Using Seesaw to Monitor Progress in a Special Education Classroom

This school year I started using Seesaw, and I see so much potential in its application in a special education classroom, that I thought I should write a post about it.  First, I should say that I'm in no way being compensated by Seesaw.  I just want to share with you an interactive program that has many benefits for students with special needs.  I'm going to give you a step-by-step process to registering your account, and then I'll talk about some of the ways you can use Seesaw to monitor progress and update your parents on the amazing things that are happening in your classroom.

The URL for Sessaw is https://web.seesaw.me/, or you can just click HERE.  You will see their home page:


Click login in the top right corner, and you will be taken to a page that looks like this:


Click "I'm a teacher," and you'll be taken to the next screen:


You will first need to create your account, and you only need your name, email and password.  You can also register using your google account, which is easier if you already have a google account.  It is free to register.


Once you register, you will have a tutorial screen guide you through the process.  It's really easy, so I won't recap the information that the tutorial provides.


Once you've named your class, selected your grade levels and added your students' names, you'll be taken to this screen.  Watch the 2:28 video to give you an idea of how teachers are using Seesaw.  If you're curious and want to watch the video before you register, click HERE.

Your page will start out blue on the background with no pictures.  Your students' names will be listed in the right column.  I'm going to give you a few tips on how to customize your page.

To customize the color and picture on your teacher background, click the little wrench in the top right corner.  Class settings will appear, and you will see "Class theme."  Click here to change your color.  Below you will see "Class icon."  You can upload a picture of yourself, or you can upload a picture that symbolizes your classroom.  Seesaw also offers cute emojis.


As you can see, I've now changed my background to seafoam, and I added my picture.  Scroll down on Class settings, and you'll see "Manage students."  Click there, and you'll be taken to a screen that lists your students.  If you want to insert their pictures where you see their initials, simply click on their name, and then click "Icon."  You can select an emoji or upload a picture of your student.  In my class, I uploaded pictures of my students, but right now, I'll just use an emoji for my one-student example class.



You're now ready to start posting.  Seesaw lets you create folders, and I highly encourage you to set these up, as it's really easy, and once you begin using Seesaw with your parents, it'll help them to understand what is happening in each post.  Click the green circle with the white plus sign, and you'll see a menu open up.  Click the middle selection that says "Post to Student Journal."


You will see this screen.  Seesaw lets you upload pictures, videos, drawings, notes, links and files.  Choose any one of these to get started on adding your files.  You can add files directly from your computer, or if you want to take your picture or video on the spot, you can do that too.


Once your file has been uploaded, you need to click the green circle with the check mark on the top right to advance to the next screen.


On this screen, you can rotate, record, draw, label and add captions.  I think that adding a quick caption is always helpful for parents.


Once you add what you want, click the check mark in the green circle, and you will be taken to the screen where your students are listed.  I only have one student in this example class, but you will have a list.  Everything you post will be listed on your teacher post page, but parents will only see the posts where their student's name was selected.  If it's an announcement for all of your parents, of course, you'd click "Everyone."



You can now see that my picture has been posted, but it hasn't been put into a file.  I'm going to show you how to add files to keep your posts organized.  After you add your files, they will always pop up after the student names page when making a post.  So, you will always be able to easily add a post only to the applicable students' page, and you will always be able to quickly label it in a folder.

Under my post, you can see symbols similar to Facebook where parents can like or comment on the post.  On that row, there is a little file folder.  Click there.  A pop-up that looks like this will appear.  If you feel confident, just click "Create a Folder!"  Seesaw also offers a "Show me how," so I won't explain too much, and I'll get straight to the folders.


You can choose a different color for each folder, and at the top is where you will label your folder.  Once you create one folder, click the green circle with the check, and you can continue to create folders.  Although you can always create folders later, I think it's easy to initially add the ones you know you are going to need.  I'm going to show you a list of folders that I've found helpful.


I showed as many as could be seen in one screen, but you can customize your folders however you like.  Also, you'll see little green check marks next to each folder.  You want to make sure that you only check the pictures that apply to that particular post.  My picture has now been labeled with the folder School is Fun!  All of the other folders that I created are saved so that when I make posts in the future, I only need to check the folders that are applicable.


All of your posts can now easily be sorted by student and folder.  Parents can look at your posts and know whether it's a classroom activity or if it's an activity that directly supports their IEP.  On the bottom right of the screen is a link that says "Invite families."  Click here, and Seesaw offers you options for inviting that are all really easy to use.


