Sunday, September 18, 2016

Teaching the Tasks (part 3): Addressing the Questions We Ask When Designing Tasks

  • Does the task address the student’s educational goals?
  •  Is the task multi-modal?
  •  Does the task incorporate student’s interests and strengths?
  •  Is the task created using visual cues that will be meaningful to the individual student?
  •  Are pieces of the task organized systematically?
  •  Is the task designed so that the student can manage it independently?
  •  Has the student mastered the task?  

We addressed the first question in the Teaching the Tasks part 1 and the second question in the Teaching the Tasks part 2 . This entry will discuss the third question: 

Does the Task Address the Students’ Interests and Strengths?

Many of our students have difficulty engaging with a task and sustaining attention once engaged.  We find, if we incorporate their interests into our task designs, they are able to pay attention quite well.  Assess how easy or difficult it is to capture your students’ attention.  If they need help with this ability, determine both their interests and their areas of strength and how these could be used when working on their educational goals. 

To encourage a student’s participation for a turn-taking game with a peer, we added pictures of his favorite toys, Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.  While throwing the balls into the basket, he and his playmate stand on the pictures.  His interest in the characters increases the likelihood that he will join the game. Once engaged, however, he learns playing the game with a friend can also be interesting and fun.

This student had a special interest in cats and knew the names of most breeds.  We used this interest when creating a task to work on her filing skills.  She had to identify the first letter of the breed and then place the cat card behind that alphabet letter.

Many of our students have both interests and strength in letters and numbers.  This student did not like touching squishy textures.  By placing the texture (pudding) into a plastic bag and asking him to touch for the purpose of writing letters, he was willing to give it a try.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Creating Curriculum Activities for Classroom Units and Themes (Plus Sept. 2016 Task of the Month)

When we consulted in a specific classroom, we were amazed at the skills the students learned. Children we doubted would read because of their cognitive challenges read. Children we doubted would ever speak spoke a few words. We believed much of this surprising skill development was a result of how well the teacher integrated a monthly or bimonthly theme into her curriculum in all learning centers. Having a lengthy period for one theme allowed for the repetitive practice that the children needed.

The teacher would choose to present the theme primarily through a book that had repetitive lines and clear colorful pictures, whether the pictures were true to life photos or fun illustrated fiction. She also used accompanying books that emphasized vocabulary associated with the theme.

These words became the focus for expressive and receptive language and literacy skill development. In addition, she and her assistant would create multi-modal tasks and games that illustrated the theme within each curriculum area.

To help illustrate how to create a well-rounded collection of tasks based on just one simple unit of study we wrote a story book that supported a food theme and included vocabulary and concepts important for early learners. We had Michael Arrigo create clear and colorful illustrations. Triggy became the character in the book who had tough decisions to make about his food and drink choices.

Then to demonstrate how to integrate this food theme throughout the early learner curriculum, we put together our book Tasks Galore:  Literature-Based Thematic Units.

As a new school year begins, the September Task of the Month consists of two tasks from this book. The integrated approach to learning a unit or theme as demonstated in Tasks Galore: Literature-Based ThematicUnits represents a best practice for all early learners. We have seen the benefits of these useful strategies when we watched students gain new skills using a multi-modal approach to learning. Thus, we feel this approach is a very important one for educators of preschoolers and early elementary students to adopt.

The first task is in the vocabulary and language section in the literacy chapter of Tasks Galore Literature-Based Thematic Units. Children pick an action card, read the words, look at the picture, and pretend the action. This gives students practice reading the words they encounter in the story as well as an opportunity to generalize their reading to a new situation. Students demonstrate their comprehension of the words. Practicing the actions within other play scripts also helps generalize the vocabulary.

This activity can be taught during 1-on-1 teaching times, practiced during independent table times, and then provided to the students in a housekeeping or block center. We teach students how to both set up the activity and pretend the actions.

The second task is in the science - physical science section of the book.

Students take a food card and rank it according to the descriptions: “I like it best,” “It is OK,” or “Yucky, I do not like this.” They place the card beside their rating.

Young children and students with special needs often require that abstract terms be presented in concrete ways. Here, for example, the abstract word, “favorite,” might be more easily understood when a thermometer enables students to visualize the meaning. Because they primarily learn about their world through sensory experiences, abstract thoughts and intangible concepts are difficult to grasp. It is important, therefore, to focus science lessons around things that the children actually can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. As a result, they continually are immersed in science as they discover new and different ideas about how the world, themselves, and others work. Such discoveries enable science to become real.

Using this one simple story book there are sections in Tasks Galore Literature-Based Thematic Units on
  •  Literacy (Vocabulary and Language, Phonological Awareness, Knowledge of Print, Letters and Words, Comprehension, Books and Other Text and Source of Enjoyment)
  • Numeracy (Patterns, Number Concepts, Geometry and Spatial Sense, Measurement, Data Collection and Money)
  •  Science (Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and the Environment
  •  Social Studies (Spaces and Geography, People and How They Live, People and the Environment, People and the Past)
Each section has a wide array of activities and descriptions for differing cognitive levels within the context of the curriculum. Our hope is that teachers will be able to develop a multitude of curriculum activities based on their own current theme or unit of study.

