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Moving Towards Physical Special Education

Physical education is such an important part of every child’s school experience. This is the place where they get a break from the stress of the classroom. It is here where they get to run around and have a little fun in their day.

The Day School of the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill offers physical education classes which are designed specifically for those children who have special needs.

The students in these classes all have very different disabilities but that doesn’t limit them to what they can do. From square dancing and basketball to hockey and football, these students get the opportunity to participate in such physical activities. These activities are specifically adapted to each student’s needs and abilities and can sometimes even include physical therapy.

Physical education classes like these are great for all students, especially special needs students. Not only do they get physical exercise that is important in leading a healthy life, but they can learn skills that will help them socialize out of school with their families and other people. Simple games and sports teach students some essentials like rules, teamwork and success.

The activities must be designed with the students in mind. Some require staff to adjust the rules or set up for students to be able to participate. Staff members and volunteers accompany most students.

In this class, there seems to be no limit on what the students can do, which is also a great lesson for them to live by.

Photo by: Jug Jones

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Audio Books in the Classroom

While working with 3rd grade students one summer, I realized the benefit of using audio books in the classroom.  The major focus of the summer program was for remediation in reading and mathematics and to better prepare the students for the next grade level.  As one of the requirements, the students had to complete summer reading and book reports both on assigned and free choice books.

There was one student, in particular, that was reading below grade level and was becoming very frustrated with reading.  He would refuse to read at all, only wanting to be read to by me or other students.  He would not join in on ‘pop corn’ reading sessions, he would just sit and not read during silent reading time, and he even refused to follow along in the book if he was being read to by a teacher or fellow students.  I tried so many different strategies to encourage and provide him with the skills to be a successful reader.

One weekend, after a particularly hard week, I knew I had to think of a strategy that would encourage this student to read.  The following Monday, the students would start to read the mandatory reading assignment, Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing.  I reflected back to my children’s literature course that I had taken just a few months earlier and decided that possibly an audio book would help.  I went to my library and was able to pick up a copy of Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing on CD.  When I got to class on Monday and we started our reading block, I called the student over to the CD player (with fuzzy headphones attached) I had set up on a desk in the classroom.  I told him that I was going to allow him to listen to the book on the CD.  He was very excited!  However, I threw in one little catch – I told him I would only let him listen to the story on CD if he also followed along, reading the words silently as they were read to him.  I also gave him a pencil, turned it around to the eraser side, and then told him he could use the pencil to help him to follow the words in the story.

After each chapter I asked him to pause the CD.  I would then verbally ask him the comprehension questions on what was covered in the chapter and also to summarize what the chapter was about and how the story had changed.  He then would write down his answers on the worksheets.  I was so surprised to see how much he retained using this strategy!  The worksheets were then used to help him to write his book report.  For the book report the students had a variety of projects they could complete.  He decided to make a book jacket including a story summary on the back.  I won’t say it was easy for him to complete, but he had made it through one of his first chapter books successfully. He was able to complete the project more independently than he had on any other assignment up to that point during the summer program.

This then spurred him to check out classroom books to take home.  He used the same strategy I taught him in class.  Either he would ask his mother to get the book on CD from the library or his mother or older sister would read to him, but he would always follow along in the book reading with them.  This positive experience allowed him to understand the magic of reading!

Free Audio Books

Most popular children’s books (including Newberry Award Winners) can be found on CD at your local library and checked out for free.  They can easily be transferred from CD to a digital format to be used on an MP3 Player.

Free audio books can also be found online.  These audio books are of books that are part of public domain and no longer under copyrights.  Some examples are Call of the Wild, Anne of Green Gables, 2000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Tom Sawyer.

Audio Books for Free

Buying Audio Books Online

Many stores, online and off-line, sell children’s books on CD or on a digital format for an MP3 player.  Below is a list of resources where you can purchase audio books for your classroom.

Audible

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

Borders

Article by Laura Ketcham

Photo by Basykes

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A Special Program for Special Education

Sometimes it is hard to find a specific program that is right for your child. The good news is that if children are diagnosed as being a special needs student at an early age, there are plenty of opportunities to help them.

