Hard Truths Pt. 1

The middle and high school years are transformative for students, marked by varied sets of challenges and mishaps. In a sense, educators have a front row seat to watch as students learn, grow, mature, and navigate their way through adolescence. Among the daily academic lessons, unit goals, and semester objectives, teachers are also given the opportunity to impart various life lessons. These hard truths are sometimes relayed covertly, often through scenarios that subtly allow students to seemingly come to these conclusions on their own. Other times, teachers impart these life lessons using a direct and straightforward delivery. Whichever the case, I’ve found that some of my most pivotal moments in the classroom, those moments in which relationships are formed and a culture of care is crafted, happen when students are gaining life lessons, rather than focusing solely on academic content.

 

Friendships will change—this is to be expected as people discover who they really are

This concept is especially challenging for middle schoolers, where peer acceptance is paramount. It is important for children and teens to understand that friendships are fluid, and while some friendships can truly last a lifetime, most are fleeting and circumstantial. Remind adolescents that as they grow older, begin to understand themselves better, and branch out socially, they will be more likely to make genuine connections with peers on a deeper level. With these sincere friendships comes the realization that perhaps other acquaintances were more surface level or temporary.

 

You will not always like everyone; not everyone will always like you

Similarly to finding their more authentic social groups, the teenage years are when students begin to discover that, while kindness is essential, there will be plenty of people that simply rub them the wrong way. It is okay and even expected that adolescents will encounter people that they simply do not care to be around. The hard truth, however, is that these “undesirable” peers are in fact going to be around. The key is to learn how to not only coexist, but to cooperate civilly. Does this mean you must befriend everyone you encounter? No, that is not realistic. But just because you are not someone’s biggest fan, does not give you the right to treat them any differently. Common courtesy is not conditional—your rudeness says more about you than it does the person you might dislike.

 

If the smartest, most educated person in the applicant pool cannot work well with others, they are likely to lose that position to a more collaborative/agreeable person with the more modest resume

For high achieving students, this hard truth is, well, hard to hear. Students are used to striving to be the best, know the most, and score the highest. However, that “every man for himself” strategy is becoming less and less desirable in the workplace. Admissions officers, project managers, and even chiefs of surgery will be seeking qualified applicants who are able to work well in collaborative settings. The person who always has to be right, or first, or fastest, or the best is also probably pretty tough to work alongside. This is where social skills truly set people apart. Remind teens that listening, cooperative learning, perspective-taking, and compromise are all exceptionally valuable skills.

Back to Middle/High School: Combating the Sunday Scaries

For me, the Sunday scaries began about a week ago, when it became suddenly undeniable that my summer was coming to an abrupt end. Painful as this realization was, I can only imagine it to be even more so unpleasant for my students. Yes, I’m a teacher. And yes, my Sunday night scaries can still be just as brutal as the impending doom that accompanied my Sunday evenings throughout adolescence.  Almost 20 years has passed since my own bouts with middle school anxiousness were at an all-time high, and yet, Sunday scaries can still summon that familiar sense of impending doom. So what is a high schooler (or high school teacher) to do when the scaries rear their ugly heads? Asking for a friend…

 

Stop saying “I’ll do it Sunday”

Quite possibly (and most logically), the reason that Sunday scaries are even a thing is due to the fact that adults and adolescents alike choose to postpone or procrastinate during the weekend. For many of us, Sundays are reserved for cleaning, laundering, meal prepping, etc. High schoolers do the same thing—they put off any homework, projects, or essays until Sunday evening. Teens put school work off until the last minute because it is the last possible thing they would like to do during their weekend reprieve.

 

While this makes perfectly logical sense, teens only compound their stress further and muster up Sunday scaries when they choose to save every task for Sunday night. Furthermore, in putting off these tasks, whether it be school work or chores, the item to be completed becomes that much more dreaded purely because of our previous avoidance. Instead, encourage teens to complete at least part of a large assignment or homework item early on in the weekend.

