Tag Archives | special education

Working in the Field – Special Education Work Program

Preparing for the working world can be a challenge for any student. At Bob Jones High School in Madison, Alabama, there is an emphasis on this area.

bob jones high school

For special needs students at this school, employees from local businesses and communities visited the school to help them learn about different careers. Since many of these students attend school for a longer period of time than most, programs like this allow them to learn and work at the same time.

One company, HudsonAlpha, allows some students to help prepare and package DNA kits. This is just one example of the companies that help prepare students for the work force through the six week long program.

By letting students be involved in these businesses, they are gaining the experience that they may need when they graduate. It allows both the students and the community know that they are just as hard-working and dedicated to their jobs as other students and community members.

The variety of businesses, from restaurants to hotels and gardens, allow students to work on a job skill of their choice. These businesses train the dedicated students to be productive in their field of work. Employees of these companies have stated how dedicated and willing to learn these students are. Along with work skills, students also pick up on etiquette skills and how to interact in a work environment.

The students in this program prove that with hard work and dedication, they can easily adapt into a working environment and accomplish their goals.

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After Hours SPED School | School of the Future?

I recently came across a blog post in Edutopia by Dr. Katie Klinger about a project in Hawaii that will possibly change the future of secondary schools in that state. A group of people got their thinking-hats on and created a plan that will meet a gap in their secondary school system, which was not being addressed. Special Ed students were unable to attend the regular school hours due to different reasons that discourage them from attending the programs offered at the charter schools.

The project was launched earlier this year because Hawaii was not offering online/virtual Advance Placement courses to these groups of students. Dr. Klinger, an authority on Educational Technology, expert on virtual education, and creator of the National University Virtual High School, is collaborating with the Liahona Youth Empowerment team that is leading the project. Other experts involved in this project include Dr. Bonnie Bracey Sutton from ISTE and Emaginos.

The main objective is to design a strategy for charters schools in the state that will strengthen and improve student interest and parent participation and commitment. The charter school will implement a different approach to diagnose students and create the plan for virtual and on-site programs that will be offered to low income neighborhoods in two sides of the island. The new charter school plan includes AP courses, exercise and wellness, performing and art programs. The program will be offered to students on nights and weekends, as well as in person support to ensure students have access to all the AP courses offered.

Technology implementation to deliver a program to high school students with special needs is not only inspiring to other educators around the country looking to fill in gaps, but also demonstrate that the initiative and execution of a plan can start from anyone in the community not just the educational system. To read the blog post from Dr. Klinger, visit Edutopia’s blogs.


Hawaii resized 600

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Bright Hub Special Education Blogs & Articles

Bright Hub is an online community where you can learn information about a variety of topics from cooking and cars to education and history.  For each topic (called a Channel), their site includes blogs, articles, and forums for discussion.  For the education section of Bright Hub, they have various Channels including early childhood, home schooling, K-12 education, ESOL, college, and special education.

bright hub

On the Bright Hub Special Education site there are several ways to navigate and find information.  The center of the page is devoted to new articles and blog posts about various topics.  The topics range from teacher strategies, to lesson ideas geared to various disabilities, curriculum, and behavior management techniques.  There are also articles and blog posts in regards to gifted education.

On the left-hand side of the site you can see the must read articles, search by specific topics of interest, and a search by type of media (articles, blogs, images).  I found the search section very useful as it allowed me to search for specific topics of interest including various laws about special education.

On the right-hand of the Special education page, you will see the most popular articles, related channels, meet the authors, browse by tags, read recent articles, reviews, discussions, and meet members of the community.  The browse by tag section is very useful.  The most used words in the articles and blogs appear in bolder and larger.  This way you can see the hot topics in special education.   When you select one of the tags, it takes you to another page with the most recent and popular articles about that subject.  I selected Dyslexia as a tag and found articles about reading and learning strategies along with how to recognize symptoms.

One article I enjoyed reading was about effective classroom management strategies for special education students.  This article was broken down into three sections including information about application of an IEP, monitoring and adjusting the strategies, along with including an annotated list of strategies to try with students.  All of the ideas were focused around the students’ needs and making them feel like a valued individual in this decision process.

The Bright Hub Special Education Channel is a wealth of information for both teachers and parents.  This site is a great way to also build your Personal Learning Community by joining as a member and swapping ideas, lessons, stories, and information with other teachers, parents, and educational professionals from around the world.

