Marisa Iannaccone is a special ed teacher in Portland. We talk about how Marisa collects data in her self-contained classroom with all kindergarteners this year. Data is collected on both behavior and progress monitoring for IEP goals.
Marisa shares how she utilizes her instructional aides to help with direct instruction and data collection.
She has the support of a behavior specialist and autism specialist. Together they collaborate often on data to develop different strategies including a “Go Bag.”
She also shares how things have changed from her first year to her second as a special ed teacher. She has great advice including to not compare yourself to others and to keep it simple.
A bonus section includes a teacher appreciation freebie and how to cope with teacher burnout at the end of the year.
There is now a TRANSCRIPT for this episode, which is linked in the show notes below.
Episode 7 Show Notes
Guest: Marisa Iannaccone
Marisa Iannaccone resides in Portland, Oregon, where she teaches primary life skills. She has her BS in human development from Oregon State University and her MS in Special Education. Marisa loves traveling, being outdoors and anything sparkly. She also sells teacher resources on Teachers Pay Teachers and teacher t-shirts on Etsy.
Links and Resources
- Special Ed Starter Kit Bundle from Especially Education
- Ultimate Data Sheet Set from Especially Education
- All Task Box resources from Especially Education
- Marisa’s TpT store
- Marisa on Instagram
- Marisa’s Etsy Shop – No longer exists, check out Marisa’s TpT shope or Instagram
- Get the Help For Special Educator’s “Remember Quote” Freebie in Lisa’s TpT Store or via the pop-up window on this post.
- Dr. Chris Borgmeier’s website where he offers free FBA training for teachers and schools.
- Keep scrolling down to read the transcript for this episode.
- Sign up for Lisa’s Email List to get free weekly ideas and strategies
- Lisa’s TeacherPayTeacher Store
- Facebook group for the podcast
- Check out other podcast episodes
Disclaimer: The views expressed, and resources/links provided on this podcast are that of each guest and do not always represent the views of this podcast or the host. In addition, each listener is encouraged to research all strategies, lessons, curriculum, etc. before using them with students to be sure they are in line with their beliefs, their school district policies, etc.
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 with Lisa here.
Lisa Goodell (00:16):
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.
Today I’m talking with Marisa Iannacone of Sparkles and Sped on Instagram. I asked her to be on the show because she posted a photo of a really cute mint green t-shirt that she made and it had this saying on it, “Talk data to me.” Of course the word data was in gold sparkles and I figured that anyone who is making t-shirts about data collection should come on the show and “talk data to me.” So Hi Marissa. Welcome to the help for special educators podcasts.
Marisa Iannacone (01:23):
Hi. Thank you for having me.
No problem. So first of all, why don’t you tell us about that t-shirt?
I’ve been making t-shirts for about a year. Last week I was preparing for a data meeting on a student… I was going to be meeting with the behavior specialist and the autism specialist and in our district we kind of joke around how important data is for any changes that happen in a student’s placement or any additional supports be in place. And so we kind of joke around and say “talk data to me” and I thought how much my autism specialist and behavior specialist would appreciate my t-shirt. They did. They loved it. They love all my punny tee shirts.
I think that’s really fun. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
So I’m a second year life skills teacher in Portland, Oregon. My classroom this year is predominantly kindergarteners. I have eight students, seven of them are kindergartners and about half my students are on the spectrum and half my students have Down syndrome.
Oh, okay. That’s an interesting mix there.
Last year I had seven students with autism and one student with Down Syndrome. And then I got this crazy in of kindergartners and it’s really actually great having more than one student with Down Syndrome. Cause I’ve noticed how social students with Down Syndrome are not to overgeneralize but they’re very social. And then my students on the spectrum just kind of keep to themselves. And so I really struggled last year with finding social interactions for my one student with Down Syndrome. So it’s great having peers for that student this year.
That makes a lot of sense. And they can be models for each other in different ways.