Seesaw offers many other features, but these are just the basics on how to get started.  This is such an amazing site for special education classrooms for many reasons:

(1) Our students can have difficulty communicating their school day to their parents, so this empowers parents to open up a dialogue about their school day when students get home.

(2) Our students will benefit from their parents being able to reinforce the learning at home that they have been working on at school.

(3) If students are having difficulty with a particular goal, or on the opposite end, if they are showing significant progress with a goal, parents are informed of the different strategies, accommodations and modifications that are being used in the classroom to help students meet their goals.

(4) Students love seeing their pictures and videos on this site, and I've noticed that when they know that their parents are going to be seeing their page, they take the learning process more seriously.

I could go on with more reasons why I love this site, but I will leave you to explore on your own.  I hope this post was helpful, and have a great year!

Lesson Planning, 3rd Edition

Hello Middle School Teachers,

I know you're all deep into lesson planning now that it's week four, and I've had quite a few emails about a 3rd edition.  This 3rd Edition includes lesson plan templates for ELAR, Math, Science and Social Studies for each week of the nine weeks.  The editable templates will have important portions filled out for you.  Every plan includes:
  • TEKS
  • Instructional Terms
  • Supporting Concepts
  • Essence Statements
  • Prerequisite Skills
  • Critical Skills
There are places provided in the template for you to fill out based on your specific needs and materials available to you:
  • Communication/Speech Goals
  • Special Events/Holidays
  • Daily Activities
  • Leveled Differentiation
  • Embedded IEP Goals
  • Notes/Behavior Goals
You will be able to use the filled out portion of the templates as a guide to add your favorite activities to teach those skills.  Once complete, this will be a working lesson plan that you can also turn in to your administrators.  This resource will keep you on track to be teaching your students the prerequisite skills to the grade level TEKS, but remember, you still need to differentiate them based on your students' needs and the resources you have available to you.  They are NOT ready to print and go.

I want to point out that there are A LOT of prerequisite skills in the Curriculum Framework.  Adding these really made the plans quite long, but because there are so many different ways to teach the TEKS because our students are so different, I tried to find a happy medium:
  • For ELAR and Math, I used the 6th grade prerequisite skills, as there is little variation between grade levels.
  • For Writing I used the 7th grade prerequisite skills, as that's the grade that tests in this subject.
  • For Science and Social Studies I used the 8th grade prerequisite skills, as that's the grade that tests in these subjects.
Information was sourced from the T.E.A. website, and I included the links in the plans so that you can easily access the source material when planning.  I'll do my best to get these uploaded as close as possible to the transition of each nine weeks.  I hope these resources help to give you more time to spend with your students teaching, and I hope you have a fun school year!!

Click the picture or HERE to be taken to the TPT site.

Homework Checklist

Hello teachers!  I get a lot of requests for an editable version of my Homework Checklist.  When I reformat to make it editable, I lose some of the fonts that I'm able to provide in the PDF version.  So, I'm attaching both versions for you to download for free.  Have a great school year!


Click HERE for PDF

Click HERE for editable PowerPoint

Proud to Begin Another Year Teaching

This is the time of year when, as teachers, we have more responsibilities stacked upon us than we can possibly manage from sun up to sun down.  During this time, we break away from our own children who we've been able to spend quality time with during the summer, and they have to adjust to seeing very little of us.

It's always a tough adjustment, and during these times of year, I like to remind myself of the things that I love so much about what I do.  When I go to trainings in preparation for the new year, I'm surrounded by other special education teachers.  Without fail, if we're shown a video or photo of a student smiling, I hear gasps and ahhhhs in the audience of teachers feeling joy.  We're all in this together to see those students smile, engaged and loving school.  We are a group of people who find so much joy in our students, and that is why we do what we do.

So to start this school year, I want to share with you a letter that a parent gave me this past June.  She gave it to me in tears, she gave me a long hug that I didn't even realize how much I needed, and she didn't seem to want to leave until she saw that what she was saying to me was really sinking in.  When I let it hit me how much I truly love my students and how saying goodbye to them is like seeing your own child leave for college...EVERY YEAR...it was difficult to maintain my composure.

To my son's Angel,

How do you thank someone who has changed my son's life...forever?  My son came in as a 6th grader.  He wanted independence and to be liked by others.  But he couldn't.  He didn't have the skills.  He was inflexible, had poor planning and a high frustration level.