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Where Art Thou Lines? – Special Production of Classic Story

School plays are the norm at pretty much every type of school. Students get the chance to participate and sing and act in some of the most famous plays, like Romeo and Juliet, which The Community College of Aurora in Colorado is currently producing.

romeo and juliet

Started with personal desires to incorporate the deaf students into the dramatic arts, the school is translating the classic words of Shakespeare into American Sign Language. The words of Shakespeare can be challenging enough on their own, but translating them is even more of a challenge for these students.

In this particular production, the family of Romeo will be hearing while Juliet’s will be deaf. The conflicts between the two families will stem from communication and language differences, which not many productions have dealt with before. This new twist on a classic tale will give both actors and audiences a new perspective.

Casting deaf actors gives more students more opportunities to participate in the arts. This show will feature onstage interpreters, or “shadow” players as well as students reciting the original lines. This gives the different actors the chance to recite lines, sign them and perform on the stage all at the same time.

Plays that combine sign language with speaking lines can really unite the two different forms of communication. It can also give young deaf actors the confidence and practice they need to start acting, which can lead to a new hobby for many of these students. Showing all students that it is possible to do whatever it is they put their minds to can help open up a world of new possibilities for them.

Picture By: LM Inglis Photography

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Back to School: Ice Breaker Activities

On the first day back to school, energized students will enter the doors with their new bookbag, lunch box, school supplies, and a renewed excitement for learning.  Many students are also nervous as the meet a new teacher, new classmates, or even start at a new school.  One way to make the transition easier is by starting off the first day is with an ice breaker activity.  This initial need for connections is especially important for special needs students. This allows the student to begin a trusting bond with the teacher and is a starting activity to feel acceptance and fitting in with classmates. This is especially important for special education students, whether taught in the general education classroom or in pull out models.

ice breakers

Ice breakers can range from games, worksheets, getting to know you activities, or what you did this summer sharing.  There are many different ways to start the process of getting to know your students and for them to get to know each other.  I have found some great online resources that have a variety of activities for different grade levels and abilities.

A to Z Teacher Stuff:  Teacher Tips with Ice Breaker Activities

The site A to Z Teacher Stuff has annotated list of ice breakers and getting acquainted activities.  Teachers have added their activities which include an explanation, and a description of the activity and the appropriate grade levels.  Ideas include puzzles, crosswords, collages, and poetry.  Some of the suggestions included activities that can be setup ahead of time when parents and students come in for a “before school” open house.  These include having students bring in pictures of their family or activities from the summer, or filling a small brown paper back with a few items that represent who they are.  Many of the suggestions on this site are easily adaptable with students who may have learning or mobility impairments.

KinderArt Ice Breakers

KinderArt has a list of 29 different ice breakers for elementary level students.  They range from very simple activities like having students draw a picture of their family, to very intricate like planning a classroom scavenger hunt.  There are also many active ice breakers including tossing bean bags to learn names, parachute games (various ideas on the site – great for PE teachers), and matching and order games (same shoe size, same color shirt, same color eyes).  A few of the activities on this site are specific for special needs students including the bean bag toss activity where students are arranged in a circle and toss the bean bag to different students and share facts about themselves.

Some Ice Breakers I have done in the past:

  1. Toilet Paper Game: Students are asked to take as many or as few pieces of toilet paper and pass it to the next student.  At this point, no other explanation given.  After the last student has taken their pieces of toilet paper, you explain to the students that they need to come up with one fact about themselves based on each of piece of toilet paper they took.  The students laugh and enjoy this activity as some students will choose many sheets and others may only one.  If you teach multiple classes, many students will hear about it before the end of the day – so it doesn’t work as well.
  2. Fact Web: Arrange the students in a circle.  Holding the ball of yarn in your hand explain the activity that the students will share one fun fact about themselves and then they hold on to the end of the string and throw it to anyone in the circle.  The next student says a fact, holds on to their end of the string, and throws to another student.  When all students have had a turn they will have created a web.  Be sure to remind the students throughout the activity to hold on to their end of the yarn.  This web can then be displayed on a classroom wall or board (move it very carefully) to discuss different topics like working together, and building relationships.
  3. Collages: As an assignment for the first day of school, my students are to go home and make a collage including pictures of their family, friends, favorite activities, foods, TV shows, musicians, or any other appropriate pictures that help to show who they are.  The next day they come back and share them with the class.  This can be done digitally or with scissors, glue and construction paper.  I’ve also done this activity in school using magazines instead of online or personal photos.
  4. Clock Buddies: Students will receive a clock with blank lines next to every hour.  They have to go around the room and find one other student to pair with at each hour.  Bring the class back together and then tell them that you will give them 12 different questions to ask their different buddies on the clock.  You can create questions that would help the students get acquainted.  Students will need a signal for when to move on to the next hour and buddy.  This is also an activity used to help pair students for future activities (ie. This worksheet will be done with your 2pm Buddy).
  5. Pair & Share Introduction: This is a very simple and straight forward ice breaker.  The students are placed in pairs and then given a set of questions they need to learn about the other person.   You then come back as a group and the pairs will introduce each other to the rest of the class.

