Differentiation? On a Trip?

Today, as you can probably guess from the title, we escaped the classroom and headed out for some fun! Never have I welcomed such a smiley excited group of students into my room, the sun was shining, the uncomfortable school uniforms were nowhere to be seen and we only had one hour of real lessons all day. We were doing something MUCH more important – we were off to play on rope swings in a hay barn and eat in an American style diner.

I on the other hand, entered the day somewhat more wary; on the one hand nothing makes me happier than a chance to work on Social Skills for a day, on the other a day out of school always fills me with a sense of fear about what could go wrong. And let’s face it outside the predictable world of school there are 101 things that could go wrong!!

I needn’t have worried though, behaviour was exemplary, manners were perfect and great fun was had by all. We climbed on hay bales, crawled through tunnels and swung on rope swings. When it all got too much we had a quick 10 minute iPad downtime break, then we got up and ran around again. We even survived lunchtime without a meltdown, even though the food didn’t taste like we expected it to, no-one was impolite to the waiter, and everyone found something they could eat.

For me, it’s this, the differentiation we do outside the classroom that (despite the worrying I do about it) is the most important. I mean, don’t get me wrong I love it when my students do amazing work. But, even more than that I love it when they live amazing lives; when they make friends, are happy and truly enjoy social times together – that is when the true magic happens.

So, if you’ve got a trip planned here are my top five tips for taking students with ASD on an extended outing:

  • Plan where your students will sit on the coach (talk to them about it in advance, don’t just assume you know them well enough to decide)
  • Let your students know exactly what the plan for the day is (if possible write it down on portable schedule – so that you can update any changes as and when they happen)
  • Unless you are taking a packed lunch which has come from the student’s own home – do rehearse a plan with the student for what will happen if the food turns out not to look/ taste the way they expect.
  • Have a way of creating positive downtime into your day (we took two iPads and a 10 minute timer). Some students might find a full day of intense social activity just too much.
  • Praise them lots, days out are great fun but they are also really challenging, so if things are going well, notice it.

Go on, plan a trip, there’s just enough time to organise it…

No Way I’ve Already Done It!

Tomorrow is Monday morning; lesson one I teach my KS4 students – all of whom before 9.30 if I’m totally honest, would far rather be at home in bed than in my lesson. They will be grumpy, and anything and everything that is wrong with their world will be my fault. It’s ok – I won’t take it personally – as soon as the clock hits 9.30 they will become the lovely human beings I know them to be, and I will be forgiven for inflicting endless misery upon them.

I am however determined, as I am every Monday that lesson one will be a success, despite the fact that this Monday I (the evil teacher) will be inflicting the horror of all horror on them. We will be redrafting a piece of work.

Now I should add here that redrafting work, has – in the eyes of my students – to be the most pointless task ever invented. It is in their opinion simply a form of torture which teachers have invented in order to make them miserable. I mean what is the point of redoing something that you have already done, tried your best doing and are quite satisfied with?

Of course I could just say, never mind then let’s leave it at that. However, both they and I know that that isn’t going to happen. I’m far too stubborn for that. My KS4 students are wonderful, intelligent and creative, and more than capable of improving their work. However, that said – nor am I going to embark on a battle of wills first thing on a Monday morning.

Instead I’m going to go round the houses, they aren’t going to ‘redraft’ work, or at least not knowingly. Instead, they are going to complete four challenges – each of which asks them to look at a different element of their work. Those challenges will be handwritten and presented in an envelope which congratulates them on a fantastic piece of work. I need them to understand that 1) They have done a great job with their work, 2) I know that they’ve done a great job, 3) Even when we’ve done a great job, we can still challenge ourselves a little bit more.

One day, in the not too distant future – they will be ready for me to say to them, ‘OK guys let’s redraft this’, but first they need to understand that redrafting something doesn’t mean you got it wrong in the first place and second they need to have the building blocks in place to understand what redrafting work really means.

Ok and I forgot, one tiny other element – a Cadbury’s chocolate éclair – once they’ve completed their challenges they will enjoy their éclair whilst I thoroughly enjoy reading their excellent work!

If you would like to try this with your students here are some printable and editable challenges for you to get started with. Just don’t mention the dreaded ‘redrafting’ word!

Stationery Addict

As anyone who knows me well is aware, I have a bit of a thing about stationery. Put me in a shop with coloured highlighters and post it notes, and well there you have it, I might just as well be in heaven! Luckily under the guise of essential differentiation materials, I have the perfect self given excuse to buy as many post it notes, index cards, coloured pens, stickers and highlighters as I need… mmmm ok need might not necessarily be strictly the truest word to use, but hey that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

Post it notes are my wouldn’t be without item, when it comes to differentiation you simply can’t beat them. They are quick, easy, cheap to buy and come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colours and designs. You can – if you know your students well – personalise your post it to your students. Even if you don’t now them well enough, or have an extensive enough collection to quite manage personalisation, novelty post it notes are a great way to get their attention.

There are I warn you about a hundred uses for the humble post it when it comes to differentiation, but for now I’m going to give you just three:

1) Adding targets to pieces of work; it means if you’re nagging them for the 50th time that term to use full stops and capital letters, the post it can be moved right to the top of the page they’re going to write on next – let’s face it any way of getting them to read and take notice of our marking has to be a good thing! It immediately shows an observer that you know what that student needs to work on next in order to make progress, and shows you immediately what you were looking for as your objective for that particular student when you next take their book in for marking.

2) My favourite use for them: checklists. Many of my students struggle to remember sequences and a simple post it note checklist can really help them. If it’s something I notice mid lesson, I jot it down quickly on a post it and stick it on their desk, but if it’s something I know is going to be a problem I prepare them in advance; if you stick six standard sized post its on a piece of A4 paper, they’ll even go through your printer, making them look really professional but taking hardly any time to produce. Here is an example that you’re welcome to use as a template: Drawing Angles Post It

3) A planning tool. A lot of my students panic at the idea of an extended piece of written work. Writing down a couple of sentences on a post it note however, no problem at all. And when we’ve done one, well it’s easy to do another; until before you know it you have a whole structure all planned out, without a whiff of anxiety in sight. Even better, each sentence has been carefully crafted because we’re only writing one at a time.

So Mr Post it note, in me you have one VERY dedicated fan, I guess that might just give me an excuse to buy some more….