Okay. So how do you take data in your classroom?
So I really struggled with this when I started teaching. I remember in grad school specifically everyone said, “Data, data, data, you can’t do anything without data.” So I went to a two year master’s program that was Special Ed and we actually took a whole class on functional behavior assessments by someone named Dr. Borgmeyer, who is doing a lot of research right now on FBAs (functional behavior assessments) and how to support teachers while completing FBAs. So I had some experience with FBAs but I felt like I really focused more on data in terms of IEP goals. And so last year before I started teaching, I made these beautiful binders I used Makayla at Especially Epecial Ed’s Teachers Starter Pack and I was so ready and then they never got used because they were sitting on a shelf in binders.
And so I realized that was not practical. So I have four IAs in my classroom. IAs are instructional assistants, my IAs are all fabulous and they provide a lot of direct instruction with my students. I oversee all the instruction and usually create a lesson plan or a guideline of what we’ll, we’re going to be doing that day. But my IAs are doing a lot of the direct instruction with my students. This is one reason I found it so important to make sure that we are taking data on the correct thing. So for all my IAs, I created kind of a cheat sheet and it was as a matrix with all my students names and the goal they are working on in each area. So for example, one of my IAs, she leads the fine motor area and a lot of my students right now are just working on proper grip and strengthening their hands and then different fine motor activities that fall under that. So I have each child’s goal written out and then she just does a plus or minus based on how that went and she can write some notes in there. So it’s really quick. What I’ve found about data collection is it’s only successful if it works in your school days. So going over and getting all those students binders off the shelf and flipping through them to find data, that’s just really not practical in a busy life skills room. So I wanted to make data collection practical and simple and easy in my classroom.
I love that. Thank you for breaking it down. So well. So do you have yourself and your instructional aides doing data collection every single day?
My goal is to get a least one or two data points a week, but I have some students whose attendance isn’t super great or just different things happen whenever we’re leading a work group, which is supposed to be every day. We take that on that day, but sometimes it seems like something always happens and we ended up with like only two or three data points in a week.
So that’s why it’s good to just plan on doing it every day because then when some interruption happens and you don’t get it done, then during the whole week you probably do.
That makes sense. Now when you say a data point, what do you mean by that? Are you trying to check the same skill a certain number of times a day or you just need to check it once?
Because I have kindergarten life skill learners, a lot of their goals are functional. I have a few academic goals for each of them. An example of a goal might be matching the letters in their name. If the student can match four out of five letters in their name independently, we will have the IA just write four out of five and we have a key. So independently meets might be I, and then I have a couple other students who they’re already past matching their name now they’re matching their full name. So it’s definitely based on each student’s goal and that’s why I have that matrix. So it’s written out exactly what each student’s school is in each area.
Okay. And so you have like I=independent, do you have one like verbal prompt or hand over hand? Is it that type of thing?
Oh, we have a verbal prompts, physical prompts, independent hand over hand. And then I think I have multiple prompts.
Okay, got it. That makes sense.
I have students where one of their goals is just to sit first or amount of time at circle time. So with that it might be minutes or I might be collecting that on how many times they got up during a certain activity.
And are you keeping track of the time on that or do you have one of your IAs in the background doing that?
So normally when collecting data, I have certain IAs on certain students and so I might be collecting data on student one and then my, I might be collecting data on student two and it makes it easy if we’re all collecting data on different students and different behaviors.
Oh, that makes a lot of sense. Now when you’re collecting data on behavior, are you still doing the same “plus” sign like you were doing for goals or is it ever different based on what you’re looking for?
Yes. One thing my behavior specialist and my autism specialists have really helped me with this year is what is the function of the data we’re collecting? What are we trying to show. Right now, particularly with one student, I’m really struggling and we’ve put in some interventions and so we took data before we tried an intervention and now we’ve been doing the intervention for a week and we’re trying to see if the intervention has been successful or not.
