Spotlight Teacher of the Month: Maria DiMatteo

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School District: District 75, New York City
Classroom: Self-Contained Special Education Classroom
Position:  Special Education Teacher

In the fall of 2013, Maria DiMatteo was a part of a group of teachers selected to pilot Rethink at P352X, a group of five schools in the Bronx, NY for students with autism and other disabilities. She has found Rethink to be an invaluable tool, both enhancing her own instructional practice and helping to improve student outcomes.

“In my classroom it has been most valuable in terms of tracking data and seeing/showing a child’s progress,” Maria explained. “It has helped me to make adjustments in my approach to teaching.  When you are constantly looking at the data, and when a student’s progress has flat-lined, you really start to think about how to break a skill down into more teachable steps that a child can master, and then building on that.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 1.46.53 PM“Rethink is multifaceted … There is something for everyone working with a child who has autism.”

One of Maria’s most rewarding experiences was using Rethink to help one of her students and his mom with toilet training. Once she began looking at the lessons and resources for toilet training, she realized she was missing a lot of opportunities to help the student. “Even though you think you know it, sometimes we need to be reminded of the simple things that we forget,” Maria explained.

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After watching the Rethink lesson video for toilet training, Maria downloaded data tracking sheets, started using pictures and motivation boards from the Rethink site, and tailored a specific plan for her student. Het is now trained on a time schedule to use the toilet and is working on responding yes or no to pictures. “With this child, using Rethink made a world of difference,” said Maria.

Keep up the great work, Maria!

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New Year, New Beginnings

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Getting (and staying!) organized in 2015!

The start of a new year means new beginnings ­– a time to get organized and tackle new challenges. Many of us begin each year with ideas about amazing organizational systems we are going to try, which go right out the window once our students arrive. As I’m sure you all know, organization can make or break a classroom – especially in special education, and is even more crucial after a holiday break! In keeping with the theme of the New Year, I thought it might be fun to review some of my favorite organization systems I’ve both used and seen others use.

  1. Schedules, schedules, schedules!
  2. Schedules are pivotal for everyone – including students enrolled in special education. Not only do they keep a classroom running smoothly, but they teach students a truly valuable skill! Learning to follow a schedule (be it a simple first then visual schedule or a detailed written schedule) will help students gain independence and learn valuable life skills (schedules are required for many skills in life including using public transportation to being successful at work). Knowing what to expect during the day (or knowing about any changes in routine) might also decrease the occurrence of problem behavior in the classroom.

    • A Special Sparkle has a wonderful post full of examples of schedules and visual supports to support organization for students with special needs. Check out the Autism Classroom News post on setting up classrooms to learn about collecting data on IEP goals. The blog is geared towards working with students with autism, but the strategies can easily be applied to students with a variety of needs and abilities.

  3. Plastic Shoe Boxes, for the win!
  4. This is an inexpensive way to get organized & condense teaching materials! I have used these handy boxes to organize classroom materials; they are an excellent way to keep all of those loose crayons or markers in one place, and also prevent losing so many of them. Just tape a colored index card with the name of the item on the front of the box to clearly label each one. Students who cannot read can still easily learn the red box is for crayons and the blue box is for pencils. If they need an item, they can get up & retrieve the item from the correct box – increasing their independence, which is fantastic! It also helps students learn to sort items into the correct boxes. This is a great organizational skill to teach our students from a very young age.

    • Breezy Special Ed has great ideas on using shoe boxes to create Work Task Boxes. These boxes are a fun, creative way to organize lesson materials while increasing independence in your students. Each box contains specific items related to a skill. The students can pull a box from the shelf and work on a skill independently. My favorite has to be the french fry counting activity! Using yellow pipe cleaners to create the fries, you can obtain some french fry bags from a local fast food establishment, and viola! The goal is to place five fries in each bag. Simple and engaging! You can check out this (and other awesome Work Task Box ideas) in this post.

  5. Binge on Bins (and Folders)!
  6. Bins & folders are something you can start using right away! Simply place all lesson materials (and data sheets!) in the folder or bin. Use different colors, images, or words to differentiate each bin. Assign a bin to each student or to each lesson (i.e. a math bin or reading bin). Many of the teachers we work with here at Rethink use bins on a consistent basis. Our November and December posts highlight two teachers who have had great success using this system. Check out the articles to see these teachers in action!

