A common misconception is that students with Autism don’t have imagination. Whoever first made that statement, clearly didn’t have students like mine! My students have richer imaginations than anyone I know; they can invent new words, write amazing stories and come up with a million and one questions that no one else would ever even contemplate wondering about!
I love the conversations I have in my classroom, I learn so much. I have, in the last week alone debated the pros and cons of Disney’s Beast versus The Beast from X-Men, conversed with Dr Brown Bear as I cured my blutack made spotty students (and support staff), discussed the necessary elements to turn an ordinary bedroom into an Australian Jungle and been initiated into the world of online role play. No day is ever the same and that is why my job is the best job in the world.
Alongside the incredible imaginations of my students, comes a desire to discuss their special interests and link those interests to whatever we are learning. At this they are incredibly skilled, and I’m often both simultaneously impressed and perturbed by their ability to railroad my lessons with a fantastic (if only tenuously linked to my lesson plan) question!
I’ve learnt, however, over time that I can utilise these questions to my advantage, rather than feel frustrated by them…. instead I tell my students that they came up with such an incredible question, that I need time to think of an answer that is just as incredible. And that is exactly what I do! The students begin their work, I think of my answers and then, when I can see a student is starting to find things a bit tricky I have the perfect pick me up in a well thought out (if often somewhat bizarre) answer to the very imaginative question I have previously been asked.
So how could this work in mainstream? Why not give those students who can be somewhat tangential in your lessons a pack of post it notes (I already warned you, any excuse and my post it notes appear), ask them to write down any questions that come into their head that aren’t directly related to the lesson. Then when students are settled and working go round the class and check out the post-its. Either discuss individually, or pick your favourite each lesson and give a whole class answer (just make sure students know in advance which method you’re using so they’re not disappointed if you don’t choose them).
Use imagination to your advantage, you’ll be surprised at what you discover!
So much of differentiation isn’t about creating a resource, or planning a different lesson. I mean, sure you can do those things, and sometimes doing those things is a great thing to do. Realistically though you can differentiate for many students without doing those things every single lesson.
All you need to do is remember that students are people just like you; they have likes, they have dislikes, they get scared, they get sad and they get excited. You need to learn what makes them tick. Do they love dolls? Are they a Batman fanatic? Is minecraft their one and only true love? Whatever their thing is, it pays to educate yourself. You don’t have to become a world-leading expert, just arm yourself with a little bit of knowledge, believe me it will pay off.
A quick chat on the way out of your room or in a corridor about a topic that interests a student, goes wonders towards making you interesting, and if you’re interesting you are worth working for. And well, if you’re going to make yourself interesting you may as well use it to your advantage! Do you want a story written by a Minecraft fan? Try suggesting they incorporate a character called Steve, or an Angry Wolf in there. Do you want a Science experiment carried out by a Mortal Kombat fan? How about, figuring out a way of making clean drinking water for Scorpian. It doesn’t matter what the interest is, with a little bit of creativity you can incorporate it into virtually any task. You get the lesson objective met, the student thinks they’ve spent the whole lesson doing something they want to do and therefore learns enthusiastically, it’s a win win situation – and best of all not an extra worksheet in sight.
After all, we all work better for someone we like, someone we respect, and someone who cares enough to find out a little about what makes us tick. Why should our students be any different?
Ok, Let’s face it, as teachers we love to play. In fact that’s probably one of the main reasons we’ve spent our life in school. It allows us to be Peter Pan. As my GCSE class frequently tell anyone who will listen; I do stand on tables, pretend to be a goat and have been known to be a princess. I mean let’s face it, in what other job would we get to have so much fun on a daily basis?
So when I read about Lego’s range of educational products last weekend, I have to say I was thoroughly excited. Not having any budget left though, I turned not to those but to my daughter’s closet, where I raided her lego supply to spice up my lessons. So this week we’ve used lego as a starter both in maths and in English, and I have to stay it really worked, in maths we had 100% engagement from all students, and in English even my most reluctant writers managed to write a full side of A4.
In English, students (both in KS3 and KS4) built their lego models to give them a starting point for their story. I have never seen more excitement in my room, and the task involved zero preparation time, I literally picked up the box of lego and put it in my classroom.
In maths, my lego work involved slightly more preparation time because I prepared individual lego bags for students based on their own learning objectives (e.g. a bag of 12 one by two bricks for a student working on his two times table) – that said, the bags are now made, and I know I’ll use them again and again, so it was well worth it; especially when students arrive expecting to see a worksheet on their desk and instead saw a bag of lego. Maths has never been as much fun!
For more information about Lego’s exciting range of products check out https://education.lego.com/en-gb/lesi