Saturday, February 12, 2011

Verbal De-Escalation- "Exactly As I Planned It?"

Verbal De-Escalation.

If I could have a dollar for each time this has been said in our district in the last several months, I might have a check for equal my bi-weekly pay check.

Regardless, I haven't had to use my powers of persuasion in some time.

Sure, daily, there are small occurrences where I have to use these skills on the surface, but I haven't had to verbally de-escalate a child before he hit me with a chair or spit on me in almost 3 years.

You might be thinking, WOW, you are spoiled.  Yes, yes I am.  I have great kids.  I have great kids who have great parents.

I also have great special education aides.

I also choose to believe that I make good behavior plans for kids with special needs and also maintain great rapport with my kids.

I am not trying to toot my own horn (yes, I said toot), but this is something I feel I excel at, and there shouldn't be shame in knowing your strengths.


There isn't often a time in special education, or in education at all, when you can say that something went "exactly as you had planned."  In fact, I can't remember the last time I planned ANYTHING in my life that worked out exactly the way it was supposed to.  Not my personal life, not my professional life, and certainly not in my classroom, where flexibility is the law of the land.

I try to live by the rule "God laughs at people who make plans," and although I always have a plan, that doesn't mean I ever use it.

This is the reason I have to write a blog about the perfect "verbal de-escalation."

Let's start with some background.

Student with special needs.  Age 9.  Good comprehension level, verbal.  Needed to be verbally de-escalated once in second grade, few times in first grade, more than a handful of times in Kindergarten.  Has had several behavior plans over the years starting with positively reinforcing with extrinsic rewards, moving towards doing nothing more than a simple count of 3 before completing a desired behavior.


When I say desired behavior, what do I mean?  Do I want this student to be nothing more than a little soldier completing tasks and activities that have no meaning and rewarding him with treats like you would with a dog?  NO.

I take issue with the blogs and statements going around stating "rewards don't work."  I think, as is everything related to education, it should be individualized.

Regardless, desired behavior means participating in a small reading group, typing into an e-portfolio, problem solving, measuring, adding and subtracting, telling time. 

This student loves the computer.  He is motivated mainly by the computer and is also ruled by a routine.  He has been my student for over 3 years.

It's been cold, we've had indoor recess.

During indoor recess, my students choose from a "Choice Board."  There are 5 choices on the Choice Board and the students need to find their picture and place it under the visual icon of their choice.  Typically choices include "blocks," "puzzles," "sand table," "play area," "computer," "Play-Doh," "Moon Sand," "iPad," or "books."  Choices are changed weekly and some items are removed.

On this day, we had had indoor recess for at least 5-6 straight days.  I had not changed the choice board in 5 days and most of the students (5 of the 6) had made the same choice on all 5 days.  On this day, I changed the choices.  I took OFF computer.

This sent my 9 year old into a rage.  He saw this during a different activity in the morning and knew immediately what it meant.  He saw it and looked at me like I had shot someone.  How could I?

I anticipated this.  Change to the routine makes for frustration and behaviors.  We know this, and we plan for it.  It's the reason I changed the board.  We have to learn to deal with these frustrations.  We have to learn to use the strategies we've learned over and over and over again.  We know what anger looks like, what an angry face looks like, what anger feels like.  We know some strategies to use when we feel mad.  But if we never practice, why bother? 

So, my 9 year old started to cry.  And then he started to yell at me. 

"Calm down.  Computer is off the choice board for lunch recess only.  It will be back on for afternoon recess, " I said calmly.

"No!" he said. "I play computer!" 

"I'm sorry, but we'll have to make another choice for lunch recess, " I said.  In my own head, I was talking to myself, using my own verbal de-escalation.  Remember to stay calm.  Remember to use a calm voice. 

"No!" He shouted.  He climbed under the table.

"We'll have to finish our work now, please come out from under the table or we can go to time out." I said.

Our Time-Out chair is in the middle of our circle carpet, not in a restraining area.  In the time-out chair, the student would be asked to sit in a chair, for 2 minutes only, with a visual timer.

"I not sitting in the chair!" He shouted.

"Okay, please sit down in the chair or I will write on your daily report.  I will count to 3, you can make the choice.... 1... 2..."

I was still being calm.  I kept talking to myself inside my head (stay calm, stay calm, he's getting madder).

He walked over the chair, sat down backwards, and began to slam the chair legs into the ground, rocking backwards in the chair.  Fortunately this did not look unsafe, so I sat down in a chair next to him.

Luckily, my special education aides are amazing.  At this time, rather than have other 6-9 year olds watch this small scene, they asked the other students to take a walk and help get mail from the office.  The other students went for a walk and I was left with the student and one aide.

I began to talk to the student calmly about the indoor recess.  He was still really mad.  He stood up and began to lift his chair.

"I know you don't plan on throwing that chair.  That would not be a good choice."  I said.

He put it down.

He walked over to me.

Spit started to form at his lips.

"Don't you even think about it." I said.

He stopped.

He walked over to the shelf full of shoebox tasks.  He looked up.  He appeared to think about climbing the plastic shelves.  He appeared to think about pulling the boxes from the shelves.  He stopped himself before doing either of these things.  I was silent.

He walked over to the movable wall in our classroom.  He put his hands out as if he was going to push it over.  He stopped himself.  I was silent.

He walked over to the window sill.  He began to lift a leg like he was going to climb.  He stopped himself.  I said nothing. 

He walked back over to me, turn his back, and put his hands on his hips.

