* Color your world desert sand…

… And have fun with programming at the same time!  This is the game board for a ThinkFun game for preschoolers called Robot Turtles.

Robot TurtlesIt’s never too early to play logic (aka coding) games and if you are trying to steer clear of screens with your younger ones or even introduce the joys of hands-on games to older kiddos, ThinkFun is a terrific resource.  A local toy store keeps us supplied with some of their classics, but you’ll probably have to go online to check out their wealth of problem- solving games.  The availability of non-screen games is shrinking, so it’s ironic that you need your screen to purchase hands-on fun.

I highly recommend ThinkFun as a source of individual and group entertainment, with brain challenges galore.  Does your kiddo have social skill challenges?  The structure of a group game can provide a satisfying, well-defined opportunity to engage with others.  Try Escape the Room mystery game (ages 10+). where you are transported back to 1869 to save a local astronomer.  These games are terrific for parties as well as family night fun.  Have a long car trip in your future?  ThinkFun has a number of fascinating 1 player games, too.

Thanks, Jennifer Nicole Wells, for your Color Your World challenge featuring desert sand.

* Christopher and me: tools for replacement behaviors

If you’re new to this series, Christopher is my nephew with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder, aka A Sweet Dude).  We work on academic and social skills, along with shaping his behavior towards more mature responses to frustration.

Here’s the big idea:  You cannot “modify” all maladaptive behavior out of existence.   And not all “maladaptive” behavior is actually maladaptive.  One example is finger sucking.

Finger sucking:  Christopher has been sucking his fingers since he was an infant.  It provides him a sense of comfort, and as he approaches his 11th birthday, is quite an ingrained habit.  His teeth protrude somewhat as a result of this habit and his saliva now covers most surfaces in our house.

Replacement behavior:  No matter what we do right now, Christopher is going to put something in his mouth.  A more age-appropriate replacement is sucking on the end of his pencil.  After purchasing pencil toppers from Therapy Shoppe and watching him chew them vigorously at times, it’s obvious that finger sucking provides needed sensory feedback.  His guardian adapted one of them to fit on a necklace since Christopher would run around with a pencil sticking out of his mouth.  The necklace is not quite as subtle, but significantly safer and readily accessible.


The next challenge is supporting Christopher in his regular classroom.  He’s a sweetheart in a one-to-one setting but can drive teachers nuts in a large group.  Does he deliberately sabotage classroom environments?  Not at all.  He’s a rule-follower who does his best to please, while working towards his idea of school goals (primarily, survival).  His “disobedience” is a signal that he needs some modifications to his schedule and workload.  More to come!

* Segregation or association of like minded people — Lessons from my daughter

This dad writes about the value of finding friends and sitting with them at lunchtime, even if all the friends have special needs.   Teachers in elementary (and many middle schools) have more leeway in helping kids include one another, so please take advantage of that while you can.  And yes, that may include kids with challenges ALL sitting together.  

Originally posted on Lessons from my daughter: In a high school cafeteria. Why is it that a table of football players is just that! A table of guys who play football together, they share a hobby which makes them spend time together so at lunch they sit together. Same goes for the cheerleaders. And so…

via Segregation or association of like minded people — Lessons from my daughter

* Qzzr

question mark

I am exploring Qzzr as a potential tool for educators.  Qzzr touts itself as a quiz creator that can make big bucks, but we know that teachers aren’t in it for the money, right?  My dearest widower calls the start of every school year “The Great Everson Giveaway!”  Now that I am sorta retired, my giveaways are on a year-round schedule.  Don’t remind him….

Back to Qzzr.  It’s free (and easy) to join and for what I want, I don’t need to upgrade my account.  I can make unlimited quizzes and get aggregate data for free.  I decided to create a quiz for bloggers and hope to test it on all of you this weekend.  In the meantime, I will say that even a techno-klutz could make a decent quiz on Qzzr.  Yeah, I accidentally deleted something and am waiting for a bit of tech help, but I am well into the process.