You took him in and taught him flexibility, limitations and self-control.  You did it firmly but with love.  It was just what he needed.  Oh, what a tough job that is!!!  Where did you ever find the patience and stamina??


Next, you taught everyone who wanted to help him how to do this best.  Time and again, he would be stuck in a class and you would step in.  You made visuals and schedules, sent emails and offered advice on how to help him the best.  You always worked to find a way through the obstacles and didn't give up.  You helped him succeed in his classes and gave him a sense of accomplishment.

You were constantly trying to figure out ways that he COULD be independent.  You seemed to always come up with a plan when it didn't seem possible.  You could have said no, but you knew how important it was to him.  And yet, you also taught him, unfortunately, we all have limitations.  You helped him realize that we don't always get what we want.  That is a tough lesson to teach.


You helped my husband and I have better parenting skills.  You taught us how to manage his frustrations, give him directions and direct him towards the goal.  The lessons you have taught us and the guidance of when to assist, when to stand firm, and when to let go are invaluable.  We will continue to use them.


And most importantly, you were his "safe space."  He knew you were always there for him when he needed help.  This was true when he was proud, frustrated or sad.  He was so comfortable with you, he would even come to you when he knew he was wrong and in trouble!

So again, how do you thank someone who has helped turn your little boy into a person who will succeed and become an independent person?  How do you thank someone who has given him skills of planning, flexibility, ownership, self-control and pride?


How does it feel to know you have changed one person's entire future?  I am not exaggerating.  Through the past three years, you have been the most instrumental person in his life!  I cannot think of anyone who has helped him more.  I have always said, God sent us an angel.  You will always be an angel in our eyes.


I am so sorry to say goodbye.  With unbelievable gratitude.



So, I proudly say congratulations to my students who are beginning a new journey in high school.  I will miss all of you, and I know that you will make your mark on the world in your own special way.

To my new students, I say welcome to your new adventure.  I'm going to build you a home away from home.  I'm going to constantly be learning from you, and based on that, I'm going to set my expectations just high enough to challenge you.  I'm looking forward to turning you into team players.  I want you to look beyond yourselves and see your value as members of our community.  I'll teach you that for every action, there is a consequence, and most of the time, consequence is a very joyful word.

You will be the biggest part of my life for the next three years, and I will honor your time.  It's not always going to be easy, and sometimes you will won't be happy about things, but like I remind myself with my own three year old daughter when she gets upset, we are adults, and we know what is best for you.  You are all going to succeed to the best of your abilities because we care about your success, and we're doing everything we can to get you there!  Welcome to my class.

Resources for Teachers

For all of you teachers who are already preparing for next school year, here are some resources that might help.  Many of the resources offer lesson plans, but I use these only as inspiration for my own plans, as each class is very different and requires a high level of differentiation.



This link will take you directly to Monthly Instructional Guides for teachers of students with significant cognitive delays (free downloads).



This link will take you directly to the special education services page where you can find multiple resources and training opportunities.




This link takes you to multiple resources on evidence-based strategies, as well as general, training, transition, statewide and national resources.



This link takes you directly to the Autism Speaks toolkits.  These are free downloadable guides that address multiple topics.



Provides resources to learn about exceptional children.  Links to teaching resources and strategies for working with students with special needs are also provided.


Other Resources to Help with Lesson & Activity Planning:



Use their custom materials and 25,000+ images to create your own Word and Powerpoint projects with no watermarks or other limitations.  You can also upload your own pictures into their templates to create projects like Get-To-Know-You Bingo, US Presidents Dominos, picture schedules, etc.  You have to register in order to download from this site (Free Unlimited Access for 3 Months, then $36/year).



Download free materials in multiple subjects, as well as social stories, ABA materials, flashcards, basic living/home/school/independent living skills, etc.  Downloads are free, but you must register with your email to access the resources.

Download nonfiction and literary articles, along with reading comprehension and vocabulary lessons, formative assessments and teacher guidance.  Downloads are free, but you must register with your email to access the resources.



This link takes you to a free application that allows teachers to quickly create checklists that students can use to monitor their behavior in the classroom.  No registration required.



Offers lessons in math, science, social studies and language arts.  Registration required, with free limited access or full membership.


Download lesson plans and access other resources.  Downloads are free, but you must register with your email to access the resources.