At Mercy Children’s Hospital in Ohio, an early intervention program provides specialized learning specifically for autistic children. Their intensive preschool provides early intervention for children diagnosed with autism at such an early age.

The program serves a dozen autistic children for 24 hours a week. With 1,500 hours of total therapy, children are heavily prepared for school and other social situations they may come across at an early age. Because autistic children require individualized instruction and research shows the autistic children have better outcomes if they receive early intervention, the hospital program mainly focuses on individualized instruction.

Because each child has different needs and ways of learning, they all receive instruction in speech therapy, occupational therapy and behavioral consulting. Some students have proved so successful with this program that they quickly transferred to regular preschools.

ProMedica Health System is considering offering an early intervention program for autistic children. With the help of other local community groups, they hope to open an autism center at Toledo’s Children’s Hospital for families to utilize related services.

Parents have praised the program for how much it has helped their children not only communicate but be less frustrated and do more for themselves. With the program proving successful, hopefully others will follow in their footsteps and open more opportunities for our children.

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All Together Now – Special Education Classrooms

Kyrene de las Manitas Elementary School’s preschool class gives a new meaning to the phrase working together.

Just like in any other preschool classroom, children are taught color and shape identification, math skills, how to hold a pencil and use scissors and basic reasoning skills. What makes this class different than most is that the preschool program includes both typically-developing and special needs students playing and working together. The typical children, who are screened to evaluate their language and social skills, serve as role models for their special-needs peers.

The district is already screening for next year’s students and has the program set up in many elementary schools around the area. This early interaction and exposure to curriculum only benefits the special needs children. There have even been reports of some former students being no longer diagnosed as special needs after graduating from the preschool.

The typical students also benefit from the program as they become more aware and accepting of diversity. They can also give students peer positive reinforcement as they make achievements. Parents have noted positive changes in their special needs children after only a few weeks in the program. Special needs students started to gain communication skills they were lacking before. Typical students developed confidence and social skills that help them in group situations, like speaking in front of a group or talking to new students.

With the fun presentation of educational material and individualized attention that the students get, parents also noted how their children have developed a love for going to school. It is also great for the typical children to interact with the special needs children so they can share adult experiences and learn from them.

By working together with students of all abilities, children can see the various types of people in the world and learn and grow from their experiences.

Photo by: WellspringC

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Online Special Education Resources from FDLRS/TECH

Funded by the Florida Department of Education, FDLRS/TECH is a great site for free and low-cost technology resources for use in the special education classroom.  These online resources are intended to increase student performance and provide tools that can then easily be translated from the classroom to the real world.

The FDLRS/TECH website is broken down into eight categories:  c.  Each category contains a description of the topic (including Florida Standards) with a series of links that are broken down into respective categories.  FDRLS/TECH provides a wealth of useful free and low-cost resources for students and teachers that you should definitely check out.

Below is a list of just a few of my favorite resources from this site:

Creativity:  Music

Jam Trax is a music program developed by Sony for children in elementary and middle school.  The program allows students to add musical tracks of a variety of instruments to create their own songs.  It also provides an option for students to create their own tracks through the use of a microphone.  This program definitely spurs musical creativity.

Science

PBS NOVA is a top-rated science television series.  The website extends the television series by providing articles, interviews, essays, slide shows, photographs, and other interactive features.  These extra features allow for students to delve deeper into what is covered on their television shows.

Math

Illuminations provides free online virtual math activities and lessons.  This would be great for a center activity or computer lab time.  The activities are very engaging for all types of learners.

Writing

Bubbl.us is free online mapping software. Students I have taught, ranging from elementary to high school, use this for concept webs on research papers and presentations.

Reading

Free online storybooks are available from Children’s Storybooks Online.  There are a variety of online books for different age groups. Use a projector to show them to all your students. Some of them even incorporate sound effects to make the books come alive!

Article by Laura Ketcham

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You Heard it Here – Speech Recognition Software and Special Education

Speech Recognition Software (Speech-to-text)

For students who have the ability to speak, but may have a mobility impairment that makes it difficult to type, speech recognition software makes using a computer in the classroom more accessible.  Speech recognition software has also been proven beneficial for dyslexic students.

