Transitions in Special Education
I always dream about having smooth transitions in the classroom. But transitions can be hard. As special education teachers, we know that transitions can be especially challenging for our self-contained students. Whether it's moving from one classroom to another or transitioning to a new school entirely, change can be tough for anyone, but it can be especially difficult for students who rely on routine and structure in their learning environments. In this post, we'll explore some tips that can help make the transition to a new setting a smoother, more successful experience for your self-contained students.
Have you ever been on vacation at the beach, lounging with a good book, listening to the ocean waves crashing and your toes in the sand? On a scale of 1-10, how happy would you say you are in that situation? My guess would be probably a 10. Don't you just wish you could stay in that happy moment forever and ever? Now picture this: Someone abruptly comes up to you and tells you that you must leave the beach immediately and go back to your room. How would you feel? Probably pretty upset!
This is just one example of how we all sometimes struggle with transitions and why transitions can sometimes be especially difficult for our students in special education.
Transitioning from Highly Preferred Activities to Non-Preferred Activities
Transitions in special education can be tough, especially transitioning a student from a highly preferred activity to a non-preferred activity. The student may not understand why they can't play on the computer all day if they love it. In turn, you have to get data on their IEP math goal. It can be a tough situation to be in. Let's talk about some simple and practical things that have worked over the years for me to have smoother transitions in special education with my students.
Strategies for Transitions in the Special Education Classroom
1. Whenever Possible, Give Choices
I love love love giving students choices. Why? Well because then they have some say and ownership in their activity. That builds confidence, makes them happy and then it turns into a win-win situation. Student picks the work they want. Student does work that teacher asks. Everyone can celebrate! When we start using the power of choices as an intervention, we want to use them prior to starting those non-preferred tasks or activities. If you think about the real world and everyday life, no one is telling us the order in which we have to do any non-preferred activities. I am able to do the dishes, then watch Netflix, and then vacuum if I want to. Give your students 1-2 activities that are MUST DO activities (I like to physically point to the actual activity so that there is no confusion) and let them choose the order in which they do them. The work is getting done no matter the order so they are not skipping anything. This is a great strategy that does wonders in my classroom.
2. Use Visual Schedules and Timers
Every great special education classroom thrives off of visual schedules and timers. All day long my students are following a visual schedule. They have their full daily schedule and even during small group or one on one time, I break that time down into a schedule as well. Maybe FIRST during reading group, we will practice our new sight words, then we will use them in sentences, finally, they can earn 5 minutes of a break at the end of the group if they complete those 2 necessary items. For elementary, use picture schedules. For a lot of my high schoolers, I can write it on the dry-erase board now. Besides this, I use timers constantly in my room. When the timer goes off, it means that a transition is taking place in our room. I work hard to train my students to realize this. I have found that using visual timers helps with this even more.
3. Sandwich Harder Activities Between 2 Preferred Activities
As stated earlier, switching between preferred and non-preferred activities can be tough on students at times. To help with this, I always try to do a preferred activity, followed by a harder non-preferred activity, then end with a preferred activity. This might look like having Lucas type his spelling words on the computer because he LOVES to be on the computer. Then, have him write a sentence about his sight words to practice handwriting, and finally let him type one sentence on the computer and play a computer game.
4. Always Dangle the Reinforcement (Before the Problem Behavior Can Occur)
This goes hand in hand with using visuals but always let students know what the reinforcer is BEFORE beginning the activity. This decreases the chance of a problem behavior ever occurring. Use a First, Then board, visual schedule, or some kind of token economy system so students can see exactly when the reinforcer will be given. They should have extreme clarity of what they need to do in order to earn the preferred activity. It is also very important that the teacher and staff follow through with this.
As special education teachers, we know that every student is unique and what works for one may not work for another. It's important to be flexible and willing to try different strategies until you find what works best for your self-contained students. With patience, understanding, and a bit of creativity, you can help make the transition to a new setting a smooth and successful experience for your students.
So, let's raise a virtual glass of apple juice (because, you know, it's the middle of the school day and we're all professional here) to smooth transitions and all the hard work that goes into making them happen. Cheers!