 

This small modification removes the daunting task of simply sitting down and starting. For many, starting an assignment or essay is the most difficult aspect, and thus, the most avoided. Tackling something headon removes the anxiety associated with the very beginning of the task. In chunking an assignment or essay over the weekend, teens also help themselves with their time management, maintaining focus and attention, and prioritizing the most difficult aspects of the assignment, as opposed to all-out cramming in one sitting.

 

Double check for necessary items beforehand

Again, saving things for the last minute (Sunday night) only allows room for more unforeseeable obstacles and less time to circumvent those obstacles. If middle and high schoolers know that a permission form, essay, or application is due in the early part of the week, Sunday night is NOT the time to realize that they are missing a key component of that form, essay, application, etc. Checking for these essential items during the course of the weekend leaves time for any unexpected emergency to be taken care of so that Sunday scaries are kept at bay.

 

Mark my words: Sunday night is when all printers run out of ink, or paper, or jam, or malfunction, or spontaneously explode. And you better believe that anywhere from two to ten other students will have the same printer “catastrophe” that prohibits them from submitting their essay on Monday morning. High schoolers can avoid this panic attack and their teacher’s subsequent eye-roll by printing ahead of time—it’s much easier to find an open Staples or Office Depot on Saturday afternoon than after 10pm on Sunday.

 

Know your priorities and work accordingly

Organizing tasks appropriately throughout the weekend allows students to identify and prioritize a to-do list. As natural procrastinators can tell you, teens would much prefer to do the easy or fun tasks first. However, this is of no help to them. Parents should encourage teens to get into the habit of completing the more difficult or high-stakes items first.

 

Yes, it may be more enticing to come up with a cheer for the pep rally, but the history research paper should come first. Help middle and high schoolers prioritize their lists by using the “fun” tasks as rewards for completing the difficult items first.

 

Look ahead

Using a small amount of time on Sunday night to look at the week ahead can help to alleviate the Sunday scaries as well. Often times, stress of the unknown or last-minute surprises are what create anxiety for teens. By sitting down and perusing the week’s calendar, families can ensure that a) everyone is on the same page about appointments/events, b) there are no surprises or last-minute to-dos, and c) events and tasks are evenly spaced as to not overbook any member of the family. A combined calendar in a central location also helps to correct the “I didn’t know” or “I forgot” excuse. If everyone is on the same page about the upcoming week, goals are sure to be met.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Background

While oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) was added to the DSM in the 1980s, its existence and diagnosis is still hotly debated and somewhat misunderstood among families and educators. Surprisingly enough, ODD is one of the most common behavioral disorders to be diagnosed in children. Furthermore, researchers have also found that oppositional defiant disorder in both boys and girls is often accompanied by a previous ADHD diagnosis.

 

Symptoms

While ODD is a disorder that affects both boys and girls, symptoms are typically known to vary between the sexes. Though this is in no way absolute, researchers have found that boys with ODD display their opposition and defiance in more physically aggressive manners; their frustrations may escalate quickly and in more overtly explosive ways. While girls, on the other hand, are more likely to display oppositional or defiant behaviors in subtle, sneaky, or manipulative ways. For instance, girls with ODD may be deceitful or cunning and interact with others in intentionally uncooperative ways. Again, these are not hard and fast rules; they are simply some of the known observations experts have made between the genders.

 

It is also important to note that symptoms associated with ODD are typically misbehaviors that most children and teens will display at some point during their development. However, the difference between mere misbehaviors or teenage moodiness and ODD is the prevalence and severity of the behaviors. With regard to a diagnosis, ODD behaviors have likely become so frequent that they are deemed as the “norm” for that child.

