Why Do You Need a Visual Group Classroom Schedule? Here’s 5 Reasons to Do It Today.

Why Do You Need a Visual Group Classroom Schedule? Here's 5 Reasons to Do It Today.

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For the last few episodes, you’ve heard me talk about visual schedules. But there’s a type of schedule that often gets forgotten about or overlooked by teachers. In this episode, I discuss visual group classroom schedules and why they’re every bit as important as other kinds of schedules to use for your special education classroom.

2:19​ – Something I find happens a lot in self-contained special ed classrooms

4:16 – The different forms that group schedules can take

4:43 – The key to constructing a good group schedule for your students

5:27 – What to do if students are doing different activities at the same time

6:03 – Five reasons why groups schedules are important to use in the classroom

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Welcome to the Autism Classroom Resources Podcast, the podcast for special educators who are looking for personal and professional development.

Christine Reeve: I’m your host, Dr. Christine Reeve. For more than 20 years, I’ve worn lots of hats in special education but my real love is helping special educators like you. This podcast will give you tips and ways to implement research-based practices in a practical way in your classroom to make your job easier and more effective.

Welcome to the Autism Classroom Resources Podcast. I am very glad that you’re here. I’m Chris Reeve, and I’m your host. I have been using visual schedules for about 30 years now, which is scary. Today I am going to talk about one that you may not have thought of before.

In our last few episodes, I’ve talked about deciding what schedules your students need, why we use visual schedules. Today I actually want to talk about what we call a group schedule or a class schedule. They are just as important as other types of schedules but they often get forgotten about in the general day-to-day when your students have their own individual schedules.

Before we get started, if you are in a classroom that uses any kind of visual schedules or group schedules, individual schedules, visual schedules of any kind, then I would encourage you to come check out the Special Educator Academy. We are a training and support site for special educators particularly, we have a wide variety of training, much of it including visual supports and other behavioral supports.

We have a thriving community of other teachers just like you, so if you’re feeling that you are off on your own figuring this out as you go, I highly recommend coming and trying a free trial at specialeducatoracademy.com. Let’s get started.

Group schedules or class schedules are a way to demonstrate what the whole class is doing. They’re frequently talked about as being best practice in general ed classrooms, especially in the younger grades, so you rarely would go into a kindergarten or first grade class and not see their schedule posted somewhere, hopefully in a manner that the students can understand. If they’re not readers, it would be pictures and words.

Because most students are not readers in kindergarten. They’re just learning to read so we would add pictures in there in those settings so that they can understand the schedule. In a lot of the self-contained or special ed classrooms that I’ve worked in, I find that teachers tend to forget the importance of the use of a group schedule. We get really focused on the individual for the student, and that student and we see them all as so individual that sometimes it’s hard to remember that we do come together as a class.

I remember doing training and I had a colleague who came along with us that we had actually pulled from the school to do training in another district, so we often will pull staff and give them an opportunity to present to other audiences and share their wisdom from their classroom.

Her regular job was actually mentoring teachers in autism classrooms. She was one of our coaches. She was doing the training on visual supports this day with this district and suddenly she just stopped talking. I looked at her and then she kept going but later I asked her why. She said because at the moment that she got to talking about group schedules and the need for them in the classroom, she had just realized that her teachers that she was working with weren’t all using group schedules, and she’d forgotten how important they are to the classroom.

This was a real veteran teacher who had a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience under her belt. Still it was easy to forget in everything else that we have to do that a group schedule is important. Now a group schedule can take a lot of different forms. Sometimes they’re written, sometimes they’re written with pictures. Sometimes they’re part of something we review at the morning meeting or the circle routine in the morning.

Sometimes they’re at the door so they get checked at transitions. Sometimes they are done with times on them like a clock or something like a clock so that students begin to understand and look at the clock for when activities will begin and end. The key to constructing a good group schedule is just making sure that you’re matching it to the students’ needs.

For instance, a clock schedule is going to be more difficult for a child who’s just learning time and sequence to follow than schedules that might just go left to right or top to bottom. We want to make sure that we’re not giving them a schedule that’s so far over their head that it just becomes meaningless for them.