  7. Let’s Not Forget Technology!
  8. Ok, we all know paperwork in special education is overwhelming. I remember sitting in my office one day and my shelves collapsing under the weight of my data and goal books. The sight of all of those papers flying everywhere still makes me shudder! The tremendous weight of that paper, physical AND emotional, can be eliminated with technology. Simplify your lives by collecting electronic data. Eliminate the clutter in your classroom; you will never need to panic again about losing a piece of paper!

    The calendar or schedule feature on tablets can also support your students. This skill is easily transferred to cell phones outside of school (great skill to share with mom and dad!). This teaches your student to stay organized, but is also less stigmatizing than a paper schedule for older students (especially when outside of the classroom). Teaching Special Thinkers provides several ways to use tablets to keep students organized. Even the use of a simple timer on the tablet can help students stay on task and know what to expect.

To learn more about things you can do to organize your classroom for success in 2015, join us for a FREE webinar on January 21st, Setting Up for Success: Best Practices for the Instructional Environment.

I can’t wait to get organized for the New Year! How about all of you? Use the comments section to tell us how you manage to stay organized throughout the year – we’d love to hear about it!

Jennifer Bessette is the Director of Professional Services for Rethink’s Small School Support Program. She has the pleasure of serving small and rural school districts across the United States. Jen has 15 years of experience in special education providing direct services, professional development, and research. She is excited to present at the national ACRES conference this March!

 

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Setting Up for Success: Best Practices for the Instructional Environment

Schoolchildren and their teacher reading books in class

Free webinar offering strategies for creating a classroom environment that is condusive to learning

The places in which we live, eat, work, and especially in which we learn matter-they shape us, and we shape them.  With limited resources in schools and spaces we don’t always get to choose, creating a classroom environment that is conducive to learning can be a challenge for any teacher. In this FREE 60 minute webinar, Rethink’s Jennifer Wilkens, MA, BCBA, offers best practices for setting up an instructional environment that is safe, fun, and optimal for student success.

Attendees will:
  • Understand more about how the physical environment affects learning
  • Learn strategies for the meaningful arrangement of space, furniture and materials in the classroom to support behavior and learning objectives
  • Get ideas for visual supports that can help set expectations and provide vibrancy and structure to your classroom

Wednesday, Janurary 21, 12pm EDT register

Wednesday, Janurary 21, 6pm EDT register

About Our Guest

IMG_0914Jennifer Wilkens, MA, BCBA, currently serves as a Director of Professional Services for Rethink.  She has worked in a variety of settings such as public schools and special day schools, as well as with healthcare service providers implementing home-based and community services. Her career began as a special educator where she worked as a resource room and inclusion teacher, as well as a classroom teacher for individuals on the autism spectrum. Jennifer has a passion for education and advocacy and has dedicated her career to ensuring that individuals with disabilities are fully-included in society and receiving comprehensive, effective, research-based services.

 

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Spotlight Teacher of the Month: Tamara Jackson

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School District: Ozark R-VI School District, Ozark MO
Classroom: 8:1:1 Self Contained Junior High School
Position:  Functional Life Skills Teacher

Tamara Jackson has been using Rethink in her junior high school classroom for 4 years now. She began by watching the Rethink lesson videos with her paraprofessional, Judy Dewitt, and has worked over the years to fully incorporate Rethink into her classroom routines. Each of her students has their own Rethink box with their Rethink activities and accompanying materials.  They work on any skills that they have mastered independently, with support from the classroom paraprofessionals, and work in stations that Tamara has set up to learn new skills.

Tamara's student's Rethink boxes

Tamara’s Rethink boxes

“When you get these kids, especially at older ages, it sometimes seems like they aren’t capable,” she told us, “then you have Rethink, it shows you how you can teach these kids, you start to see success, and it makes you believe in them.”

“I’ve seen improvements in my students I never thought possible”

One of Tamara’s most inspiring teaching stories of her career was teaching a 7th grade student to zip up his coat with the help of a Rethink lesson video.  When she met with the student’s mother at the beginning of the school year and asked what goals she had for her son that year, she just said that she wanted to see him zip up his coat.  No one thought he could do it, Tamara explained, the OT, other teachers–they had tried without success.

icon-teacherspotlightSo at the beginning of the school year Tamara watched the Rethink lesson video demonstrating how to teach the skill and started working on it.  “I never would have thought to break it down like that,” she said.  After about 2-3 months of working on the skill, he got it.  “Everyone told me it wasn’t in his capability, and then he did it!”

