More Time to Teach…More Motivated to Try

Helping learning disabled students become more independent

Do you ever get to the end of the day and feel like you’ve spent more time repeating directions and telling students to get back on task than you did actually teaching?

Here are some ideas collected from teachers and conferences that can help your students to become more independent. While the focus here will be on learning disabled students, these simple strategies will be helpful to any student.

Help Students Notice Routines – Students with learning disabilities or special needs, often have difficulty noticing and following the routines that most of us fall into quite naturally. Most students can figure out what to expect and how things are done in a classroom just by looking around and noticing the way we do things everyday. Learning disabled students are most successful when they have a routine they can follow. However, the day-to-day routines of the classroom are not always obvious to them. Taking the time up front to teach your expectations and routines can save you time in the long run. Give your students a clear picture of what you are asking. Model it, practice it, and enjoy increased student independence.

What Does “Finished” Mean? – It happens everyday. You give an assignment to your class, but before they are finished, some students become involved in other activities. Teachers find themselves in a position of constantly reminding students to get back to work and finish the assignment. Students may start something and then “drift into the ozone” because they do not have a clear picture of what “finished” looks like. You can help your students to understand “what finished looks like” by making a section on the chalkboard that says: “You will know you are finished when…” and listing the criteria.

For example:
You will know you are finished when…

  1. You have completed 10 math problems and checked them
  2. Your name, date and period are at the top of your page.

When a student is not working, point to the spot on the board and simply ask, “I wonder if you have completed this assignment based on this criteria.” I heard about one teacher who used a modification of this strategy to help students know what a clean desk should look like. She took a photograph of a clean desk and posted it with a caption that said, “You will know your desk is clean if it looks like this.”

Is it relevant? – One way to decrease the irrelevant questions that learning disabled and attention deficit students often tend to ask during a lesson is to talk about what “relevant “ means. For instance, if you’re reading Tom Sawyer, you can say “Let’s talk about what kinds of things would be relevant and not relevant”, and give examples such as, “Is now the time to ask what is for lunch? Or, would now be a good time to ask when yearbook money is due?”

So what should be done with those questions?

Give each student a stack of sticky notes. Each time they think of an irrelevant question they can write it down and put it on the corner of their desk. Tell students that the questions will be answered when the lesson is finished. Now, it may seem like the students are not paying attention to the lesson while they are writing their notes, and they’re not! However, writing down their irrelevant thoughts will allow them to let go of it, and until they do, they aren’t paying attention to the lesson anyway.

I Forgot My… – Time is wasted when students forget items. Whether it’s a pencil, paper, or book, many students forget to bring one or more items to class. Teachers wait while students go back to their lockers, search through their backpacks, or borrow from a classmate.

A fun, creative way to help kids remember what they need to bring to class is to have a sign or marquee over or near the door which tells exactly what the student will need for that day. For example, if your class is studying The Enlightenment, your marquee might say:

Welcome to 9th Grade History
The Enlightenment
Your Rough Draft,
Pen, and your Book

Teach your students the routine of checking the marquee as they walk into class. This way, they can get out their materials and check with a friend or go back to their lockers, if necessary, without the teacher’s constant reminders. This technique reinforces a self-check of the materials that the student needs, whether it is for the classroom or in other areas of their lives.

Simple Motivators Work Better Than Nagging

  1. Using that Daily Planner
    One of the biggest reasons that students fail is that they don’t do their homework. Junior high students are notorious for thinking that they can just remember everything they need to do for homework. Even though many schools require students to fill-in assignment calendars or “binder reminders,” some students, particularly learning disabled students who have difficulty writing and copying, choose not to use them. The inevitable result of this lack of written reminder is forgotten or incomplete assignments. Developing this invaluable organizational tool often requires the support and monitoring of parents (not a popular idea with adolescents and teens). Three of my daughter’s junior high school teachers found a simple, highly motivating way to get students to fill out their daily planner and show it to their parents; Students were to show their planner to their parents every Friday and get it signed. For every parent signature, the students were given extra credit points. This simple strategy benefited everyone involved.
    • It allowed parents to monitor and dialogue with their children about the use of their assignment calendars
    • teachers did not have to remind students constantly
    • and students had a quick and easy way to get extra credit points.
  1. A fun way to study for tests
    Students love contests but they don’t love to study for tests. By turning test study into a contest, some teachers have found that students are eager and willing to put in the time. Have your students create test questions from the chapter that will be used in a competition in class. Students are divided into two teams. Each team gets to ask their questions to the other side. If answered correctly, the answering team gets a point. The team with the most points gets 5 extra credit points toward their test. Because they are trying to stump the other team, students tend to dig a little deeper and study a little more thoroughly than they otherwise might. Some teachers have used these student-created questions on the test and have awarded extra credit to students who came up with particularly thoughtful or critical questions.

By teaching strategies that help students to become more independent, and finding simple, motivating ways to encourage responsibility and independence, we find the rewards of more time to teach and students more motivated to try!

My thanks to the 8th grade teachers at Briggs Fundamental School in Chino, CA and to J.Schwenn and M.Goor, authors of an idea book called More Time To Teach for their contributions to this article.

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