Adapted, age-appropriate literature (PDF and Powerpoint format) for grades K-12.  Free to download and no registration required.


This spring I was contacted by Sarah Brian from Forever Curious, a site that offers a curation of educational resources.  She sent me some links that you might find really useful:



Offers lesson plans that integrate website content about military life and world cultures with key concepts in Language Arts, Math and other subjects.



Financial lessons for students with special needs that include teachers' guides and student activities.  Downloads are free in PDF and Powerpoint formats.  No registration required.



Offers links to lesson plans that teach children not only about history and government, but also responsibility and citizenship.  You will find lesson plans and resources to help you teach about laws and contracts to your specific age range of children.  Some of the links require registration, and some do not.



Offers links to lesson plans that teach financial literacy.  Most of the links do not require registration, and the downloads are free.



Download free PDF files, lessons and materials that teach social studies skills.  No registration required, but you'll likely need to adapt some of the literature to be appropriate for many of your students.



Links to strategies, lesson plans and activities that teach students visual-spatial skills and organization.




Links to shopping and retail-themed lesson plans for educators.  Most of the links do not require registration, and the downloads are free.



Each class includes six sessions with a different produce feature and sessions are divided into two components: a tasting activity and a cooking activity.  The tasting activity introduces children to different fruit & vegetable varieties.  Next, the children prepare a recipe using one of the fruit & vegetable varieties for the cooking activity.  This is a free PDF download (269 pages).


*With the exception of the Monthly Instructional Guides that I reviewed and updated in the fall of 2016, I have not received any compensation from any of the above resources.

Hello 2017!


2016 was a very busy year, and although I've been actively writing activities, those activities have been living their purpose in the classroom without making their way to sharing mode.  For 2017, I decided to bundle my previously posted activities and post some new resources as well.

Because I'm a special education teacher, I always have specific student goals on my mind.  For this reason, I provide the goal for each activity.  Still, these activities can be used for IEP goals or simple classroom activities.  I hope these resources help support you in educating your students!!

Click HERE


Structured Learning Environment Classroom Reveal


Yes, it has taken me half a school year to get to my classroom reveal.  I saw the posts popping up in August showing the cute decor and stations designed with precision, and I too wanted to post the pictures of all of my hard work.  As a special education teacher though, I had to make adjustments faster than I could get the previous pictures uploaded.  As I got to know my new students, I had to make changes, and changes, and more changes.  Then came the activities and the meetings and the visuals, and here I am in December, finally sitting down to reveal my room.

When designing a room for students with special needs, it's very important to consider how your students experience the world.  This year I do not have any students who are prone to classroom destruction, so I'm able to have a lot more things on the walls and items out in the open than I was able to have in certain years.

Yes, it's a classroom, but it's also where I spend most of my day.  I'm the type of person who is affected by their environment, and because I'm blessed with the ability to design my work environment, I want it to be nice.  Still, I need to think about my students' needs.  I know from experience that there's nothing more frustrating than to spend too much time and money on a classroom that is not going to be somewhat maintained by my students.  So, I first have to think about the group that I have each year.  What are my students' needs?  What are their likes and dislikes, and what will make them feel at home and still be functional enough to support them in their educational goals?

The Entrance


I made a double-sided curtain for my door because I have a large window, and sometimes my students need a little more privacy.  Next to the door is my germ station where I keep tissues, hand sanitizer and bandages.  I also have an outbox for papers and other things that need to be dropped off around campus.  The stop sign is a necessary reminder for some students.  I also have two new signs of motivation this year; I like to think of these as our classroom mission statement:

"In Mrs. Morrow's class, we don't do easy.  We make easy happen through hard work and learning."
"In Mrs. Morrow's class, we help one another, try our very best, learn a lot, raise our hands, care and share, listen closely, make new friends, use manners, and have lots of fun."


Teacher Command Post


This is my desk area, although I never sit at it.  It's more of a command post for needed office supplies and important papers.

World Map


My fun new addition this year is a world map sticker that's on my dry erase board.  Over the large sticker are magnets of animals indigenous to each region.  The students love exploring it, and I love looking at it like a piece of classroom art.

Technology Zone


I have two classroom computers and two iPads in my room, as well as buttons, switches and tons of cords.  Students are allowed to bring their own earphones for when they're using the computer, and they keep them in the red bin between the computers.  In previous years I created systems for computer rotations, proper use of technology and communication aids for what sites the students were supposed to be working on, but I do not need those aids this year.