Top to bottom organization is better. It’s the first developmental skill before we get to left or right. We don’t get to clocks in preschool other than knowing what a clock is. We don’t start telling time until later. You want to think about whether or not a clock would be a good depiction.

One of the questions that people often ask me about group schedules is what to do with the students when they’re all not doing the same activity. You have a time during your day like center time where the students are moving around in small groups. Well, it’s an easy thing. I put a center visual on the group schedule, and the individual activities the students are going to are on their individual schedules.

If I have one student who’s leaving the room, it’s on his individual schedule, and it’s not on the group schedule, just as it wouldn’t be in a general ed class when a kid got pulled out for speech. You may be asking if all of my students have individual schedules, why is it important that I have this group schedule? That is a very excellent question.

There are really five reasons why I think it’s important to use group schedules. One is that allows you to review the classroom schedule regularly with the whole class and let them know what’s next. We often review group schedules during morning meeting, we talk about the upcoming day. Then we review them periodically throughout the day as the class comes together often by turning over the visuals and talking about what’s going to happen in the next section of the day.

It’s a way of getting the students used to the idea that this represents our full day, you can warn them about changes and things like that. Another is that it provides a visual support for students to talk about their day. When we’re reviewing the schedule at the end of the day, or throughout the day, we review what we did. That’s a really great language-building exercise for a lot of our students to be able to talk about what they did in those different activities and the visual schedules give you the visual supports to cue them about what they might be talking about.

Third, it helps students learn time and sequence and it embeds that review into the sequencing of a daily routine. They’re following the routine, now they can see what that routine looks like. You can also talk about what the whole class did versus what individual students did. Oh, and then we have music and movement but Bobby, where did Bobby go? Oh, right, Bobby went to such and such class. It gives you an opportunity to really help them understand that time and sequence in a real-life situation and have a representation of it.

Fourth, it provides a reference for the staff and for the students to know the overall scope of the day at a glance by looking at a central location for the schedule with larger visuals. Typically, I make my group schedule with bigger visuals because I want it to be seen across the room. Finding what’s happening next on their individual schedules is sometimes difficult to do from across the room because the visuals are smaller.

A central group schedule with larger visuals makes it easier to reference for everyone throughout the day, which is helpful if you have students that are really hung up on transitions and what happens next. Finally, number five, probably the most important reason, is that it helps to build independence and it provides transitional support. Ultimately, we would love for all of our students to be able to navigate their daily routine in some manner similar to their age-appropriate typical peers.

Typical peers have some daily group schedule that they follow, they just call it a class schedule. Their kindergarten or first grade classroom might have a daily schedule that shows them their day, with a center schedule for the daily five. A high school chemistry teacher might have a written list of the activities that they’re doing in class today to complete and he may review that to let them know what the class is going to do today.

The use of a group schedule in a special ed classroom helps students to reference the natural cue of a schedule in other classroom settings. Eventually, you may be able to fade a student from using their full day individualized schedule to just following the group schedule with maybe a center strip for when he’s doing different activities than the whole rest of the class when you break your class down into smaller groups. Having the group schedule provides a scaffolding to be able to build those skills and move more toward the natural environment.

It also gives you a way of helping students know how to access that information in other classrooms. Having a group schedule helps them understand that now I can look at the class schedule in my regular ed class. It also can help be a transitional point for that. That gives you a taste of the way that individual schedules can be used and the kinds of variety you can have. In my next post I actually will be talking about first/then and in the show notes you will find links to my visual schedule bundles which include both check-in visuals and the larger visuals to make a group schedule.

Hopefully that gives you a taste of the way that you can use group schedules to augment your individual schedules. In my next episode, I will be talking about first/then visual schedules, which are some of our more basic, so we’re going from big to small. I would love to hear if you have a group schedule in your classroom and how you use it.

Come over to our Facebook group at specialeducatorsconnection.com Answer the questions and if you’re a teacher or a para, we will get you right in to be part of the discussion. Thank you so much for spending this time with me and I hope to see you again next week when we will continue for one more week our discussion about visuals.

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