The start of the school year is always a fun-filled time for students, families and teachers. We hope this book will serve as a wonderful guide to make learning fun and meaningful.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook for fun giveaways and sales. September’s giveaway will be the two-book set of TasksGalore: Literature-Based Thematic Units and the online sale for September and October will be for this book as well! So be sure to check it out! This sale will only be available on through our website.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Teaching the Tasks (part 2)

This Tasks GalorePublishing blog entry continues addressing the questions we ask when designing tasks:

  •  Does the task address the student’s educational goals?
  •  Is the task multi-modal?
  •  Does the task incorporate student’s interests and strengths?
  •  Is the task created using visual cues that will be meaningful to the individual student?
  •  Are pieces of the task organized systematically?
  •  Is the task designed so that the student can manage it independently?
  •   Has the student mastered the task?  
We addressed the first question in the blog entry on July 13, 2016.  This entry will discuss the second question: 

Is the task multi-modal?

Our Tasks Galore publications all demonstrate how utilizing students’ multiple senses makes a task more appealing, captures students’ attention, and enables them to remain focused until the task is complete.  Think of ways you can include movement and visual, auditory, and tactile sensations into your task designs.  

This student’s short term objective is to sort two different objects.  We often begin teaching an objective in an error-free manner – the car cannot go around the tube and the heart bracelet cannot go into the tube.  Hearing the noises, moving the objects, and watching them go in or around the tube engages several senses and make working on the objective appealing. 

We often take worksheets and turn them into more interesting multi-modal tasks.  These math worksheets were put into a loose leaf binder.  Children see the colors and shapes, feel the textured toy spiders, and move the materials about as they work on their counting skills.

Many of our students enjoy tasks they can do away from a desk.  This multi-modal task has students matching cut-out pictures to color + clothing words.  To work on this goal, they get to stand up, move about, and manipulate the clip.

This student is learning to spell words.  She chooses the container with the matching picture.  Inside, she finds the letters that will spell that word.  Next she attaches the letters in the correct order on the card.  We find designing multi-modal tasks leads to the students’ using many senses.  This type of involvement with the materials increases students’ engagement; thereby, enhancing learning.  As you begin to think about the upcoming school year be sure to consider how you may make student learning tasks multi-modal.  Challenge yourself and your staff to be creative and we promise you will see huge improvements in student learning!

Monday, August 1, 2016

August 2016 Task of the Month

Many of you are now thinking of setting up your classrooms for the first time or welcoming new students who have autism spectrum disorders or other learning challenges into your existing classes.

In our recent Tasks Galore Publishing blog on June 22, 2016 we described Listen & Collaborate, an excellent tool for interviewing families and care providers, so that we may learn all the wonderful information they have to share about their learner. We use this information to begin to set up our classrooms.

A valuable part of the discussion with families will be the importance of visual cues and in particular visual schedules. Our TasksGalore Publishing blog on March 27, 2016 described the benefits of implementing schedules for our students to aid in their understanding of the environment. Schedules also make transitions predictable for the learner thus eliminating confusion and the behaviors that may often go along with unpredictability. As always it is extremely important to align these visual cues to the learner’s developmental level just as we do our tasks. What is the child using at home, objects, sign, photos etc. to understand expectations? Our Tasks Galore Publishing blog on March 27, 2016 described the importance of using a visual schedule.

It is no doubt that this time of year our teachers are feeling overwhelmed! So along with our fabulous task ideas, classroom strategies, learning centers, etc. we have now developed ReadymadeVisual Schedules which meet a variety of differing comprehension levels. These schedules are printed on heavy cardstock and laminated for durability.

Using all of the valuable information gathered we will begin to set up our classrooms in preparation for the school year and then restructure as the year goes on. Once we meet our students in this beginning of the year situation, we must begin to teach and/or assess their approach to learning.

We notice
  •  whether our new students understand that they are to engage in a task of someone else’s choosing;
  •  whether they can sustain their attention to complete such a task;
  • whether they recognize when they are finished with a task; and
  •  how many tasks they can do in a sequence before becoming inattentive or restless.
It is important to have this information before expecting the students to learn new skills.

For students to be quickly successful with an activity, we design first tasks to capture their attention by including materials of interest. We create these tasks with “disappearing” materials so that the work is not taken apart once completed and the ending point of the task is clear.

This task has students dropping chips into water. Watching the chips float down is interesting to many of our students. This task does require that the chip be lined up properly to fit through the slit. If our students do not yet have this ability, we would restructure the task by using some other object with a lid opening that makes for an easier fit. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Teaching the Tasks (part 1)

Now that you have your students’ individualized schedules and work systems in place, it is time to start thinking about the teaching tasks.

When designing and presenting tasks, these are questions we ask:

·         Does the task address the student’s educational goals?
·         Is the task multi-modal?
·         Does the task incorporate student’s interests and strengths?
·         Are visual cues the task?
·         Are pieces of the task organized systematically?
·         Is the task designed so that the student can manage it independently?
·         Has the student mastered the task?

For the next few weeks this blog will discuss each of these questions. First is ensuring your task addresses a goal on the student’s individual education plan.

