3 Tips for Increasing Parental Engagement This School Year

It’s September and schools are back in session!  For educators, it is that magical time of year when anything seems possible.  You’re refreshed and ready to make this year the best ever.  You want all your students to have a successful year!  And you know that a key component to any educational program is parental engagement, especially for children with special needs.  But with the demands of today’s parents, getting appropriate parental engagement can be a challenge, and this is compounded for the parents of children with special needs.

Before we discuss ways to encourage parental engagement, let’s first look at what we mean by parental engagement. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines parental engagement in schools as parents and school staff working together to support and improve the learning, development, and health of children and adolescents. Schools and parents have the responsibility for educating our children (retrieved from CDC)

There are many benefits to parental engagement across the board, but particularly for students with special needs including:

  • Increased parental involvement and collaboration in the development of their child’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP)
  • Greater confidence and ability on the part of the parent to educate their own child
  • Better understanding on the part of the educator as to the special needs of each student
  • Higher student success due to the generalization of skills and consistency between home and school

Unfortunately, barriers to parental engagement do exist.  Some of these barriers are due to: cultural or language differences, special education law that can be difficult to understand, lack of time, past negative experiences, and lack of training on the part of the educator to effectively facilitate engagement.

What can you do to eliminate the barriers and make it easier for parents to engage? Here are three keys to increasing parental engagement.

Treat Parents as Partners.

Do you respect the role the parent has in the education of their child with special needs?  Do you actively invite parents to meet ahead of the IEP to set goals together?  Do you accommodate their schedules and consider their cultural contributions or differences?  Do you think about how to improve parent participation in the decision-making process?  These are just a few questions that can help you think about parents as partners in their child’s education.

Here are a few ways to help your parents’ partner with you:

  • Consider your message before the IEP happens. Did you invite them to listen to you and others tell them about their child or did you invite them to participatein the meeting and share their knowledge of their child?
  • Wait for the parents outside the meeting room prior to the IEP and walk in together as a team. That will be much less intimidating for the parents than walking into a room full of “experts” sitting and staring.
  • Understand that some cultures interact with educators and other school professionals differently. A parent may be agreeing with the proposed goals because they want to be polite and respectful.
  • Invite parents to ask questions and give them a platform to suggest goals they have for their child.
  • Take time toeducate the parents. Explain any special education jargon, provide them with resources, and connect them with other support programs such as translation services, if needed.
  • Let the parents know you are genuinely interested in what they have to say.
  • Create tool kits that provide parents with activities and resources to extend the learning into the home. The tool kits may also include tips and strategies for teaching their child or websites they can go to for additional activities or information.
  • Work with the parents to set realistic parent participation goals. They are the parent, not the teacher. Remember, the goal is quality, not quantity of involvement.

Create an Effective Communication System.

The goal of an effective communication system is to bridge the gap between home and school by providing a way to share concerns, successes, behavioral challenges, stressors, and changes.

There are many ways to implement such a system.  Choose the method that is simple and works best for you and the parent. The easier the system, the more it will be used.  And again, remember, quality of communication is more important than the quantity of communication.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Connect at the beginning of the year and ask parents what information they want. Perhaps you can come up with a checklist together, that’s easy to use and sends home meaningful information. The same goes the other way too. For example, create a checklist for things you want to know from home such as changes in sleep patterns, nutrition, or family relations.
  • Use a notebook that goes back and forth from home to school in the child’s backpack. You can report IEP progress or write anecdotes about the child’s day, etc. and the parent can write back questions or concerns. This can happen on a daily basis.
  • Many teachers use texts or email to communicate (check with the parents first for the most preferred method). They may find this less intrusive and intimidating than a phone call and allows the parents to think and respond on their schedule. If a phone call is necessary, perhaps send a text to say, “Can we set up a time to chat on the phone?”  This allows the parent to choose a time that works for them.
  • Schedule home visits, if appropriate.  This may help parents who lack transportation or have other circumstances that keep them from coming to school.

Create a Welcoming Climate.

Welcome your parents into your classroom in many ways and for many purposes.  The more you know your parents, the easier it is to work with them as partners.  Inviting parents into your classroom also provides an opportunity for family networking, bringing families together with other parents to share resources, empathy, and support.