Speech recognition software allows an individual to speak into a microphone.  Then, what is spoken is either typed into the current application, typically a word processing program, or used as commands to navigate the desktop and programs on a computer.  Speech recognition software is widely used for voice dialing on cell phones and also for voice-activated command prompts when you call customer service lines; however, it is not as mainstreamed for day-to-day computer use.

Operating Systems & Office Suites

Windows XP and Windows 7 include speech recognition software.  In Windows XP, this tool is accessible under the control panel speech icon.  In order for the feature to work properly, it is highly suggested that you ‘train’ the computer with the voice of the student who will be using the feature. The program learns their inflection and pronunciation so it can be used more effectively.  This tool can be used to navigate the computer desktop and access various programs via voice commands.

Office 2003 also has speech recognition software.  When activated, this will allow students to speak into the microphone, and then what is said will be typed on their Office documents.  They can switch between dictation mode and voice commands.  Dictation mode is when what the students speak into the microphone is being directly added to their file.  Voice command is when the student speaks commands to access menus and tools in the program, like the File menu or Bold.  The mouse and keyboard are still active when you are in dictation and voice command modes and will still typically be used in conjunction with the speech recognition program.

Dragon Naturally Speaking

One of the best speech recognition software programs is Dragon Naturally Speaking by Nuance.  The advantage of this program is that it works with many types of operating systems and office suites, including the most recent versions of Windows and Office.  This program has more advanced features and recognition ability than the programs that are integrated into the Microsoft products.

Hints for Using Speech Recognition

  • Be sure to train the program –, this will improve accuracy.
  • Train the program in the room and circumstance in which it will be used.
  • The room you are in must be fairly quiet in order for it to work properly.
  • Purchase a higher-quality microphone that has a mute button.

Article by Laura Ketcham

Photo by Sun Dazed

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Low-Tech Tools in Special Education

Technology is typically perceived as electronics or machines; however, technology actually includes the application of science to create inventions and advancements that assist in making tasks more effective or ‘easier.’  This means that technology can also be considered low-tech tools.  In special education there are many low-tech tools that can help students reach their learning potential by making tasks easier to accomplish.

Specialty Pencils & Pencil Grips

Sometimes traditional pencils are not the tool of choice when taking notes or completing assignments because of their size, material, or lead hardness.  There are so many different alternatives to the standard number 2 wooden pencil that may be a better option for some students.

Students with grip disorders, caused by a wide variety of different health and mental disabilities, may benefit and write more comfortably when taking notes and completing assignments with non-traditional pencils.   Primary pencils can allow students to have a better grip on their pencils.  The larger size, softer lead, and ability to write clearly without a very sharp edge, make these pencils a high-quality alternative.  If a student is having difficulty applying enough pressure to a pencil to have the lead mark dark enough to read, then pencil weights are an easily attachable device.  This allows for increased pressure of the pencil lead to the paper.  If you have a classroom where desks may be slanted or pencils easily roll off, triangular pencils (also available in primary style) can be used.  These pencils are not round, but are made with three distinct edges, like a triangle, so they do not roll off the desk.  Another added benefit is that they may assist students in gripping the pencil correctly.

In addition to specialty pencils, pencil grips, may make writing easier for special education students.  There are several different types of pencil grips.  Pencil grips can soften the texture of a pencil, or assist a student in holding the pencil correctly.  One specific type of pencil grip, referred to as the C.L.A.W., aids students to learn to hold their pencil correctly.  Learning this skill can be overlooked by many teachers, but is an important skill and helps to improve handwriting effectiveness and speed.

Highlighters & Highlighter Strips

Highlighters can be a valuable assistive device that can make learning more accessible for special education students.  Highlighting is a technique that, if taught properly, can assist students with staying organized and comprehending written material.  One way that I have encouraged the use of highlighters is to color code items in homework agendas.  One color would stand for homework, another for test and quiz dates, another color for study or review, and another color for other necessary notes.

Highlighters can also be used in reading.  Using different colors of highlighters, students can come up with a system of highlighting key vocabulary, main ideas, and other important text.  This can assist the student when going back to read the text over again in preparation for assessments.  One idea to keep in mind is that, while teaching this strategy in class, students may not be able to use highlighters on standardized tests.  If this is the case, make sure that you help students transition to using a pencil to underline and circle key facts during these tests.

