Topics of Interest

Education and Autism Spectrum Disorders: Topics of Interest

Back to School Basics

By: Dr. Amy Naccarelli, Ed.D, BCBA
Still dreaming of the beach and wish you were working on your tan? Don’t get burned these first few weeks back by not sufficiently preparing for a successful school year. Here are some helpful tips for getting organized and prepared to support your new and returning students.
Material Organization
A well-organized classroom environment allows the team to be prepared to effectively and efficiently assess, instruct, and monitor students. Produce a schedule and get it up and running starting the first day of school. Remember that assessment time can and should be reflected on your schedule. Keep in mind that your schedule is always a work in progress, so adjustments can be made as the need arises.

Many materials can be gathered before students arrive on the first day of school. Some examples include the following:

  • 3-drawer rolling carts for each student (wide carts preferable)
  • 1-3 inch binder for each student
  • 1 clipboard for each student
  • 1-2 shoe box size containers for each student to organize card sort
  • Card sort (for more detailed information, view Introduction to Teaching Procedures: Developing Card Sort System)
  • Reinforcement containers
  • Sandwich size glide baggies
When gathering materials, keep in mind that the main goal is to ensure that materials can be easily identified and accessed by any instructor. Teaching materials must be easily accessible to teaching staff while working directly with students. It is important that all organization systems are clearly labeled so instructors can discriminate which materials to use for specific areas of instruction.     
Classroom Environment
Care should be taken to design the classroom environment in a way that will promote optimal instruction. Consider asking yourself the following questions when arranging the classroom layout:
  • Does the layout provide enough space for individual and group instruction?
  • Is your classroom free of clutter to allow students and staff to easily navigate the environment?
  • Does the seating allow for appropriate attending posture?
  • Does the classroom furniture allow instructors to easily display instructional materials, provide prompts, and interact with students?
  • If partitions are needed, do they allow instructors to have a clear view of the entire classroom at all times?
  • The physical environment plays a key role in motivating students to interact and communicate with others. Teachers can arrange materials so that highly valued items can only be reached through communication with staff. Some examples of how to sanitize the environment include the following:
  • Put items on high shelves where they can only be viewed, not reached
  • Store preferred items in clear bins that can only be opened by staff
  • Place edibles in clear bags or containers
  • Place reinforcers in pocket aprons worn by staff
  • Expose highly preferred items in rotation
New Students

One of the first critical steps for new students is to begin pairing the presence of staff, instructional areas, and materials with reinforcement.  During the pairing process, be mindful to gather and store potential reinforcers. Keep in mind that pairing is an ongoing process that continues all year long; so, do not get stuck here. Collecting data on approach and escape behavior will help the team determine when to begin fading in demands. 
As soon as approach behavior is established, begin manding and fade in instruction on existing goals. Begin conducting language and other relevant assessments as soon as possible. Keep in mind that some assessment areas are based solely on observation and can be assessed beginning the first day of school. Adjust and begin programming based on assessment results and develop instructional materials and data systems. It may be appropriate to begin programming for the completed portions of an assessment, even if it is not entirely finished.   
Returning Students
For all returning students, start the first day of school continuing with the programming, including mand training, that the students ended with on the last day of school or that extend through the Extended School Year (ESY). If possible, schedule the same allocated times that the student had at the end of the school year.
For students who retention may be an issue, assess known skills during scheduled session times. If the student responds correctly to the known skill on the first probe, consider it maintained. If the student errs on the first probe, run the error correction procedure and set it aside. Re-probe the skill the next day. If the student errs again, consider it a lost skill. Be sure to reflect the lost skills on the appropriate data systems such as the skills tracking sheet and graph. Any of the known skills that are not retained can be your first targets for the school year.  Keep in mind that it may be necessary to adjust programs if there is a significant amount of lost skills.
Staff Training
Classroom staff is a valuable part of the team. Training staff is vital to the success and fidelity of implementation of student programming. Consider printing wall cues to serve as reminders for staff. Schedule reoccurring team meetings/ trainings. Also, be sure to schedule time to conduct treatment integrity checks on all instructional staff to ensure interventions are being implemented with fidelity (for more detailed information, read The Value of Checking). If team meetings and treatment integrity checks are scheduled, it is more likely that they will occur.