Some ways to help parents to feel welcome in the classroom include:

  • Volunteering for special events and holiday parties, field trips, family and friends’ breakfasts, guest speakers, photo shares, parent presentations, etc.
  • Providing ways for parents to volunteer without having to come into the classroom, such as organizing and preparing materials that require cutting, collating, or stapling.
  • Volunteering to read to or with students or provide one-on-one assistance to students in the library or media center.
  • Inviting parents to attend presentations or view displays by the students or to school assemblies when appropriate.

So, as you set up for another successful school year, I encourage you to think about your parents as partners. You are the educator! You’re good at it! But reaching out to your students’ parents as partners will help you help your students and make your job a little bit easier!

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) in the Classroom

By Stephanie Whitley, MEd-BCBA

What is PBIS?

Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) is a schoolwide discipline system for creating positive school environments through the use of proactive strategies that define, teach and reinforce appropriate behaviors. PBIS is based on the principles of applied behavior analysis and is a proactive approach to establishing supports that:

•Improve the social culture needed for all students in a school to achieve social, emotional and academic success
•Makes challenging behavior less effective, efficient and relevant.

PBIS is the only approach addressing behavior that was mentioned in the 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and is interchangeable with School-wide Positive Behavior Supports.

What does PBIS look like?

PBIS focuses on a comprehensive system of positive behavior supports for all students in a school and is implemented in all areas of the school, including classroom and non-classroom settings (e.g. cafeteria, bus, restrooms, etc.).

PBIS is a tiered system of supports to improve the daily lifestyle of all by reducing the effectiveness of challenging behavior and making desired behavior more functional. Tier 1 supports are universal supports that are taught and reinforced with the whole student population. Tier 2 supports are targeted supports for students that need further explanation and reinforcement of desired behaviors. Tier 3 supports are supports provided at an individual level. This is for students that need tailored instruction and reinforcement to meet their personal learning needs.

 

How is PBIS implemented?

To establish the universal/Tier 1 supports, a campus committee is formed of administrators, general education teachers and special education teachers. The list of activities below are established:

1. A theme is chosen to help students and staff easily remember the rules. This theme either ties into the school mascot (e.g. PAW rules for Wildcats or Bulldogs) or follows the three “Be’s” (Be safe, Be responsible, Be respectful).

2. Each area of the school or community in which students frequent are identified. This includes cafeteria, gym, hallways, playground, buses, etc.

3. The thematic guidelines/rules are then applied to each identified area. For example, being responsible in the hallway is walking directly to and from your destination.

4. Visuals of all identified guidelines are created and posted in the locations identified.

5. A reinforcement system is established. This includes tokens to be used for when students are engaging in the desired behavior and a way for the students to redeem their tokens. For example, the Wildcats may create “Cat Cash” as a token of reinforcement. A school using the three “Be’s” may use “Honey Money.” The students are then able to use their tokens to purchase items in the school store or treasure box. Items can include school supplies, toys, homework passes, extra restroom passes and even gift cards.

6. At the beginning of the school year and right after each long break, such as winter break, students are provided instructions on each guideline in each area of the school/community. Instruction includes examples and non-examples of the expected behavior. For example, students are shown what it looks like to be responsible in the hallway (walking directly to and from destination), and what it looks like to NOT be responsible in the hallway (running or stopping to look in each window of classrooms as walking to and from destination).

7. Teachers and staff members are encouraged to look for students engaging in the appropriately identified behavior and to recognize those students by providing a token and naming the specific reason the student is receiving the token.

8. The students accumulate and redeem their tokens for a secondary reinforcer.

Modifications and Accommodations

Some students may need modifications or accommodations to fully participate in the PBS system. Students identified for Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports should be a small group of the total school’s population that need:

•More frequent reminders of the expectations
•More frequent reinforcement and/or ability to turn in their tokens more frequently for the secondary reinforcer
•Primary reinforcers paired with the token
•An individual chart to track their token economy
•A separate “store” of reinforcers that are based on the student’s individual preferences

The school-wide and Tier 2 and 3 supports should be reviewed regularly. Data should be collected to evaluate the effectiveness of the PBS program and plan. This data should be in the form of office referrals, the number of students accessing the reinforcement system, the students’ and staff’s ability to recite expectations and examples of those expectations, as well as, the number of students that are able to fade from more intensive supports to lesser intensive supports. As all data is collected, the PBIS committee should review and make necessary changes to ensure the effectiveness of the plan.