We use formal and informal assessments to determine our students’ present level of performance. (See 6-22-16 blog entry) We identify their emerging abilities and develop goals and objectives to teach independence with those skills.  We base our tasks on their goals and objectives. Look at your students’ individual educational plans and think about how to design meaningful tasks that will address their goals.

One of this students’ annual goals is to develop strategies and skills to comprehend text that is read, heard and viewed.  A short term objective to address that goal is to match photos/pictures to words. This task, designed to address the goal and objective, has the student matching color + clothing words to pictures. Packing the clothing into cases makes working on the goal much more interesting.

This task requires putting spraying one squirt of window cleaner on the numeral one or the red dot. This task addresses the student’s annual goal: develop domestic skills to assist with chores in the school, home or job site and its short-term objective: demonstrate 1:1 correspondence to complete a domestic activity. We think it is very important to merge academic or pre-academic goals with life-skill ones.

This student matches coins to amounts affixed to the small coin purses and places them inside. To aid his learning, he can use the “dictionary” as a reference. This task will address his long-term goal of understanding the concept of money and short-term objective of identifying value of coins. 

This task addresses the annual goal of reading with comprehension and the short term objective of making inferences. Using pictures from Just Grandma and Me by Mercer Mayer with some text deleted, students are asked to determine what a character might say.

Friday, July 1, 2016

July 2016 Task of the Month

We address theme-based words in multiple learning centers to guarantee that our students get much practice and repetition with the vocabulary.

Here the child practices using fine motor skills to string letter beads. By typing words, assembling words, writing words, etc., children better retain the information.

After a few weeks of our addressing the same theme that has been well integrated into the curriculum, we find many students add the words to their emerging receptive and/or expressive vocabularies plus know how to write and/or spell the targeted words.

Using story books that include the vocabulary also enhances this learning.

Further information about using integrating themes can be found in our 2-book set. This set includes a board book with a food theme, I’m Hungry, I’mHungry, What Shall I Do? and an educator resource book Tasks GaloreLiterature-Based Thematic Units. This resource book includes a multitude of tasks that address this theme across all curricula areas and classroom centers. You will be sure to want extra copies of the board book for guided reading!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Where to Begin?

We are often asked where to begin with our students.

You take a new teaching position or you get a new student in your class.  Where do you start?

Before making the initial decision about what to teach or what visual supports to use, you have to gather assessment information.

In the United States, before students can be placed in a special needs setting or be served using an IEP (Individualized Education Program), they will have already been seen by an assessment team that includes a psychologist, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, etc.

The first step is to study these testing results. Specifically notice the developmental levels of the student in each domain. Especially helpful are age levels or grade levels reported for the domain. If these are reported, you then use your knowledge of typical developmental norms or expectations for each grade to form an initial idea of each student’s functioning level.

You then know you will need to match your visual supports and goals and objectives to this level.  For example, if a student’s report shows a cognitive age level of 12 to 18 months, you will not assume he recognizes a picture or knows a picture represents an object or an activity. You would know to start with an individualized schedule of concrete objects.

In the US, each state differs in assessments required and how information is gathered. For example, in our state of North Carolina, the teachers must complete an informal assessment using a tool chosen by the school system within the first 30 days of school. They document the results and compare these to initial test results; thereby, having the most current information on the students’ developmental levels. Because the teachers collect information on each student’s skills quarterly and report these results to the state, they continue using the appropriate tool for ongoing assessment.

By doing your own assessment with the child using one of these tools or another, you get a first-hand impression not only of the students’ levels but also about how they react to a learning situation.

Teacher, Jennifer Matzuga, informally
assesses student’s imitation skills.
In addition, we have found the students’ parents to be excellent resources for assessment information. At Tasks Galore, we put together a resource called Listen and Collaborate, designed to be used in an interview with parents at the beginning of the school year to gain information and to set the tone for a school/home partnership. This questionnaire poses questions about home skills in areas such as listening, expressive communication, play, self-care, safety, etc.

Version 1 for Preschool/Elementary Students

Version 2 for Middle/High School and Adult Learners 

Teaching staff create initial tasks using the information from all of these formal and informal assessments.  Based on the assessment results that outline students’ cognitive level, fine motor skills, need for structure, ability to understand spoken word, visual skills, etc., teachers design visually clear and manipulative tasks that coordinate with the students’ beginning skill levels in those areas.

Teachers also use informal, teacher-made observational assessments as they present the tasks. They watch their students work with the materials and see how they approach the specific tasks. They will then restructure the task to meet the child's needs, teach the task, restructure again if needed and teach again until mastery.

Once mastered the students "practice" the task away from the teacher to be sure that they are doing this task independently. Finally the task is placed into the general environment, such as a classroom center.

After this mastery, the teacher presents a new task that coordinates with the next level in that skill area.  Thus, teachers need to know the sequence of steps in a skill area, such as counting, recognizing letters, putting objects into containers, cutting, etc.

Our Tasks Galore books help with ways to adapt tasks so that they are visual clear and individualized for students.

There are great online resources as well as trainings through TEACCH at The University of North Carolina.