Saturday, January 14, 2017

Learning Accommodations: Teaching Children Well

There are many ways that we can accommodate the teaching and learning to support all children.  As the curriculum gets more challenging, I find that I am thinking of accommodations for all students more. While teachers generally have a mental list of all these accommodations and use them frequently, it's not a bad idea to have a written list too--one you can refer to when needed. Here's a list of accommodations I came up with today? What would you add? I'll continue to think on this in the days ahead.

Scaffolded Assignments
It's easier to pass out a packet of practice problems than to pass out a single page to each child at a time, but for some, a packet can seem overwhelming and that's when scaffolding is very important. For some children, one problem at a time may be the best way to distribute an assignment. Then, for those children, one success builds on another success.

Small Groups
Many children have difficulty learning with a large class for lots of reasons. If the helps available, it's helpful to have those students work in small groups with a helping teacher. Teachers can target their support personnel well in this regard.

The Waiting Room
For teachers that work with large groups of students, it's impossible to help every child every time they want you. So for events that are not emergencies, having a waiting protocol or "waiting room" in the classroom can be helpful. The "waiting room" could be a comfortable place where a child can wait until the teacher is ready. Obviously, however, if an issue is an emergency, it must be dealt with right away.

Organization of Materials
When materials are out of order it invites children to not clean up well or even take things from the classroom. The best possible organization that makes materials easy to retrieve and later put away is ideal. This can be a challenge given the kinds of storage spaces you have or the way you use materials, but it's a good objective. One I'll be working more on.

Simple signals can help a child know what to do. For example, a teacher was telling me about the "ear tugging" signal the teacher uses in the book, Fish in a Tree. Also I ask students to use a signal when they need to use the restroom rather than disrupting or interrupting a class conversation. There could be other signals too which can be used as needed.

Explicit Protocols and Schedules
Having explicit protocols in view of students is helpful for teachers and students as all can refer to those explicit directions as needed.

Simplifying materials, desk organization, and room set up can help students to navigate and manage their environments better.

Class/Student Meetings
Class meetings are important too. This gives students voice. Sometimes it's important to have meetings with small groups of students too.

Predictable Patterns and Routines
It's much easier for families and students to be involved in classroom life and learning if the patterns and routines are predictable. I've played around with multiple home study routines, and find that while no one routine pleases all, it's best to simply choose a routine and stick with it. The same is true for communication, websites, and the weekly classroom schedule. Students generally find comfort in routine, and routine lends itself to a greater ability to teach with depth.

Kind Greetings and Using Names
Greeting children with a smile and using their names often is a simple, but powerful, community building gesture.

Responding with the Question, "How can I help you?"
From time to time, children will challenge us, and typically a good response is to ask, "How can I help you?" That response empowers a child and helps to direct a challenging event or conversation into a profitable one.

Educators are often asked to do much from many administrators, parents, colleagues, and students. It's often impossible to meet the many, many expectations, and prioritization is necessary. When the classroom becomes overwhelming due to conflicting and cumbersome expectations, it's time to look over the long list and prioritize. No teacher is superhuman, and children don't learn well if the expectations are too many or contradictory.

When in Doubt, Take a Break
There will be classroom moments when you're not really sure what to do. For example, if you've planned a great lesson and everyone is confused. Wrong turns happen from time to time. Rather than making a regrettable mistake, it's better to give everyone a break including yourself.

Have emergency protocols in place for unexpected events that disrupt the classroom. Our school has fire drills, ALICE emergency response, and numbers to call for support when emergencies happen.

Lower Your Voice When Responding to Difficult Situations
It's natural to increase your volume when difficult situations arise, but it's best to lower the voice to a whisper as that calms everyone down. That takes practice since it's not our natural response.

Go Easier on Fridays
Everyone is more tired on Fridays. Students and teachers put forth a lot of energy throughout the week and it's natural to be more tired on Fridays. Hence the study expectations should take that into account.

Advocate for Greater Support
Sometimes individual students will need greater support. This could be due to health, personal events, academic needs, or any number of issues. When a teacher is responsible for many, it may be difficult to give a single child with extraordinary needs the support he/she requires and when this happens educators have to reach out through channels that exist to enlist greater, more targeted support.

Curriculum mandates often spur us to rush through the curriculum. Teachers who are held accountable for scores and curriculum sequences feel the pressure to do more at a faster speed, yet for many children, a too-fast speed and too cumbersome curriculum is too much thus creating stress, discomfort, and resulting behavioral needs. Educators have to be mindful of pacing and work to strike that just-right pace for student comfort and care as well as learning. This is often a big challenge in classrooms today.

Similar to a family, when students express greater questions or needs, it's time to take a look at the accommodations in place and to update the environment and accommodations to serve the children well. Like parenting, teaching is not always a simple science. As teachers and parents, we are continually learning how to do it better to serve our children and students well. It's a humbling job, but not a job without merit.

What other accommodations help you to serve your students well? I'd like to know.