Cyberbullying and Special Needs Children

By Tranika Jefferson

We live in a world, in which nearly everything is digital. This makes life easier. However, it also causes problems. Previously, bullying had been confined to the school playground, bus, or outside in the neighborhood; however, this deadly phenomenon has filtered its way into the digital world and is known as cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is described as when someone intentionally uses digital media to threaten, harass, or intimidate someone (Heiman, Olenik-Shemesh & Eden, 2014). This can be done via the internet (e.g., social media, blog post, chat group, etc.), telephone (to include calls and text messages), or videos. Social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat have created more opportunities for cyberbullying to potentially occur.

No longer restricted to school environments or direct physical contact, bullying can now expand from one continent to the other without the individuals involved even personally knowing each other. This allows 24/7 access for individuals to be victims of cyberbullying. No child is exempt from the destruction of cyberbullying and online harassment. Studies have found that children with special needs such as learning disorders, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), and Autism Spectrum disorders are more likely to be bullied than their peers (Kowaloski & Fedina, 2011). A possible explanation for this is that children may not fully understand different disabilities. When someone is viewed as “socially awkward,” they are more likely to encounter cyberbullying since they are an “easy” target. Cyberbullying makes it that much easier for children to harm and alter the learning path of those with special needs by threatening, harassing, or intimidating them.

The digital world can help improve the social cognitive skills of children with special needs as well as “offer young people a setting for social support, intimacy and the development of autonomy through self-expression and identify exploration (Good & Fang, 2015).” However, it can also be a harmful place due to cyberbullying. Efforts must be made to address cyberbullying in the general population as well as with children with special needs. Parents, educators, and clinicians are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of these children while still teaching them skills on effectively dealing with virtual harassment or intimidation.

If children with special needs can be taught to deal with the adverse situations imposed upon them virtually, then they can continue to expand their own social skills and communication. In addition, they can increase their independence with the broad utilization that the virtual world offers. This, in turn, may improve their self-confidence, self-concept, and social life.

References

Good, B., & Fang, L. (2015). Promoting Smart and Safe Internet Use Among Children with Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Their Parents. Clinical Social Work Journal, 43(2), 179-188. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10615-015-0519-4

Heiman, T., Olenik-Shemesh, D., & Eden, S. (2014). Cyberbullying involvement among students with ADHD: relation to loneliness, self-efficacy and social support. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 30(1), 15-29. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08856257.2014.943562

Kowalski, R., & Fedina, C. (2011). Cyber bullying in ADHD and Asperger Syndrome Populations. Research In Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5(3), 1201-1208. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2011.01.007

Run, Forrest, Run… Towards Inclusion!

Could inclusive education mean the end of bullying for kids with disabilities?

By Katherine DeCotiis Wiedemann, M.A., BCBA

Kids with disabilities being bullied is nothing new; we’ve seen it portrayed in popular culture for decades. Who could ever forget Forrest Gump being chased by a truck-full of mean-spirited kids, trying desperately to outrun them despite his bulky metal leg-braces? Special needs aren’t always as visible as they were in that scene, but the victimization of people with differences has arguably been around as long as the institution of education. In all realms of life, bullies usually target people who are more passive, anxious, quiet, sensitive, or unusual in some way (Hoover 2003). Unfortunately, in schools, this demographic often includes children who are classified and receive special education services. Many typical features of American schools may have historically exacerbated this divide between the disabled and the non-disabled, particularly the physical and curricular labeling and segregation of children with disabilities, the non-participation of special needs students in mainstream educational and extracurricular activities, and a general lack of understanding and interaction between the two groups.

When Dan Habib’s infant son Samuel was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a ticker of chilling questions scrolled through his brain like a hurricane warning on the nightly news. Would he ever walk? Would he be able to talk? Have a job? Drive a car? Fall in love? Perhaps the most painful unknown was how his peers would treat him. Would he be the target of ridicule in his neighborhood, on the soccer team, in his grade-school classroom? With fear looming heavily, threatening to swallow them whole, Habib and his wife made a choice and never looked back. They committed to including Samuel in every facet of their lives, regardless of what the scope of his disability turned out to be. And they didn’t stop there – eventually, the arms of their crusade reached their friends, members of their community and eventually the school district Samuel entered as a preschooler. The Habibs became diehard advocates for inclusive education, and as a direct result, Samuel flourished. He was placed in general education classes with supports and modifications. A specially made wheelchair and a culture of acceptance allowed him to play baseball on a regular team in elementary school. He scored a role in the school play and read his lines from his augmentative communication device. He went to middle school dances and made the honor roll. By all accounts, Samuel belonged. And he wasn’t the only one who benefitted.