Feel free to comment your best or most memorable ice breakers or links to great ice breaker idea sites!

-Article By: Laura Ketcham

-Picture By:lori05871

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Teacher Tube: Sharing & Searching for Special Educational Videos

Teacher Tube is a FREE Web 2.0 resource where teachers can go and either view or post educational videos.  The videos are geared either toward teachers for professional growth or toward students for teachers to incorporate into their lessons.  Many districts block YouTube because of questionable content, where as Teacher Tube is typically unblocked because the nature of all of the videos relates to education.

Special Education

This is another summer resource that I suggest that you check out in your down time.  The videos can be as short as a few minute clips, to fuller length videos that can last more than 30 minutes.  The videos can be streaming online or downloaded for later viewing.

Teacher Tube also contains an area for documents, audio, and photos where teachers can upload their presentations, lessons, worksheets, podcasts, images, and any other educational related files.  Other users can then download and modify the content (with giving credit for the resource) and use it for their classroom.  There is also a community section where teachers can connect with one another via groups and topic threads.  Two new features to the site are the classifieds section and also the direct link to Teacher Vision, a site with teacher created lesson plans, worksheets, and other classroom materials.

Here are a few special education videos you should check out on Teacher Tube:

The Head Mouse

This first video is from Jefferson Parish, LA and is about assistive technology.  This video follows a student through her academic growth by using a head mouse.  The student does not have use of her arms or legs, but is high functioning.  She uses the head mouse, which consists of a web cam and a small sticker dot that is placed on her head.  When used in combination with word prediction software and another software that allows her to make mouse selections (right-click, click-and-drag, etc.).  She has this technology available at home and at school.  Since using this technology, she now completes her homework and her grades have increased.

Literature Circles with Special Needs Students

Several teachers from the Carol Morgan School, a Private K-12 American School based in the Dominican Republic, came together to create a video demonstrating literature circles.  Literature Circles is a classroom activity where students join together in a circle, after reading a book or novel, with a specific role to discuss the book.  The roles they included in their literature circle were a discussion director, connector, summarizer, vocabulary “enricher”, and character captain.  The discussion director leads the circle in a thorough discussion of the book.   They suggest including both students and adults in the circle when working with special needs students.

File Folder Games

Nicole Caldwell is a special education teacher and autism specialist.  In her video, she shares a learning activity idea called “file folder games.”  She provides three examples of hands-on learning activities that can all be stored with in file folder.  She stresses that file folder games should be visual, and have a clear beginning and ending.  They should also be able to be completed independently. The three examples she shows in her video are a butterfly color matching puzzle, matching of numerals to the corresponding written number, and solving math problems – match answer to equation.  She provides the resources to make these and other file folder games available on her website called Positively Autism. (Note:  this website is down at this time)

Article By: Laura Ketcham

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Inspirational Student with Autism: Haley Moss

Haley Moss is an autistic teenager from Parkland, Florida.  She is also an artist and a writer.  At 16 years old, she currently has her artwork being shown at various South Florida galleries and has published her first book.  She is a student at the Pine Crest High School in Ft. Lauderdale and attributes part of her success to the great teachers at the schools she has attended.  She attends regular classes, and until now, many of her fellow classmates didn’t even realize that she had autism; they just thought she was shy.


