Written By: Jessica Torelli and Kay Pierce, YES Prep Learning Lab Specialists
We love teaching students with learning differences. Our students are energetic, interesting, unique, clever, sometimes out of control in the best of ways, and have a remarkable want and desire to learn. While the students are wonderful to work with, there is inevitably a challenging joy when working with this population; there is no doubt that in many aspects of academia, accommodations and modifications need to be made in order for our students to grasp concepts at the same depth and rate as their nondisabled peers. We recognize meeting these unique and individualized needs can be a struggle in the classroom, especially when students’ needs are so different. Here are a few helpful hints for general education teachers to implement in the classroom daily to meet the needs of their students.
For the attention-seeking, teacher-needing, and socially-driven student
Most students, especially in middle school, seek social acceptance from their peers to an amplified degree and crave teacher attention (whether positive or negative). For students who fall further on the attention-seeking spectrum, schedule purposeful interactions during classroom instruction so the student knows without a doubt they will have your undivided attention. For example, you could say “Sarah, I will be back to your table in 5 minutes. When I get back, I want to hear your take on the Texas Revolution and why you thought it was a defining moment for Texans.” This schedules the time with the student so they do not feel the need to seek your attention through many “Miss, Miss, Miss!” moments or other verbal distractions. Their needs become met when you have acknowledged the attention and provided it accordingly.
For the impulsive, out-of-seat, bouncy student
Make sure, at all times, they have some form of classroom job. Even when you think they will not “enjoy” the responsibility, give them the time to move around, pass out papers, put chairs up, and release that pent up energy which when they are not moving around, manifests itself in distractions (hyperactivity) in the classroom. Allow them to erase the board when you are done writing, even if it is in the middle of your lecture. Allow them to check agendas to make sure all students in the classroom have written down their homework. Allow them the opportunity to physically be a part of your classroom environment and take responsibility.
For the slow to start, low sense of urgency, time-taking student
Chunk assignments into manageable parts and set time limits. This could be as simple a reformatting your lesson handouts to make them one-sided and have less problems on the page to giving a student one page at a time (especially during independent work). A simple fix to the ever-daunting situation of no classwork completion would be to give the assignment to the student in parts so he/she can mentally handle the work load, knows where to start on the assignment, does not have the option of jumping around to multiple problems, and directs focus to specific problems. Some students respond well to time limits, so for each problem, specify the amount of time he/she should take on each problem. Provide positive reinforcement if completed.
For the stressed-out, over-stimulated, easily over-whelmed student
Set up a productive “test taking” environment in your classroom to allow this student to retreat to when he/she begins experiencing these all-consuming feelings. Maybe this is your desk. Maybe this is a separate table and chair near your bookshelf that is more comforting than a table with five other eager students. You can design this space with the help of your student as to make it their “safe place” and an area where he/she can feel productive. You will begin to see and understand the students’ triggers (anticipation of group work, anticipation of a test they do not feel prepared for, etc.) and can direct them to this space prior to situations that bring stress to them.
For the group-work phobia, limited conversationalist, socially awkward student
Learn both their social strengths and challenges. Many students who do not perform well in groups can be attributed to their comfort around others, their independence, social awareness, and their ability to “feel” importance in working with others or why they “need” to work in a group setting. When you see students performing appropriately in social situations, praise them for it (publicly or privately depending on the individual). When they are not performing socially appropriate behaviors, praise others in their direct vicinity on the behaviors you want to target. Prior to the assignment, set and build social expectations around group work and constantly reinforce and model appropriate social interactions so students can begin to pick up on (and hopefully replicate) the socially appropriate behaviors.