What kind of quiz would I create for students?   A learning profile would be a snap.  Qzzr also has the potential to help kiddos with social skills, such as surveying students’ understanding of how to talk to others, make and keep friends, and do well in school.  Qzzr helps the artistically challenged (like me), providing sufficient support, media, and tips so I look smarter than a fifth grader.

How does Qzzr work?  Take ten seconds to register, watch an intro video, and follow the steps.  You create outcomes, questions, determine answer choices and weight, and you’re off to the races!  Qzzr provides online support through a learning center and as I noted, will respond to desperate email requests for assistance.

Be sure to check back for my first quiz.  And it won’t cost you a penny!



* Everything I know, I learned from…

Speech Therapists!  That’s a slight exaggeration, but not far from the truth.  I have been blessed by the advice and mentoring of many excellent speech and language pathologists.  Why has their advice been so crucial?  They understand and work at the deepest levels of understanding, helping kids process information.  Speech therapists demonstrate how systematic and carefully sequenced instruction transforms language, which is at the core of most academic and social learning.

It was a speech therapist who first shared the TOPS 3 Elementary Tests of Problems Solving with me.  This test assesses critical thinking based on students’ language strategies, logic, and experiences.  For students with dyslexia and those on the autism spectrum, these language-based skills are sometimes assumed to exist and therefore receive cursory instruction.  For this reason, I’ve used the Tasks of Problem Solving workbook by Bowers et al. for social skills and reading comprehension instruction (see related post), as well as for specific skill remediation.

Tasks of Problem Solving

This workbook includes a description of the following skills with useful tasks of increasing difficulty.  Many of the lessons include visual cues (or these can be easily created).  It is quite simple to adapt any lesson to student interests and needs:

  • Identifying problems
  • Determining causes
  • Sequencing
  • Negative questions
  • Predicting
  • Making inferences
  • Problem solving
  • Justifying opinions
  • Generalizing skills

One caveat: Years ago, after observing me in the classroom, a speech therapist strongly advised me to speak more s-l-o-w-l-y.  I’m still working on that skill!

* Bloody Hearts

hearts-28421_640My husband has gone through a number of widower seasons.  His teacher widower condition has been permanent, but he eventually qualified as a gaming widower.  I blame him entirely.  I mean, we used to play games, word games which I could handily win since he is the strong, silent type.  What a wimp!  At the first mention of Scrabble, he’d break out in a sweat and run for cover.  The real trouble was his foolish preference for card games.  OK, I admit that I can’t stand to lose AT ALL and card games make me dizzy.  My brain is wired for words, not hearts.  We had a perfect standoff so he became a gaming widower.

When our son, M, came of gaming age, we began a new phase, starting with Star Wars Monopoly.  I was always Princess Leia, who pouted when she observed that my husband and son always came in first and second.  Poor Leia, dragging behind in third place, had to be carried along with generous loans from the bank and Han Solo.  Having gotten sick of Monopoly, I foolishly introduced our teaching orphan to a number of card games.  I’m sure you can appreciate the sacrificial love on my part.  Sadly, M was just like his father.  Our little math whiz could beat me without effort in any card game.   Being an experienced teacher who understands the effect of distracting environments, I started switching on the the Weather Channel while M and I played in front of the TV.  Our geek son was fascinated with weather maps and hale meteorologists standing at the edges of hurricanes.   My winning-to-losing ratio improved, but my husband must have smelled blood, because he joined us.  We morphed into a card playing family with me as a wary, weary participant.