For this student, has there already been a functional behavior assessment done on them?
So for this student, do the behaviors have been so extreme that we have not done an FBA, the behavior specialist or supporting me directly on this student and we’re having weekly Check-ins on different interventions. We right now don’t know if an FBA would be successful because we’re still trying to figure out the antecedent and we’re changing interventions so quickly at this point. But we do have a BSP, which is a behavior support plan, in place.
So in case people are unsure, what is the difference between the behavior support plan and a FBA?
The difference between an FBA, which is a functional behavior assessment and a BSP, which is a behavior support plan, in that a functional behavior assessment you list out your day and then usually you rate the student’s likelihood of having a problem behavior during different times of the day. And then from there when we see high problem behavior, we try and look at what is causing that problem behavior. So what the antecedent is, and then we’d try and figure out what the consequences. A lot of people think consequences of bad thing, but it can actually be a good thing. So I hit someone and then the consequences is I leave class, well I want to get out of class anyway, so I’m getting what I wanted from that behavior.
Where a BSP is more of a plan of what happens when a student does something. So my BSPs are kind of just a matrix on, okay, if a student leaves campus, what is the plan? If a student kicks another student or staff, what is the plan, and then going down that plan, okay, if A doesn’t work, what is B? So for example, I have a student who has a lot of behaviors and we have a Go bag for that student. The first thing is if they’re out of the classroom, any staff has to have their Go bag with them. Second, they need to have their phone or walkie [talkie] on them.
And that all of that is in the Go bag?
The Go bag was a tool that we built into the student’s BSP because we wanted to have snacks and highly engaging or highly preferred activities and toys in that bag.
So that would help the student make good behavior choices when they’re out of the classroom?
Yes. Or for example, if the student maybe is struggling to come inside from recess or the student is struggling to transition, we use everything in the Go bag.
Okay. As an incentive type thing. Got It. That makes sense. That’s a really good idea. I’ve never heard of that before.
We have a first then board and a lot of the icons that we use outside of the classroom in there.
Just to keep everything familiar.
So would a functional behavior assessment ever be used first and then you would use that to develop the BSP? Especially if it’s a new student in the program?
With students who are having behaviors in a specialized learning placement, a lot of times we give them a couple weeks. So I had a lot of kindergartners this year. And so in the fall when we were seeing behaviors, we thought maybe putting more systems in place, putting more structure in place, them getting used to the schedule… We thought a lot of that would work a lot of the behaviors out. And it did for most of my students. We still struggled with a few of my students who have behaviors and as a team we decided not to do an FBA because the behavior specialist is in my room so often and the autism specialist is in my room so often… We just didn’t see that it was going to be a helpful tool, which an FBA really should just be a tool for the staff working with the student, experiencing that behavior.
And especially since you’ve got little kids, you have kindergartners, they’re going to need more time to get used to all the routines in school anyway.
Yes, and I had a few students who came in, never been in preschool, so just the idea of school was a whole new idea. The idea being away from mom and dad was a whole new idea, so in the fall, getting my students even into my classroom was a huge accomplishment.
Oh yeah. Yeah, that makes total sense. So you found because you have the autism specialist in your room and the behavior specialist person that you could work on these different strategies and things based on data collection without doing the formal assessment then?
Yes. My behavior specialist, autism specialist and I have been meeting about once a week to talk about a particular student and so I had been collecting data and it changes really every week or two with what we think it needs to look like. But we’ve been putting interventions in place as well.
Now I must say, I think it’s great that you have these two specialists that can come in your room so often, so I’m guessing that you’re going to feel supported by the staff at your school or district.
Yes, I really supported, especially by my autism specialists. We have two of them and a behavior specialist who supports me so much. I would say that last year, even as a first year teacher, they weren’t supporting me as much because I didn’t have as high of a need. I really have a high need this year with half my class being on the spectrum and them all just being kindergarteners.
