Thursday, February 18, 2016

Twinkl the Great!

Do you find yourself trawling the internet month after month looking for inspiration and resources?
If so, you are bound to have come across Twinkl.

Searching through endless websites, Pinterest boards and blogs can be exhausting and if you're anything like me, you get completely side-tracked and end up ordering 10 packs of laminating pouches and a hot glue gun 'because it was 20% off and they'll never go to waste!'

Luckily, I found Twinkl soon after leaving college. Don't get me wrong, I still trawl through Pinterest and multiple blogs, many of them by Irish teachers, for inspiration and ideas. But when I need a resource for a specific topic or book, Twinkl is my go-to website.

I have so many reasons why I love Twinkl but in typical teacher fashion, I will categorise my reasons into three areas :)  
Classroom Management, Irish Curriculum-based and Inclusive Resources

Classroom Management

At the beginning of the year, Twinkl is great to take the bare look off your classroom walls. 
Their Classroom Management section contains a wealth of resources that are everything you need setting your classroom up to be a well managed, organised environment.
Now that I have been in SEN the past three years, this area is probably the one I use most, mainly because I need clearly defined areas and organisation, particularly when I was working with children diagnosed as being on the Autistic Spectrum.

Irish Curriculum-Based

I think it's great to see so many resources suitable for use in Irish Primary Schools. 
For so long, Irish teachers would find an excellent resource but then have to try to figure out if KS1/KS2 Pre-k etc would be applicable to their class grouping whereas now all you have to do is click Republic of Ireland Curriculum and off you go! I don't currently teach Gaeilge but since leaving mainstream classes three years ago, the amount of really good Gaeilge resources has soared and it's great to see!

Inclusive Resources

Unless you have worked in the area of Special Needs or suddenly found yourself with new child in the class that has Special Needs, you won't know how difficult it is to find resources in this area.When I began working in an ASD class three years ago, I didn't know where to start. If you type Autism Spectrum Disorder resources into Google, you are bombarded with an overwhelming amount of information, most of it coming from American based websites which may not tie in with the Curriculum or may not suit your children's specific needs. Again, you just have to trawl through until you find what you need.
With Twinkl however, they make it so much more accessible.
When you click on the SEN tab, you can choose what type of resource you need and get brought to those resources straight away for you to browse and download.

I am currently working in a Severe/Profound classroom and I knew I was going to find it difficult, even on Twinkl, to find resources suited to my class as each child in my class has such profound needs and differing abilities. 
But that's when I found Twinkl Create

It is a relatively new tool that allows you to make your own, personalised resources using an easy-to-follow tutorial. It's a great addition to the site and makes it even more inclusive of all ages and abilities.

I highly recommend Twinkl for any teacher wanting to add some life into their classroom, inspire their children and save your wallet from any unnecessary purchases! 
(The hot glue gun is still in it's box )

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Trouble with Transitions

Transitions can be difficult for many children.

Many children experience feelings of anxiety around transitions. This can present itself differently in each child. Some children may present as feeling slightly anxious and communicate this verbally or through behaviour, some may have a full on meltdown. 
It all depends on the child; their needs, abilities and even how they are feeling that day. 

Here are some transitional areas I have witnessed children feeling anxiety around:

  • Home to school
  • Travelling from the bus/car to the classroom
  • Going to and from the bathrooms 
  • Moving on from one activity to the next

Within each of these areas there are multiple reasons why our children might feel anxious and/or frustrated.
Here are some examples I have seen:
  • Home to school: This can be an area of transitions that causes huge amounts of stress for our children and their caregivers. Before they even get to the car or bus, there is so much to be achieved. Getting washed, dressed, eating, any extra health/physical needs that need to be attended to.  
  • Travelling from the bus/car to the classroom: Now that the morning routine has been completed, the children now have to go to school with a full day of learning ahead! Sometimes, the events of the morning leave our children feeling ready to go straight back to bed so when it comes time to get off the bus and/or leave parents/caregivers, it can all just be too much.
  • Going to and from the bathrooms: Depending on toileting needs and where the bathrooms are situated, this can cause issues for some children. For children that are independent with toileting, they simply may not feel like going to the toilet and don't want to have to walk to the bathrooms if they don't need to go! Understandable? Yes! But for our pre-verbal children, their negative reaction to toileting may come across as avoidance.  Other children may find waiting a difficulty here also.
  • Moving on from one activity to the next: This area I noticed, was the area which caused the most anxiety for my children. If the activity they are doing is a preferred activity and the next one is non-preferred then it's quite understandable why they might not want to move on! Or perhaps, they weren't quite ready to finish playing and weren't expecting it to end so soon!
The thing we need to focus on is that the child has a genuine reason for feeling like this. We need to ensure all bases are covered so that there we have done everything we can to ensure that the child will not experience anxiety.  Easier said than done you say?! Well in my opinion, prevention is the key. Help prevent any anxiety occurring by using some of the strategies mentioned below and frustration levels should be at a minimum.

