Setting up your Special Ed. Classroom

Hi there!  Welcome back to our second week of our Special Education Summer Blog Hop!  This week we are talking all about setting up your classroom.  Each year I am always tweaking and looking for new ways to improve upon what I have already learned and built in my classroom, so I am particularly excited about this week's topic!  Here are my top tips that I have found most helpful in organizing my room and helping to meet the varying needs of my students.

One of the very first things I think of each year is how I can set up my room to include very clear work stations.  I always include at least two tables for small group or one-to-one instruction where myself or a Teacher Assistant are able to work with students easily.  I enjoy kidney or trapezoid tables best because they allow me easy access to each student as he or she is working.  The other must haves in my room are a writing center, computer center, and a library.  Creating work stations helps better establish your classroom management because students understand exactly where they are supposed to work and where supplies are located when they need them.  Having structure eliminates chaos and helps manage difficult student behaviors.

ELA Focus wall is near our small group kidney table and the library.

Our Math Focus wall is on the opposite side of the room from our library and ELA area. 

The next thing I do is determine how I want my students to sit throughout the room.  I first look at my class list to get a better feel for who my students are.  I examine IEPs, look at their different diagnosis, and speak to previous teachers to get a clearer understanding of my student population.  I want to be sure to create a set-up where students can interact with one another and foster their socialization skills, but I also must consider the needs of the individual students, many of whom need their own personal space.  My favorite ways to organize the desks are in either a horseshoe or small groupings of three.  The horseshoe allows students to see one another and for me to easily rotate around their desks.  The small groupings are typically what I switch to once I know the students' behaviors better and they have strengthened their social skills a bit more to handle the more intimate setting.  I like that in small groups we can improve upon our teamwork skills.

This picture was from August of last year when I was still setting up the classroom, but you can see how I ended the previous school year in my small groupings of three desks.  Students are encouraged to work together in these groups, but still have their own clearly defined space of their own.  I also make sure to spread the groupings far away from one another so that we have amble room to move about the room.

If you are a frequent follower or friend of mine, you had to know this would be included in my tips, right??  YES!!  Organization, people!  Label, label, label.  Whether you use picture labels, word labels, or both, it is so important to have organization in a classroom because 1) it helps you and the students know where to easily find things, 2) eliminates disruptions or difficult behaviors because students know where to independently locate their supplies and follow a routine, 3) eliminates chaos because everything has a proper place and/or routine, and 4) serves as an important model for students who struggle with organization.

My computer center is clearly labeled.  I also have signs inside that display our rules, computer key shortcuts, and teacher approved websites.  All of these strategies reinforce student behaviors while at the computer center. 

My bins are all labeled and stocked so that students always know where to find supplies.  The mini anchor charts also display our most used anchor charts.  Students have unlimited access to all resources in the writing center and never have to ask where to find these items, thus eliminating unnecessary distractions throughout the day. 

Students need to learn in a place where they feel safe, think clearly, and can foster their self-confidence.  I make sure I consider all four applicable senses when setting up my classroom.
  • Sight: When decorating your room, think carefully about your color choices and decor.  One year, I taught preschool in a classroom with bright red walls.  I swear to you, the students were absolutely bonkers about 90% of the day!  The following year, I taught the same class across the hall in a deep blue room...and it was like teaching a whole new group of students.  Perhaps it was the one year age difference...but I cannot help but believe those wall colors had a strong impact on those behaviors!  You want to make sure your decor is bright and cheerful, without being over stimulating.  Posters and anchor charts are excellent resources, but be sure to rotate those out...the last thing you want is anchor charts wallpapering your walls.  Instead of serving as an information source...they just become ignored clutter.  Also, be aware of your lighting.  I tend to keep the lights off and use natural light in my classroom.  Both my students and I prefer sunlight over those bright overhead lights. 
  • Sound:  We are always playing music in my classroom.  Different moods call for different sounds, and we accommodate accordingly.  Bright, cheerful music for the mornings, calming music during work times, dance music during breaks or get the point.  Allow your students to have a voice and help choose!
  • Smell:  I am a huge believer in essential oils.  I use them in my classroom depending on my students' mood.  Having a groggy Monday morning?  I put on some peppermint oil!  Feeling stressed out?  Throw in some lavender!  These powerful oils not only keep my room full of pre-teens smelling fresh (especially after gym class, yikes!) but also help to control the mood in my classroom.
  • Touch:  Be sure to integrate sensory balls, tippy stools, stress balls, and other such manipulatives when students need them.
This cozy space was a favorite nook for many of my students last year.  We even had a rule where no shoes were allowed on the carpet.  Students loved cuddling up against the pillows with a book, drawing, or iPad during breaks.

So what are some of the ways you set up your Special Education classroom?  I would love to hear your comments below!  Be sure to hop on over to the Super Teach's blog to pick up on even more great tips for classroom set ups!

Superteach's Special Ed Spot

Looking to join in on more fun?  Check out the rest of our schedule for this blog hop.  And, if you missed last week's hop where we talked all about scheduling, be sure to go back here

Happy teaching,

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  1. Wow, your room is beautiful! My room is huge, but it used to be the cafeteria. It's kind of gross and grungy, but I'm going to try to give it a huge facelift this year!

    You AUT-a Know

  2. Your organization, labels, colors, everything make me drool! This is a classroom I would love! I especially love how you incorporate all of the senses into your design. I definitely want to try using essential oils in the classroom this year!
    Mrs. H's Resource Room

    1. Gosh, thanks, Kim! Essential oils are the BEST!

  3. Love your color choices and all of your shelving! Did you build the shelves?

    1. Thanks, Traci! Actually, no, the teacher who had the class before me built those...they were just covered up by old, dingy accordion doors. I had those removed and voila! Instant writing center! I am contemplating turned this into my library this year though...we shall see...

  4. I think I will add essential oils to my wishlist...I had to move classrooms for next year. While not thrilled about leaving my nicely set up, freshly painted room, I'm using this as an opportunity to revamp and rethink a few things.On the list for this week is nice painting the nice calm, pale blue color I had last year.

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