Sensory Area


This small area is very important to some of my students.  There is a small hammock swing, a mat, and an assortment of sensory items for the students to explore.  Students earn coins throughout the week and can buy time in the sensory area, and other students have it built into their schedule.

Morrow's Market


I set up this little Market Math area for students to practice their money skills.  Each item has a price taped to it, and I created word problems with pictures of the foods that the students need to find.  Students put the found items in their basket and then use the cash register calculator to find the total cost of their items.  They then use a dry erase marker to choose the correct cost of their items out of three choices.

Ready to Learn


Students each have a clip with their picture on it, and every day they start in the green, which means they are ready to learn.  Students who are on task and doing their best can move up the ladder to fabulous and extraordinary.  Students who are making poor choices, deliberately not doing what they're supposed to be doing or behaving in an unsafe way are moved down the ladder to make better choices or talk about a consequence.  I pay coins to students who move up on the ladder, and privileges are taken away from students who move down the ladder.  Each day, the students color in where they landed on their communication log so that their parents can know more about their day.

Wallets


I keep the students' earned coins in their "wallets," out of reach of most students.  It's important for them to see the coins they're earning throughout the day, but it's more efficient for me to keep them high in one place so that coins are not played with or misplaced.

Structure


This area really is the foundation of how we stay organized and on track every day.  This area includes our classroom schedule, classroom expectations, pacing calendars, scope & sequence, lesson plans, morning warm-ups and the students' mailboxes.  Under the mailboxes are bins for their backpacks and coats.  This area really provides me structure so that I'm able to efficiently and consistently provide the students structure.

Math Zone


In this area I keep all of my math activities and supplies.  It's very difficult to hang student work on cinder block, so I found these cork board squares on Amazon that have adhesive on the back.  I can now use push pins to change out student work much more frequently for display.

Reading Zone


This is where I keep my reading supplies, but I hung the students' science work in this area because it looked great.  I thought moving into a bigger room this year would solve everything, but I'm still managing to bust it at the seams.

Science and Social Studies Zone


Next to my big shelves that hold my science and social studies activities, I have an IEP activity tower.  I like to keep the specific materials for each student separated from my other materials so that I can easily find them when collecting data on a goal.

Station Rotations


I created this visual on the dry erase board for students to know where they are supposed to go when we rotate.  It's especially helpful at the beginning of the year or when I decide to change the rotations from what the students have gotten used to.  This system makes it really easy for me to move the students' pictures around and have to talk a lot less.

Work System Schedule


I have one student this year who started the year choosing not to work at all.  I knew I needed to put this student on a very clear work schedule, but the simple icons didn't work for this student.  So, I took pictures of each of the activities, with a picture of my USA rug where this student likes to sit for breaks as a symbol for earning a break.  I cut a pencil case and adhered it to the wall.  I taught the student to look at the symbols and understand that each symbol represented an activity, and that when the activity was complete, the symbol would be dropped into the pencil case, inching that much closer to a break.

After many weeks, we built work time up to twenty-five minutes before taking a break, and I've now been able to substitute the actual photographs of the activities to simple number icons that allow me to not have to change the schedule when swapping out activities.

Calm Place


This year I built a calm room in my classroom.  I've since added a colorful mat like the one in the sensory area, as well as two more bean bags.  I have a feather chandelier hanging inside, which is also another great sensory experience.  I have a CD player inside where students can listen to music or audiobooks.  I also have a planetary projection light and a multi-color laser LED light experience.  I made the calm room out of PVC pipe and fabric, and the students absolutely love it.  They work so hard for coins to buy time to spend in this area.

LED Light Experience


This is just one of the pictures of what it looks like inside when the music and lights are going.  I originally built this room for my students with visual impairments, but it has turned out to be a favorite place for everyone, including me!

Every year my classroom looks very different.  There were years that I just couldn't have so much stuff out, as I had students who required me to keep items high and walls minimal.  I also needed a chill zone which took the place of my calming sensory room.  Every year it's fun to get to know my students and get ready for the challenge of designing a room that will be just right for that group.  Because of my student population this year, I was able to create a room that is rich in textures, sound, and a nice balance of darkness and light.  Many students with visual impairments can still see light, yet they can be overwhelmed by too much light provided by the environment, and they need the light to dim.  This little room allows us to have the best of both worlds.