 

Support in the Classroom

Behavior Support Additional Considerations
Disproportionate anger/frustration/

irritability

  • Provide student with flash pass to the counselor for when tempers flare
  • Allow student to take brief “brain breaks” throughout the day, especially when transitioning between activities or subject areas to alleviate stress
  • Provide student with preferential seating near the door for easy access to the hallway if frustration escalates
  • Provide student with fidget cube or stress ball to channel negative energy
  • Classrooms as a whole can benefit from stress-relieving or meditative practices, but these coping skills are especially beneficial to students with ODD; schools and counselling departments are beginning to focus students’ attention on mental self-care and coping methods to reduce anxiety and stress
Argumentative, uncooperative, defiant towards adults/authority figures
  • Present requests or directives in the form of an “either/or” question. For example, if a student throws paper off the desk, the teacher might say, “Would you like to either pick up the paper now, or pick up all scrap paper at the end of class?”
  • Remind student that his/her defiance is a choice that will result in a consequence; ask him/her if she would like to make a different choice to amend the tone/behavior/attitude
  • Stay calm; you cannot fight fire with fire. As difficult as it may be, teachers and other adults must remember that the ODD behaviors are stemming from a larger issue.
  • Deescalate the tone of the situation by maintaining a calm, understanding, yet firm demeanor. Act with care and be deliberate in your directives toward the student.
  • Remind students that you are there FOR THEM; everything you do is meant to ensure safety and success in the classroom. By reaffirming your desire to help him/her, a defiant student may soften the edge and be more receptive to your requests.
Physical aggression; vindictive, spiteful, or manipulative behavior
  • Physical altercations are never okay; remind students that verbal disagreements should never escalate to physical interactions
  • If something physical does transpire, adults must be sure to document the situation thoroughly. This includes all parties involved, what instigated the issue, and anyone who may have witnessed the altercation. Teachers should also note when and where the event took place so that administration and parents are made aware of the full situation.
  • Teachers can consider activities or brain breaks that either diffuse or expel aggression or anger.
  • Items such as Rubik’s cubes, coloring books, or sudoku challenges help students to come down off of the aggressive moment by occupying the mind
  • Consider creating a small, comfortable, secluded corner of the room where students can take a breath and collect themselves before re-entering the classroom environment
  • Teachers and guidance counselors can help to mediate aggression and manipulative behaviors by helping students to reflect on an incident. Prompt students to think about why they lied, cheated, manipulated, etc. Ask them what they could have done differently that would have resulted in a more positive outcome.

Motivating the Unmotivated

While motivation is often linked to academic achievement, the same is not necessarily true for motivation and intelligence. We are all familiar with the naturally gifted student who fails consistently, not for lack of intelligence, but because of his or her lack of motivation. These seemingly hopeless situations can be difficult for parents, especially when they know that their child has all the potential and wherewithal. But what can be done to boost motivation? How can we inspire and incite action when the foundation is nonexistent?

 

Investigate the root of the problem

Oftentimes, a lack of motivation is the result of a bigger issue. For unmotivated children, there is likely some sort of deterrent or impediment between the child and the task. Sometimes the issue stems from a learning obstacle, such as a disability or cognitive barrier. Other times, unmotivated students have had multiple or severely negative experiences in school that have caused them to be “turned off” or “checked out.” It is also possible that the child simply does not see the value in putting forth effort and exhibiting self-motivation. Whatever the case may be, parents can begin to establish motivation by examining the reason behind its absence. Talk to children about why they truly do not want to try something. Is there a reason that they are so opposed to showing effort or enthusiasm for learning? Pose the questions so that they do not sound interrogative, but instead seek to understand the child’s position.

