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10 Critical Components for Success in the Special Education Classroom

10 Critical Components for Success in the Special Education Classroom

March 2014 | 232 pages | Corwin

Your blueprint for building structure, consistency, and accountability year-round!

Often teachers of all experience levels struggle to effectively manage special education classrooms. In this must-have guide, Rohrer and Sampson provide a solid, workable action plan to ensure measurable success for even your most challenging student.

 Discover a variety of research-based instructional strategies to:

  • Support all students, including those with autism and severe learning disabilities
  • Organize your classroom, materials, and staff and student schedules for optimal teaching and learning
  • Execute well-planned standards-based lessons, annual IEP’s, PLAALP’s, behavioral interventions, and visual supports
  • Develop communication and social skills within a language-rich environment
  • Foster parent communication and staff collaboration

Packed with real-world examples, free tools to use and share, a list of resources and a helpful glossary, this dynamic resource will inspire you, develop your teacher toolbox, and ensure your students are on the path to achievement!

10 Critical Components for Success in the Special Education Classroom offers practical and easy-to-use ideas for organizing your physical classroom space, materials, student and staff schedules. Readers will also receive well thought out strategies that will definitely aid in the ultimate end result—student success!”
—Avis Canty, Special Education Teacher
Tanglewood Middle School, Greenville, SC

“The path to success for students with autism and intellectual disabilities starts here, when their teachers implement the essential critical components outlined in this book.”
—Renee Bernhardt, Learning Support for Special Education and RTI
Cherokee County School District, Canton, GA

About the Authors
1. Physical Arrangement of the Classroom

Benefits of a Well-Designed Classroom

Well-Defined Areas Clarify Student Expectations

The 10-Minute Rule

Arranging Your Classroom

Required Areas

Home Base

Group Instruction Area

Teacher Work Area

Transition Area

Student Schedule Area

Work Station

Technology Area

Additional Areas

Arts and Crafts, Eating, and Cooking Areas

Personal Hygiene

Sensory Area

Recreation and Leisure Activity Area

Getting Started


Real-Life Applications

2. Organization of Materials

Organizing Classroom Materials

What supplies will you need?

What stays and what goes?

Where will materials be located?

Group by academic subject

Group by frequency of use

Safety considerations

Organizing Student’s Materials


Real Life Applications

3. Schedules

The Three Types of Schedules

Building a Foundation for Your Schedules

Daily Classroom Schedule

Creating Your Classroom Schedule

Posting the Classroom Schedule

Using the Daily Classroom Schedule

Staff Assignment Schedule

Individual Student Schedules

The Importance of Symbolic Communication Forms

Creating Student Schedules

Student Schedule Formats and Locations

Teaching Students to Use Schedules


Real-Life Applications

4. Visual Strategies

What Are Visual Strategies?

The Importance and Benefits of Visual Strategies

Creating Visual Strategies

Consider the Student's Communication Level

Using Visual Strategies

As Reminders



Behavioral Cues

Communication Supports


Real-Life Expectations

5. Behavioral Strategies

Determing the Need for Behavioral Inteventions

Conducting a Functional Behavior Assessment

Define the Behavior

Gather Information About the Behavior

Review Records

Conduct Interviews

Collect Baseline Data

Look for Patterns of Behavior

Make a Hypothesis about the Function of the Behavior

Identifying Behavioral Goals and Objectives

Developing a Behavioral Intevention Plan

Defining Consequences

Meaningful Reinforcers

Edibles as Reinforcers

Nonedibles as Reinforcers


Strategies to Change Behavior

Implementing the Behavioral Intervention Plan


Real-Life Applications

6. Goals, Objectives, and Lesson Plans

Legal Foundation

Annual Goals and Objectives

Develop a Present Level of Academic Achievement

The Need for Data Collection

Methods for Collecting Data

Special Factors and the Individualized Education Program

Write the Annual Goals and Objectives

Lesson Plans

Lesson Plan Elements

Monitoring Student Progress: Your Grading System


Real-Life Applications

7. Instructional Strategies

Instructional Considerations

Age-Appropriate Materials and Activities

Variety Increases Interest

Sensory Needs

Instructional Methods and Strategies

Direct Instruction

Applied Behavior Analysis

Grouping Students

Social Stories

Having a Substitute Teacher

Work Stations

Station Rotation

Community-Based Instruction


Real-Life Applications

8. Communication Systems and Strategies

The Speech and Language Pathologist

Communication Throughout the Day

Teaching Social Skills

The Use of Schedules and Communication

Communication and Assistive Technology

Communication and Behavior


Real-Life Applications

9. Communication with Parents

Setting Up a System for Parent Communication

Student-Generated Daily Communication to Parents

Keeping Communication Meaningful and Helpful


Parental Involvement


Real-Life Applications

10. Related Services and Other School Staff

Important Information About Related Services

Related Services Defined

Who Qualifies for Related Services?

Direct Versus Indirect Services

Service Delivery Models

Other School Staff


Real-Life Applications

Putting It All Together
Glossary and Acronym Guide

"10 Critical Components for Success in the Special Education Classroom is a must have resource for experienced as well as new special education teachers as well as school administration. The book offers easy to use and practical ideas for organizing your physical classroom space, materials, student and staff schedules. Readers will also receive well thought out strategies that will definitely aid in the ultimate end result; student success!"

Avis Canty, Special Education Teacher
Tanglewood Middle School, Greenville, SC

"Finally, the book that should be consulted when new ESE classrooms are created!  This book provides the blueprint to setting up a successful self-contained classroom for both beginning teachers and experienced teachers."

