Connections: January 3, 2023

Strategies to Meet Diverse Learner Needs in the Classroom

We all recognize that students are coming into our classrooms with diverse needs, backgrounds, and structures within their home environments. Due to these differences, all educators are realizing that they aren’t fully meeting all the needs, which, sometimes, makes coming to work feel like an insurmountable task. But, what if we could get back to some basics that might help the day go a little smoother? Hear me out and let’s talk about the factors that make students more accessible to learning.

Basic Needs:

Are they getting fed in the morning, getting enough sleep at night? We can’t control these things, but we can be prepared to offer these basic needs in the educational setting. We don’t want kids sleeping all day at school, however, there are times where a 20 minute break away from the busy classroom environment (or a snack!) might just rejuvenate that student enough to be able to make it through the rest of the day.

Physical and Visual Structure:

The arrangement of the room should make our students feel safe as well as provide clear, defined expectations for each part of the room. Knowing where materials are, what the expectations are for the small group table as opposed to independent work at my desk, etc, helps everyone to “go with the flow” and creates a more positive climate within the room.

Visual structures, including a posted schedule and posted routines, allow for predictability, consistency, and focus for both the students AND the adults. Students who know what to do, how much to do, how to get help, and what to do when they’re finished will be more independent and calmer in the classroom. Posting these items and consistently referring to them reduces the need for students to ask questions and allows us to have productive teaching time.

Planned and practiced transitions:

We need to practice all the transitions that occur in our day so that students know the expectations and can show us how to do them on a daily basis. This includes transitions within the room such as setting up for labs, putting away materials after recess, as well as transitions within the building.

Classroom climate:

We need our students to know that our classrooms are a safe, positive place to be by providing a higher rate of positive interactions than negative (5 positives to 1 negative). This can be as simple as a thumbs up, a smile with eye contact, or a small sticker placed on a sticky note on the corner of their desk. Students just want to be “seen,” both by the adults in the room as well as their peers.

We all thrive and are most productive when we understand what’s going on and what we’re expected to do. Lists, calendar reminders, notes to ourselves create a feeling of comfort and organization. Ensuring these factors are in place, along with individualized supports when needed for our students, assists with behavior management, independence, focus, and engagement. Teach students to blend structures in their lives, use the cues in their environment to know what to do (even by watching their friends!), and give them the gift of confidence by making their school day more consistent, routine, predictable, and safe.