Right. Right. Now, would you say that if you were in the same situation as far as students in your class, but if you didn’t have the two specialists coming in as often, is that where you would be asking to have a more standardized assessment done because then you could get those specialists into your classroom?
Oh, absolutely. If you’re in a bigger district or districts where maybe there’s more of a chain of command, I would definitely do an FBA or ask specialists to come into the room.
Okay. That’s good to know. Since people are going to be in different situations. Where I live, I think there’s two autism specialists for the whole county.
Usually the psychologists would be the ones to do it, but it just depends. I think they’re getting more people with the degrees and the masters in behavior. Our area probably lags behind other areas just because it’s very rural.
Oh yeah. Well, in Oregon has a high rate of autism. So my district actually only has two school psychologists for the entire district. And so they really only do like the bare bone testing on re-evaluations.
Okay. All right, good. So you’re going to have your students all during the school year, and students have IEP goals, their annual goals. So could you talk a little bit about how you might use data collection as you do progress monitoring on the IEP goals?
Yeah, so I’d kind of touched a little bit on the fact that I have IAs in my room and they really are crucial in helping me not only provide instruction but collect data. So every area of my room has a clipboard. So for example, I have a lot of partitions in my room, and yellow is my language arts area. And then orange is my math area. So the same people lead the same stations. And so one of my AIs will be taking data on a student’s IEP goal. So I have a matrix that has all the students’ names and then it kind of gives a tidbit of their IEP goals. So for example, it might say matching letters in name, letter to letter. That’s one of my students’ IEP goals right now. So their goal is to match the letters in their first name using the letters.
Do you set up your classroom where is centers in the students go from group to group, like with one assistant in the yellow area and then they move on to a different area. So they are rotating around during the day?
Okay. And how many kids are in each group?
All of my groups are two to one except for one rotation right now, which is a one to one for safety.
So all of my students go through rotations for their academic areas. We have language arts, math, fine motor, and then we have an iPad area where I have different academic apps on the iPad… And that’s also a good way for them to practice independent skills. Each students goals are on a matrix and of my staff has a matrix particular to the area they’re in. So my staff who is working in yellow, will be taking data on language arts goals, so it might say the student’s name and then their goal. And I just write a little snapshot of their goals. So working on matching letters and first name, letter to letter. And then from there they might write four to five. That student successfully was able to sequence or match four out of five letters in their name and she might write an I for independent. And so I look at data every week and based on how they’re doing, I might change your goal or they met their goals. We work on new skills. So having all kindergarteners and life skills, a lot of my students aren’t speeding through their goals and sometimes it just really depends on the student. I have some students who might be working on the same goal for two years, and then I have some students where the very first day we sat down, they met their goal.
Oh, that’s awesome. Now, if you’re talking about goals dealing with like letters and names, do you differentiate by having them like identify letters by pointing or by picking them up or handing them or actually repeating the letters are saying the letters… Do you change it up that way at all?
Yes. I have some students who are verbal. I have some students who are nonverbal. I have students who have different abilities. For example, I have a student who’s nonverbal and he uses his communication device. I have some students who can’t write yet, but I want them to work on their name, so right now they’re just working with a name stamp that is their full name and they’re just working on stamping their name. And then I have students who can sequence their name and so maybe writing their name looks like stamping with individual letter stamps.
Do you use file folders, like matching things that way too?
I love file folders, but I also love MaKayla at Especially Education’s task boxes.
Oh, okay. You’ve mentioned her a couple times. Can you send me a link to her store and the products you’re mentioning because I can put those in the show notes.
Perfect. Since you said that this is your second year of teaching, I do have a question that I want to ask and that would be… Is there anything that you wish you would’ve known last year when you were a first year teacher?
