Item #4) I create a learning environment that supports active, easily distracted students; I plan for reduced disruptions via my classroom arrangement, planned schedule, and active lesson delivery.
Successful learning environments are purposely designed to meet the needs of the students assigned to that space. It’s a matter of intention. With my ADHD, explosive, anxious, and/or unmotivated students, I can’t let much of anything in my classroom JUST HAPPEN.
I plan where each child will sit with care and thoughtfulness. It’s more than a question of who is sitting by whom.
• Explosive kids need easy pathways out of the room; put him at the back of the room and be ready for everything in his path to be knocked over or torn down.
• My anxious student needs to know I am close at hand, but the spot next to my desk (a conventional placement) is actually rather isolated. Better to move her near the meeting area through which I move several times an hour. Her desk is also by the workshop table, so an additional chair is within grabbing distance when she needs me RIGHT… THIS….. MINUTE!
• My autistic child periodically goes in spurts of talking to himself in fast jags. At these times he is disruptive and even alittle disturbing. He is highly distractable and is prone to getting up and running. So his desk is located against the wall, facing the wall, between two low shelves. His IA sits just behind him, in part to prevent his quick escape.
• My oppositional little one (a first grader who is not used to having to meet expectations… he’s usually the one who rules the roost) sits just inside the classroom. The second he enters we scoot him to his desk with the express purpose of getting him to start his morning work immediately. If we had to escort him across the room, past others’ desks, the block shelf, the lego buckets, and art table, he’d never get there! As the year goes on, as he demonstrates improved cooperation, we’ll move him further from the door.
At the elementary level, I am more in control of my schedule than middle and high school teachers. This year though, the administrators assigned each grade level an hour and a half language arts block to assure that specials and other activities do not dilute the powerful learning time dedicated to reading and writing instruction. It was a good move I think. I can still follow each learning activity with some desired, reinforcing activity like outside recess, play time at your desk, computer time, etc. When kids come to understand that the next fun things do not happen for them until the work is done, the work usually gets done. The variable is how long it takes for a child to come to believe we mean what we say and say what we mean. Again, it’s a matter of intention.
Finally, I stand with good teachers everywhere who choose their teaching activities with academic expectations (planned outcomes), and students’ strengths and weaknesses in mind.
• At this point in the year, I absolutely cannot give one of my first graders independent written work. His poor fine motor skills preclude his writing with any measure of success. The OT is working hard with this child, and we do our part in the classroom to help remediate his pencil/paper skills, but I’m no fool. Giving him an extended writing assignment is tantamount to inviting a tantrum. (We call that “setting him up”.) Better to teach and assess his learning alernatively. (For example, he pastes little number cards on his math paper to indicate his answer.)
And one last thought: By manipulating the classroom environment and lesson delivery to meet student needs, teachers are taking control of what is available to them. It’s a positive, productive path. As Theordore Roosevelt said, “ Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”