Recently, the ACT team had the pleasure of visiting A-LIST member Emily Ottmar at Stevenson Elementary in the Mad River Local School District to see what evidence-based practices she is using to kick off the new school year.
Check out some of the great strategies we saw in action in Emily's classroom!
Emily uses the evidence-based practice of visual supports through the use of visual schedules to help students navigate the classroom and school environment with increased independence. She also uses the practice of differentiation through using whole-day schedules with students who need more structure and using a class-wide schedule with smaller center schedules for the other students. A key element of Emily's visual schedules is that students get to interact with the schedule through removing individual schedule cards and taking them to the designated location within the classroom. The also interact with the large class-wide schedule through taking turns moving the schedule card to the finished pocket under the door handle. Our team has found that allowing students to interact with the schedule is an essential way for them to develop an understanding of their daily routine and see how time is passing as activities are completed. She also uses a SpEd Hack strategy of color coding smaller schedule cards to help staff with organization. Emily got these great schedule cards from the Autism Classroom News TpT store!
As educators, we know that things don't always go as planned during the school day. For these times, Emily has a visual support to cue students that there is going to be a change. She uses a large change card on her morning message board to review scheduled changes such as a fire drill, field trip, or assembly. Sometimes changes occur without notice. Staff still needs to be prepared to cue students at these difficult moments. Emily's staff has a small change card that they keep on their badge holder to show students when an unplanned change occurs or to provide a reminder during the day.
Additionally, Emily uses visual supports to create mini-schedules or routine schedules to help students build independence during regular classroom routines such as unpacking backpacks in the morning or using the sensory motor room. These routine schedules demonstrate how Emily is able to perform a task analysis of classroom routine in order to break them down to manageable steps for students.
Emily also has incorporated the use of visual supports throughout her students school day to help students understand what is expected. She uses a choice board on baking sheets where students get to move their picture next to their desired choice activities. During breaktime students choose between the iPad or reading a book in the classroom tent. Presenting these options visually helps students understand what the options are for this time. The breaktime visual also incorporates a sentence strip for students who are developing verbal skills.
As an A-LIST member, Emily understands the importance of addressing students' sensory needs throughout the school day to ensure that they are ready for learning. Sensory needs can be met through a variety of ways during the school day. Sometimes, a team may decide to give a student a specific break to meet their needs. Many times this break will occur through the self-management strategy of home base or calming corner. Emily's home base area is a clearly defined corner of her room. She provides various seating options. Students who crave vestibular input may enjoy the rocking chair, students who need some proprioceptive or deep pressure input may choose the foam couch or a beanbag, or students needing sensory deprivation to give them a break from overwhelming stimuli may choose the tent. The colorful ribbon hula-hoop overhead helps to further designate this area. A great time to provide breaks is after stressful times of the day such as a difficult subject, large inclusion class, specials, lunch/recess, or assemblies. Depending on the student, additional breaks may be needed throughout the day as well as when a student is feeling stressed to proactively prevent meltdowns.
Another evidence-based strategy Emily uses is exercise. She has a scheduled time during the day for a group exercise routine incorporating yoga moves and calming input.
Emily's classroom environment includes visual boundaries to help students understand where they should be during activities. The table has taped lines to signal where student materials should remain when completing table work. On the carpet, each student is given a special spot using a round placemat.
We loved how Emily uses reinforcement in her classroom! She uses the ACT team visual support of a visual contract to help students understand how much work needs to be completed during teacher, group, and independent work times through the use of tokens correlating with the number of tasks to be completed. This student loves Backyardigans so Emily was sure to include incorporate interests with his tokens.
Emily also incorporates interests into choice time activities. Look at these great building blocks that Emily added community pictures too for a student who likes to create mini-cities for cars to visit. What an awesome idea!
While in Emily's classroom we also saw the great ways she incorporates the instructional method of structured work systems. In her structured work area, students follow a top-to-bottom sequence of completing the activities in each bin and placing completed activities in the green "finished" bin. Staff uses the work baskets bulletin board to see what tasks students need to complete that day. For some students, they will take the visual icon to the taskbox shelf and match it to the corresponding bin to find the work they need to complete. This is another great way Emily facilitates independence!
She incorporates a similar strategy of structured teaching to teacher-directed activities as well through using numbered bins to hold the activities to be completed. This helps students see how many activities are expected to be completed during that time.
Another reason Emily is a great A-LIST member is that she understands the importance of generalizing communication skills to the classroom and focusing on functional communication. Rather than teaching vocabulary in isolation, Emily has created structured play bags which contain reinforcing, interactive games and activities such as puzzles, board games, or Mr. Potato Head and picture supported communication supports such as a turn-taking book or communication board. While completing these activities with students 1:1 or in small structured play groups, Emily's staff can work on a variety of functional communication skills including vocabulary development, social skills and reciprocity. This is a great example of naturalistic teaching because it takes an activity students will enjoy and teaches them the necessary functional communication needed to participate.
The ACT team wants to extend a big THANK YOU to Emily Ottmar for allowing us to visit her classroom, being a part of the A-LIST and modeling evidence-based practices for other educators in the Miami Valley!