "one to one teacher table" and an "independent work station", of course.  One to one teacher table is where most of my instruction takes place.  I instruct the skills in the content standards at the one to one teacher table.  Then, once those skills are mastered, we move them to the independent work station.  We have one of each, for 7 students. In both one to one teacher table and independent work station, students master activities like shoebox tasks and file folder games.  Here is our shelf of homemade shoebox tasks (as you may be able to see, some are numbered, some aren't.  That was our first attempt at organization in the first year we opened this classroom).

Next, I've attempted to make 3 small group areas this year.  Because our students have been so inundated with one to one therapy, they are not used to working in small groups.  We can also do one to one teacher time on the carpet in a more unstructured space. I believe we need more small groups and more time for problem solving.  Here's one space for that.

We'll use this small group area daily for circle time and calendar skills.  This is the only "cutesy" bulletin board we have, but I believe it's useful as well.  I believe in making the room useful and meaningful to students, not just cluttered with cute.

We, then of course, have to merge my passion for technology with kids with special needs and throw in our computer area.  Because of a grant I wrote 2 years ago, and some foraging, we will have 7 computers in our classroom this year.  That's right, 7.  I will see 7 students, and we have 7 computers.  That, in a word, is awesomeness.  We'll be starting e-portfolios using this year! We also have a SMARTboard, Leap pads, Leapsters, a Touch Screen, BoardMaker Activity Pads, etc.
Think we've used up all our space yet?  No way.  We still need a gross motor area, right? 
We also have a ball pit back there, but the swing needs to be removed to use it.  A sand table completes that corner, only because there was no other area for it.  Then, there's our new sensory table.  We're starting off with bird seed on one side and feathers on the other.  I can't wait to see who will make the connection first.

Next, I needed to make sure I had space for each of the 7 students' visual schedules.  A visual schedule is set up for each student each day indicating what will come next.  A visual schedule might have picture icons (we use BoardMaker Plus v.6) to show Circle Time, computer, bathroom, wash hands, read book, Music Class. (In place of picture icons, you could also use an object schedule, photo schedule, or word schedule, depending on the students' level.) Students remove the icons as they finish and place them in the plastic envelope below the schedule.  At the end of the schedule, our day is done (depending on how many icons the student can handle).  Here is an example of an empty visual schedule.  This student's schedule has Legos because I know he loves to build with Lego blocks.
Lastly, I'm feeling a little guilty this year.  We have no play or leisure time area.  I just don't have the room.  We have the toys, we have the games and the puzzles and the strategies to teach kids how to play, but I will have to be really disciplined and structured when we have a leisure time.  We"ll have to give limited choices ("Please choose puzzles or Play-Doh today").  I'll have to make room in our small group areas.

Of course, we'll make it work.  I am thankful to have a classroom (and not a closet).  I am thankful to have a job.  I am thankful that we have the amount of materials and games and puzzles... I am thankful that not one of these students is "self-contained" because we have managed to get them each included at some point during the school day (because they can be, and because they can be successful).

Now, just in case I missed something...

Are there other areas that you would include?  What's your rationale?  What would you do with the other bulletin boards in the room?  Do you have questions about our space?  Your space?  Can I help?


Pam said...

Wow- this looks great! I teach preschool sp.ed. and also LOVE using technology for our children with special needs. (um...nowhere NEAR the amount of computers you have though!:) Favorite thing so far- I've created and used video self modeling with a little guy with FX with huge success. I'd love to get some more ideas for using technology for our kids. Feel free to come visit our

Teacher Tom said...

Hey Morgan. Your space looks fantastic! I'm particularly in love with those bouncy ball chairs in the small group area. From what I see here, I don't think you're lacking at all. In fact, it looks like you've thought through the space and how you're going to use it. I guess if I have advice, it would be to be willing to let the kids shape the space for you as the year progresses -- they'll let you know what they need.

I have this fantasy of the perfect home. It would involve purchasing a large warehouse or old factory space. I would gut it entirely and then build rooms on wheels that could be moved around and reconfigured to suit my needs, mood, and activities. I'd want to have a crane that could even lift the rooms up into the air if that's where I wanted to be. Some days, all the bedrooms would just be cozily hooked together. When I had parties, we might just shove all the rooms into a corner to clear out space for dancing, grilling or volleyball. Whatever. That would be the perfect preschool space as well.

Excuse my stupid question, but what do you mean by special needs? You say you have 7 kids. Autism? Downs? ADHD? I never really know what special needs means, because as far as I'm concerned they're all special needs kids.

Thanks for finding me.

Morgan said...

Hi Tom,

I absolutely agree that all kids have special needs. Yet, I am always conflicted with the term "special education" because it seems to say to people "these kids are different and belong in a different room away from others." I struggle with the language that somehow makes them sound like anything less than dignified wonderful human beings... but yes, my kiddos have autism, Down syndrome, hearing impairments, cognitive disabilities, and some rare genetic disorders...

I did manage to get some motivation and think through our space and yet somehoe I want it to be more like your outdoor classroom and less like a traditional elementary room...

The ball chairs are grant acquired and truly loved. You can even find adult sized ones now in the School Specialty catalogs for "disabilities."

Thank you so much for reading and commenting on my blog! I'm sure Your Space and work will continue to inspire me. :)

Anonymous said...

Everything looks great! I'd love to see a zoomed-out shot of the classroom to see how it all comes together.