A couple of things. Don’t compare yourself to all the teachers on Instagram. It’s a great community, but it’s okay if your classroom isn’t perfect. But in relationship to data, I would say make it simple and make it easy. In my district, I’m really blessed to actually have a mentor for my first two years of teaching, and last year I had a mentor, but she wasn’t a sped teacher, but she was fabulous. And this year I got an amazing retired special ed teacher and she showed me some really great tricks for data collection. So she said that for three days, if a student isn’t meeting their goal or making any progress on a goal, you put a triangle around it. That means it needs to be changed. Maybe their goal needs to be a little bit easier. Maybe you need to adapt their goal. If after three days they have met the goal three days in a row, maybe you circled that because that means you need to reevaluate the goal. Maybe up the goal.
Oh I see. That’s just little symbols and things to alert you…so you notice it later.
You know, I might not be looking at all the data every day. So if one of my IAs put the triangle on it, I see that notify me that hey that students may be struggling with that goal and it needs to be changed and then a circle means they met the goal after three days.
Okay. So when you come to a student’s annual meeting, you have all these data sheets from these different stations. Do you somehow merge them together into one document or figure out percentages every quarter of the year? Or how do you organize all that data that you’re going to have?
I have just a matrix and my computer, just an old fashioned spreadsheet and I look at them weekly. So we’re on a quarter system and so I have to provide updates on every child’s IEP every quarter, and so I put the data in there. If the most current data is matching four to five letters in their name, then it’s going to say four to five and then I’m going to write a little bit about that. And then we also have codes on how far they are for meeting their goals so that student will probably get a four because they’re very close to meeting their IEP goal.
I see. That’s very helpful. Okay.
New Speaker (18:43):
At an IEP, I usually don’t have the data unless they’re not making progress or it’s something that’s going to be shocking to everyone because data is the best tool you have to support changing goals or changing placement or anything like that. So I don’t usually have it there, but I know, especially for my specialists, the school psychologist, the OT [occupational therapist], the PT [physical therapist], and the SLP [speech/language pathologist], a lot of times they show a lot of data on annuals or reevaluations.
Now, is there anything else that may or may not be data related that you wish you knew your first year?
I would just say keep it simple. I am very extra and I love everything to be perfect. You know, I realized that it’s just about the kids. I would also say make things really clear. So one thing I didn’t do a very good job of was like scheduling and so schedules are changing all the time. So I guess I would just say over-schedule, over-structure and just have fun.
That’s great. Definitely have fun with those cute kids no matter what age they are. But I do agree on the schedule. The schedule is one of the hardest things. If you can get a handle on that and that works and that’s great. And then just be aware that it might change because you might be getting a new student or a student might be moving and so definitely the schedule needs to have some flexibility to it. But if everybody knows what the schedule is, that helps, especially with your specialist coming in and out of the classroom.
All right. Well thank you for coming on the show and I’ll get those links from you. And so we’ll link to those in the show notes. Would you like to tell me anything about your presence online? I know you’re on Instagram, but I don’t know if you have a blog or TPT store. Oh, you did mention an Etsy store. You want to talk about how the ways anyone can get a hold of you if they want.
Yeah, so my Instagram handle is sparkles and Sped and I have a link to my teachers pay teachers as well as my Etsy store. My teachers pay teachers store is really geared more towards, special education, but my Etsy store is just geared towards teachers and just any fun t-shirts. Currently I’m working on a big order of “Red for Ed” t-shirts.
Oh, okay. Great. Well, I hope someone follows up with you. Thank you again, Marissa.
I love getting feedback on the podcast. Here is the first review I’ve gotten on iTunes or Apple Podcast. Adventures in Behavior said, “Lisa is such a kind soul and has wonderful interviews with special education teachers and other professionals. A great podcast for anyone in the field.” That is so sweet. Thank you so much. I would love it if anyone else would give their own review. Just go to the podcast on iTunes or on the Apple Podcast App Keep scrolling down until you see the review from Adventures in Behavior. Then you can rate the show up to five stars and click the link to write your own review.
