Last week, we discussed why working in groups might be tricky–or even anxiety producing–for students with special needs. To make this type of activity easier, teachers can take several proactive steps.
Think it through. As the adage goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” The danger with this, for teachers, is that lack of planning on the teacher’s part can result in failure for the students. Therefore, teachers need to define objects for both the product and the process. For example:
By working in a small group, students will create a booklet that summarizes the story they have read (product)
As they work in groups, students will take turns sharing ideas without interrupting. (process)
By clearly defining the end-results for product and process, teachers provide structure and purpose.
Do a little choreography. Just as a choreographer plans each move of a dance, teachers must plan for group work. Moving from individual or large group work to small group work takes tremendous energy and concentration for many students. While some students move easily to new activities, students with hidden disabilities may face several hurdles such as following multi-step directions, difficulty moving through a crowd without bumping into others, anxiety at the change of activity. Therefore, it’s critically important for teachers to plan where groups will sit, how the students move through the room, and what directions will be given to minimize confusion.
“Pick up your pencil and markers. When you’re ready, look at me….Students in group A can now stand and walk to the story corner….(wait until group A is seated) Great! Group B students can stand and walk to the art table…”
Create Boundaries Group work allows students some freedom to explore ideas and collaborate. However, this freedom requires boundaries and structure to ensure student success! Teachers can set students up for success by providing parameters that help productivity. A checklist for the components of the project provides a visual reminder of the directions, and prompts students through the task. In addition, some students with hidden disabilities have a poor sense of time. Teachers can support task completion by providing prompts to move through the activity, such as a bell or chime. Visual timers can also help students manage their time.
With all of the planning necessary for group work, it may seem easier to plan a teacher-directed lesson! However, the opportunity for students to take charge of their learning–and learn from and with each other–makes this behind-the-scenes planning worth all the effort.
From behind the scenes…
Next: Teaching kids how to work together
This past Sunday I got to witness the Sunday Plus curriculum being used. This is at a church in the Silicon Valley of CA. The last activity of the day was where the kids got into the teams they are in every week. The Recreation Specialist had a different type of activity for the kids.
Every team was given the exact same materials and told they could make anything they wanted with the items. I watched in amazement – there were over 100 kids – I did not see one child hold back. Their creations were awesome – every group created something from the Bible.
They are a church with a lot of Foster children and adopted children (some from Russia), so there are a lot of disabilities/challenges – but you would never have known it from watching these kids work.
I believe perseverance is key. Someone told me that in the beginning there were challenges but none of the adults backed down, they continued to encourage the kids. Now the kids have learned how to work together as a team.
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