Last month, we introduced the concept that ALL children have special needs, whether they have an IEP or other unique needs, such as language learner status, food insecurity, or a history of trauma.
Teachers seek to balance the needs of all children, every day in their classroom. And the CLASS tool gives us a useful lens for looking at strategies to help children with a range of unique challenges, styles, interests, and competencies.
The first 3 strategies related to relationships, awareness of individual needs, and providing choices. These corresponded to the first 3 dimensions of CLASS: Positive Climate, Teacher Sensitivity, and Regard for Child Perspectives.
Keep reading to learn the final 3 strategies, linking to the other areas of CLASS® tool!
#1 Facilitate Self-Regulation and Interactions Among Children
Teachers are presented with challenges each day when children have difficulty with self-regulation. This also may affect all of the children in the classroom at any given time. When children have a predictable, nurturing environment, they know what to expect. Spending the time to teach children ways to express their feelings appropriately and to provide children with clear and consistent expectations for behavior are the first steps in Behavior Management in the CLASS® tool.
|Are the classroom routines and expectations clear? Do children know what to do and how to do it?|
For example, “clean up” can mean many things to many children. When teachers are specific and use positive language, like, “please put the books back on the book shelf,” instead of “clean up the books,” it helps the children know what to do.
Productivity in the CLASS® tool refers to how well the classroom flows. It takes months for classrooms to become “well-oiled machines” as children progress through transitions and routines that are new to them. Some children may need repeated experiences with learning these expectations as this may be the first time they are participating with a large group of children and sharing the teacher’s attention. Some children may also need a visual schedule to help remind them what to do and some children may need to have the steps broken down in a first/then order or sequence.
#2 Focus on Engagement
Planning the daily schedule to meet the needs of all children is tricky at best. Important considerations for teachers include cutting down on the number of transitions each day, limiting whole group times to short periods, and allowing ample time for children to access materials and activities that interest them. A key question to consider throughout is:
|How can every child in the group be an active, engaged member of the classroom community?|
What we have learned from Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is that children need multiple means of engagement and multiple means of representing what they have learned.
Teachers must select a variety of modalities to present to children and NOT rely on oral instruction alone. For example, singing the ABC’s is one of the first ways teachers and parents talk about the alphabet, but letter recognition must be taught in many different ways:
- an alphabet line,
- magnetic or sandpaper letters,
- finding plastic letters in the sand table,
- forming letters with playdough on alphabet cards, or
- “writing” letters in trays of salt or shaving cream.
Children get engaged in learning when action is involved! Also, a child is more likely to demonstrate what he or she has learned when a teacher plans activities with a child’s interests in mind. In the CLASS® tool, the above examples would be a part of Instructional Learning Formats.
#3 Provide Appropriate Academic Rigor
Reflective teachers help children learn to think.This takes places when teachers intentionally embed learning opportunities through their moment-to-moment interactions. These will look different for different children.
|How do we ensure that each child has the kinds of interactions that grow his or her thinking skills?|
When we ask children open-ended questions (an essential part of Language Modeling in the CLASS® tool), we first have to be certain the child understands the question. If the child does not understand the question, he or she may look away and not answer at all. Teachers may then try a different way of asking and make certain they allow wait time for individual children to process and respond. Responses may also be non-verbal and include pointing to a picture or using materials.
Teachers must be explicit when they integrate or connect new knowledge. (Think back to Piaget… Assimilation + Accommodation = Adaptation!). This is part of Concept Development in the CLASS® tool.
And as children learn new skills, hints and assistance may be needed for a child to be successful. The Quality of Feedback (CLASS® tool) teachers provide must be effective and meaningful for all learners. This may include a combination of gestures, signs, and/or pictures to engage children in a back and forth “exchange” that helps them complete a task or reach a higher level of understanding.
The Bottom Line
Think back on the 6 teacher-child interactions strategies we’ve covered:
- supportive relationships,
- awareness of individual needs,
- providing choices;
- facilitating self-regulation and interactions among children,
- focusing on engagement, and
- providing academic rigor
As we seek to promote quality interactions for ALL, we should keep in mind that ~48-month-old children are more alike than different!
When we view children with the same disability/label as being very similar (i.e., “children with autism” or “dual language learners”), it is not helpful as the same disability or ability may manifest itself in different ways in different children.
|As a whole, 48-month-old children are curious and active explorers, who want to have fun, interact and play with other children.|
When young children participate in a classroom together, teachers are poised to help these children to participate as part of a community and feel they belong. By making accommodations and modifications, all children can be successful. Our ultimate goal is to be ready to welcome all children, so they can grow, develop and have a positive disposition towards learning.