Classroom and Social

Schedules in a Special Education Classroom

Let’s talk schedules. You have your timetable sorted or on the way to being sorted. Now what? Where do you start? Schedules are a great place to head to next. The types of schedules required in a special education setting are whole class, individual, work and first/then schedules. All are necessary for different purposes.

Whole Class Schedules

First let me talk about whole class schedules. These are essential to let all students know what is coming up next. They are also a great reminder for support staff and provide a quick check for therapists and others dropping into the room. Although they are a whole class schedule it is best to put it up in sections. This way it limits the visual field for students and is therefore less overwhelming.

After lunch whole class schedule at front of small group area

It is critical that the schedule is explicitly taught and utilised at every step. Draw the students’ attention to the schedule at the beginning of each lesson to let them know what is coming and again at the end so the students know when a lesson has finished. It provides the structure required within special education classrooms. This is particularly important at the beginning of the year in every class.  It is essential throughout the entire year in a self-contained classroom. It decreases anxiety for all students.

Individual Schedules

Individual student schedules are important for those that need to follow an alternative program or, for those that attend inclusion or specials away from home room. Before we go any further let me offer my take on individual schedules in a self-contained class. Only use them if you need to!

This sounds like a no brainer, but I hear and read about a number of teachers who automatically set up individual class schedules for each student before the year even begins. Here is my question for you. Is every student going to require an individual schedule? Why? Don’t make life more complex for the student and your team than it needs to be. Whilst a whole class schedule is essential, providing an unnecessary individual schedule may make the student more dependent.

Symbols showing a morning schedule for an individual student sitting above his work desk. Black paper next to schedule hiding more visuals out of sight to decrease stimulation.
Individual Schedule Sitting above the work desk of the student. The black paper next to the schedule contains more pictures for the schedule hidden underneath.
This lowers the visual field so as not to overwhelm the student.

Yes, some students will require an individualised schedule but not everyone will. The aim is to lower support as and when able in order to increase independence. As they become more used to the classroom routines hopefully for some students, they can begin to use the whole class schedule as long as you continue to explicitly teach it and refer to it. For more on how to teach students to use an independent schedule check this article out from Dr Christine Reeve. It may then be that the most or all students just need whole class and work schedules.

Work Schedules

Work schedules are used, as the name implies, to break down what is required within some lessons or activities. They are used for independent workstations, rotations, centres or within group lessons such as morning circle or music.  On a work schedule, visuals inform the student what comes next to complete one task or a group of tasks, when the task(s) is/are finished. Initially students will require a range of prompts and a support person to be successful but the aim as with all schedules, is to fade the prompts as able to increase independence. For some students they require more support. For these students a first/then schedule is used.

a schedule containing 4 boxes. The last three have symbols representing songs from morning circle: good morning, Tena Koe Hello and first abc then find name. An arrow leading to finish symbol follows .

First/Then Schedules

A first/then schedule provides maximum support for students who are overwhelmed with the school day. These students will need the support of an adult to be successful and require the first/then level of support all day. They are typically on an individualised program. The visual on the first side of the schedule is the work task and the next task is there to offer predictability for the student. The student completes the first work task and it is removed, leaving the next task. Then the process begins again.

First then schedule. Left (First) side is green with a symbol of breakfast foods and the (Then) side is yellow with a picture of a boy on a swing. The schedule is hot glued on an A5 clip board.
First Then Schedule

Free For You

Please feel free to download a sample of a black and white work task schedule and a first/then. Work task schedules in a range of colours along with visuals to get you started can be downloaded free by joining my email list. Simply click the subscribe link to sign up and they are yours.

I hope you find this article useful and has you reflecting on the types of schedules you use in your class. For other critical items to have prepared at the beginning of the teaching year check out this article.

Aroha, Ann

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