When I say “all students”, I mean ALL students. No matter who they are, how they learn, their medical history or what special needs they may have, these strategies will work for ALL children.
Why is that? Because no matter where a child came from or what their background is, they are all entering the classroom with a brain that craves input. They will all react to input differently, or may react in a way you did not expect, but that does not mean that they are opposed to it. The key is to discover what input each student is looking for, and how to nurture that.
Strategy #1: Every kid has a currency.
I know that may sound absolutely silly, but it is true. Every child has some sort of thing that they absolutely love. This is not meant to be used as a bargaining tool or leverage to get a kid to do something. Bargaining and leverage are not teaching techniques, they are just methods for making YOU feel better, and that’s NOT why you are in the classroom.
Build activities for that child which are based on the thing they love to do. Whether it is something creative, sensory related, literature, music, dancing, puzzles, you will always be able to build an activity around it.
Don’t believe me?
Lucy tends to hit other children and won’t stop after she is redirected by a teacher. Well, it turns out that Lucy REALLY REALLY REALLY likes to read books and have books read to her. When she’s not hitting her classmates, she’s almost always reading. So what do you do? You start reading books to her that are about keeping your hands off of other people. You start conversations with her while reading, about various points in these books, so she understands the emotions behind her own behavior, and how it makes her classmates feel.
Marcus is constantly on the move, he never stays in a seat for more than a minute and goes from one activity to the next in a very short time span. Marcus happens to really love two things: creativity and science. He will stay focused on these two subjects for extended periods of time. Art in all forms, and science are both very diverse subjects. Letters, numbers, sensory development, language development, diversity, and many more topics can be easily incorporated into art and science. Marcus will most likely sit for long periods of time with these two subjects, and eventually reach a point when he is mature enough to sit for all activities, not just art and science.
Strategy #2: Every kid learns in their own way.
Every child is unique. That’s not some smarmy saying, it’s actually true. No two kids learn and understand things the same way. Robert is going to tell you that the letter A is the letter A because it is made of three lines, and Nadia is going to tell you the letter A is the letter A because it has a triangle inside it (And be happy that Nadia can identify a triangle, and that Robert can recognize that three lines and the number 3 mean the same thing).
You must respect each child’s learning style. Some children learn by watching what you are doing. Other kids learn by physically doing something. Some with verbal directions. Some learn based on their interests.
What’s important to understand is that all children are learning all the time. There is no such thing as a child who does not learn.
Strategy #3: Art.
If you are lost, or have a group of diverse learners that makes it difficult to tailor a curriculum to all of their needs, then it is time to turn to art. Art based curriculum works for every single child in one way or another. There is no child on this planet who doesn’t love some form of art. It doesn’t matter if it is sensory art (fingerpaint) or drawing with crayons or something totally new. Every single one of your students will eventually like something that you offer to them. A child who has significant sensory needs will probably gravitate toward art materials that make noise, or feel squishy or cool to the touch. Some kids love all art forms and will work with anything you put in front of them. Every single subject covered by ELDS can be inserted into art activities.
Additionally, a fully stocked art center where children can choose to draw, cut and paste or paint is also helpful. These are opportunities for them to flex their fine motor skills, express their emotions, discuss their ideas with other classmates sharing the center with them, and above all else, have fun. Positive experiences create more positive experiences. So providing the materials is often enough for children to teach themselves, and you as the teacher can sit back and observe.
Strategy #4: It’s not so much what you do, it’s what you DON’T do.
I recently worked with a teacher who had zero grasp of this. No matter how much I explained this, how I explained it, how I modeled it, it just went right over this teacher’s head. Some teachers are just convinced that they have to do everything all at once and never stop moving.
Kids teach themselves. As my mother likes to say, they don’t come pre-taught, but they are very, very good at using the materials you give them to learn. You are teaching them, by creating an environment that promotes learning. But you are also relinquishing control. And that’s good. Kids are so intelligent, so ready to learn new things, and you must trust them that they can do it. Also, it’s a lot of fun to give a group of children a set of materials and see what they do with it. They will definitely surprise you.
Strategy #5: Tell your students what you expect from them.
Kids come ready and willing to learn. But a set of clear and concise classroom rules are going to set the tone. Let them know, “We don’t do X in this room”, but also tell them “We do X in this room instead”. It’s important to phrase it as “we” instead of “you”. This makes it so that all the children and all the teachers know that this behavior is expected of everyone. You are also telling children flat-out that their classroom is a shared space, and it is a place where a certain frame of mind exists and can be looked forward to every day. Their classroom is a safe zone, a place where they can rely on the structure, respect and love you give them.
Strategy #6: Be calm.
Children feed off your energy. If you are not calm, they are not calm. There’s really no sense in getting bent out of shape or agitated about being in a classroom. And if being in a classroom agitates you, you need to identify why. If you can’t do that, or have done it but won’t take the time to fix it, then you probably shouldn’t be teaching. But if you can identify for yourself why you are anxious or agitated and also find a solution, then you are on the right track.
Remember that you chose this career because you wanted to be here. You enjoy teaching and it is fun for you. You want to see your students grow and learn and become amazing people. So it should be very easy for you to be calm, cool and collected in your classroom.