 

Set longterm and shortterm goals

Even the most unmotivated child has some sort of goal or aspiration. Parents should tap into these interests as a means to foster motivation, both in the immediate and distant future. Ask your child what he or she would like to accomplish tomorrow. Allow that answer to span outside of the academic realm. For instance, if your child is lacking motivation in school, but shows an interest in making the club soccer team, encourage that level of interest first as a springboard. Perhaps tomorrow’s goal is to juggle the soccer ball 30 times without dropping it, but this year’s goal is to make the soccer team. Talk about how these short-term goals are essentially the building blocks towards reaching the long term goal. Hone in on the fact that practicing, strategizing, focusing, and modifying will be key for reaching that short-term goal. And that while failure and outside obstacles are going to occur, resilience and motivation are 100% controllable internal factors. Then, when the topic of academics arises, remind that unmotivated student of the steps and lengths that he went to in order to accomplish the juggling goal. Discuss how you can translate that motivation into effort towards schoolwork.

 

Express excitement and admiration when they do show motivation towards anything

Kids, especially young children, may not fully conceptualize the notion of intrinsic motivation—they don’t necessarily know why they care, they just do. To boost their understanding of building and maintaining motivation, praise their effort when they exhibit it. Acknowledge their focus and drive for whatever it may be that they’re working on—the more you point out this motivation, the more likely they are to internalize this concept of self-motivation and effort.

 

Lead by example

We all know that attitude is contagious; the same can be said for effort and motivation. When children see motivated parents with their own interests and passions, they begin to see that effort comes from a true desire to achieve, create, accomplish, and grow. Passionate people inspire those around them, so parents can certainly boost motivation at home by expressing their own efforts and motivation for their genuine interests.

 

Instruct with positive and negative consequences

Different from bribery, positive and negative consequences ensure that children learn how to take ownership for their actions and level of effort (or lack thereof). Of course, no child will be intrinsically motivated to make his bed. Instead, parents should remind children that failure to complete their chores will result in a consequence—essentially, children will recognize that they’re actually punishing themselves by choosing to neglect their tasks. Thus, they become motivated by the desire to avoid the negative consequence. Consequently, a positive outcome from doing one’s chores can boost motivation and the desire to accomplish tasks in the sense that the child connects his or her effort to the reward or positive result.

How to Break the Negative “Can’t Do” Mindset: Elementary

In elementary school, children are just beginning to understand themselves as learners. These are crucial years in terms of building a positive mindset and a solid understanding of education and its significance in their lives. Because of their blossoming ideas and new experiences in school, elementary-aged learners can be especially fragile when it comes to their self-perception.  

One surefire way to turn children off to school, education, and all things learning-related is to allow them to steep in their own negativity. This “I can’t” mindset can be especially detrimental to young learners because the longer they engage in this negative self-fulfilling prophecy, the more likely they are to solidify those beliefs as true. To combat the cycle of negative self-perceptions, teachers and parents can implement different exercises, practices, and conversations to encourage a positive outlook.

Abolish terms like hard, boring, easy, and fun when describing an activity, assignment, or task. Instead, replace those descriptions with words like challenging or interesting. A subtle shift in the adjectives removes the opportunity to equate the school work with a negative connotation. If something is described as a challenge, as opposed to hard, children are more likely to muster the effort and be motivated by the opportunity to try. Similarly, abandoning anxiety-producing terms such as test or exam can also bolster a more positive outlook.

Do away with thinking of education in terms of absolutes. Because of the way that our educational systems are structured, learners often get caught up in the “all or nothing,” “pass/fail,” “smart or not smart” mentality. Cultivate the notion that school, learning, and intelligence are not exclusively yes or no categories. Sentences like, “I’ll NEVER understand this!” are only serving to prove that negative belief. Instead, instruct students to adopt a growth mindset when engaging in self-talk. Examples might include, “This is challenging, but I’ll keep trying.” “The more I practice, the better I will become.”

Stress the importance of growth over perfection. Again, much of our standard ideas of education involve grades, percentages, and correct answers. But to prepare elementary schoolers to become lifelong learners, adults must put the focus on overall growth and acquisition of new skills.  

Present school work and learning in general as a lifelong, continuous process. It is important for children to know that there is not one person who knows everything about everythingand no, you are never “done” when it comes to learning. Remind elementary schoolers that because curiosity is what feeds our need to learn, it is okay, even expected, that we don’t understand everything right away.

