Part 2 of the Series: Self-Contained Schedules
In this episode, which is Part 2 of the Self-Contained Schedule Series, I am excited to really go deep on how to set up a small group rotation schedule in your self-contained special ed class. Over the years I found that teaching with small groups was the most effective way to maximize time with my students and paraprofessionals (also called para for short. Other places they might be called teaching assistants or teacher’s aides).
I give ideas to consider as you plan your schedule, and I share several more schedules: The first is the general schedule I talked about last week. Then I share the preliminary schedules for the first two days of school. Finally, I talk about my Master Station Rotation Schedule – which is the backbone of my daily schedule for the rest of the year.
Stay tuned to the end of the show when I have Nikki Robertson, my guest from episode three, come on to talk about a solution for teacher burnout!
Episode Show Notes
It is suggested that you download the freebie for this episode so you have all the schedules discussed in this episode. (Plus the image quality will probably be better in the PDF than in the images below… Sorry, I’m still trying to figure out how to make them less blurry).
Links and Resources
- Lisa’s Editable Daily Schedules resource in her TpT store
- Google Form to sign up for Nikki’s Ten Day Teach Burnout Challenge. This challenge starts on June 10.
- Help for Special Educators Podcast Facebook Group
- Lisa on Instagram
- Scroll down for transcript (after the schedules)
Do you ever find yourself barely able to hold your head above water? Waves of IEPs, data collection, assessments, parent conferences, not to mention lesson plans and seasonal activities are all crashing around you. You need help, but not just from anybody. Grab the lifeline that is the Help for Special Educators podcast. We will equip you with creative solutions and teacher tested strategies so you can navigate the rewarding, but difficult job as a special ed teacher. This is Lisa Goodell, your host.
Hi there. I’m excited to do a deep dive into using small group instruction in your Special Ed classroom in today’s episode. This week I discuss four different schedules, which can be found in the show notes. The first is the general schedule that I talked about last week. Then after giving ideas about doing small groups, I have a preliminary schedule for the first few days. In the freebie I actually have a schedule for the first day of school and the second day of school so you can compare what I did differently. And finally I talk about my master station rotation schedule, which is the backbone of my daily schedule for the rest of the school year. Stay tuned to the end when I have Nikki Robertson, my guest from episode 3, come back on to share about a solution for teacher burnout. Last week I started this series by giving you eight tips to create a self-contained schedule. You can go back and listen to that episode which is called episode eight or read the transcript that is provided. Both can be accessed at https://lisagoodell.com/podcast8/.
Now it is a little bit difficult to describe in detail a schedule. It would be so much easier to look at in front of you. I will summarize what’s on the page, but just go to Lisagoodell.com/podcast and then you can click to go to the show notes and schedules for each episode. Another thing I want to say before we get started today is teachers in self-contained classrooms teach in many different settings. For example, there are self-contained preschool classes that might just be for students with speech issues or with autism all the way up to self-contained classrooms for adult transition programs where students are between the ages of 18 and 22 years of age. Self-contained classes can be on a campus that only has special ed students. These campuses probably have students that have lower cognitive abilities. Self-contained classes can also be on a general ed campus with a focus either on getting the kids to understand their grade level standards or there could be classes that don’t focus so much on the grade level standards as they focus more on functional or daily living skills.
Now, I’m in California and in California self-contained classes are actually called SDC classes and that stands for special day class. Special day classes are either mild/moderate, or moderate/severe. So when I’m talking about what I did when I taught a self-contained class, I think I do need to explain what that meant for me. I taught a mild, moderate class on a general ed public school campus with grades from TK (transitional kindergarten) all the way to sixth grade at that school. There were about 1,000 students there on the whole campus. My class had students from all four elementary schools in the district. They all came to this site. One year I only had grades two, three and four except then partway through the year I got a little kindergartener. Another year I had TK, first, second and third grade, and another year I had grades one through five… So it really varied from year to year.
