Experienced teachers currently in the classroom and future teachers of students with disabilities have a responsibility to effectively manage their classrooms with respect and consistency. Whether exceptional students are placed in a general education classroom, a self-contained classroom or a combination of the two, they exhibit a wide range of behaviors. It is up to the teacher to be prepared for each student. The most successful teachers create an organized environment, set clear behavior expectations, and communicate openly and frequently with their students.
3 Components of a Successful Classroom
There are many aspects of the educational process that affect how well students learn and succeed. Three components, namely classroom organization, behavior planning and communication patterns, are critical to the academic and social achievement of all students, but especially those with exceptionalities.
Classroom Organization - The minute students walk into a classroom, they begin to assess how they fit in. Students with disabilities are often more sensitive to the setup of furniture, supplies and materials than other students, for example. These easy steps can help alleviate student anxiety:
- Arrange desks in rows instead of clusters or circles. Students are less likely to be distracted by others and teachers can provide ample personal space between desks.
- Clearly label the shelves or drawers that house shared student supplies. A common goal found in Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) focuses on creating independent students capable of solving their own problems, even as small as where to get a new pencil or turn in homework.
- Post important information. When teachers consistently post information and assignments, as well as room expectations and rules, the classroom becomes a stable environment that fosters learning for exceptional students.
Behavior Management - Careful and effective organization can make a big difference when it comes to defining and maintaining acceptable, appropriate classroom behaviors.
- Post a short list of non-negotiable rules. These rules tend to be very similar from room to room and grade to grade, but students who are involved in how the rules are worded will remember and respect them.
- Refer to the rule each time a student needs to be redirected. The more students realize that the rules they helped create are followed by the teacher, the more likely they are to abide by them.
- Find the trigger for unacceptable behaviors, especially in students with social/emotional disabilities. Identifying the trigger is often as important as the teacher's reaction to the behavior. When a student has an IEP, standard evaluations have been done on the student which can reveal why students act or react the way they do. It is essential that teachers reflect not only on student triggers but also on their own words or actions to prevent future outbursts or reactions.
Communication Skills - Maintaining positive communication with exceptional students takes thoughtful planning and consistency. Students respond well to direction and correction when it is clear and when they can be sure that the message is fair.
- Positive communication can be one important key to successful classroom management. According to researchers in the State of Washington, teachers should use the 5-to-1 ratio, offering "5 positive interactions (e.g. friendly conversation, nonverbal acknowledgement, praise) to every 1 negative interaction (e.g. punishment or criticism) for each student."
- Students with disabilities may be sensitive to noise. Others may be reluctant to speak up to advocate for their own needs. One of the ways in which teachers can create a calm and safe environment is to introduce visual cues that can be used by both teachers and students. This can be as simple as pointing to the rule list as a form of redirection.
- When having a redirection conversation with students, give them an opportunity to become calm without repercussions. Be a good listener and allow them to respectfully vent.
- Expect and maintain calm interactions with students no matter what the issue.
The Master of Science in Exceptional Student Education online degree program at Barry University includes the course Educational Management of Students with Exceptionalities. In this class, students learn strategies they can use when creating an environment designed for academic and social/emotional achievement. Upon class completion, they understand the value of time spent planning for student success.
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