Practice routine reflections as an essential part of the learning process. This routine can vary depending on the task or assignment that students are reflecting upon; however, the notion is the samereflecting on and thinking about how we learn helps us to understand strategies that work or don’t work for us in any given task. Elementary teachers may ask students to consider what went well during their learning process. What do they wish they had done differently having now finished the task? What was the most difficult aspect of the assignment or project? How did they use their strengths to complete this assignment? Questions like these allow elementary students to not only reflect on their learning process, but also take deliberate ownership over their work. Through reflection, young learners find value in the challenges and errors, which helps to keep the negative self-fulfilling prophecies at bay.

Tantrums, Tears and Tempers: Behavior is Communication

As any educator will tell you, the behavioral component of teaching young people is one of the main aspects of the career that keeps us on our toes. From one day to the next, the behaviors and emotions that emerge can be as fleeting as a passing thunderstorm. Perhaps the ultimate display of student behaviors rears its head in middle school, when students’ hormones, egos, peer groups, and emotions oscillate on a new level. On days in the classroom where it feels as though I am extinguishing fires all day long, the one saving grace is this reminder: these unkind behaviors come from somewhere specific.

Anger is a secondary emotion. For preteens and teenagers, an emotional explosion or reaction can be like a screaming teapotsuddenly, we notice the steam and hear the shrieking, but what we perhaps did not see moments before was the bubbling that quickly became a rolling boil. A child’s temperament is very much the same in that, seemingly out of nowhere, an emotion can shift. Anger, especially, is an emotion that likely began as something else. Perhaps it grew from frustration, regret, disappointment, etc. Either way, anger is more of the reaction to the initial emotion or incident. Therefore, it is important for teachers to remember that this unfavorable attitude, behavior, or demeanor is coming from somewhere specific. The student himself may not even be cognitively aware of the origin of his frustration; however, a few quick observations can help educators mediate when emotions reach a boiling point.

What was happening right before the emotional outburst? If a teacher can recall the mood of the room or situation prior to a student’s tantrum, they are more likely to pinpoint how the situation escalated. Perhaps the student had just received a low grade on a quiz for which they had thought they’d thoroughly studied. Or maybe a peer took his or her pencil without asking. Even a slight tiff can be the cause of a major meltdown in the classroom. Furthermore, ask yourself if you have noticed anything that may have triggered the student’s response. Has this student been especially moody, withdrawn, or combative lately? Have you noticed a change in her peer group or level of interaction with peers? Have you spoken to parents or noticed a change in grades or motivation? Sometimes a bad day or bad week is just simply that—but other times, the behaviors can be prolonged or escalated.

Seek to understand. Once you have provided a moment for the student to cool off, either in the hall, at the desk, or in a quiet corner of the room, approach the student from the lens of seeking to understand. Too often “What’s wrong?” is met with a non-response or further frustration on the student’s part. Instead, ask the student: “What do you need from me?” or “What can I do to help you get through this tough situation?” A question like this works two-fold—you are showing students that you recognize their emotions/feelings, while also approaching the conversation by expressing your desire to help or fix the situation. When teachers ask students how they can help the situation, it also reminds students that they are not alone in whatever it is that they’re reacting to. This simple gesture can deescalate the tears and tempers quite quickly.  

Whatever you do, do not react. It’ll sound silly, but I occasionally have to remind myself that I am the adult in the room, which means that my students are looking to me for guidance. My tone, attitude, and behavior should be the constant in the room—the one that sets the mood and expectations of the classroom environment. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a room with 35 teenagers knows that this is much easier said than done. Remember that these are children with child-like emotions and reactions. Also consider the likelihood that the tantrum has nothing to do with you or your class—instead, it could be related to any number of stressors in that child’s life that you know nothing about. However, when tempers flare, take a moment to breathe before your approach the situation—never has gasoline been known to smother a blaze.

