Strategies to Help Students
1. Organize your physical space. Physical reminders make work seem less abstract for students. For example, to-do folders on their desks and a classroom tray for completed homework can help them mark their progress. Similarly, classroom zones dedicated to specific tasks and well-organized storage can help students find the tools they need to start work and stay focused once they do. Consider creating a reading corner or a math station, and organize classroom materials by subject in totes or bins.
2. Get colorful. Color-coding goes a long way in helping children with disabilities distinguish subjects and prioritize tasks. You could mark each subject with a specific color. If you use yellow notebooks for math, cover your math textbooks in yellow paper. Do the same with blue for English books and notebooks. Or you could help students keep track of deadlines by using green for tasks with far-off deadlines, yellow for tasks with fast-approaching deadlines, and red for overdue tasks.
3. Check it off. Simply remembering assignments can be a huge struggle for special education students. Even after finishing homework, they often forget to bring it to school. Give each student a weekly or daily checklist, and create a classroom checklist on a large board in a high-traffic area. Verbally and visually reinforce the deadlines on these checklists whenever possible, and make a ritual of ticking tasks off of the class board to show students the satisfaction of a job well done.
4. Create and stick to a routine. Time management can be difficult for students with learning disabilities to grasp. They often struggle to focus on the task at hand or estimate how much time each task should take.
A firm routine will help. Schedule your day into blocks with set times for each activity. Post the schedule in a highly visible classroom location, and create rituals to mark the beginning and end of each block. These rituals can be as simple as crossing off a completed block or moving an arrow down the board to mark your place in the day.
5. Provide rewards. Reinforce good behavior to help students develop the right habits. Rewards come in many forms — from something as tangible as a grade to something as easy as a compliment. Doing this for basic responsibilities may seem unnecessary, but regular tasks are actually the most important to reinforce. When children feel good about doing something, they’re more likely to develop a habit.
6. Engage the parents. You only spend eight hours a day with your students. Their parents play a huge role in shaping what habits they pick up during the other 16 hours. Emphasize the importance of this partnership in a phone call or personal email to each child’s parents. Then, help them track their child’s progress by sending home a daily notebook or folder with details about assignments and difficulties their child is facing.
Modeling and reinforcing good organization starts with simple steps. Consider Bonnie’s story again. Color-coded geometry materials and a clear checklist might have helped her remember that her homework was due the next day. Looking forward to a compliment from her teacher and the routine of putting her homework in the classroom inbox might have kept her motivated. And engaged parents might have checked in with her to make sure she did the homework.
Every student works differently, so as you adopt these strategies, take the time to assess what does and does not work for each of your students. Be creative with your approach, trying out different methods until you find what fits your classroom. You have the power to create lasting change and set your students up for success.