Monday, February 23, 2015

Including Students with Anxiety in the Classroom

Jessica Minihan and Lauri Swann Hunt join us on this episode of The Inclusive Class Podcast. Jessica  Minihan is co-author of The Behavior Code and author of The Behavior Code Companion.  Lauri Swann Hunt is founder of Ollibean, an online resource for the disability community. Listen as we discuss ways in which teachers can become more "anxiety-informed" and respond appropriately to their student's needs. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

10 Simple Tools to Develop Executive Functioning Skills in the Classroom

Executive Function is a term given to a variety of cognitive processes (organization, working memory, ability to initiate tasks, switch focus or manage one's behavior) that allow students to learn and achieve goals. For some students, however, their level of executive function may interfere with their ability to succeed in school. Thankfully, teachers are beginning to recognize the need to develop a child's executive functioning skills rather than label the child, "lazy" or  an "underachiever".

To support the development of executive functioning skills, I have created a list of 10 simple tools that teachers can use or have in the classroom. Please keep in mind, that students may require the teacher to explain and model the use of each tool. In addition, on-going adult support could be needed to support the successful use of each tool.

1.  Timer - a timer can be used to help students in a variety of ways. It can be used to help a student initiate or finish an assignment. A timer can keep pace and prepare a student for transitions.  Whether on the classroom wall or at a student's desk, timers are a very useful tool to assist student's in monitoring his/her performance.

2.  Class Calendar - a calendar gives us the ability to predict an event. When a teacher creates a calendar for the day or month, it gives students an opportunity to both physically and mentally prepare in anticipation. In doing so, students are better able to transition from one activity to another.

3.  Checklists - the primary purpose of a checklist is to clearly outline the steps needed to achieve a goal. Checklists can be created and used in a variety of ways for students. They can be made to set goals for the class or for an individual. Checklists can support a student's ability to manage tasks and make transitions.

4.  Color-Coded Workbooks - color-coding books can be very useful for students who are visual learners. By "chunking" subjects or learning materials by color, students can remain organized and retain information in a manageable way. Colored folders, stickers, book covers, bins, felts can help students group important, relevant items that they need for a particular subject. 

5.  Highlighter - highlighters emphasize parts of text, which can be very useful for helping learners develop their working memory skills. Highlighters can be used to draw attention to directions, important words or text with specific meaning. 

6.  Class Master Binder - keeping a Master Binder in the classroom is probably one of the most helpful strategies a teacher can use. A Master Binder consists of a copy of any hand-out or worksheet given to students. Not only is it useful for absent students who can refer to missed work when they return, but it is helpful for students who need to develop their organizational skills. It allows students to cross-check paperwork and keep track of class assignments.

7.  Supply Storage Caddy - students need one place to keep their supplies. Whether it is a pencil box, desk caddy or pencil case, students need a spot to keep pencils, erasers, glue and scissors together. Not only does this help a student transition between activities, but it cuts down on the time it takes for a student to initiate tasks. I can't tell you how much learning time can be wasted by a student who is looking for a pencil!

8.  Graphic Organizers - graphic organizers are visual pictures that help organize information. Graphic organizers can be used in a variety of ways, for a variety of subjects to support the development of working memory. They can help students collect their thoughts, create and convey ideas as well as draw connections. 

9.  A Large, Laminated Envelope - this envelope can be designated to facilitate and support the home-school connection. Newsletters, forms and flyers can be put into the envelope and sent home for parents to see. Likewise, parents can use the envelope to return notes and permission slips. It is a simple, yet effective way of keeping all those important bits of school information in one place!

10. Student Day Planner - adults will often use planners to keep track of important dates and events, so why shouldn't students (who seem to have even busier schedules these days)?  The use of a day planner not only keeps the student organized, helps with task transition, working memory and self-regulation, but allows the student to track his or her goal completion and achievements.

For more ways to help students improve their executive functioning skills, check out my article titled, 25 Easy Ways to Improve Executive Functioning Skills.

Do you have any other tools to add to this list? If so, please comment below!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Including All Students During Valentine's Day and Beyond

With Valentine's Day just around the corner, I am reminded of the age-old tradition of handing out Valentine's cards at school.  When I was a child, Valentine's cards were reserved for your friends and class teacher.  At some point during the designated "Valentine's Day Party", students would walk around the class and deposit cards into glitter-decorated paper bags. Some kids received copious amounts of red, white and heart-shaped declarations of friendship and love, while others had a few at most. In the end, the number of Valentine's cards that ended up in your possession was a barometer of your popularity amongst your peers.

Thankfully, with a better understanding of child development and overall social equality, this school tradition has evolved over the years. These days, if a teacher decides to do a valentine exchange with the students, typically a class list is handed-out prior to the Valentine's event with the expectation that every child in the class will give a card to every classmate.  Students are now asked to include all of their classmates in their Valentine giving.  (Some schools still have some catching up to do though, as they continue to offer students "candy-grams" or "heart-grams" that can be bought and sent to one another during the school day.  Hopefully, this activity will soon be phased out as well!) There is, at the very least, these random occasions when we are encouraged to recognize more than one person in our environment.

Wouldn't it be nice, however, if we didn't need to set-up and stage these special "inclusion" activities?   Whether it is card-giving, lunch buddies or a Buddy Bench at recess, many schools create opportunities for students to participate in isolated acts of inclusion.  With pride, the school will then announce that they are inclusive.  However, the hallmark of a truly inclusive environment is that the inclusion of one another in every activity is expected, natural and re-occurring on a daily basis.  Truly inclusive schools assume that every child will participate, to the best of his or her ability  Truly inclusive schools ask themselves, "How can we help learning, growing and socializing happen for all of our students?"  Truly inclusive schools include one another all the time

Here are some examples:

1.  All students belong to a general education classroom. 

2.  All students have access to the same curriculum.

3.  School events and activities are scheduled for all students to participate.

4.  All families are notified of these school events.

5.  Clubs, assemblies and sports are open to students of all abilities.

Whether your school is truly inclusive or not, let's continue to work at raising awareness for the need to include all our children.  Talk with one another, share information and identify areas for growth or change. Become models for inclusive behavior. And, finally, instead of asking, "Why?" consider asking, "Why not?".


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