The students in my class had more severe learning disabilities, high functioning autism, OHI (other health impaired that could be for attention issues), higher intellectual disabilities, and rarely students who were deaf or hard of hearing, had vision difficulties, orthopedic impairments, or students that had emotional and behavior problems. Oh yeah. I can’t forget that most of my students did have some type of speech disorder as well. Also the number of students that I had varied. One year I only started off with seven and I ended the year with 11 or 12, and then one of the hardest years was when I started with 15 and ended with 20 students (and that was when I had five different grade levels in my class). So that also changes even the way I did my own schedule. So I say all of this just so that as you’re thinking about how my ideas apply to your classroom, that you’ll have to take into consideration your population and if you have one on one aides for students, how many paraprofessionals or teaching assistants you have… you’ll have to take all of that into account.
Also, none of my students had one on one aides and I had to paras or two teaching assistants that were with me the four years that I taught self-contained at this particular campus. So think of all that while I explain my schedule and especially the activities that we did since you may need to adjust your activities and your schedule for the setting in which you teach. Also I should say none of my students needed help with toileting and none needed help in the cafeteria or getting on or off the bus. So my paraprofessionals didn’t come way before school started and they didn’t stay after school. For me, the key to maximizing learning for my students was to have them in the smallest group possible, rotating around the room with adults giving instruction as much as possible. I wanted to have small group station rotations when my paras were in the classroom at the same time, but I totally understand that with other populations, toileting and feeding are a part of the curriculum and IEP goals. That’s just not where my students were at.
So for the first part of this episode, I want to be talking a little bit more about the first couple of days of school that I referred to last time. My first schedule that I start with, I know will be changing for several reasons. In the area of time and events, the first reason it’s going to change is that I rarely have all the information I need. For example, some specialists might not know their schedule for a week or two into the school year. I might have a student that’s in a group with direct instruction with me, but then that will end up being the time they have to go to speech or OT, so then I will have to adjust that.
Another reason could be that events or times that I think are set in stone by the school might actually end up changing. For example, one year students had to go out to buses 20 minutes before the end of the school day, but that only lasted one week. The following week it ended up that they went out to the buses only five minutes early. So again, you have to adjust your schedule based on what happens. A different type of reason why you would have to change the schedule perhaps is when you get new students. If you adjust your schedule to accommodate everyone’s needs, you might need to change that so you can fit in the new students better. Since every school and class is different. I’m sharing what I’ve done in hopes that it will help you and give you ideas. I definitely have a soft spot for new special ed teachers or those moving to a new school or grade or type of class. And I have found that resources are usually limited and so I am sharing this with you just in the hopes that it will help you out or maybe if these ideas don’t work for you they’ll help you think of other ideas that will work for you.
I know when I started teaching self contained, I did collaborate as much as I could with other special ed teachers and I scoured the Internet for ideas. So hopefully this will be one of the things that helps you, especially if you are the only special ed teacher on your campus or you’re the only special ed teacher with your particular population. Like I said in the last episode, at my school we usually had a short week at the beginning of the school year, so the students only came to school Thursday, Friday, and then the next week was a full week. Also the first day of school was always a minimum day, so I would set up my preliminary schedule knowing that it would change drastically later, especially because at first I wanted to make sure that kids were with adults as much as possible as we were teaching them the routines and the procedures. I wasn’t ready to set them loose into independent centers right away, even if they were students that had me multiple years (and I did have students sometimes up to four years in a row).
If you don’t have too many grade levels or if you don’t have too many students, it will probably be easier for you to get going into a more permanent schedule. But I usually had four grade levels per class and I usually had a lot of students and so I found that I needed to slow down, take two or maybe up to four weeks to get kids used to the routine, especially because I would want to be adding in independent centers (because one of my goals was to have students in the smallest groups possible so that I could individualize instruction for them). To be able to do that I had to have students that could work independently so that I could focus on the students that were getting direct instruction from me.
Without going through the whole schedule that I did last week, basically how I started off was if I had three adults in the room, we would start off with three stations that the students rotated through, so each time they were with one of the paras or with myself and we would do that before recess. We might do that again between recess and lunch and we might even do that again in the afternoon, but we would be varying the activities that we did. For example, I might be going over some procedures in my group, like what do you do when you have to sharpen a pencil, and a para might be doing a group where she’s telling kids about how to behave when they’re looking at books. My classroom library was in some cubbies that were down on the floor and so my para would teach the kids how to look at a book, how to put the book back into the cubby with the spine showing and how to read quietly and appropriately, getting along with others.