Karen Kozy-Landress, Speech/Language Pathologist
MILA Elementary School, Merritt Island, FL

"The path to success for students with autism and intellectual disabilities starts here, when their teachers implement the essential critical components outlined in 10 Critical Components for Success in the Special Education Classroom."

Renee Bernhardt, Learning Support for Special Education and RTI
Cherokee County School District, Canton, GA

"Raising expectations is what the 10 Critical Components is all about!  Not only does this system provide a 'map' for teachers to provide appropriate instruction with high expectations for students, it also gives a systematic and clear method for administrators to evaluate teachers in the Special Education classrooms. Put it all together, and you have a system that will ensure students are receiving structured and meaningful instruction that will prepare them for the future."

Bonnie Haecker, Director of Special Education
Santa Fe Independent School District, Santa Fe, TX

"I have had the pleasure of working with Marcia and Nannette in two school districts.  I first met them while working as Dean of Instruction at a high school campus.  These two ladies were hired by our Special Education Director to come in and 're-haul' our Life Skills programs.  I sat back and watched in amazement as they worked their 'magic.'  The classrooms transformed into learning environments right before my eyes.  As the 10 Critical Components were taught to the teachers, a significant impact was made not only on the staff, but most importantly, the students and their parents.  The 10 Critical Components encompass the needs of the whole child from the necessary physical arrangement of the classroom to individualized IEP's as well as parent communication.  After leaving that district and becoming a Special Education Director in a neighboring district, I realized my Life Skills classes were in need of a "makeover," not only in classroom arrangements, but also in instruction, communication, individualized behavior plans, and curriculum.  I immediately called upon Marcia and Nannette, and they began the process.  I am currently in year two of the 10 Critical Components.  The teachers who have begun this process are amazed at the progress of their students along with the simplicity of the components.  Once the components are in place in the classroom, everything comes together, and the students thrive.  We still have a lot of work to do to fully implement the 10 Critical Components in my district, but with Marcia and Nannette by my side, the classrooms will be instructional learning environments where all students in this district will experience success and reach their full potential.  I cannot begin to thank Marcia and Nannette for all of their hard work in working with my district."

Cynthia Peltier, Director of Special Education
Texas City ISD, Texas City, Texas

"Our teachers have been very happy with the training on the Ten Critical Components and feel that it has assisted them in being better prepared to meet the needs of their students.  In fact, the question I get most often from teachers is, 'When can they come back?'"

Laurie Goforth, Director of Special Programs
Dickinson Independent School District, Dickinson, Texas

"I will never forget my first year as a Life Skills Special Education teacher!  I had two brand new empty classrooms and absolutely no idea how to set them up for success when the students arrived.  Thank goodness my director sent Marcia and Nannette and their 10 Components!  They taught me how color coding makes the classroom structure come together.  Now each year the first thing I do is choose a color and appropriate icon/picture for each student.  I label everything 'theirs'- desks, work boxes, place in line, picture schedule, etc. with that color and icon.  It makes the first days and lessons so much easier!  Students identify what’s theirs, and learn to respect what belongs to others.   Excellent and 'essential' for the Special Education Classroom."

Shelley Hyde, Life Skills Teacher
Pearland ISD, Pearland, Texas

"I was excited to attend Marcia and Nannette's workshop on the 10 critical components when I found out who the presenters were. They both have so much to offer teachers and parents of ALL students with learning differences. My first year as a self-contained special education teacher would have ended very differently, and much sooner, had they not been there to 'reorganize' the way the classroom was set up, as well as the way I approached teaching. That was an extremely difficult year, but they got better. I do believe I learned from the best."

Laurie Moreno, Special Education Teacher

"This is a formal thank you for introducing me to the 10 Components.  Before I was introduced to Marcia and Nannette's methodology, my self-contained classroom, in my opinion, was running smoothly, as I was receiving excellent appraisals from my principal.  Although it was taking me 10 to 11 hours a day, I was 'juggling' my classroom pretty successfully one would say. My initial introduction to the 10 components was not readily accepted.  In fact you might say I resisted change.  One day I received a new student with behavioral issues, and consequently the behaviors of my current students changed as well and not for the better. Marcia and Nannette revisited my classroom and refocused me on the methodology of the 10 components. That refocusing literally saved my school year, and everyone reaped the benefits.  My students were totally happy to have a dependable schedule, my paraprofessionals were more at ease and comfortable, and of course the classroom ran more smoothly.  Various other aspects of the 10 components were equally as important, but the one mentioned above was very key to my classroom situation at the time.  I am happy to report that I ended the year working from 8 to 9 hours per day including getting administrative tasks completed as well. You made me a believer in the 10 Components."

Portia J Bogaert, Special Education Teacher
Dickinson ISD, Dickinson, Texas

"Marcia Rohrer and Nannette Samson have provided the Special Services department with outstanding services through the years. The training they provide on the 10 Critical Components enable teachers to structure their classrooms in such a way that behavioral concerns are minimized and time on task is increased. This outstanding training is then coupled with individualized assistance with classroom arrangement, staff and student scheduling, behavioral management, and delivery of instruction to maximize student progress.  These specialists have also provided our parents with thorough and in depth evaluations and targeted goals for in-home and parent training. These comprehensive services enable staff to increase their positive energy and productivity so that students attain maximum educational benefit."

Gloria Roach, Special Services Director
Channelview ISD, Channelview, Texas
Key features
  • Sets the stage for each student to achieve, increase positive behaviors, establish effective communication with parents, and enhance teacher effectiveness for all students.
  • Each chapter contains numerous educational best practices around the component discussed.
  • The practices, ideas, and suggestions also benefit students in resource and inclusion settings.

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