Timers are fantastic in all educational settings, but an absolute must in SEN environments. Many children are visual learners and so when you tell them they only have a few more minutes of 'Free Play', it may not mean much. If you place a timer in front of them, the words take on meaning and become concrete. They now know that when all the sand is gone/the buzzer sounds, then time is up! 
Timers are also great for children that find waiting difficult. Sand and/or liquid timers can be used as a calming visual while the child is waiting. 
Here is a link to a website boasting an extensive range of 

Verbal Reminders:
For our more verbal children verbal reminders can work very well. As the child is enjoying their activity and/or completing any classroom task, you can gently remind them they need to finish soon and/or time is nearly up. Even something as simple as telling the child how many turns they will have at the beginning of the activity can help prepare the child for the approximate length of time they will be doing this particular task.

Schedules as discussed in a previous blog post help the child to see how many transitions they will have and where they will be going for each one. Visuals like Now & Next can really help also as it sets out a clear instruction for what is expected. This can be used as a motivator also e.g. Now-work Next-toy. Now the child knows what they are working for. Here's a link to free visual aid on Twinkl:

Another useful visual is a 'wait' card. This can be handed to a child when they get to an area that you know they are going to have to wait. It can be used in conjunction with a timer to help the child to understand how long you expect them to wait for.

Fidget toys:
They are so many fidget toys that are suitable for classroom use. They are great as a reward after work, while sitting in a group discussion, while waiting, walking to another classroom etc. 
Not: If they are being used while other children are working, it is good to consider that they may be a distraction for others if they are noisy/light up etc. It depends on many factors of your own classroom/children.
Sometimes, if a child needs to get somewhere in the school, you can give them something to 'bring' to that room e.g. a book/note for the teacher/visual of where they are going, so travelling there has a purpose.

All images of fidget toys are from this great website Sensational Kids

Thursday, August 13, 2015

education, radzad, school icon

So, you're heading into the world of Special Education but don't know where to begin? Don't stress, read on!


Setting up a new unit?

Be sure to check out the SESS Support Page. They can provide excellent support for newly established units.

Taking over a previously established unit/classroom?

In this case, things can be a little easier as regards the first few days.There's nothing worse for a teacher than feeling unprepared!
The classroom should be pretty well organised as regards physical space and layout but of course it is up to you how you want your classroom arranged! There also may be a timetable already in place. Ideally, for our children diagnosed with ASD, try to keep a similar timetable ,even for the first few days back, just to provide some predictability for the children after the long summer break.

Some key areas to consider:

Classroom Environment

If it's a thing that you have to and/or want to rearrange the classroom, have a look at my Facebook page where I shared a link about the importance of the classroom environment.

Physical Space:

A horseshoe table like this one I saw on an Irish furniture website can be a great addition but not a necessity. It gives the teacher and pupils a clear view of each other and the opportunities for interaction and communication are great with this seating plan.

Clearly defined areas is an essential component of the physical environment. Whether you use the large movable partition boards like I had, or if you use furniture to divide parts of the classroom, it is helpful to be able to designate areas of the classroom to specific tasks and/or to minimize distractions for children while working. This image from The Autism Helper displays how you can use furniture to designate areas of the classroom. These divisions also provide extra storage which is always welcomed!

Visual Supports

In my old classroom, we ensured we had strong visual cues so the children(especially children new to the school) start to understand what is expected of them in certain areas of the classroom. For example, foot print templates on the floor near the door where we would line up to leave, have a spot on the floor where we want them to sit etc. Their photograph would be stuck on their chair/table/coat hook. The more the children understand their environment, the more comfortable they will feel. 

Schedules, as seen in the photo to the left from Pinterest are also important, especially for any children who like routine, need predictability, get anxious about transitions etc. Here's a link explaining a bit about schedules. In it's most basic definition, a schedule is a personal timetable for each child, sometimes personalised with a photo and/or favourite colour which uses images to explain what the child can expect from their day. The schedule on the left is a home schedule of a morning routine.