Highlighter strips are an overlay that is placed on top of written text.  This strip allows the student to focus on the line that is currently being read.  This low-tech tool assists students with comprehension difficulties, dyslexia or other vision impairments.

Post-its & Mailing Labels

Today, post-its come in so many different sizes, styles and colors.  The possibilities of using post-its in special education classrooms are endless.  The large post-its can be used for brainstorming ideas in small group sessions.  The small post-its can be used to write down information that students don’t want to forget or for labeling centers and activities in your classroom.  The flag post-its can be used by students to mark the areas of a text they do not understand or to mark their location in a text.  Standard-sized post-its can be used to write notes for parents to check and read in a student homework agenda.  Post-its also come in sticky sentence strip forms.  They are also great tools to use in different classroom review games.

Pre-printed mailing labels are an unlikely, but useful. low-tech tool for the classroom.  Students can have pre-printed labels with their name and basic class information.  This way the students can just place labels on their assignments and tests, rather than writing it on every assignment.  This can help to save a lot of time in class.  They can also be used to label students’ belongings so that they can find their materials and books easily and not have them confused with another student.

There are many more low-tech tools that can help to make learning more accessible to your students.  Check out the links below for more low-tech tools for your students.

Low-Tech Tool Sites

University at Buffalo: Assistive Technology Project

Assistive Technology Toolbox

Family Guide to Assistive Technology

Article by Laura Ketcham

Photo by Lloydcrew

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Working for the Future- Special Education Students

Real world experience is necessary for students to learn what this so-called real world is like.

When Deborah Hartman was promoted special education director at the downtown Central Administration Building of the Allentown School District, she wanted to bring back the daily interaction that she and her special education students had when she was a teacher.

Hartman got help from federal stimulus money as she and her staff founded DelectABLE Deli, a food and coffee cart staffed by special education students from Allen and Dieruff high schools. The “ABLE” is an acronym for Allentown Building Life Experiences.

The district works hard to prepare special education students for life after school and the working world.

The program is great for a variety of reasons. Students get to work on their verbal skills by greeting customers and taking their food or drink orders. They also work on their basic math skills by adding prices for multiple items in orders. In addition, they get real life experience, interacting and doing business with customers.

Special education students have a great need to prepare for the future. When these students turn 14 years old, they begin to learn in work-based areas that introduce possible career choices or paths they may want to pursue after they graduate.

Allentown received about $10 million in stimulus money, including $3.6 million for special education. They spent $5,000 in special education money to start the DelectABLE Deli. There are 27 students who work at the deli and share shifts three days a week.

Hartman hopes to use the next round of stimulus money to rent a handicapped accessible apartment near Allen High School. She would use the apartment to teach students how to live independently because an apartment, like working at the food cart, is more realistic than just learning in a classroom.

Photo by Nutmeg

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Classroom Audio Technology – Can You Hear Me Now?

Classroom audio technology is a great resource for use in the classroom.  Research supports that audio amplification is beneficial for both students with normal hearing ability and for students with hearing impairments. When students can hear clearly, they are able to focus and be attentive to the content.  A student who struggles to hear will tire from the effort to follow the lesson and quickly fall behind in the class.

I currently have an audio system in my classroom made by Lightspeed.  The audio system is connected through a sound board to ceiling-mounted speakers.  When I provide directions, conduct a lecture, or involve students in a discussion, I use a wireless microphone to amplify my voice.  I have an additional microphone set up in the classroom for the students to use when they are making a presentation to the class or asking questions during a discussion.  The other advantage to this audio system is that it is hooked up to my computer and allows me to play CDs, DVDs, and share online videos as supplemental material for my lessons.  There are many different types of audio technology that can be used for amplification in your classroom, and below you will learn about a few different choices that may make learning more accessible for your students.  Another advantage of using an audio amplification system is I lose my voice less often!

Classroom Amplification Systems

There are many different types and styles of classroom amplification systems that can be integrated into your current classroom technology system.  Each system typically includes an amplifier, speakers, and microphones.  There are portable and stationary systems.  There are also components that can be sold separately if you already have speakers in your classroom.  Assistive listening devices are also available, where students with hearing impairments can wear headphones to individually amplify the sound level beyond what they would hear from the classroom speakers.  Depending on the system, the audio amplification can also be used for audio from CDs, DVDs, and other Internet sites that provide audio output.