Haley is a high-functioning autistic girl who gets good grades and is able to strive in mainstream classes.  She struggles socially, but realizes that it is just part of who she is, not all of who she is.  Her book, Middle School:  The Stuff Nobody Tells You About, is about her struggles through middle school and how her experiences can help other students to be successful both academically and socially through the awkward years of middle school.

Haley began speaking openly about her autism when she spoke at a national conference on Autism.  Today, 1 in 110 children have autism, and 1 in 70 are boys.  Many of her classmates didn’t know she had autism until she spoke out about it while her artwork was beginning to be presented at local South Florida Galleries and had several articles and TV interviews during April – Autism Awareness Month.  Her digital art, created with a computer, is a cross between Japanese cartoons and whimsy.  Many of her pieces relate to her life including her friends, her struggles, and her mother.

Part of Haley’s success can be attributed to her parents who were persistent and tried various therapies until they found a combination of successful tools that helped Haley to speak, read, and learn social stills.  They stress that they never gave up – nor should other parents in similar situations.

Besides being an author and artist, Haley is also starting a jewelry line.  Many of the proceeds from her various works help to aid various organizations that support autism research and assistance.  There is a current article including information about her book and picturing various electronic paintings created by Haley in the South Florida Parenting Magazine.  You can also check out what Haley, this extraordinary teenager is up to on her website.

This inspirational teenager will stimulate both teachers and parents to continue to work with their children to find what tools, technology, therapies, and academic modifications can help them both academically, socially, and with life skills and to help them live the most independent and successful life.

Article By: Laura Ketcham

Picture By: Beverly & Pack

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Classroom Lessons that Make Cents – Life and Money Management Skills

Money Management Life Skills

One of the goals of special education is to make sure that students leave the classroom with the skills to lead an independent life upon graduation.  One way that special education teachers teach this is by incorporating life skills lessons into the curriculum.  One of the important skills that I have written about in previous blog post includes learning about online banking and money management.  These skills can be taught at a young age and encourage through having students have responsibilities and rewards.


Responsibilities & Rewards

With today’s tech-savvy times, there are online programs where teachers or parents can help their students and children track their responsibilities and rewards online.  One site that I found that is very kid friendly (easy to use, well designed, and colorful) was Kidspoint.  Kidspoint is a free resource where you set up an account, add the rewards, and track the additions and subtractions of points.  When the child reaches 100, then the child earns the reward.   This site also works via text message so that points can be added and subtracted on the fly.

Allowance Tracking

The skills of tracking the responsibilities and the rewards can then be transferred to teaching about money management.  One way that this can be taught is by establishing responsibilities both at home and school.  At home,the students would earn an allowance.  At school, the students could earn fake money that could be applied to various rewards.  One good resource that informs parents about how to start teaching about money is an article on the Six Wise website. The article encourages teaching money management early in a child’s life.  Children should be taught the different aspects of money – spending, saving, donating, and investing along with making choices.

Just like there are sites for tracking responsibilities and rewards there are sites that help kids and parents to track allowances.  One site that I found is Zefty.  Zefty is a free online site for tracking allowances.  On Zefty, both the parent and child have a login account.  Allowances are then ‘deposited’ and ‘deducted’ from the account.  Basically the parents act as the bank – however there is no actual money in the online system.  Kids are able to track their allowance, print out checks to redeem with their parents, and calculate how long they will have to save to earn for something they would like to buy.

Another similar site is Active Allowance.  Active Allowance has both a free version and a paid version of the program.  The paid version has addition features like budgeting, creating multiple accounts for a child, and child log on accounts.  This site is Similar to Zefty, both the child and the parents have an account.  Parents can setup weekly checklists of items to be completed to earn the allowance.  The children can then track their progress, calculate savings, and print out allowance checks to redeem with their parents.

Both of these sites can be incorporated into the classroom environment.  One way to do this would be to connect with the parents to setup school responsibilities that can be added to the list like completing classwork, home working, participating in class, or even displaying appropriate socialization skills.  Another way to use these sites in the classroom is to use fake money (or even introducing credit and debit cards) and have preset rewards like a homework pass, 5 more minutes of free reading, or other classroom appropriate rewards.  This would still encourage the students to learn the skills of money management along with incorporating the technology to help in tracking and motivation.

Incorporating money management with technology is a realistic approach to how adults in today’s society budget, save, and invest money.  These skills are important for all students to learn, especially students with special needs.