Then I might have my other para doing another group where maybe they’re starting to do a craft or a writing activity that will end up being put on the walls for back to school night. That might be a larger activity that cannot get done in the time of the group, so sometimes we’d have to break that down so that we could finish it later in the day when we did another rotation.
Also, I should say, do you need to think about the length of your groups? I found that I started with longer groups and then over the years they got shorter and shorter. Some of that had to do with the attention span of my students and some of it had to do with me just understanding what worked best. When I first started off I started with 30 minute groups, but within that group I might have had several different activities that the kids did. And I also have to say when I did that I had less students in my class. So if I was starting off with seven students, had no more than 11 or 12 the whole school year… Well if you only have three or four students in a group (you don’t have any students off doing independent centers) you can be very focused on that group of students because the other students are also going to be divided up with the paras. And so then maybe you can do two different activities within the half hour time period. I like to have at least one change of activity during that half hour time just because the students probably didn’t really have a full 30 minute attention span. But if you change the activity they were doing, then it felt like they were doing something else even though they were in the same group. But in later years when I had more students I shortened the length of time that a group was and they might not switch activities during that time. They would just focus on the one activity we were doing during the 15 minute group. Also when I had more students I needed to have more independent centers where the students could do something on their own. Again so I could individualize instruction as much as I could for the students that were with me.
I also want to talk about the number of students in groups. I will say this about my last year teaching in the self-contained environment (that I’m talking about in this series) and in that situation my classroom was set up to where it was myself and two teaching assistants and each one of us had a kidney table in the room, so we had three kidney tables. We also had a table of technology, whether it was old desktop computers, laptops or tablets. And we also had an area in the center of the room where each student had their own desk. I did go back and forth over time whether I should just get rid of the desks because it would have offered a lot more room, especially when I ended up with 20 students in my class. But I also felt that each student needed to have their own space, especially if they needed a timeout or they just needed a break because I didn’t really have a break area in my room because there was no space for it.
So each student had their own desk in the middle. Sometimes we would group a couple of desks together for a station if we needed to, especially on the rare occasion that I had a parent or a volunteer come in to help out with groups. And so the students rotated from kidney table to kidney table and then if they had to do something independent on the floor, then sometimes they would be able to take their activity and do it on the floor or sometimes I would allow them to go back to their desk and do it. At each kidney table, especially when I had 20 students. I might have five to six students sitting at the kidney table. However, I would divide it in half, where half the group on one side were supposed to be doing something independent, and where the group on the other side, they were doing direct instruction with me.
I would try to focus on the kids that were doing direct instruction, but then I could also observe what the students were doing on the independent center. Sometimes I would let them take their activity and do it on the floor in the area near me so I could keep an eye on them or sometimes I would let one or two of them go back to their desk to do their independent activity over there, but they always had to be somewhere where I could see them out of the corner of my eye while I was teaching my group with direct instruction. And we did this same thing with the students when they were at the different kidney tables with my other teaching assistants.
So on the first schedule, I’m very specific about what each adult is doing during different parts of the day. So you’ll see my name, Goodell, and Para 1 and Para 2, and then underneath I have the times on the left side, and then each column has what each one of us is doing.
I also list which students are in each group each time, because then if a student doesn’t know where they’re supposed to be, any of us can look at the chart and find exactly where the student is supposed to be. And this was good because if I had new teaching assistants or paras coming in, they might not know who all the students are. So I always tried to spell it out really specifically and make it easier on all of us.
Another thing that I want to say is when you have students rotating through the room to different groups, whatever direction you start off with, you want to keep going all during the year. So if, for example, you start rotating the class around clockwise, then always go clockwise to each group during the year. Don’t switch around where at some point you go counterclockwise (because you’re doing a special activity) because everyone will get confused. Even the teachers will, and I also tried to have centers all go in order around the room instead of starting off in one corner and then bouncing to the opposite corner and then going to the next station and going across again. I really tried to keep it flowing in order, so kids would always know naturally where to go next.