Sadly, not every kid with special needs is as warmly accepted and included as Samuel. Statistics illustrate that in the United States, children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers. In one study, nearly 60% of students with special needs reported having been bullied at some point in their lives, compared to only 25% of students in general. Another more recent study indicates that children with disabilities are victimized by bullying at a much higher rate over time than their nondisabled peers. The researchers attributed their findings to the fact that many students with special needs never learn or have the ability to practice the social skills needed to combat bullying as they age. So how can we teach kids with special needs to advocate for themselves? And perhaps even more importantly: how do we go about teaching kids without special needs, acceptance and kindness?

The answer to both questions might be found, at least partially, in inclusive education. The benefits of inclusion for kids with disabilities have been documented in 40 years’ worth of research – higher test scores, increased social interaction, exposure to peer models, access to the general curriculum, and higher levels of motivation. In fact, in those 40 years, no study has ever been published comparing segregation and inclusion that came out in favor of segregation (Jackson 2008). But how does inclusion affect gen-ed kids? Studies are starting to emerge, and it appears that inclusion may have even more of a positive impact on nondisabled peers than on those with disabilities. Kids in integrated classes have daily opportunities to learn and practice tolerance, respect, and kindness. Regular exposure to differences de-stigmatizes kids with special needs and creates a culture of diversity and acceptance. Additionally, gen-ed kids can guide and teach their peers, which fosters within them a sense of accountability and purpose. They are likely to exhibit more developed values and ethics later in life. Of Samuel’s effect on his nondisabled peers, his father notes, “He’s had a tremendous impact on his peers. His peers now see disability as part of the natural diversity of our world (NPR 2014).” Perhaps the most unexpected benefit of inclusion for nondisabled peers lies in the realm of academics; data indicates that general education kids in integrated classrooms perform better on tests and have greater academic outcomes.

It is becoming widely accepted in education that “far-reaching and sustainable bullying prevention is intricately connected to and predicated upon the promotion of equity and inclusion (Safe@School 2013).” Creating a culture of inclusion in schools is not an overnight job, but a quick Google search will demonstrate just how much information is available to those who are willing to consider making the change. There are detailed guides which illustrate the core concepts and features of inclusive education, and outline the steps to take to get there. It may not be an easy task, but in the words of Dan Habib, “If we know it’s going to yield better outcomes for kids with disabilities, it’s the only way to go forward (NPR 2014).”

Today, Samuel Habib is a 17-year-old junior at Concord High School in New Hampshire. In May of this year, he was the keynote presenter at the 5th annual self-advocacy conference hosted by the University of New Hampshire, where he spoke about his experience with inclusive education and previewed his first short documentary as a filmmaker. For more information on inclusion and Samuel’s journey, please visit www.includingsamuel.com.

REFERENCES

Habib, D. (2014, April 22). Dan Habib: Disabling Segregation [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izkN5vLbnw8

Hoover, J., & Stenhjem, P. (2003, December). Bullying and Teasing of Youth with Disabilities: Creating Positive School Environments for Effective Inclusion. Examining Current Challenges in Secondary Education and Transition, Vol. 2 (Issue 3).

Katz, J., & Mirenda, P. (2002). Including Students with Developmental Disabilities in General Education Classrooms: Educational Benefits. International Journal of Special Education, Vol. 17 (Issue 2), pp. 14-24.

Preventing Bullying, Promoting Equity and Inclusion. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.safeatschool.ca/plm/parents-and-guardians-partners-in-prevention/preventing-bullying-promoting-equity-and-inclusion

Reilly, D. (2017, January 05). The Bullying Culture: What You Must Know. Retrieved from http://www.lifezette.com/momzette/bullying-culture-what-you-must-know/

Staff, N. (2014, April 27). Learning With Disabilities: One Effort To Shake Up The Classroom. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2014/04/27/307467382/learning-with-disabilities-one-effort-to-shake-up-the-classroom

Effective Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorders

There are many interventions available for educators who work with students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). But not all interventions are created equally. Educators need to be good consumers in evaluating interventions and applying those that have been determined effective and ergo have the best chance of promoting positive outcomes for students. Only some of the touted interventions are based on rigorous scientific research and have the capacity to improve a student’s development, these are called evidence-based practices (EBP).

