If there is one thing that frustrates me (and I appreciate that it is done with kindness and good intentions), it’s students with SEN being consistently allowed to go first. Some would argue, skipping lines, or being asked questions first, or giving the student first choice over activities – is differentiation. I would respectfully have to disagree.
Our students need to learn to wait, to take turns, to share just the same as any other student in the room does. Sometimes they will get to go first; sometimes they will have to wait until last. And yes, I know that they find waiting hard, I know that it can result in challenging behaviours (especially the first few times), and I know the rest of the class don’t mind them being first – but that does not make it right.
So, how can you differentiate waiting? How can you make sure everyone does learn to wait without resulting in a meltdown? Simply put, you teach it, in exactly the same way as you would teach any other skill, one step at a time. Scaffolding your approach gradually so that the student is increasingly able to wait for longer periods of time.
In my class, everyone wants to answer first (or no one wants to answer at all – depending on the mood we’re in that day). I use a ‘thumbs up’ system, I talk to the student who I want to answer, whilst smiling at and putting my thumb up at the ones who are waiting. I show them that I’ve seen they are waiting nicely, that I’m proud of them for knowing the answer, and that I will get to them soon.
We go to the dining room early, so it’s less overwhelming and the queues are shorter, but we queue behind everyone else and wait our turn. If there’s a fun activity we all want to do (like choosing new Lego pieces for our stories, or getting up for party food) we choose on the basis of who is sitting nicely. Our students are motivated to do these activities; we can use them to our advantage to teach the skills they need to learn.
One day, in the not too distant future, our students will be adults – out in the world living their lives. They will not be cossetted in a school with a class that has known them since they were small; they will be surrounded by strangers who expect them to act with courtesy. We can give them the ability to succeed or we can take it away.
So please, next time your class is taking turns, think then think again. Let’s work on more than lesson content. Let’s prepare our students for the world…