It was the student’s idea to film himself zipping up his coat as a Christmas present for his mom! When she watched the video, she cried.

 

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Autism in the United States. Can We Afford It?

Photo Courtesy of the US Department of Health and Human Services

Photo Courtesy of the US Department of Health and Human Services CDC

1 and 68 children in the US are now diagnosed with autism. Where did these staggering numbers come from? How will this affect us and our families?

By Roz Prescott

In 2001 we were starting to adjust to new innovations such as iTunes and Wikipedia and we were all shocked to hear that 1 in 150 children in the US were diagnosed with autism; but just 6 years later, in 2007, as we were reading our news on a new item called an iPhone, we discovered that the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 child in every 110 in the US. Fast forward another 7 years to 2014, where flying robots may soon be delivering our groceries, and the rate is now an astounding 1 child in every 68!

Yes, but this doesn’t affect me, does it?

The rise of autism affects everyone. One of the greatest impacts is that of the financial cost. Autism services cost U.S. citizens between $236-262 billion annually. A majority of costs in the U.S. support adults living with autism– $175-196 billion, compared to $61-66 billion for children. It is estimated by the Autism Society of America that in 10 years, the annual cost of providing services to individuals with Autism will be between $200-400 billion. It is impossible to imagine that this enormous and growing cost will not have an impact on the county and its citizens, whether it be higher taxes, an increase in government spending, or budget-slashing in other government departments to cover this pressing need.

How can we lessen the impact of Autism?

Simply put, early intervention! Getting children enrolled in quality early intervention programs at an early age when, developmentally, there is more of a chance for growth, and when there are more family and educational support systems in place can have an enormous impact.

The cost of lifelong care can be reduced by up to 2/3 with early diagnosis and intervention. It seems so simple, so why are we not all doing it? Perhaps it’s because we don’t know what questions to ask or where to get help. Most people also do not realize the financial impact autism will have on the country.

How can we learn more?

There are lots of programs and initiatives out there that provide great education and resources to help with early diagnosis so that treatment can begin as soon as possible.

  • The CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” program has joined with others across the federal government to promote developmental and behavioral screening through the “Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive” campaign.
  • Easter Seals, the leading provider of autism services in the US, has an initiative called “Making the First Five Count,” an advocacy and awareness campaign focused on helping children with disabilities get the treatment and supports they need in the first 5 years of their lives.

Call to action!

A united voice is necessary to ensure the provision of funds for early intervention services to all people in the US. If we succeed, we can help reduce the long-term costs of care that this country currently faces and will continue to face in coming years.

  • Easter Seals, has a petition you can sign to show your support for this critical need and they are gathering signatures from people all over the country. Sign the petition!
  • Autism Speaks offers advocacy links so that you can get more involved in supporting children with disabilities. Learn more!

Who will take a step to help the country meet this growing need? It seems to me that this is everyone’s responsibility. So please: reach out, learn more, get involved and let’s help ourselves out, by helping others out, and offer our support to the 1 in 68 children in the US who are diagnosed with autism.

 

roz_profileAbout Roz Prescott, MA,BCBA

Roz Prescott is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and one of Rethink’s Directors of Professional Services living and working in Florida.  She is originally from Wales, UK and has spent over 17 years working with children and adults with disabilities in diverse settings, including intensive psychiatric residential, educational, child welfare, and home and community.  She formerly served as the Senior VP of Programs for Easter Seals, Florida.

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Spotlight Teacher of the Month: Brandice Schofe

20141111_124419School District: Richmond County Public Schools, VA
Classroom: Self-Contained ASD K-3
Position:  Special Education Teacher

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Each of Brandice’s students has their own “Rethink” drawer

Brandice began using Rethink this school year. After attending a training in August, she began implementing the program with her classroom para one week later. Her strategy was to pick a few areas her students struggle with and add just a few lessons for each child. Brandice and her para set aside time to work 1:1 with each student every day, and use this time to work on Rethink lessons and take data. She has even built time to work on these lessons into the students’ schedules! The students know when it’s time to work on Rethink, and bring their Rethink drawers to the teacher or para. When they master a target, the students color in a block on their own data sheet. This strategy has helped Rethink fit seamlessly into the classroom schedule, and is also teaching these students the valuable skill of self-monitoring!