 

Interventions established as evidence-based should be the go-to interventions for educators. Because of this, the law now requires that teaching practices be based on evidence of effectiveness to further the development of students.

(Source: National Professional Development Center)

To assess whether an intervention qualifies as an EBP, the National Professional Development Center on ASD looks at peer-reviewed research on the intervention. An intervention is also considered to be an evidence-based practice if it meets one of the following criteria:

  • Randomized or quasi-experimental design studies: Two high-quality experimental or quasi-experimental group design studies by two different research groups.
  • Single-subject design studies: Five high-quality, single-subject studies by three different research groups with at least 20 participants.
  • Combination of evidence: One high-quality, randomized or quasi-experimental group design study conducted by at least three different investigators or research groups.

While the criteria is not easy to fulfill, in this way educators and interveners are able to gain confirmation of effectiveness of a particular intervention that enhances a child’s development and supports them in a vital way. A sample of ASD interventions that are considered effective include:

  • Antecedent-based intervention: Arranging events or circumstances that precede an interfering, or problematic, behavior in order to reduce that behavior. For example, say a student repeatedly struggles to focus on her workbook exercises during class time. An instructor using antecedent-based intervention might realize that the issue is related to the student’s schedule, and offer a break before workbook time.
  • Functional behavior assessment: Systematic collection of information about an interfering behavior designed to identify circumstances that support the behavior. When an instructor uses FBA, he describes the problem behavior, identifies events before or after that control the behavior, and develops a hypothesis about the behavior. Then, he tests the hypothesis.
  • Modeling: Demonstration of a desired behavior that encourages the student to imitate the behavior. This EBP is often combined with other strategies such as prompting and reinforcement.
  • Peer-mediated instruction and intervention: Typically developing peers or help children with ASD to acquire new behavior, communication, and social skills by interacting in natural environments. Teachers or service providers teach peers strategies for engaging children and youth with ASD in positive and extended social interactions in both teacher-directed and learner-initiated activities.
  • Social skills training: Group or individual instruction designed to teach learners with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) ways to appropriately interact with peers and adults. Most social skill meetings include instruction, role-playing or practice, and feedback to help learners with ASD acquire and practice communication, play, or social skills.

Keeping up with evidence-based practices takes some extra effort, but being knowledgeable about the options available and how to implement them properly makes a significant impact. Students deserve the best education possible..

To learn more, view the updated EBP report that supports the identification of 27 ASD evidence-based practices and includes fact sheets for each evidence-based practice.

For more resources, visit The National Professional Development Center online.

Spotlight Teacher of the Month: Tracy Niccum

Position: Special Education Life Skills Teacher
District: School District of Washington, Missouri

Ms. Niccum is a Special Education Teacher from Washington West Elementary School.  Washington West is one of seven elementary schools in the School District of Washington in Washington, Missouri. Ms. Niccum educates students in grades 2 through 6 and has used the Rethink platform for two years.

As a second-year teacher, Ms. Niccum was initially hesitant to implement Rethink with all the work teachers are required to do during the year. So she started small.

“I focused on one or two students and realized I could link their behavioral plans and Individualized Education Program goals to Rethink,” Ms. Niccum said. Once she learned how Rethink could improve her classroom, she started using it more.

Ms. Niccum now uses Rethink regularly and said she feels “The most valuable aspect of Rethink is the ability to collect data and link Individualized Education Program goals and behavioral plans to the platform.”

One of the toughest challenges for Ms. Niccum as a teacher is improving her data collection process and encouraging student independence within the classroom.

“Data collection is a huge part of education and when you have a self-contained classroom, it can be very overwhelming,” said Ms. Niccum.

Rethink’s easy-to-use platform makes it seamless, said Ms. Niccum, with printable data collection sheets, graphs and summary reports. Rethink webinars and on-site visits provide her with the extra support she needs to implement individual schedules for students and help them succeed.

Her students also use the Activity Center to practice specific skills that align with
their IEPs. One of Ms. Niccum’s students uses the Activity Center twice a week and takes the lead setting up her own schedule on the platform, which she enjoys.

Ms. Niccum regularly selects different math and reading activities for her student to complete that align with her student’s IEP goals and the curriculum she teaches.

This integration, Ms. Niccum said, makes it easier to track progress and is important because teachers “have to be able to show student growth on IEP goals.” Teachers in her district must also indicate how students are improving on each goal at the end of every quarter.

