I've just about covered everything I did at Tree Elementary. But there's one more thing I wanted to share!
During Reading, the kids worked in small groups or individually, with teachers or assistants, depending on their level of learning. My reading group consisted of Starling, Rosella and Triller. Their curriculum was Early Literacy Skill Builders, which is designed to teach phonics and site reading to children with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities and/or moderate to severe autism. It uses a lot of pointing, so kids don't even have to be verbal in order to participate. Kids who don't have control of their hands or legs for pointing can even eye gaze! Its a great program and it really works... but its very scripted. There are about seven different units consisting of five lessons each (although it takes us about a week to get through one lesson) and they all consist of the exact same five or six activities. Only the letters and site words are changed. For instance there is one lesson where you show them four words, you point to a word, and then they point to the same word. This activity is repeated in every single lesson, every single unit. This is great because many kids with special needs thrive on repetition, and after the second or third lesson they know exactly what to do\, which builds up their confidence. However, it is also easy for kids to get bored and antsy. Especially if your name is Starling, Rosella, or Triller!
I decided to start bringing a reading game, as an incentive for the kids to sit and pay attention throughout the entire lesson each day. I would write their names on a piece of paper, along with the numbers 1 through 4. For each activity we did, they would get a star if they participated and paid attention and stayed in their seat, and an X if they were out of their seat, disrupting, putting their head down, laying with their head and torso on the table and their feet on the back of their chair and their legs in mid air, etc. If they got no more than 1 X, they could play a reading game after the four ELSB activities. I think I mentioned the first reading game before, where they each had a pile of letter puddles, and when I showed them a flashcard with one of their site words, they'd have to work together to "build" the word. They loved that game, but after a while even that made them antsy. So I made up a new one.
By "made up," I don't mean I thought it up out of the blue. I have seen variations of this activity in different blogs and on different websites, and I just adapted it for my kids' needs. First, I colored some rice. (You can do this by putting a cup of rice into a zip lock bag, adding about a teaspoon of either alcohol or vinegar, adding a few drops of food coloring, sealing the bag, and then mushing and mashing it around until all the rice is covered with color. Do one of these for each color of rice you want to make.) I also had some tiny alphabet beads I bought at a craft store. Once the rice was dry, I put it and the beads into an empty soda bottle that I had peeled the label off of. (The best way to do this is to use a funnel, or roll up a piece of paper in the shape of a funnel. Its also best to add a little rice, and then some beads, and then more rice, and then more beads, so they will be more mixed up.) My final step was to squirt glue into the inside of the bottle cap, before I screwed it very tightly back onto the bottle. This way it is very difficult for mischievous kids to take the cap off and get rice everywhere.
I then made a worksheet to go with the "alphabet bottle." I drew 26 circles on a sheet of paper, and wrote a letter of the alphabet in each circle. (Later, I found some fun printable worksheets online that would be excellent for this game.)
You can probably guess how the game went, but I'll tell you anyway! The kids took turns shaking the bottle and finding any letter they wanted. Once they chose a letter, they had to name the letter and make the sound of the letter (sometimes accompanied by the Jolly Phonics motion!) Then they could mark that letter on the worksheet. Sometimes we used stickers, but they also loved using Do-A-Dot markers. Another thing I would do is write the letters of each player's name, in circles, underneath the alphabet. Then the students had the chance to find the letters of their name as well as the regular letters, but they couldn't stamp the letters in anyone else's name but their own. They loved having letters that "belonged" to them!
If you're wondering about the black circle in the middle of the bottle, I was originally going to have them get a letter into that area of the bottle and then name it. But this was kind of hard for them, so I started just letting them pick any letter they could find.
At first I would let one student choose which game to play, either the letter puddle game or this one. But everyone kept choosing this one, so eventually we just played it by default. They loved it so much, and even the other kids who weren't in our group would come and join us when they were done with their own reading work. In fact, they often requested to play this game during free time, and of course I let them! After my last day, I left the game there for them to play on their own. I can always make more! And I definitely will make more, for whatever class ends up being mine.