-Article by Laura Ketcham

Picture By: emdot
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Technology at the Florida School for Deaf & Blind

The Florida School for Deaf & Blind is an accredited public boarding and day school that offers preK-12  education for students who are hard of hearing, deaf, sight impaired, or blind.  This school is located in St. Augustine, Florida and is open to any students residing in Florida and complete the application process.   In addition to studying regular school subjects like math, science, and reading, students are also provided with the necessary support to be successful in academics and life skills.  One of the support systems that this school provides is in accessibility to technology.

The technology provided at this school includes assistive and adaptive technologies.  This link has great videos including the different examples of how they use technology at the school.

Interactive Whiteboards

On an interactive whiteboard, the information from primary whiteboard is displayed as output onto the student’s computer screen.  The students can then view the information on their own computer screen and sit as close as they need to view the lesson being taught at that time.  Another advantage to using an interactive whiteboard is that the information can be saved for later review by the student.

Laptops & Displays

At the high school level at the Florida School for Deaf & Blind, they have a 1:1 laptop program.  The laptops are preloaded with various programs and hardware to help the students utilize the computers for their specific disability.  This assistive technology includes screen readers, screen enlargement, refreshable Braille displays, Daisy Book Players, CCTV, and access to the school’s wireless network.

The Daisy Book Player plays Daisy Books which are high-quality audiobooks.   They can also play CDs and other MP3s.  One of the advanced features is if you take a book out, and then put it back in at a later date, it will start off where the student left off reading.  This is great if the Daisy Player is going to be a shared classroom resource.


The Openbook software scans a document into the computer.  The software then is able to read the written word back to the user.  The document can also be viewed on the computer screen.  There are other options available within the software to zoom the text and edit, similar to a word processing program.  This software would be good for students who have low vision, are blind, or are struggling readers.

SAL2 for the Blind

The SAL2 is a Talking Tactile Tablet, often referred to as a TTT.  It is a Braille literacy tool.  The SAL2 has books, programs, and worksheets that can connect into the computer to help students learn Braille.

Teachers can even make their own worksheets for the system.  This is a great as a center resource in the classroom since the students can use the system independently.

Braille Notetaker

The Braille Notetaker is a PDA system for blind students.  The students use the handheld device to complete a variety of tasks including notetaking and organization.  It also has the software programs Word, Excel, Access, Internet Explorer, and Email.  There is a tool for Braille translations.  The system can use either Refreshable Braille displays, QWERTY keyboards, or Braille Keyboards.  The PDA has access for a wide variety of input and output devices including USB connections and memory cards.

Handheld CCTV

The Handheld CCTV is a small device used to view written words and images on the go.  It is small enough for travel and use in everyday situations like at a restaurant or bank.  The device can magnify, increase and decrease contrast, zoom, or add lighting to written documents.

The Florida School for Deaf & Blind uses a wide variety of assistive technologies to meet the learning and life needs of their students.   These different technologies have made learning more accessible.  It has also been a great motivational tool for students to learn.

-Article by Laura Ketcham

Picture from the Florida School for the Deaf & Blind

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A School With A New Direction

Starting high school for the first time can be scary. Starting a brand new high school can be even scarier.

Nicholas Tishuk won a $250,000 start-up grant for the Renaissance Charter High School for Innovation in East Harlem, New York, which will become the newest school for 135 ninth graders this fall.

school website

Charter schools are usually started with younger children in either elementary or middle school. Because they are taking on the challenge of working with teenagers, the New York Charter School Association recommended the school to the Walton Family Foundation.

Many of the students, although an older age, perform at a fourth or fifth grade level. The Walton Family Foundation picked Renaissance for the grant with hopes to improve student achievement in all U.S. schools at all levels.

Most teens in the area attend high schools with four-year graduation rates of 62% or less. With the grant money, a student-performance tracking system will be used. This system will have a focus on special education and at-risk students.

Having previously worked with challenging students, Mr. Tishuk is eager to get the school started. He has recruited special education students with learning disabilities and behavioral problems for the school. Of the incoming freshman, 30% are special needs students, which is double the amount of the average New York City school. Most students are also eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Mr. Tishuk strongly believes that all children can learn and with this school he hopes that these students will get that chance.

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