Three panic-inducing words: “Find a Partner…”

This post is the first in a short series on helping students with disabilities work in pairs and small groups. Today’s focus: Reasons group work is difficult for students with special needs.

As teachers or volunteer leaders in schools or churches, we encourage students to collaborate and work together…it’s an important skill (and a necessary one!) However, students with hidden disabilities often struggle with this type of activity.For them, the three most frightening words uttered by teachers might  be “Find a partner.” They are all-too familiar with the feeling of being chosen last for a study group…or not being chosen at all.

Often, students with hidden disabilities lack the skills necessary to work effectively with a partner or small group. Reasons for this may include:

  • Poor impulse control.  Students may blurt out answers, talk about irrelevant topics or leave the group to work on something else.
  • Difficulties with taking turns.  Students might interrupt their peers or demand the first turn (and, if they don’t get it, they might become angry)
  • Social anxiety.  Working in a group can be so stressful that it causes physical symptoms, such as an upset stomach, racing heart, or sweating. Students who experience this might be unable to take part because they feel unwell.
  • Problems with expressive language. Sometimes, students have difficulty retrieving information at the same speed as their peers; they need extra “wait-time” to collect their thoughts.
  • Struggles with perspective-taking. Working in pairs or groups requires cooperation…and that means being able to understand another person’s perspective. This is a sophisticated skill that can be elusive for many students with hidden disabilities
  • Difficulty with task completion. When students work in groups, they often need to complete tasks at home. Students with hidden disabilities sometimes struggle with organization and task completion.
  • Low frustration tolerance. Sometimes, students with hidden disabilities are quick to become upset or angry when the group does not agree with their ideas, or when they perceive that the work is not going according to the “right”plan. When this happens, they may become frustrated and angry with their peers. They might also have difficulty regulating their emotions.
  • Uneven skill development. Sometimes, students with disabilities may be very capable in some academic areas, but have tremendous difficulty in others. When a group assignment requires them to perform in a less-developed skill set, they may be embarrassed and reluctant to participate.

The good news? These students CAN — and should–work in pairs and small groups. They just need explicit instruction in order to be successful. (and the truth is, EVERY student benefits from such instruction.) As teachers, we need to plan the students’ interactions just as carefully as we plan our own teaching.

Stay tuned! Next week, we’ll talk about how teachers and volunteers can smooth the way for great group work!

Your partner in planning~

Meet My Child! {Proactive Partnering in One Page}

The teacher looked at me with a mixture of frustration, embarrassment and exhaustion.

“So what do you want me to do?”

I tried…oh, how I tried, to be diplomatic. However, my own exhaustion and frustration took over, and I replied tersely, through clenched teeth, “I just want you to follow the IEP. Have you read it?”

He didn’t respond.

I turned and walked directly into the principal’s office. Mercifully, he was available. I sat down and burst into tears. My child had failed a science test, largely because the testing accommodations on the IEP hadn’t been followed. It was a simple break down in communication, but it had caused a “series of unfortunate events,” from my child’s meltdown at home to my unproductive discussion with the science teacher to the principal’s office, where the sympathetic, yet puzzled administrator regarded me, at a loss for what to say.

As I reflected on the situation later, I pondered what went wrong. The science teacher hadn’t been given a copy of my child’s records. It’s easy to see how it could happen. After all, schools are filled with human beings, and mistakes happen. (I also reflected on my own communication with this teacher, and the mistakes I made in that conversation…not my best moment as a mom.)

This experience was one of the first times my child was dealing with multiple teachers, many of whom were not aware of the educational and health needs. Dozens of students in the school received special accommodations; regular education teachers have multiple layers of learning needs to remember and manage. I wondered what I could do to make it easier for those regular education teachers to understand my child, and make their job more manageable.

At the beginning of the following school year, I emailed of the teachers a one-page summary of my child’s strengths and needs. I described her interests, personality and her medical background. Finally, thanked each of them for the part that they would play in her life, and promised that we would do our part to be helpful.

The return emails I received were delightful. One teacher said, “I read all of the kids’ IEPs, but it was so nice to have the really important information right in front of me in my classroom…it helped me so much!”

That year, and every year after, this easy strategy has made all the difference. Taking the perspective of the teachers and trying to meet their needs allowed them to better meet my child’s needs.

This strategy can work well at home, church, and in community activities. Teachers, coaches and church staff can offer this to parents, or parents can take the initiative and offer it to them. Below is a copy of a template we’ve developed to get you started…please note that it is a Word Document, so you can modify and edit it to meet your needs.

Meet My Child!

 You can add a picture of your child, a little clip art, or some color to make it personal. Please share your ideas!

Proactively yours~

Stay tuned… Tomorrow: Five Facts for Friday; Monday: “Meet ME:” Proactive Partnering with a side of self-advocacy

We’re spreading JAM~ come join us!

Happy Monday, everyone!

Have a look at these people:

They’re having good fun, because they recently participated in a Key Ministry JAM Session.

Don’t feel left out…YOU can have this much fun, too…

In case you didn’t know, a JAM Session helps you to Jumpstart an All-inclusive Ministry.

Our team is really excited about our next JAM Session, and we hope you’ll join us…

Saturday, February 11
8:30 am- 4:00 pm
Painesville Assembly of God
Painesville, OH


8:30 am     Continental breakfast

8:45 am     Welcome & Introductions

9:00 am     Overview of the day, goals and objectives

9:15 am     Disabilities 101

10:00 am     Logistics: Program Options, Volunteer Recruitment and Safety

11:00 am     Break

11:15 am     Modifying Curriculum and Managing Behavior

12:15 pm     Lunch

1:30 pm     Communicating with—and Equipping—Parents

2:30 pm     Make-it-and-Take-It

3:30 pm     Q & A

4:00 pm     Closing prayer

Please join us! Contact me if you’d like to register!

As with all of our Key Ministry services, the JAM Session training is free. The church is providing lunch for a small fee, or you are welcome to bring a brown-bag lunch with you.

See you at JAM!