Wall displays
In general, good advice suggests minimal displays in the classroom to reduce distractions. I had some a simple 'colours' display and that was about it apart from our Circle Time posters i.e. day of the week, month, weather.

So, in my opinion, if you have some of the above ideas implemented, it will be a great start to creating an inviting, nurturing classroom, which your children will be happy to come to each day!

My advice for new teachers in Special Education for September:

  • Get to know the children. Don't just see their disabilities, see their abilities. What do they enjoy? What motivates them?
  • Use free play to find out what the children like to do when they can choose for themselves
  • Use sensory activities (water,sand, shaving foam, noisy toys, light-up toys etc) to find out likes/dislikes
  • Apply for any courses you are interested in early, they fill up fast!
  • Sit back, and observe! If you can, get the children engaged in a task/activity/game with other staff or SNA's and just watch. See how the child engages, interacts with the activity/other children/staff/their environment. You would be amazed how much you can learn by just stepping back and allowing the child to reveal their personality to you.

Final note:

When entering into the world of Special Education, it can be daunting and overwhelming if it's new to you but remember you are only human. We all need time to learn and adapt to new surroundings and develop new methodologies and practices. So give yourself a break and enjoy the exciting, rewarding world of Special Ed!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your teaching experience:
I am a Primary School Teacher from a small village in Roscommon. I began my teaching career in Dublin, subbing in a variety of schools and a mixture of class levels. I then had 3rd class girls for my Dip year followed by two years in an ASD classroom. It was here that I began to really develop my interest in Special Education

What class level are your resources/ideas aimed at?
I am so new to this world that I have yet to share anything yet! I hope to share resources and ideas related to ASD and/or Special Ed classrooms but if I came across an interesting article/idea related to another class level that I though was worth sharing then I certainly would do so!

What made you want to start blogging?
While teaching in my ASD classroom, I would trawl the internet looking for ideas/resources/support for Special Educational resources. I would come across excellent blogs/websites like It's Always Sunny in SPED and The Autism Helper. While looking for resources I would use sites like File Folder Farm. While all of these were so helpful and gave me great inspiration, they were aimed at children in the U.S, using vocabulary that would not suit, so often I would have to edit the resources. I wanted to develop a platform for resources/ideas that are based on the Irish education system, using vocabulary that Irish children use/need everyday. 

Would you advise other Irish teachers to start a blog?
I think it is a great way to share ideas so why not! I have wanted to start a blog for a while and when I had some spare time this summer, I just went for it. It's still all early days but hopefully it will come together in the next few months. When I see things like this Blog Hop happening, it spurs me on to keep going. It's great to have support of other Primary Teachers as we all embark on our own educational journeys. Watch this space for more updates in the coming weeks!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Dipping my toe in the Special Ed world...

It was September 2013, I was starting my first week as a Special Class teacher in an Autistic Spectrum Disorder classroom. I had two years previous teaching experience. One year subbing in various schools across all levels, and my Dip year was spent in an all girls Third Class. So needless to say, I felt like I had been dumped in the deep end!

Luckily, I had two excellent SNA's who had worked in Special Ed for many years and without them I really would have been drowning. They guided me through the timetable, demonstrated management techniques suited to each child's needs, and explained the importance of simplifying language and directions. Sounds like common sense but I needed to ensure that my SEN children could understand what I was asking of them! 

For two years, I had been so accustomed to delivering three or four instructions to a class while taking the 'rolla', opening the windows, and powering up my laptop at the same time. This was different. I had to be different. I soon learned that if I didn't drastically adapt my teaching methods, I would get nowhere. 

Thankfully, I didn't have to start from scratch. The previous teacher had left a timetable template, lots of resources and of course the last year's IEP for each child. 

During the summer, in preparation for my new role in an ASD classroom I had researched autism, the characteristics, the educational needs and/or difficulties that can present in the classroom, but I figured out pretty quickly that I had to put aside the theory until I got to know each child and their personality. Of course the theory is helpful for background knowledge but as I once heard on a course 'Once you've met an autistic child, you've met ONE autistic child'. While children diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum disorder may present with similar traits, each child is unique and needs to be treated that way.  If I couldn't relate to each child and start to get to know their personality traits, likes and dislikes, I would never be able to help them to reach their potential. 

Changing my teaching style and methods was probably the most challenging aspect but seeing my children excel academically and socially while enjoying their daily life at school made all of the effort worthwhile. 

I hope to use this blog as a platform to share the ideas, resources and methodologies I have come across during my time in Special Needs Education in Ireland.