Education is a complicated task, and it can take a team of professionals to help some of our students succeed, particularly when they are working to overcome learning challenges. But all students can benefit when the classroom is examined through the eyes of a developmental expert, including speech language therapists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists. In this series of posts, we bring a few different sets of eyes to the classroom, and hope that this “x-ray” will help therapists recognize and take ownership of their specialized knowledge, as well as inform teachers about the potential benefits of partnering with their school-based related service professionals!
The Classroom Through an OT’s Eyes
– The Environment
When we enter the classroom, we start by looking at the lighting, amount of materials hanging on the walls, and information written on the board. Making sure the whiteboard or chalkboard is clean at the beginning of the day, and using high-contrast, filled and fresh markers can be a great support for students copying from the board. Consider glare, and distance from the board. As a teacher, sit at each desk and try to view the room from the child’s point of view. Do you know a classroom that could benefit from a mid-year refresh? Even removing just 5 items from the walls can help reduce the amount of visual input and distractions, creating an environment that supports focus.
– Seating and Positioning
We are just about halfway through the school year, and the students have grown taller since September! This is a great time of year to make sure everyone is in the right size desk and chair. The ideal, ergonomic positioning rule is 90-90-90. Students should be seated with feet flat on the floor, knees and hips flexed to 90 degrees. Ideally, we are looking for students to be stable in their chairs, able to rest their forearms on the desk, so that they can effectively use their hands and fingers for motor tasks. Also, we love to see alternate options for seating! Ball chairs, t stools and seat cushions can help students who need a little extra movement stay engaged with the lesson. And letting children stand to work and learn is a great way to promote a healthier classroom!
– Lesson Planning for Developmental Levels
Is the information provided in accessible ways for the students? For example, are directions provided in basic, learned vocabulary or in picture form for younger children? In written form for students who experience anxiety or memory challenges, or have difficulty hearing? Providing routines for arrivals, dismissals, transitions, and other daily occurrences can increase children’s feelings of security, confidence, and executive functioning skills. Minimizing the need for multi-tasking, allowing sufficient time for work completion, and modeling extended attention to task can allow the entire class to learn how to learn.
These are just a few of the observations that an occupational therapist may be making when he or she visits a classroom. If you are a teacher and would like to hear more about how you can enhance your students’ learning experience, start a conversation with your school OT! We love to hear from you! Therapists, do you have any other suggestions or observations that you would like to share? If you are a PT or SLP, we welcome your input for future posts in this series! Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!