Last week I told you when you start your schedule, just start off with a general schedule where you don’t even have different columns. You just have rows, you’re listing all the different times and then you’re adding what you’re doing each time. Okay, now what you’re going to want to do is you are going to add some different columns and those columns are going to be first of all for all the times and what’s going on. I usually put that in the first column on the left. Then the next column I usually put my name at the top Goodell and that’s going to be my rotations, my stations that I’m doing during the day. And then the next columns are going to be for my parents or my teaching assistants. In my case, I had two, so I would have two more columns and on my sample schedules I think I just say Para 1 and then Para 2. But of course you could put in the names of your aides. And so when you start writing out your second schedule, which is when you’re actually starting to think about the first day of school or the first couple of days of school, you have those columns there.
Now, I might’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again, for me, at the beginning of the school year, I tried not to have any truly independent stations. For the first couple of days I wanted students to be with an adult so that we could be teaching them what’s expected at each station. Now, sometimes those very first stations or things that eventually would be done independently by the student, but we wanted to start it off in a group with an adult so that they could teach them the expectations. For example, how to get out the laptop or the tablets, how to log in, what are the specific sites that they can go to or the apps that they can work on. When we would start the school year, we would have fun things that we did. I didn’t want to jump into hard academics right away. And so other stations that we would have would be things like manipulatives, sensory bins, blocks, Legos. Now I’ll tell you, with my population of elementary students, Legos were like the most exciting, most wanted activity. Sometimes legos were even a bigger deal than the technology, the laptops or the tablets. I would only get them out sometimes like on Fridays maybe or not even then, or I might save them for a really special day. But the first couple of days, again, we’re teaching them about how they can play with the different manipulatives, what they can do, what they shouldn’t do, how to share, how to take turns, that type of thing.
Another area that we would focus on in our groups to begin with would be work tasks. A lot of times this would be something I would want them to be able to do later. I called them independent work tasks. Sometimes they could be work bins, file folders, the task boxes that came in many different forms. Some things would be in little card files. Some things I would store in the little boxes that you get that are like 4″ by 6″ at Michaels.
Some would be in Manila envelopes or file folders. I just called all of those independent work tasks and some of those could be matching. They could be sorting activities, sequencing, error list activities. I would have different levels of difficulty, so depending on where they were at, they might only be matching letters. Other times they might be matching the letter sound with the object that starts with that letter sound. That would be a little harder. Another station that I would have a para start off doing would be calendar and about me pages. That would be something simple. At the beginning of the year and that would end up being a group that she would take on the whole year doing calendar, personal data type information where they’re learning their phone numbers, their address, different things about themselves depending on where they were at academically.
Now, another thing that I’ll just add in here is I always tried to take pretty good notes about how the students were getting along with each other. I might keep a note of what two students really shouldn’t be in a group together. I might take notes on how a station worked if it was a new concept or a new thing that I was trying. If students weren’t following through with how I wanted them to behave in a certain area, it could be because I forgot to explicitly teach that little part of the procedure, so I would always write notes to myself to remind me of what I need to do next time or what I need to review. If you’re working on something and you don’t get it done in the allotted period of time, you want to make a note of where you ended so that you can at the right spot the next time. And that could be with a craft project, it could be in a specific lesson and if you are doing multiple groups doing the same thing, etc. Even if you think you’re going to remember, it’s always good to write it down because you might not remember, especially at the beginning of the school year when you’re still getting to know who your kids are.
Also, if you have different rotations during the day, I will move kids around. For example, if I have three different rotations that the kids go to before recess, if they are with three other kids in a group, then after recess, if I redo the rotations, I might mix it up and not have the same three kids in the group later in the day, especially the first few days because you want to see who’s getting along with who. Now the second or third day of school, you might want to repeat some of the stations from the first day because you want them to be getting used to what they’re doing. Like for example, the calendar area or maybe the reading book section. You can have them do a silent reading area again, but instead of telling them what they should be doing in getting a book or choosing a book, maybe you’re going to just tell them, “Okay, let’s practice what we learned yesterday,” after reviewing really fast.
Have them show you how they’re supposed to get out books and put them away and look at them and then they will have more time to read quietly or look at the pictures of a book this time around. And so you might do that a couple of days until you feel like really they can do this on their own and then on one of the days you have them still come to your group for that same station, but this time you’re going to tell them, “Okay, this is what you’re going to be doing on your own. I want you to follow the directions that you’ve learned the last couple of days. Go get your own book and sit where you’re supposed to sit.” And then the teacher or the para can observe and give prompts if necessary, but really you want to see if the kids can do it on their own and then eventually that will be a completely independent center. But slowly you’re just working up towards that so they still have that support if they need it.