Birthdays are a type of milestone and so are graduations. Graduation season is upon us. In fact, my daughter just graduated from college this past Saturday. It was a joy to travel down to Southern California to see her graduate, see her friends, professors, and help her move out.
It made me reflect on all the teachers that she has had throughout her life. So many great individuals who really went above and beyond to provide her and others with a wonderful education all the way from preschool through university. It is also been teacher appreciation week. I appreciate all the teachers that I’ve gotten to work with over the years. Marissa talked about her mentors and I also have had a number of wonderful special ed mentors that have helped me through the years, either by talking and coaching or just by their actions. My mom and her team teacher, who taught high school special ed, were the first two mentors that help me even get into the special ed field in the first place. Also, in my first teaching job, there was a special ed teacher next door to me who really, really helped me out and treated me as an adult and encouraged me along the way. And even now I work with many special educators who are mentors to me.
However, some of you may not be feeling very appreciated. In fact, you’re probably exhausted and feeling at the end of your rope. So I also wanted to talk about burnout. It’s getting close to the end of the year. Some people will be out in a matter of weeks, other people will be out in the next month or perhaps six weeks. And of course I’m talking about US teachers. If you’re in Australia or in other places, you might have a different time schedule than us. And so I know it’s really hard sometimes getting through each day when there are struggles with students who are having a hard time or maybe there’s issues with parents or other teachers or administration. And I know when I have been in tough situations, what has helped me get through those times is to really focus on why I became a special ed teacher. And it’s always about the kids.
It wasn’t the students’ fault that I had 20 students in my class across five grade levels. It wasn’t the student’s fault that had been diagnosed with behavior issue that wasn’t under my credential. It wasn’t the student’s fault that there was something going on with administration or with other teachers. And so what I had to tell myself is everyday when I go into that classroom, I am there for the kids and I need to love on them the best I can and teach them the best I can regardless of all the other situations that were going on. When I found that I could focus on that. That helped me because I love teaching. I love my students. I love working with them and so I just had to focus on that and try to ignore everything else or at least not let that get in the way of being there for my students and loving them and teaching them and trying to provide for them a very consistent environment so that they could learn each day and doing the best that I could in that situation.
I just put a Freebie on the podcast page and also in my Teacher Pay Teachers store. It’s a visual representation of what I say at the very end of each podcast episode. Just remember that the truth is you are an amazing special educator. Read that instead of listening to the negative feedback that goes through your head after a hard day. So print it out and post it in your room or at home or in your car to remind you and others of the truth of the matter… And just remember that whether you are appreciated officially by your school or by your students’ parents or not. I know for me sometimes I don’t even think my student’s families knew that it was teacher appreciation week or maybe they would have done something. But just know inside that you know that you are a great special educator. So if you want to get that Freebie I talked about a little earlier, you can get that on the podcast page, which is www.lisagoodell.com/podcast and then you can click on the link for episode seven, which is this episode.
Or you can also go to my teacher pay teachers store, which is just my name, Lisa Goodell. So go to teacher pay teachers.com and then search my name ‘Lisa Goodell.” You can also join us in the Facebook group, which is called Help for Special Educators podcast. Or you can always send me an email@firstname.lastname@example.org. I really hope to hear from you. I do need your help with some upcoming episodes. I am trying to find some people to interview, um, so that we can go in deeper on teacher burnout. I’d also like to talk to someone who has worked with the Unique Learning System or with Whole Brain Teaching. I know I have used both of those just a little bit in my classroom. One was the last year when I was in the classroom full time and then with the unique learning system. I have used that just a little bit during summer school when I’ve taught extended school year, but I would love to have someone that has used those a little bit more. You don’t have to necessarily be certified in either one of those, but if you’ve just used them in your class, hey, that is good enough for me. Because that way you can give your opinion and give some ideas and maybe pros and cons for other teachers or schools that are looking at implementing some of those.
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 try 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 you 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.