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Upon mastering a target, Brandice’s students fill out their own data sheets

 

“Recently, when he earned his stars, he looked at me and said, ‘you really do care about me.’ It doesn’t get better than that.”

 

 

icon-teacherspotlightRethink’s Behavior Support feature was especially helpful in developing a plan for one of Brandice’s students. Both Brandice and her para were able to watch the training videos to learn how to proactively address the behavior. The student is now making great progress! Brandice told us that “recently, when he earned his stars, he looked at me and said ‘you really do care about me.’ It doesn’t get better than that.”

Amazing work, Brandice!

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We Are Thankful for … You!

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The season of giving thanks is upon us!  In the spirit of the season, we have many new goodies to share with you as a special thanks for all that you do for your students!

measuring-ingredientsI.  Transition Curriculum Rethink’s new Transition Curriculum is here!  You can now log into your Rethink account to explore this amazing new curriculum and start helping your students prepare for life beyond school. The curriculum is split into five key domains:  community, home, social, leisure, employment, each domain including a library of lessons, task analyses, and lesson materials.  You can read more about this new curriculum here.

 

 

II.  New Resources we are always updating our site with additional resources to help make lesson planning and teaching easier for you and more effective.  Here is a list of some of the new resources you’ll find under the resources section of our website:

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  • Archived Webinars: If you missed last month’s webinar series, not to worry!  You can now find recordings of our most recent webinars on Collecting Data in the Natural Environment and Strategies for Integrating ABA into Group Instruction in the archived webinars section of our website (along with many other past webinars)!

 

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  • Data Sheets:  After small and large group data collection sheets were featured in last month’s data collection webinar, we received tons of requests to have these available on our website.  In response, these data sheets are now available for download under the data sheets section of the Resources page!

 

 

  • matching-wordsFlash Cards:  Because the goal is always for our students to generalize the skills they are building in the classroom, you can now download advanced word flash cards in different fonts and colors from the flash cards section of the Resources page!

 

 

 

  • lesson-plan Lesson Plans:  And finally, we have recently added a new lesson, Making Requests by Using Signs, which is now available for download in the lesson plans section of the Resources page.

 

 

 

 

II.  Other New Stuff You Can Expect to See:

  • The new “View Data” button on Data Express allows you to view lesson graphs and manage data as you collect it.Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 1.27.13 PM
  • Now when printing out your child activity center login credentials, they will be printed in a fun student-friendly format that students can take home to their parents!Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 1.24.50 PM
  • You can now export all student data to a CSV spreadsheet for easy uploading into your IEP system.Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 1.29.10 PM

If you have any questions about any of the resources or updates please feel free to reach out to us at info@rethinkfirst.com!  We value your feedback–updates like this could never happen without it!

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Learning and Sharing at Conferences around the World

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Rethink takes its message of inclusion abroad!

By Dr. Patricia Wright

Rethink values the opportunity to contribute to positive outcomes for all children. In October, Rethink was invited to present content about inclusive education in Moscow, Russia. The conference was hosted by the Naked Heart Foundation. The theme of the conference was Education with Purpose, with an emphasis on promoting inclusive education opportunities for students with disabilities.

The speakers at the conference included parents, advocates, and professionals from the fields of medicine and education. The tenor of each presentation was positive, each with a focus on how to improve the lives of children with disabilities living in Russia today. Success stories were shared, but this was followed by acknowledgment that unfortunately these success stories are not the norm for all children with disabilities.

One of the Russian presenters shared some great video footage of a young girl with significant physical disabilities who was popular at her school partially because of her very cool power chair. This type of story is true in the United States too. Each one of us engaged in supporting people living with disabilities has some great stories of success regarding former students­­–students who went on to college, became computer programmers, were homecoming king, and were invited to every class-mates birthday parties.

Unfortunately, the fact that we pull out these stories of success is demonstrative of the fact that this is not the experience of most people living with disabilities. Employment outcomes are not what we would hope. Many students with disabilities feel socially isolated and dating and intimacy with a disability presents unique challenges. We all have work to do to improve these outcomes. A quality education utilizing effective educational practices is one strategy to address the concerns.

