By Andrew Hawk
The beginning of the school year is an exciting and busy time for teachers. Having just prepared for the beginning of my twelfth year as a teacher, I can honestly say that I am still just as excited as I was when I prepared for my first year. Being a special education teacher, sometimes my supplies list strays a bit from the typical list. Here are a few things that will help you set up your special education classroom this year.
All the Usual Supplies
You are going to need all the typical things that go on a classroom supply list: tissues, hand sanitizer, pencils, scissors, and so on. I have been fortunate at the schools where I have worked because my colleagues have offered to share the supplies their students brought in to start the school year.
Does anyone on your caseload receive occupational therapy for fine motor skills? Be prepared and pick up a pack of nice pencil grippers. These are also great for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), because grippers ease the burden on the numerous hand muscles required to write. I have had several students on the spectrum who focused so hard on forming letters that they had trouble simultaneously selecting words to write. Pencil grippers will also help your sloppy writers write a little neater.
Oral Sensory Rubber Sticks
Do you have a student who will not stop chewing your pencils and pens? Students from all exceptionalities (and typical students too) may crave oral sensory experiences. I suggest saving your writing utensils and purchasing some of these rubber sticks. They are referred to by a variety of names and come in many different shapes. A quick internet search will turn up all sorts of options. It has been my experience that these handy objects last for quite a long time.
Please keep reading! Yes, lots of teachers dislike fidget toys. Yes, if they are misused they will distract from your teaching. On the other hand, have you ever witnessed a student spinning scissors on a desk? What about tapping out a rhythmic beat with a pencil? Students will fidget whether they have a fidget toy or not. The fact is, after a certain period of time, students shut down. Fidget toys can be used to give students a two- or three-minute brain break that will improve their overall performance in your class. I recommend setting up a small station in your classroom with some sort of fidget toy or toys. If you do not want to spend a lot of money on this type of item, I have found that a bag of fuzzy pipe cleaners works just fine.
Yes, egg cartons. But be sure to wash them first. Next, randomly write the numbers one through twelve in the cups and place a single bead inside. It is now a random number generator! Have students pair up, hand out one egg cartoon to each pair, and tell them, for example, to practice the three’s multiplication table. One student shakes the carton and opens it. Whichever number the bead lands on is the other number for the multiplication problem, and partners race to see who can answer first. Have students take turns shaking and opening the carton. This is a fun alternative to math drill worksheets for helping students learn math foundation skills. I have only used it with multiplication, but it would work with other operations too.
I believe it is important for struggling readers to learn sight words. It is my experience that direct sight word instruction increases oral reading fluency, which in turn increases reading comprehension. The problem with sight word instruction is that it is boring to read flash cards and repeatedly write words. Instead, cover students’ desks or table areas with shaving cream and have them smooth it out into an even layer. Then have them use their fingers to spell the words you call out. It is a fun change of pace, and students who learn well in tactile ways will benefit even more. The shaving cream cleans up easily.
Alternative Seating Options
Alternative seating options are being used more in recent years as an accommodation in individual education plans (IEPs). Wiggle stools (or wobble chairs) work fine if you are okay with purchasing one. Exercise balls are cheaper but take up more room. In addition to these options, I have tried bucket seats from a van and sensory cushions. Some teachers provide multiple options and let students use different seats on different days.
Many students with ASD find discomfort in noisy parts of the school building, such as the cafeteria and gym, and a pair of noise-canceling headphones can help alleviate that discomfort. Even if you do not have a student with ASD, it’s nice to keep a pair on hand for any student who needs them.
The special education population typically has trouble estimating time, even short periods of time. A visual timer, such as Time Timer, works best for these students.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for sixteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
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