The process can be riddled with paperwork, but Ms. Niccum said Rethink makes it much more manageable for paraprofessionals and teachers at her school.

Ms. Niccum on tracking student progress and IEP goals using the Rethink IEP builder

“The most valuable aspect of Rethink is the ability to collect data and link IEP and behavioral plans to the platform.”

Ms. Niccum said she plans to implement Rethink programs and activities for all her students so she can track student progress and IEP goals in the most effective way.

She hopes other teachers and principals consider subject areas in their schools that need improvement and discover how Rethink can help them. Ms. Niccum also believes that Rethink is especially valuable to special educators.

“We are always looking for ways to reduce the abundance of paperwork we have to do on a daily basis,” Ms. Niccum said. “The process goes much quicker when you can just click a button and pull up all the data. It’s all right there.”

Keep up the fantastic work, Ms. Niccum! Congratulations on being this month’s Spotlight Teacher!

Need to Know News: Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District

Rethink Commends the Recent Special Education Decisions to Promote Quality Services and Supports.

Last week a unanimous decision was handed down by the court providing increased opportunities for students with disabilities. In Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a higher standard of education for children with disabilities. Chief Justice Robert’s written opinion contained strong words:

“When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all,” Roberts wrote. “For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to ‘sitting idly . . . awaiting the time when they were old enough to “drop out.” ’ ”

In Texas there has been significant discussion around the so-called cap that implied that Texas schools should maintain an 8.5% or below qualification for special education. Given that the national average is approximately 13% this low eligibility cap is problematic. Earlier this month it was announced that this arbitrary cap is being removed.

Since its inception, Rethink has been committed to the assumption that with effective, evidence-based instruction children with disabilities can make progress and achieve their highest potential. It is with great positivity that we now have the Supreme Court demonstrating this shared belief and Texas making a commitment to serve all students in need of special education services and supports.

Literacy for All

Read Across America Day is just a few weeks away! On March 2nd, Dr. Seuss’ birthday, thousands of schools, libraries, and community centers will bring together kids, teens and books, which is exciting because we all know how important literacy is in relation to adult success.

Part of an educational experience is exposure to books and literature and instruction in reading and writing, but many students with disabilities do not receive effective literacy instruction. Per the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), “Many children, including children with learning disabilities, do not learn to read in the first grade because they lack the basic readiness skills or the school’s method is not appropriate for them. They may be allowed to fail for two or three years without effective intervention. Unless these children are identified early and appropriate instruction provided they may be passed along in school until basic reading instruction is no longer available.”

Literacy has been targeted as in-need of improvement and future focus, particularly for those with more significant disabilities.Teachers need support to ensure all students benefit from literacy instruction and Rethink is here to help with supplemental supports which are incredibly helpful in addressing the diverse needs of students in a classroom. Be sure to check the Rethink Academic Curriculum Library, which includes differentiated lessons plans and teaching resources to support students with disabilities.

Putting a Stop-block on the Summer Slide

Summer reading can help students avoid the summer slide3 tips for how teachers can support students in avoiding the summer slide

The Summer Slide is a familiar conundrum for all educators. The term refers to the learning loss many students experience over the summer break. Research done in 1996 concluded that students on average experienced the equivalent of at least one month of learning loss as measured by standardized test scores over the summer. While all students are at risk of learning regression over long breaks, additional research suggests that students with special needs may be more at risk of both regression and slower recoupment of skills when they return in the fall than their general education peers.

Isn’t that what Extended School Year is for?

While many special education students will have opportunities to attend Extended School Year (ESY) programs over the summer, ESY can present its own unique challenges. For one, students are taken out of their regular routines, which for students with significant disabilities can severely impede their ability to learn. With only 4 to 6 weeks of classes, there is little time for establishing the procedures and routines that these students need to thrive. Additionally, students in ESY programs are often supported by interim teachers and paraprofessionals, many of whom have little-to-no experience working with the students in the program. Finally, ESY staff do not always have access to quality curriculum that is aligned with state standards and addresses the unique IEP goals of each student. As research reveals, “quality is the key to making time matter,” (Aronson, Zimmerman, and Carlos, 1999) and with all of these factors combined, ESY can end up having little impact on learning regression.

What can I do? I don’t see my students over the summer.

Whether or not your students will be attending ESY, there are things you can do now as a teacher to support skill maintenance over the summer for your students and make the inevitable change in routine more manageable.

