How to Create Your Autism Classroom Schedule

When you teach in a special education classroom with such varied ability levels, scheduling can be such a nightmare. If you have to  change your schedule, you’re in for quite a treat with how it may affect your students and even your teacher assistants. Obviously some of our students can be very rigid and a schedule change can set them off for days or even weeks. It’s best to prepare your students and your support staff any time you may be making a change to their daily routine. Unfortunately, due to a school wide schedule change (specials times, lunch times, recess times), I had to totally redesign our classroom schedule tonight. Thankfully, I’ve become quite the pro at creating color coded schedules in Excel. I actually get such excitement from it – like I completed a 1,000 piece puzzle. Because that’s what our schedules look like – a color-coded puzzle.

This is something I couldn’t really do at the beginning of the year because I hadn’t had the chance to collect data on my students, but once I learned them, I could really place them in groups based on their ability levels. Now, I hardly do “group” times, but these groups of students are generally working on the same skills and require the same level of support.
Group 1: one on one students (students that require heavier amount of adult support & discrete trial training)
Group 2: younger independent students (younger students working on more academic based activities, but can do centers independently)
Group 3: older independent students (older students working on academics, but can do centers independently)
Group 4: students that mainstream for academics, specials, lunch, and recess

Look over IEP goals and data sheets, and make a list of all the tasks/programs you want each student to do throughout the day. Here is a picture of my list that I jotted down. 
In Microsoft Excel, I start by typing in interval times to break up your day. I always set mine to 15 minute intervals because that is usually the length at a center in our classroom. If I need to plug in a program that lasts longer than 15 minutes, I just use two blocks. 
Plug in non-negotiable times first. These are times you have absolutely no control over, such as first grade lunchtime for a student that goes to lunch with his grade level. For me, I find it easiest to have a black background for anything happening outside of my classroom (i.e. student going to a resource classroom or with regular ed class). For any non-negotiables in my own classroom (specials, lunch, recess), I used a gray background. I also collaborate with our AU2 class and we do a form of “leveled” reading groups and switch students, so that time slot is grayed out as well. Of course, the students names are along the top, but I blacked them out for the picture’s purposes. The students are arranged in their “groups.”
Group 1: B, C, D
Group 2: E, F
Group 3: G, H
Group 4: I
After plugging in the parts of the schedule I don’t have any control over, I look back at my group centers/program lists and start plugging in times I can do some direct instruction groups such as structured reading group (where I incorporate our science/SS as well), social skills, and some of the programs I use (Touch Math, Words Their Way, I Can Read). 
One I have all the group activities nailed down, I start added individual centers I want each student to rotate through. Currently in my classroom, I have 3 TA’s (blessed, I know!), so I tend to pair them with students that need more assistance to stay in a designated area or complete a task independently (Group 1). With that in my, I set up a basic rotation of the centers I want the students to rotate through, such as:
Fine Motor/Art
DTT (Discrete Trial Training)
Table Time
DTT (again, yes)
Adapted Books
.. and I basically just plug them into the open spaces. For now, my group 1 students complete fine motor activities, pre-writing activities from my basic skills pack, and the art activity from my Easy Art Packs as their “morning work,” so they all have that first. Then I just plug in the rest and rotate so that no two kids are at the same place at the same time (helps with behaviors to let them have their space and quiet during work times). 
I continue to do this with my other students in the other groups, but also add in their program activities as well. Obviously, I add/delete a few (hundred) times until everything fits, everything is covered, and there isn’t overload in one area of the classroom. 
Here is what my lists looked like after this was finished…

This is obviously my favorite thing to do. So here’s the deal, each adult in the class has a color (shown below), and I go through the schedule and “zone” where and who the adult is to work with. If the student is to work independently, the background of the box stays white.

Adult “Cheat Sheet” Schedules – I create each adult in the classroom a “cheat sheet” schedule for what their day should look like. These are especially helpful for those first few days of a new schedule until the adults get into the routine as well. We also keep these handy for days they have a sub. It’s so easy just to hand the sub the schedule for day and they can follow right along. Of course, the student’s actual names are in the parenthesis, not just the letter, so the adult knows which children to work with. All the areas in our class are labeled and very defined, so they are easy to locate even for the subs. I also have a “cheat sheet” schedule for myself and each student to help with their picture schedules. SUCH a time saver! 
HOLY MOLY that’s a lot of information! I have had a lot of questions regarding our data collection procedures, daily behavior intervention strategies, and programs I love and I promise I’m working on answering ALL the questions! Let me know if you have a question about how I set up my schedules. I’m sure there is an easier way, I’m just super Type A! Can you tell?
I’ve also blogged about battling the scheduling mayhem here, but my classroom is constantly evolving so the rotations have changed up a bit. I like to keep my kiddos on their toes. 😉
Feel free to shoot me an e-mail with any questions you may have! 🙂

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