Stress Awareness Month: How to Lower Stress Levels in the Classroom

Stress in the classroom is all too familiar to a teacher. Someone once likened teaching to monitoring 30+ open, blinking tabs on a computer screen, while juggling and reciting Shakespeare. This comparison seems fairly accurate a lot of the time. So, if the adult in the room is feeling the stress, how do you think the students are feeling? Not so surprisingly, American children are sadly experiencing chronic stress in and out of the classroom. In fact, data indicates that pharmaceutical use for children with emotional disorders has risen to an alarming rate, as has the suicide rate for adolescents. We know from our own personal experiences that mounting stress has an enormous ripple effect on our day-to-day lives. Sleeping patterns, eating habits, productivity, concentration, academics, social/emotional well-being—all of these factors are very much correlated to stress levels. Seeing as teachers spend much of the day interacting closely with students, it then becomes our responsibility to not only teach, but also monitor the emotional well-being of our students.

The solution to stress in children should not begin by managing stressors once they have reached their peak, but rather helping students avoid getting to that point of eruption. Here are a few tips to help teachers take a proactive approach to stress:

Allow time for homework, large assignments, projects, or conferencing during class. Yes, this down time is likely not a central part of the scripted curriculum. However, with pockets of down time, students can not only practice multi-tasking, self-reflection, and peer conferencing, but they can also use this time as a moment to simply breathe. The typical middle schooler has anywhere from five to eight core classes during the day. With only a break for lunch and the rushed locker visits between classes, it is no wonder why middle schools are reporting an increase in stress levels, visits to the counseling office, and absenteeism. A simple 10-15 minutes of class every other day to pause, organize, reflect, or ponder could be a very necessary practice to employ if students are visibly stressed. Often times, adolescents’ stress levels mount when they feel incapable of maintaining the balancing act. To avoid this, allow class time every once in a while to simply have students get their bearings. These pockets of time can be used for anything—a school project, extra math practice, reading, or simply organizing. The key here is that the time is used to keep that overbooked sense of urgency at bay.

Encourage feedback on how your students are managing their schoolwork. Explicitly discuss what assignments, assessments, or projects are consuming the most time outside of school. Inquire about how long it took the average student to complete last weekend’s homework. Often times, what teachers consider to be “simply extra practice” can end up being a student’s sleepless night. Perhaps you may give anonymous monthly surveys to gauge how stressed your students are. But don’t just collect the data—use it to plan how you and other colleagues can minimize the impact that school stress is having on students.

Be flexible when a student is visibly struggling. If you know that a student is having a personal struggle at home, or if he has been out sick for several days, consider excusing the student from any assignments that are simply review items or filler homework. Of course, most assignments are (hopefully) central to the learning objectives of the class. For these tasks, provide extra help or one-on-one assistance so that your student does not feel burdened with the piles of make-up work. Similarly, be lenient with due dates—as teachers, we can easily tell the difference between a student who desperately needs more time and one that is milking absences.

Think of outlets for stress. In the same way that we hit the gym to expel the stress of the day, allow your students to explore options to clear their minds and bodies of any angst. If a walk to the water fountain before a big test keeps the jitters at bay, make that a routine. Or, have a stress ball or fidget collection to occupy nervous hands during class. When said task/test/lesson is over, acknowledge your students’ concentration, tenacity, and composure.  

 

Stress Awareness Month: How Parents Can Monitor and Manage a Child’s Stress Level

Adults are all too familiar with the concept of stress—we live with it almost every day to some extent. Not so surprisingly, American children are sadly experiencing chronic stress as well. In fact, data indicates that pharmaceutical use for children with emotional disorders has risen to an alarming rate, as has the suicide rate for adolescents. We know from our own personal experiences that mounting stress has an enormous ripple effect on our day-to-day lives. Sleeping patterns, eating habits, productivity, social/emotional well-being—all of these factors are very much correlated to stress levels. If we adults sometimes find ourselves in the weeds when it comes to stress, how can we expect children to react to an increase in stress?