1.  Provide easy-to-access learning opportunities using technology

Rethink's Activity Center provides students access to digital learning to avoid the summer slide.
Rethink’s Activity Center provides students opportunities to practice skills they learned during the school year that are tied with IEP goals on mobile devices and laptop computers.

A recent article on how technology can help prevent summer “brain drain” pointed to the fact that students without access to educational content over the summer are more likely to experience learning loss. With mobile technology, providing students access to educational content on the devices they are already accessing is easy. Spend some time now finding online games, applications, and activities that reinforce the skills your students are learning in the school year and provide students and their families training and practice on how to use and access this content. Your students will be able to stay engaged in learning in a way that doesn’t just feel like homework.

 

2.  Prepare students for upcoming changes in routine

For many students with special needs, unexpected changes in routine can be challenging. Preparing students for upcoming changes and helping them know what to expect can make the transition from the regular school day routine to home, ESY, day camp or wherever they may be over the summer more successful, and set them up for success when it comes to learning.

Here are a few ideas for how you can start preparing students now:

  • Start a count down!: Encourage your students to be excited about summer while also communicating to them that summer means a change in routine. You can review a count down calendar with your students in the classroom every morning and use this as an opportunity to talk about some of the changes they can expect.
  • Review summer routines: If your student is attending ESY, use a picture schedule to help teach them about the new routine in advance. If ESY is in the building, you can even show them to their new classroom so that when the time comes, it is already a familiar place. If your student will be at home or somewhere else over the summer, find out from their parents and families what their schedule will be, and do the same by creating an individualized schedule that will help them anticipate the change in routine.

3.  Involve parents and families

Often the one constant for students between the regular school year and the summer, parents and families are crucial to establishing new routines for students over the summer and providing them with opportunities for learning. As a student’s teacher, you can work with parents and families before school is out to support them in preparing their children for whatever the summer may hold. A few ideas for how you can collaborate with families are:

  • Encourage families to reinforce classroom routines at home: Consistency between home and school is key to reinforcing learning. If you are doing a summer count down in class, for instance, encourage parents to do the same at home every morning before school. If you are using a picture schedule to teach a student about their new routine, provide the parent with a copy so they can review at home as well.
  • Help families build learning opportunities into summer routines: Collaborate with your student’s family to create a predictable summer schedule for the student, and build in specified times for learning into the schedule. For instance, if you are providing online activities for the student to work on over the summer, coordinate with the student’s parent to find a time in their daily schedule where the student will have access to a tablet or device so they can complete the activities.

Remember that advanced planning is key to supporting your student in the summer transition, and there are lots of simple things you can do now to make this transition easier on your students and help them maintain all the wonderful things they have learned throughout the school year.

On that note, happy summer! Enjoy yourselves. You deserve it!

 

Early Intervention and Beyond: Top 5 Tips for Teaching a Child with Autism

iStock_000028867426_XXXLargeAbout this FREE Webinar

Early intervention can be crucial in helping children with autism be successful in school and in life, but effective intervention can begin at any age. Teaching a child with autism can be easier than you think and fun for you and your child or student!  Whether you’re an educator, parent, or caregiver, there are practical things you can easily do to integrate effective teaching into your everyday routine. In this free, 60-minute webinar, Rethink’s Angela Nelson, MS, BCBA will discuss practical tips for educators and parents who want to learn more about how to effectively teach a child with autism in a fun and natural way!

Attendees will:
  • Gain practical knowledge on effectively teaching children with autism
  • Learn how to make teaching effective AND fun
  •  Learn easy-to-implement strategies for successfully motivating a child with autism

Wednesday, March 22nd, 12pm EST  REGISTER

Wednesday, March 22nd, 6pm EST  REGISTER

About Our Guest

Angela Nelson currently serves as the Executive Director of Family and Clinical Services for Rethink, conducting trainings for educators, therapists, and administrators on how to utilize Rethink’s platform as well as consultation and support on how to implement a robust platform such as Rethink in both small and large school districts.  She also provides consultative services to families utilizing the program as part of Rethink’s Employee Benefits program.  She has devoted her career to supporting children and adults with a variety of disabilities in their classrooms, homes, and communities for many years. Angela holds a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology and Counseling from California State University, Northridge, a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from UCLA, and is a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst).  Aside from her interest in Applied Behavior Analysis, Angela enjoys spending time with her daughter and husband, going to the beach, and playing sports.