The guys’ favorite game was hearts.  Bloody hearts. Two card counting maniacs who barely smothered their glee as I tried to collect all the hearts, only to have one of them “eat” a heart on the last hand.  “You didn’t realize there was a three of hearts out there?”  “Well, Mom, when you played that 8 of clubs, I knew exactly what you what you had left in your hand.”  I didn’t even know what I had left in my hand!  I was smeared in every game.  They grinned as I went down in flames.  Drawing upon my years of teacher wisdom, I became petulant and manipulative.  You want me to play?  Then you’d better let me win. Tears didn’t phase them.  Anger rolled off their backs.  I drew a line in the sand: If you don’t let me win, I’m not playing.  Did I mention that I teach social skills?  My husband and M became gaming widower and orphan.  And I could always beat the socks off my students, if I needed to.

Fast forward to M meeting A, falling in love and marrying the perfect daughter-in-law.  She’s sweet, bright, has excellent social skills, and loves us, of all things.  Smooth sailing until we discover that A is a gaming addict.  Stay tuned for more bloody hearts.

* B is for baseline

Blogging A-Z:  B is for baseline.  I spend a lot of time figuring out a child’s baseline in order to start teaching a skill and to continue moving forward with effective instruction.  A baseline is the current measure of where a student is performing.  Let’s examine social skills baselines for this topic.  We’ll look at some problem behaviors and use baselines to determine where to begin intervention.

Bobby is described as a difficult kid in class.  His teacher reports that he is disruptive in group activities, pushes in line, tattles constantly, and always wants things done his way.  

Yikes.  If you hear that description, you might wonder how on earth you would start to intervene.  First, you’ll need to get past the vague terms like “difficult” and “disruptive.”  (Drat, I should have saved those for D.)  Let’s assume that everyone in this setting really wants the best for Bobby and is not looking for a way to oust him from the room.  I have talked to the teacher and after questioning, know that Bobby interrupts others when they are talking, is somewhat clumsy and trips when he moves around the room, and seems oblivious to his peers when they talk.  I’d begin with an observation of Bobby, using a checklist like the one below.   Each row represents 3 minutes of observation, with a tally for each unique behavior.  The class was in a group discussion and then transitioned to lining up for specials.checklist 1

In reality, this wouldn’t be an adequate baseline because it only represents a narrow range of time, settings, and behavior.  However, for the purposes of this post, I now have a way to measure future growth after some social skills intervention (yes, he will leave the classroom for that).  I would start with instruction in conversation skills and group interactions.  I’d provide some kind of classroom prompts for personal space issues and moving slowly.  Bobby might respond well to a system that allows him a designated number of responses.  He could have 4 coins or counters and use them strategically to interact in a group discussion.  After he has “used” his counters, Bobby would have an opportunity to earn more by listening and looking at others.  Once I have a baseline of observable behavior, I can measure growth and identify next steps.

* Check out Chapel Hill Snippets

chapel hill snippetsChapel Hill Snippets is a marvelous blog full of special ed freebies, wisdom, and insights by Ruth Morgan, a speech-language pathologist.  Ruth is an experienced, generous, and kind lady who has helped me numerous times and continues to let me “borrow” a plastic fish from her (it’s a long story!).  I especially like her post on using the following video to teach perseverance in a social skills group. social skills from Ruth

Chapel Hill Snippets has an incredible array of resources to download for FREE.  You will also find helpful tutorials on using an iPad and other technologies.  Her article on iPad word walls is excellent advice for those kids who struggle with both spelling and copying something from halfway across the room.  She’s inspired me to get the Decibel app after her detective work around the school, identifying areas which are too loud for kids and teachers.  Ruth handled that situation with her typical diplomacy and got results.  Her blog is worth following, so please check it out!

* Social narratives

I’ve posted previously on this topic but want to add a few more tips.

Where do you begin when writing a social narrative?  First you need to identify the specific behavior which needs to be addressed.  Saying that a child has “weak social skills” is much too vague.  You might want to write about “interactions with peers at recess.”  That puts you in the ballpark; you’ve identified where the problems are occurring and with whom.  But again, that does not specifically define the problem.  What kinds of interactions are you describing?  Verbal?  Physical?  And in what context?  Games?  On climbing equipment?  Lining up?  Identify the specifics so that your narrative is useful.

