Meeting the needs of every student in a diverse class can be a challenge for any teacher. This article is an excerpt from a conversation I had with Sheila Allen, during the Learning Cultures mini-summit. Sheila is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist in Chatham, New Jersey, who speacializes in sensory processing and behavior. She actively researches improvements in learning settings and therapy solutions for students. Her comments about getting students in sync are useful in every classroom.
In a classroom, skill levels vary across a lot of different continuums: sensory and perception, academic skill, cognitive development, and a whole host of social, emotional, everything. What can we do to bring these diverse groups in sync?
I think there’s a lot that can be done in classrooms. I say that because I see a lot of really incredible things happening in many of the classrooms that I go into that really work. One of them, which is probably the most challenging, is motivation. Those teachers who are really valuing a motivated student and creating motivating experiences for students really seem to have a success rate in promoting engaged students in their classrooms and seeing a couple of nice things in that way.
The other thing… to support every student in a classroom is music. We’ve all been in classes where teachers are using music as background to facilitate concentration, bring cohesion to the classroom, and those kinds of things. It’s always a little bit of a challenge, though, because not everybody has the same musical preferences. I really like the idea of adding music into the so-called sensory break idea where you’re actually brining in some of your own music and having some time to listen to it. I think that that’s a great opportunity for students to not only activate their brains, but affect their moods and also give themselves the break to oftentimes integrate and reset for the next activity.
The other thing I think that goes along with that is active music-making in the classroom. That’s, of course, very easy when your students are young; it’s a little bit more challenging when students are older because they get a little shy about doing those kinds of things. I do think that recognizing that music as a sensory input affects more brain areas than any other stimulus is really important to remember. We’ve got to include that in class life. Sometimes that’s a big consideration because oftentimes districts don’t have a music program. I’m not even thinking about music class here because that’s just happening once or maybe twice a week. I’m thinking about how can a classroom just actively use music as part of the classroom experience on a daily basis.
Motivation, music, and then the other part of that is movement. There’s so much out there about the perils of sitting and how much sitting we’re doing and shouldn’t be doing at whatever age we are. Changing up positions for all students, giving the options for different positions for learning, encouraging classwork being done in different positions, I think is a really important part of building the actual classroom environment. I also think that just engaging students in movement experiences is a really important part of every single classroom day. When you’ve got that opportunity to synch up movement to music, we know that’s really good for our brains, and it builds cohesion in groups.
Starting every single day out like that, breaking in that kind of activity when the class is starting to lose some of its cohesion, maybe during transitional times or at the end of a really challenging lesson, that kind of thing I think is really an important consideration, as well. I see those kinds of things work really nicely. It’s hard to create a very balanced class day when there are so many academic demands, but recognizing the kinds of activities that can be done to affect brain and body states, to me, is also an academic activity because it’s such an important basis for higher-level function.
I was just reading something similar to that last night. Neuroplasticity, which is required for learning at all ages, is lost when we’re sitting still and when we don’t move around a lot. Without movement, we are limiting learning.
Often times when certain students are moving, which really is a part of their way of learning, that’s viewed as perhaps hyperactivity or some sort of abnormal drive for sensory input. Yes, of course, within that continuum there are students who really have much more of a craving for movement than other students, but even those students who are right in the middle really do need to move, as we all do. I really value that opportunity in classrooms for teachers to keep things going with active movement in mind.
Read more comments about honoring relaitve assests in a classroom at our Learning Cultures mini-summit.