HE HAD STOPPED HIMSELF 3 TIMES!  He was internalizing!  He was thinking.  He was making choices!  Good Choices!  In the midst of his angry "rage."

"Did you hear when I told you that computer would be back on the choice board for the afternoon recess?  I only took it off for lunch recess.  And look at the other choices.  We could play a game, do a puzzle, play Toy Story 3 Memory, or play with Play-Doh.  You like all those things, remember?"

"Oh." He said.

He looked back over at the Choice Board.

He looked back at me.

He looked over at the board again.

"Okay Miss Kolis.  We play a game."

He reached out to hug me.

It was over.  We did it!

He managed himself!  He did it! 

And the whole thing worked out exactly as planned!  And how often does that happen? 

Um, next to never?  Never?  Yep. Never.

Which is why I had to write about it.

That's a good day. Stressful. But good.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Our Love Affair with iPads Continues...

"Shake it like a salt shaker."
We continue to be happy, excited, and amazed at the uses of the iPad in our classroom.  The iPads have not lost their luster for us and we're continuing to find more educational uses every day!

1. We're examining using the iPad as an augmentative communication device.  We're working with our county communication specialist and trialing other devices, but we're particularly in love with the iPad for one student.  And, the student is in love with the iPad as well!

A bit of background- "Student" started trialing the BoardMaker Activity Pad as a communication device.  This is a low tech device that is not commonly used for communication, but it was the best we could do to start.  He has formerly tried the Tech Speak.  Then, we tried the Dynavox Xpress, my personal favorite.  Another student in our class uses this and I am a big fan.  It's easy to program, easy to use, easy to learn, small, light, easy to carry, etc., etc.  Next, we tried the FRC ComLink.  We were happy with this, but it had more disadvantages for our student than the Dynavox Xpress.  Then, while we were waiting to try the iPod Touch from the county, we received a grant from the BBH Schools Foundation for 2 iPads for our classroom (THANK YOU!).   At that time, we decided to have "student" use the iPad and see how it went.

We thought "Proloquo2Go" would be best, but couldn't put out the $189 it cost.  We also discovered that "student" loved to type and is a great speller, so we decided on "Speakit!" instead.  $1.99 or less is right up our alley!

To make a long story short, we went back to the Dynavox Xpress to see if "student" would access the keypad.

Then, after two days with the Dynavox Xpress, "student" used the device to say he felt "mad."  I thought for a minute and asked him "Do you feel mad because I gave you this talker?"  He typed "yes."

I asked "student,"  "Would you be happy if I gave you the iPad back?"  He typed, "happy."

I handed him the iPad.  He turned it on, swiped to unlock it, found the Speakit! App, and typed "i am happy."

Could it be more perfect?  He advocated for himself.  Done.

2. We've started to "microblog" on Students are now typing sentences, with reminders for correct capitalization and punctuation, on twitter!  We attempt to "tweet" regularly, and we enjoy when people tweet us back.  We are also hoping to attract more of our parents to twitter this way as well.  You can follow us @Room5Friends.

3. The iPad is one more tool in our toolbox for SHARING!  Because one "student" often takes one iPad with him to specials classes as his augmentative communication device, we sometimes only have one iPad left in the classroom.  This can only mean one thing- we will need to share!  And what a great tool to learn on!

Here's our action research:  Two students wanting to use the iPad during "choice time," and only one iPad available.  Both students have "engaging in parallel or cooperative play with other students" written in their IEP objectives.  Let's see what they can do.  We placed the iPad in front of them as a type of authentic assessment.  We said, "Now boys, we need to share.  Johnny can play one game, and then pass to Jack for one game."  We proceeded to walk away.

The special education aide and I watched from 4 feet away.  Johnny started with Thomas the Tank Engine Game pack and played one game of Thomas memory.  He slid the iPad to Jack.  Jack played one puzzle on the game pack.  He slid the iPad back to John.  John clicked out and went to the 5 Little Monkeys App.  Both boys delighted in the songs.  When it was over, John slid the iPad back to Jack.  Jack did another Thomas puzzle.  Then, luckily, it was lunch time.  How awesome!

4. We're going to begin reading a chapter book solely on the iPad.  Beezus and Ramona, here we come!  Although we'll supplement this chapter book with many visuals and other activities, we will be reading this book in class on two iPads and a Kindle.  Reading books in more than one medium?  Who would've ever thought that a ten year old with autism would have these opportunities in the year 2011?  Amazing!

5. Motivational Tools.  Honestly, I hope these iPads aren't a phase.  And if they are a phase, they are certainly worthwhile.  Because we are surely getting a TON of learning done while using the iPads as motivational tools.  And, I know some people may say they are expensive motivational tools, but I believe they are worth every penny.

Checking out the iPad while waiting our turn at Therapeutic Horseback Riding
6. The educational apps are limitless.  My student who loves to play "Cookie Doodle" is working on following directions and measuring.  She sees measuring cups, measuring spoons, ingredients, recipes, etc. and must follow directions like "pour the vanilla" and "shake the salt shaker" and "mix the batter."  It's multi-sensory because we do the same thing with the real items in the classroom!  It's a built-in follow up lesson!

7. And did I mention the kids LOVE them?  We love the iPad.  LOVE. And we still play with Play-Doh, Moon Sand, blocks, the sand table, other sensory activities.  We still follow real recipes; we still read real books, complete file folder tasks, and shoebox tasks.  We still swing and play outside.  But now, we have more technology to integrate and use.  We have one more tool in the toolbox. 

And we'll keep sharing.  BECAUSE WE ARE IN LOVE.