“If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”
-- Ignacio Estrada

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Five Things Elementary Teachers Should Know

Inspired by Erin Breedlove of  http://healthyunwealthywise.com/

As universities classes begin for the fall semester, Ms. Breedlove wrote a post about what professors should know about working with students with special needs. While I was taking part in a 'twitter chat' for #spedchat, Ms. Breedlove asked for elementary teachers to comment on her post about five things all professors should know relating to the elementary crowd. And this is blog post was born...


With the 2011-2012 school year just around the corner, I often get nervous about meeting my students. For the most part, I know them. I have either had them in previous years or I have participated in some type of  transition to get to know them. And, in turn, the students to become familiar with me. I also met the new parents before the end of the school year and will talk to them again during KDG "screening". As I reflected on my own nervousness (and excitement), I am reminded of the change in routine for the students, and the transition for the parents, here are five things that ALL teachers should know about (most) students with disabilities.

Students with disabilities are students first.  
Hi, my name is Sam. I will be in the first grade. I love to watch Phineas and Ferb. I like to go to the park. I have trouble learning my letters and it's difficult for me to express myself. I am excited to start school and be around other kids, but I am nervous on what to say or do. Please help me make friends and  learn some new things and understand that I need you.
Do not dwell on the disabilities. Think about the strengths of the student and how those strengths can be utilized. What can I do within the classroom to make this student successful, not just feel successful, but make them truly be successful? Yes, there will be days that the "disability" may make the child stand out, but do not make that the focus. Focus on the CHILD first!

It helps (most) of us to have a way to express ourselves in terms of our disabilities.
I have trouble writing my name. All my friends can write their first and last name with upper and  lower case letters. I am still working on writing my name with capital letters because it is easier. I get nervous when it is time take a spelling test. I wish I could hold a koosh ball. Those always help be calm down and focus, but I don't think my teacher will let me. I think balls are only for outside.
Most students at the elementary are aware that they have learning differences. They may not totally understand the what's and why's of it, but they recognize that they learn differently. If at all possible, allow your student the opportunity to educate you on what works best for them, maybe allowing them to choose their seat in class or use crayons instead of markers. Allow your student to begin to learn self advocacy skills that they will need later in life. Listen to them (through their words and actions) as they 'tell' you how they learn best. If they ask to hold a ball while taking a test, give it a try. If they ask to wear a hat because the lights hurt their eyes, take this the child's right to advocate for herself. Don't hesitate to ask for assistance from an intervention specialist, school psychologist, the child's parent, or the child himself! If the child would like to talk about his disability, embrace the chance to share in a private, supportive way.

Accommodations are tried and true methods that just work.
Last year, I was able to do addition to 5 with the help of my favorite purple blocks. I hope this year I get to do addition to 10 with those purple blocks. Mrs. B really helped me by adapting  some of my work to make it easier to follow and focus. I hope Mr. M lets me do that too.
 You should become familiar with the child's IEP, even if they are in your room for 15 minutes. What accommodations are listed on the IEP? Ask for assistance if you are unsure what to do or need suggestions. Who is to provide the services? Get acquainted with the services providers in the building. If you have questions about any student, they are usually more than happy to assist you. How can I incorporate the goals/objects of the student with the daily activities I have planned? Again, seek assistance if you struggle with where successful activities can be incorporated.

One-on-one time works like a charm.
Sometimes in class I get distracted by the papers on the walls or the other students. Sometimes the extra noisy hallway or the buzzing of the lights makes it hard to focus. It would be nice if I could talk to my teacher, just her and I, so that I know what is expected and could ask questions privately.
Who doesn't like a little 1-1 time? Even as a teacher, I value 1-1 discussion time with other professionals and students! With many students with special needs, they need to develop a relationship with the adults in their life. Often family members are the majority of the interactions that children have before coming to school. Building that relationship is critical. During 'morning news', try to call on them to tell you something about their day. Make it a point to give them feedback on their successes. Take a minute at recess and play tag with them. These examples are just the beginning of how to create a successful experience with the students.

Medical complications (and disruptive behaviors) may arise . 
I visit a lot of doctors. I sometimes have an achy body, but can't always express that so I cry. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with all the requests and demands of the school day. I get very frustrated and have difficulty communicating that to others and KA-BOOM, I explode. Please remember that behavior = communication. Please try to translate what I am trying to tell you and help me. I'm not trying to be bad, I just need some understanding!
UNDERSTANDING! Teachers need to understand that often a lot of "needs" are wrapped up in a little pint sized 7 year old. Medical issues need to be understood and procedures for dealing with complications need to be automatic. If Sam has a seizure disorder, what are the steps taken if she has one in class? Disruptive behaviors may arise and you need to be ready. Hopefully you have built a relationship with the child and that relationship will assist you in deescalating the situation. Make yourself familiar with the child's behavior plan (in applicable) so you know what support the child needs as well as who is there to help.

 As teachers, we should be doing our best to make all students feel a part of the classroom. Take ownership of all your students. But don't be afraid to ask for help! Always remember:
Most students with disabilities work harder than the average student just in everyday functions, but don’t be afraid to ask questions. (E. Breedlove)

How hard do you work in a day?

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