The solution to stress in children should not involve managing stressors once they have reached their peak, but rather helping children avoid getting to that point of eruption. Here are a few tips to help parents take a proactive approach to stress:

Pack the schedule with pockets of “downtime,” as opposed to more activities. Of course children yearn to participate, whether it be dance class, soccer practice, after-school camp, science club, etc. This enthusiasm should not be discouraged, but it is a parent’s job to manage a realistic schedule and to keep it manageable. Yes, things will pop up—parties or sleepovers or field trips will emerge from the woodwork. However, downtime is essential for children to maintain their mental health. Often times, a child or adolescent’s stress levels mount when they feel incapable of maintaining the balancing act. To avoid this, allow time in the family’s daily schedule to do absolutely nothing. These pockets of time can be used for anything—a school project, extra violin practice, reading, or simply relaxing. The key here is that the time is used to keep that overbooked sense of urgency at bay.

Explicitly discuss stress and where it comes from. The more your teen recognizes where and when his or her stress emerges, the better equipped he or she will be able to anticipate and circumvent the stressor. For instance, if procrastination or last-minute rushing is the catalyst, teach time management strategies and how to plan ahead.

Similarly, if you know your child’s stressors, help him or her to prepare for upcoming events that might cause anxiety or stress. If you know that your child despises the dentist, give him or her a heads-up about an upcoming appointment. Explain that nervous feelings are valid, but that the pros of going to the dentist far exceed the temporary uneasiness.

Think of outlets for stress. In the same way that we hit the gym to expel the stress of the day, allow your child to explore options to clear his or her mind and body of any angst. If a walk around the block the morning before an important recital keeps the jitters at bay, make that a routine. Or, bring a stress ball to the dreaded dentist appointment. When said event is over, celebrate your child’s bravery, tenacity, and composure.

Instructional Techniques for LD Students

library-1666701_1280

Just like any other student, a student with a learning disability benefits greatly from structured, engaging, individualized instruction. And again, all students, no matter what type of learning obstacle may accompany them, have unique ways of accessing and retaining information. But what specific strategies can foster optimum learning opportunities in the classroom? Well, that depends on your students. Below are numerous strategies to best navigate your inclusion classroom and assist every student in the best way possible.

Present information, assignments, readings, etc. in different ways

Students with learning disabilities sometimes require multiple avenues or scaffolds in order to best access the material. This can mean that, while some students benefit from audible instruction—simply listening to directions—others may need to see instructions written out. A best practice, especially with the technology provided in most classrooms these days, is to provide clear and concise directions both orally and visually. This is achieved by printing individual handouts with directions, or leaving instructions on the Smartboard while students work on the task. Posting directions on the board or at students’ desks also reinforces the process of rereading for clarification. If students have the directions at their fingertips, memory or attention issues are circumvented.

Another beneficial way to present information to students with learning disabilities is to carefully and deliberately model the task or activity. For instance, written and spoken lab directions are helpful for many, but actually seeing the process of measuring, pouring, calculating, etc., may be necessary for students with processing disorders or issues pertaining to executive functioning. Writing assignments should also be modeled for students, as sentence structure, organization, and fluidity are not easily accomplished just by discussing. These, and other high-level thinking skills, require some step-by-step handholding for ALL students.

Furthermore, when creating or modeling different examples, it may be helpful for some students with learning disabilities to see a sample in front of them, not just up on the board. This way, as the teacher is modeling the task, students can follow along closely, taking notes and highlighting as they work.  

