Facing the day can be daunting enough.  Facing the day with a communication impairment, no matter how mild can seem like an impossible task.  As teachers, we strive every day to move our students closer to fulfilling their potential.  Here are a few tips to help you and your students navigate the day.

Make a set routine for your classroom. Establishing routines in your classroom makes life easier for everyone.  But for students who struggle to wade through verbal directions to meet their teacher’s expectations, routines can ensure small successes everyday, decrease off task behaviors, and help eliminate behavior problems.

Incorporate visuals in your classroom. Visual cues decrease reliance on language-loaded tasks.  Allowing the student to focus more of their cognitive energy towards to goal of the lesson. All students, not just those with communication impairments benefit from visual reminders of steps to follow in a problem or key ideas you are teaching.

Decrease the number of words you use when giving directions.  More words does not equal a better understanding in your students. Pare down directions to the fewest, most important words possible.

For example, this is too many words: “Put your backpack in your locker, get out your crayon box.  You will need blue, green and yellow crayons.  Complete the math page on your desk.  Then color the picture according to the key at the bottom of the page.” [40 words] Here are those same directions, cut down:  “First, backpack away.  Then, blue, green, yellow crayons.  Next, math problems.  Last, color.” [13 words]

Understand that just because a child cannot articulate their thoughts, does not mean they understand less than your other students. Many of us have said, “It’s on the tip of my tongue.  If I could see it I could tell you.”  This is life for children with expressive language impairments.  Offer a word bank or answer bank for written assignments.  Early education teachers who do most of their assessments orally can offer flashcards as answer choices.  Just use a prompt such as, “Show me the letter that says /t/.  Point to “and.”

Be literal and try to decrease figurative language.

Once upon a time a teacher asked her class to put their books up.  As she turned around one student had his book raised high in the air.  This student had to move his clip for not following directions.  Clearly this teacher wanted her students to put their books away.  Unfortunately, this student did not understand figurative language and got in trouble for something he didn’t understand. The more literal you are, the less misunderstandings you will run into.

Try some explicit teaching. Don’t take for granted what children know or don’t know.  Many students with communication impairments don’t understand the nuances that make a school day run smoothly. For example, many children with pragmatic language disorders don’t understand personal space.  This can cause chaos when lining up to go to lunch or when sitting in the floor for circle time.  At the beginning of the year teach a lesson on how close or far away you should be from someone.  Don’t assume that because most of the kids know that you can’t put your toes against the back of the kids’ shoes in front of you that all of them will know.  If you’ve told them to scoot up in line, or close the gap, they may not understand just how close is close enough. 

If you find yourself saying a student’s name over and over during a certain part of the day ask yourself, “What is it that student is doing and what should they do differently?”  Devise a short lesson and practice this.  It may take 15 minutes of your day, but it will save you hours throughout the school year.

Use peer models. Never underestimate the power of example.  Do you have a kid who is always one step behind everyone else?  They don’t seem to follow directions until after everyone else is finished  Seat them next to Sally who is always one step ahead.  Just having a good model can be all some kids need.

When you set up peer modeling, know what your end coal is. Is the kid who comes to your class at 10:00 really working on the skills you’re teaching in reading group?  Or is the purpose of being in your class for them to learn how to interact with others in a classroom setting, following group rules, and maintaining socially appropriate behaviors?  Knowing the goals of the kiddos in your class can help you align your expectations with their capabilities. 

Specific praise is always a huge help! We all know the benefits of positive behavior reinforcement, but “Good job!” isn’t enough.  Many times children don’t realize just exactly what it was they did, and therefore can’t reproduce it.  Be specific with your praise.  “I like the way you got right to work.  Thank you for putting your name on your paper.  You did a great job answering the ‘who’ question with a person’s name.”

There are a lot of ways to make your classroom more inclusive without disrupting the flow! We’d love for teachers to share with us any ideas of ways they’ve worked in their classroom so all of their students feel included.

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