Conferences are a wonderful place to share information, gather resources, and get energized about working hard and promoting change. Rethink presents at many professional conferences and attends others. We strive to learn from our colleagues and ensure that our work is dedicated to improving the lives of people living with disabilities. Together we can all promote positive change for those living with disabilities.

Patricia Wright Head ShotAbout Dr. Patricia Wright
Dr. Patricia Wright is Rethink’s VP of Professional Services and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Prior to joining Rethink, she was the National Director for Autism Services at Easter Seals, one of the largest social service providers for individuals with autism. Dr. Wright has a passion for education and has dedicated her career to ensuring that individuals with disabilities are fully included in society.

 

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There is a Life Beyond School

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Our new Transition Curriculum will help your students be ready for it.

While graduation rates for students with disabilities have steadily improved over the years, students with disabilities are much more likely to to be underemployed and underprepared for life beyond school than their general education peers.  When the nation’s special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), was updated in 2004, changes were made to the existing transition requirements to address this discrepancy, including new mandates requiring districts to provide more intensive supports for the increasing number of students with disabilities who were graduating from high school. One of these mandates was that by the age of 16, transition planning must be a part of every student’s IEP.  In some state’s transition planning is mandated to begin at the age of 14.

In order to address this need for more robust transition planning, Rethink has enlisted the help of renowned special educator and transition expert, Dr. Peter Gerhardt to help create an entirely new curriculum, launched last week, that teachers start planning for transition early so their students will be ready for life beyond high school.

I.  Getting Started

To explore the Transition Curriculum, navigate to your student’s lesson library, select the “Transition” tab and scroll through the different categories.  Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 11.37.56 AM

To add a lesson to your student’s learning plan, simply select the checkbox next to the lesson title and scroll to the bottom of the screen to select “add to plan.”

Once added to your plan, each lesson will appear in your child’s learning plan under the “transition tab”Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 11.51.59 AM

Each lesson will include a lesson plan, IEP goals and objectives, and lesson materials and/or a task analysis.

II.  The Curriculum

The curriculum is divided into five domains: community, home, social, leisure, and employment, each with its own library of lessons.

  • Community

Community lessons are aimed at helping students build the skills they need to function independently in the community, from using public transportation to eating and ordering at restaurants.

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  • Home

Home lessons will help students build skills toward becoming independent in the home environment.  This library will include lessons that help students with everything from cooking to personal hygiene.

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  • Social

Social lessons will help teach students skills to help them build and maintain positive social interaction with friends, family and people in their communities.  The lesson library includes lessons to help them do things like avoid unusual behavior, call when running late and accepting feedback and correction.

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  • Leisure

An important aspect of independence that often gets overlooked is ensuring that students leave school with the skills they need to enjoy themselves independently, whether this means playing a computer game or listening to music.

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  • Employment

One of the most significant way teachers prepare students for independent life outside of school is to prepare them for to be successfully employed.  The employment library will focus on helping students build the skills they need to get and maintain a job.

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III.  Recording Data and Tracking Progress

Like all Rethink lessons, Transition lessons fully integrate with Rethink’s data collection and progress reporting tools so you track your student’s success as they become increasingly independent and prepared for life beyond school!

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To find out more about how the Transition Curriculum and the other tools Rethink has to offer can be utilized at your school or organization, contact us at info@rethinkfirst.com

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Teaching Transition

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Helping Students Prepare for Life Beyond School

Effective transition programming for students with disabilities supports students as they transition from school into adulthood.  Skill development focused on employment, community-based instruction and independent living increases independence in adulthood.  Join Angela Pagliaro for this FREE webinar as she discusses the importance of preparing students to successfully participate in the community upon leaving school and how Rethink’s new Transition Curriculum can help! Angela Will address key strategies to help you:

  • Plan and organize for appropriate transition curriculum
  • Choose effective strategies for teaching transition skills
  • Plan for effective generalization opportunities for transition skills

Wednesday, November 19, 12pm EDT register

Wednesday, November 19, 6pm EDT register

About Our Guest

angelap_headshotAngela Pagliaro is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Rethink’s Executive Director of Services living and working in New Jersey. She has devoted the last 15 years of her life to working with children with special needs in residential and educational settings.

 

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