Allow students to access readings and class materials in different ways. Again, technology can be a major asset for inclusion classrooms. With the use of laptops, headphones, audio files, etc., students are able to read and write with assistance. Much like many accommodations require, students can listen to texts while following along. They are able to highlight or mark texts digitally using google classroom or other interactive technologies. Students can even complete and submit work without ever having to print or keep track of a tangible document. This can be particularly beneficial for a student with executive functioning issues, where organization can be a real struggle.

Modifications for assessments and assignments are also greatly beneficial. For example, conveying the theme of a novel in paragraph form could be extremely intimidating for many students, especially those with a learning disability involving written language. Since a best practice for teaching is to utilize student choice, why not allow students to represent a theme or other difficult concepts by a different method? Some may thrive by creating a collage or other visual representation, while others may compose a poem or comic strip to convey the theme.

A key to exceptional instruction is to provide students with engaging, individualized means of learning. This not only benefits students with learning disabilities—all students flourish when teachers utilize best practices.  

ADHD MONTH: Looks can be deceiving

backpack-1149461_1280

Since the classroom environment lends itself to tasks involving focus, attentiveness, attention to detail, cooperative learning, and time management skills, educators are sometimes the first to notice the growing prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the symptoms that accompany the disorder. More and more children are exhibiting attention issues in and out of the classroom—the CDC reports that over 10 percent of children and teens have ADHD. With this significant percentage of cases comes just as many ways for the disorder to manifest itself—and every child is different.

As educators, we pretty much get a daily bird’s eye view of how each student learns, or struggles to learn. Even so, we occasionally (and inadvertently) forget that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can reveal itself in drastically different ways. On a personal note, just last week, I held a student after class to discuss his constant roaming around the classroom. After asking him to be seated several times during instruction, my patience had admittedly dwindled.

He very calmly and candidly explained that, especially during the long block periods, he finds it difficult to focus while seated at his desk for too long. While this particular student did not show up to my class with documentation of an attention disorder, his need to move, at first misunderstood, is no less legitimate.

As demonstrated above, students with ADHD symptoms can be mistaken as disruptive, disinterested, disorganized, etc. It is important to be mindful of the catalysts to those behaviors—i.e., what do these behaviors truly mean?

ASSIGNMENT COMPLETION

When a student’s focus drifts during class or at home, assignments can be left by the wayside, going uncompleted or altogether neglected. Educators need to distinguish the difference between carelessness or disinterest and a student’s tendency to be distracted and drift. An incomplete project or homework assignment does not necessarily signify a lack of attempt. Anything from noise in the classroom to a transition during instruction can deter a student’s focus, making it difficult for him or her to complete the assigned work in the provided block of time. Again, this is not due to laziness or lack of interest.

Group work can also add a layer of difficulty to assignment completion. Students with ADHD can benefit from the conversation and movement that group work provides. However, these components can be just as equally distracting if the group’s conversation shifts off task. The group work can become overwhelming to the point that the student will drift and separate from the group. Again, this is not indicative of the student’s unwillingness to participate.

BEHAVIOR

As in the case of my “wandering student” above, children and teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder often find it beneficial to move about the room. This constant need to move is not only distracting to other students, but may also be seen as an avoidance technique. While this may be true in some cases, most often the student is moving because it helps him to focus or expend any excess energy. Frequent breaks, rotation stations, or standing and working from a clipboard are all methods to help alleviate the need to roam. These small bouts of movement also allow the student to focus.

If a student appears to be reading, doodling, or is otherwise “off task,” it may not be an indication that she is intentionally ignoring instruction or avoiding work. These seemingly defiant behaviors are actually a method of channeling a student’s focus—a self-soothing method, if you will. For some students, especially those with ADHD, putting their hands to work is a way of keeping themselves centered and attentive. A stress ball is also helpful for students whose attention is benefited from multitasking.  

As educators, we need to focus our attention not only on what we are teaching, but also to whom we are teaching. By paying careful attention to the learning needs and styles of our students, we can not only help our easily distracted students to learn more effectively, but also improve the overall learning environment for our entire class.