Gather reliable information on the problem before writing.  Ask your student to describe what happened.  I typically complete a drawing as we go through the process.  The following was a common problem for many kids at recess during the era of “football frenzy.”

drawing of events

I drew the schematic as my student, Trevor, described the problem.  He had gone out to recess and started playing football.  Everything was OK until another kid deliberately tripped him (note the first angry face).  Trevor complained vigorously to the offender and then resumed play.  When the other kid tripped him once again, Trevor was really angry.  The teacher assistant saw Trevor arguing and told both kids to follow the rules or they wouldn’t be allowed to play.  The situation went downhill as Trevor screamed when the other kid got close to him.  Trevor was “benched” by the teacher assistant, who told him he needed to cool off.  Trevor saw the other kid laughing at him and jumped off the chair, threatening to smack the other kid.  Trevor was sent to the office.

I also talked to the teacher assistant, who felt that Trevor was totally at fault.  Serendipitously, I had a lunch bunch with a different group of kids who told me that the “other kid” was always pushing and tripping others when they played football.  I had already seen a number of skirmishes as kids played football.  It seemed to me that the problem was global (lots of kids were getting upset) and represented a difficult choice for Trevor: to play or not to play?

Discuss alternatives through a social narrative.  I created a social story which described the situation in “steps,” so that Trevor was required to agree or disagree with the narrative:  “I want to play football, even though some kids cheat.”  We ended up with a kind of decision tree, where Trevor needed to decide if it was worth playing football (yes) even though he got upset every time (yes) and even though that other kid seemed to enjoy tripping him (yes).

Tackle obvious solutions (pun intended).  I took the liberty of alerting the other kid’s teacher and assistant teacher about the deliberate tripping.  That led to a slight decline in his rate of tripping others.  I also tried to help the assistant empathize with my student’s dilemma.  He really, really wanted to play football.  He was not the initiator of this problem, although other kids were better able to take the tripping in stride (unintentional pun).  It was difficult to get that empathy because Trevor had a “history” of threatening others.  (I’ll have to post later on that whole issue.)

Write a narrative that supports positive outcomes.  Begin with the obvious: You are going to play football.  The other kid may try to trip you.  From there, I included possible options.  I ruled out “seeking adult help” because Trevor didn’t want to leave the game and he doubted she would believe him, anyway.  I already had a number of options in mind and we agreed on these:

  1. Tell the other kid he was going to get in trouble if he kept tripping others.
  2. Ignore the other kid, remembering that professional players also trip one another.
  3. Calm down by remembering what happens if you threaten others.
  4. Calm down by taking a sideline break.
  5. Calm down by remembering that this kid is tripping others, too.

Have your student read the narrative before the problematic events typically occur.  In this case, Trevor would read his plan just before lining up for recess and then tuck it in his pants pocket.  He said it would remind him while he played.

Trevor did show improved self-control but recess was still a frustrating experience.  No one was happier than I when teachers decided that football season was over.

* Social skills rubric for recess

I’ve been asked to create some sample rubrics for social skills.  The following rubric is for a high functioning autistic kid who struggled at recess.  He did not use recess effectively to “chill out” (which can be vital to an ASD kid’s daily survival), nor did he feel satisfied with how he occupied himself during recess.  Wandering around was sometimes a good method of relaxing, but he was conflicted between isolating himself a little and also wanting to make friends.  He had “buttons” that a few kids delighted in pushing, so he needed an advocate (adult or classmate) to support him at times.

Remember that each rubric should be individualized to reflect the needs of the student.  Rubrics should also represent actual rehearsal of skills through role-playing and videotaping, or they’re largely a waste of time.  If a student has “getting help”on a rubric, make sure some adult is actually going to help, not tell the student to “go and play.”rubric for recess