Other Amplification Options

There are several other options available for you to integrate audio amplification in your classroom.  One option would be to purchase a karaoke machine.  Instead of using a karaoke machine for singing, since it has speakers and a microphone, it can also be used as a portable amplification system.  Most karaoke machines also have an additional microphone jack so you can connect more than just a microphone.  They also have A/V inputs and outputs so that they can easily be hooked up to a computer to provide a large speaker for other audio sources that you may want to use in your classroom.  Another inexpensive option would be to purchase a boombox with a microphone input.  This would work in a manner similar to a karaoke machine, but is typically less expensive.  Because of the smaller size of a boombox, the speakers are not as powerful.  This still would be a good option to amplify audio for a smaller classroom.

Other Classroom Audio Amplification Companies

Frontrow

SMART Audio

Audio Enhancement

Additional Research & Articles

SMART Tech

Amplified Classrooms

Promethean

Article by Laura Ketcham

Photo by DeclanTM

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Technology Tools in a Special Education Classroom

I am very fortunate to have a projector, document camera, and interactive whiteboard in my classroom.  I have become so accustomed to using these tools every day, I could not imagine teaching without them.  Projectors, document cameras, and interactive whiteboards increase student engagement, support a variety of learning styles, and increase learning outcomes.  They can be especially effective in special education classrooms with students with hearing and visual impairments. Since it is the time of year where planning for budgets and grant writing is really picking up, these three tools should be at the top of your ‘must have’ list.

Projectors

Projectors display images from your computer screen onto any flat, light-colored surface.  The image can be projected onto a standard whiteboard, a white wall, a projector screen or an interactive whiteboard.  Projectors can be mounted on the ceiling of a classroom or used from a mobile cart or table.  There are HD, LCD, and DLP projectors, all of which are standard size and formatting.  A more recent projector technology is the portable projector. They are projectors that are small enough to fit into your pocket!  Costs vary depending on size and quality.  Projectors are great for visual learners to be able to see and experience what you are teaching.  In my class, I use my projector to show students presentations for section reviews of the textbook, review games, for step-by-step lessons on how to use the various Microsoft Office products, along with class updates from my website.  Projectors are also great to show movies or video clips that can help to make learning come alive!  To make projectors even more powerful as a tool in the classroom, they can also be used in conjunction with an interactive whiteboard or a document camera.

Document Camera

Document cameras are the 21st century version of an overhead projector.  When used in conjunction with a projector, document cameras can be used to display printed materials, books, worksheets, review answers, or lecture notes.  You can zoom in and zoom out of the documents or freeze what is on the screen.  In a special education classroom, the zoom function of a document camera can be especially useful for students with low vision.  You can also place 3D objects under the camera and see live ‘shots’ of what is under the camera.  Some document cameras also include a microscope attachment.

Interactive Whiteboards

Interactive whiteboards allow teachers and students to interact with the board digitally rather than using chalk or markers.  Your computer screen is projected onto the board with a projector. Then, with digital markers, erasers, and other various selected tools, you and your students can interact with the board.  This tool is great for special education students as it allows them to be more hands-on with their learning.  In my class, I create review games within my presentations that are interactive.  An example would be a matching vocabulary game where the students have to literally select and drag or draw a digital line connecting the term to the definition on the board. I also use my interactive whiteboard by incorporating pictures of the various menus and tools in the Microsoft Applications and then the students have to select and move the correct answers to the labeled area. Pictures, videos, and audio files can also easily be incorporated within a presentation on an interactive board.  These visuals make learning meaningful for students.  Most interactive whiteboards also come with software applications that make using the board as an interactive tool in the classroom easier.  They also supply pre-made templates for games similar to Jeopardy or Millionaire.  There are so many different ways to actively involve students in learning while using an interactive white board.

Projectors, document cameras, and interactive whiteboards are all technology tools that are great resources to have in a special education classroom.  They allow presentations and lectures to become more interactive through hands-on lessons and the ability to visually show students the meaning of what you are teaching.

Article by Laura Ketcham

Photo by Sridqway

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