Once you get through the first few days of school, you’re going to see what’s working and what isn’t working. If something isn’t working, you’re going to look at it and say, what do I need to reteach about the procedure or the expectations for this particular station or group? Or what students aren’t getting along? Who do I need to switch around? And that gets to the point of how do you put kids in a group? If you have multi-grades in your class, you might want to divide kids by grade level or you might want to divide them just by ability level once you get to know where they’re at as far as what IEP goals they’re working on. Or like say you have math, the kids that all can do multiplication might be good to be in a group together. Kids that are still identifying numbers, they might be in a different group.
You may or may not want them with a student that’s doing higher math, but really it just depends. Again, have to say I think it’s easier when you have less kids because you’re not focused on so many kids at once. My last year when I had all those students in my class, I did have to do a lot of behavior management that year because there were just so many kids and so many grades… That for some groups it got to the point where it did not matter what goals they were working on. They might not be very similar, but they were in groups based on who could get along with who. And I did have to have more independent groups that year because again, I was desperately trying to do as much individualized instruction as I could, which is really hard when you have 20 kids and you have three adults.
That’s what I found worked for me. But again, it’s all a process that evolves… And every month might be different depending on who’s in your class and what their needs are and depending on what the behavior situation is. So when you get to the point of being done with the preliminary few days or week and you want to try to get into trying what might end up being your master rotation schedule for the school year, I suggest coming up with a schedule with tables and boxes on a piece of paper, whether you use Microsoft word or Google Docs or PowerPoint, and I suggest that you have a static schedule that shows the adults at the top and the kids and where they need to be. And I called this my master rotation schedule. This didn’t have any lesson plans on it. All this did was tell me where every person should be at every point during the day. When you have substitutes come in either for myself or am I teaching assistants, they could look on that and figure out who needed to be where.
And sometimes that was the biggest thing that we needed to know. The way my master rotation ended up working was that I would have seven rotations before recess. Then I’d have another seven rotations after recess, but we wouldn’t get through them all before lunch. So we would have to come back after lunch and finish them. And so when I mean seven rotations, this is what it means: I had three kidney tables and I had three adults, so each adult had two groups at their table at a time. And then I had one other group that was a truly independent group, but there was a para that was kind of watching those kids next to their table. And so even though it sounds like a lot, really, the kids are going to three tables and a technology table. And so this station rotation schedule that you can see, if you go to the show notes… Across the top it says student names in group. And then I just have it blank because I just took all the names out. But you would add your student names and then down the left side it has the times, another row underneath the student names, there’s a row that has, that has the time and then says what’s happening in each group. So for example, time at 8:15 is when my first group would start. And so going across, I had Goodell chrome, so Goodell was my name and chrome meant students were using Chromebooks. That was the independent part of my kidney table. Then the other of my kidney table students were going to be doing reading with me. Then the next group was going to be choice. Now choice is the station that’s truly independent and those would be different activities. Sometimes it’d be technology, sometimes it would be uh, doing independent work tasks might be library time, I might have a listening center. But that was something that they should be able to do on their own because we had taught them how to do it earlier in the year. Then the next column I have says Para 1, so that would be a station with one of my adults in the class and again, chrome meant the independent part of her kidney table and then the next one said the para’s name and learn. Learn means that was more of a direct instruction, whether that’s math or reading or writing. Then the next column is Para 2. And so again, it’s follows the same pattern. Chrome is first and the last one was Para 2 learn. Now also what I would do, because this schedule did not change, chrome might not always mean chrome books. Chrome was just everybody’s term for knowing that’s something that you should be able to do on your own.
