How do you structure a special education classroom?
Setting up that special education classroom is the first line of defense. Do you have the materials you need? Admin support to get those? Is your area safe for littles or challenging behavior? Set up with a clear organization system? Is it kid-friendly? Can students navigate the room safely and as independently as possible? If you have a life skills room with home stations such as laundry and kitchen, are they set up with visuals and adaptive equipment?
I think one of the best things we can do as teacher is, when we walk into a special education classroom, we stand in the doorway and imagine we ARE one of the students. What would they do? What would they see? How would they feel in that setting?
Special Education Classroom Environment Fidelity Checklist
All these questions and my history of visiting and consulting in many classrooms motivated me to create a fidelity checklist. I know and have used other classroom assessments, but I wanted something easier and quicker and more teacher-friendly So, I did it. This 100-item checklist just scratches the surface of everything we have to do for our kiddos, but it's easy to use and a great tool to foster decisions going forward. Here are some excerpts from it!
What is the purpose of a classroom assessment?
A special education classroom assessment like this can be used by a teacher who wants to do their own check-in, by a behavior analyst who has been asked to come in and support a classroom, by behavior support teams who are assisting teachers and students with challenging behaviors, by psychologists who are recommending placement, by admins who are doing teacher observations and evaluations, and so on. The idea is to identify strengths and areas for improvement in the hope of improving classroom management and team cohesiveness.
This tool should not be the sole source of data for evaluating a classroom, but it is a great snapshot and allows for team analysis and plans-of-action.
Overall Quick Check
I made this 10-item section first because sometimes you just need a quick check. I chose what I think are the top 10 things needed to facilitate a successful special education classroom.
Is the classroom clean and organized?
Are visuals prevalent and used functionally and frequently?
Are learning materials and visuals age-appropriate?
Are students engaged in learning, cooperative, or engaging activities throughout the day?
Do all students have a functional way to communicate?
Do students spend maximum amount possible with typically-developing peers?
Are the staff engaged with students and exhibit positive attitudes?
Are plans created and followed for preventing and responding to challenging behavior?
Is data collected regularly and used to make decisions?
Are there enough staff to meet the needs of the students?
Behavior Quick Check
And this section, I created as a quick check for what I think of 10 of the most important behavioral strategies in a classroom. There's another sections later in the assessment that's a little more involved, but I wanted something quick for a team to keep in mind. Managing behavior in a special education classroom is vial for a smoooooooth flow.
Give time and space to process?
Match our language to student ability?
Provide and respond to any functional communication attempt?
Provide more positive and affirming responses to students than corrective?
Make sure students know what is happening now, what is next, and when they get to do their favorite activities?
Validate and mirror students’ opinions and expressions of emotions?
Stay mindful of students’ history of trauma or negative past experiences?
Have high expectations for students and help them achieve them!
Here, we're looking at the classroom set-up, the organization and physical structures. There are a total of 12 items in this section. Here is an excerpt.
Visually appealing, not cluttered, organized and clean
Visual supports are easily visible for the students (daily schedule, behavior strategies)
Assistive technology is available and easy-to-access for students who need it
Materials are age-appropriate
Positive classroom climate; feels “good” when you walk in
Materials are organized and prepared for instruction
Classroom is near or easily-accessible to the general population of the school
This sections deals with our own training and implementation of strategies when we are with our students. There are a total of 20 items in this section. Here is an excerpt.
Lesson targets include IEP goal focus
Activities intersperse easy-to-do and fun with more difficult learning tasks
Transitions are clearly identified
Individualize reinforcement systems are set up and used when warranted
Corrective feedback is neutral but clear, reinforcement feedback is high affect and fun
Gen Ed curriculum is used and modified as much as possible
Schedule includes regular breaks and/or non-instructional time
Instruction is always one towards promoting independence
What strategies are we using to reduce challenging behavior in our rooms so that we can TEACH. 🙂 There are a total of 12 items in this section. Here is an excerpt.
Choices are offered throughout the day and as much control as possible is given to the students
Positive responses from staff are prevalent for expected behaviors
Expectations are clear and understood by the students
Corrective feedback is given privately; positive praise given publicly when appropriate
De-escalation procedures used with fidelity
Trauma-informed care guides interactions with students with a trauma history
Neurodiversity affirming language is used by staff when appropriate
Staff Training and Interactions
This section is addressing team training and cohesiveness. We know how important that is! There are a total of 18 items in this section. Here is an excerpt.
Are trained on procedures of the classroom, current student needs, and behavior and skill acquisition strategies
On time and stay on schedule
Have a positive attitude and a cooperative mentality
Take data per their training with fidelity
Are engaged with students on assigned task when not on break
Class team is cohesive and supportive
Staff interact with students respectfully and maintain their dignity
Data! My favorite! I have a t-shirt that says, “Speak DATA to me.” I resisted making this section huge, and there are only a total of 6 items, but they're important! Here are all of them.
Staff is trained regularly on how to collect
Collected regularly and with fidelity
Directly related to IEP or other measurable goal
Collected data is analyzed and/or plotted for analysis
Data is used to make data-based decisions on future directions at the class AND individual level
And the most important section, if you ask me. How are the kiddies? There are a total of 12 items in this section. Here is an excerpt.
Appear engaged and happy
Are given moments to “shine”
Participate with their Gen Ed peers to the maximum extent possible according to their individual abilities
All students have a functional communication system (e.g., verbal, sign, PECS, AAC) and always have access to it
Appear motivated by schoolwide, class wide, and individual reinforcement systems
Are involved with, to the maximum amount possible, the structure of their day (e.g., goals, schedule, free choice times, what peers to engage with)