Okay, the other reason why I set this up with the student names across the top was that most of the time the issue that we had is a kid not knowing where they should be or when a sub is in the classroom, they are not sure where a student should be. And so if they found the student’s name across the top and then they went down to whatever the time was, then they could match up exactly where the students should be. So our second rotation went from 10:30 all the way to one o’clock. And to me it was totally fine to just stop in the middle, go to lunch and come back and keep going and where we left off. And I also had a year where we actually had to stop in the middle of one of the groups and then come back and finish that group after lunch. And I just went ahead and went with it because I only had my adult teaching assistants in the room for a certain amount of time and I wanted to maximize that time by going to groups. I didn’t want to have filler time or have kids just sitting around because I really wanted to have kids engaged in doing something every moment of the day. And that was one of my secrets I think to classroom management success… was that I really tried to have kids engaged as soon as they got into the classroom. They didn’t have too much time where they were just kind of sitting doing nothing because that’s when I found that students would end up not getting along or having issues with each other. It’s hard enough when someone comes in the room and I have to talk to them and I need my kids to still be working at the group. Then after we finished both rotations, then what we did is, all the self-contained classrooms went to the computer lab for the end of the day and that helped because kids at that time, were going in and out of their general ed classes.
Then at the very end of the day, I usually had them come back to the classroom so that they could stack chairs, get their backpacks. There was any last minute flyers at the school wanted to send home I could get those into their backpacks, that type of thing.
Now the schedule I just went over was something that didn’t change too often. It didn’t have daily lesson plans on it, so it was something I would post on the wall and hopefully it would be good for a month or more. I always put an “as of date” at the top because I would have to change it every so often and I’d always give copies to the adults. I’d post it in the room a couple of places, but whenever that changed later on in the year, I always wanted to have a date so I could look and check to see if we had the latest version or not.
Now the next schedule that I had is only for adults and this is where I would do more of the lesson plans. But we will be getting into all of that next week when we have Episode 10, which will be part three of my self-contained schedule series. Then I will be talking about what I’m actually teaching during each rotation of the day and what types of activities I am having my paraprofessionals do during their rotations at different points during the day.
I hope this episode has been helpful to you. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to comment on our Facebook page, which is at www.facebook.com/groups/helpfor specialeducatorspodcast/. I would love to continue the conversation over there.
Hi, this is Nikki from Teaching Autism. I just wanted to thank Lisa for inviting me on the show today to share about the free 10 day teacher self care challenge that I run on my website to help avoid teacher burnout. This free ten day teacher self care challenge will turn your life around. You’ll have 10 days of challenges that are quick and won’t up too much of your time, which will help you set up your new self care habits. You can sign up through the link that I’ll pass on to Lisa and she can include in the show notes for you. Self care is one of the most important things that we can do for ourselves, not just to improve our mental health, but our physical health to. This challenge is perfect for any teacher or educational professional to kickstart their self care challenge. The challenge will be starting on June the 10th and it runs for 10 days and is completely 100% free.
You receive an email in your inbox each morning with a challenge for the day. Your first day includes your self care booklet with the tracking page. Your tracking page is going to help you track your mental well being and physical well being over the 10 days of this self care challenge. Then you can reuse it as often as you like to continue tracking your well being. So if you’re ready to keep control, working on your self care and accept my challenge then just sign up now through the Google form that I’ll pass over to Lisa and prepare yourself to receive some amazing challenges.
Thank you Nikki. Doesn’t her 10 day challenge sound great? I have already signed up and I hope you do, too!
Now when I start to get stressed or overwhelmed about school stuff, I find it helps to take a moment to slow down, stop and focus on my breathing. Sometimes I also might say the serenity prayer aloud or in my head, here it is God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change, the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. I might also add a few of my own words. Here’s the sample for us. Special educators help us to listen and truly understand our students. Please give us words, actions, and solutions, which will help in difficult situations. May Our classrooms be peaceful places where teachers, staff, and students learn and thrive. After that, I tried to go out and find someone else to help because helping others keeps me from selfishly dwelling on my own problems. Thank you so much for listening and I hope he heard something helpful during this episode that you can implement in your teaching. Remember, you are amazing what you do makes a difference and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise go find someone else to encourage because they probably need to be reminded that they are amazing too.
Podcast Host: Lisa Goodell
Lisa Goodell, M. A., launched the Help for Special Educators podcast on April 1, 2019. She has been teaching for over 23 years, including third grade, resource/inclusion (RSP), and mild/moderate self-contained (SDC). Currently, she is an itinerant orthopedic impairment (OI) specialist/teacher for students birth to 21 years old in all general ed and special ed settings. She has been honored as “Teacher of the Year” at both the elementary and secondary levels. Lisa has a masters degree in Special Education and six special ed and general ed teaching credentials. She lives in rural Central California with her family and a bunch of cats. Connect online with Lisa here.