As the end of the academic year approaches, two phenomena happen and no matter how prepared you are, it’s a little startling. The first are the great surprises, the ones where your student who has never done the “thing”, usually something independent, suddenly does the “thing” without prompting or demonstration. That all your work you’ve done has been worth it. And you celebrate. Maybe it’s a big deal to the student and maybe it’s not, but this is what you’re working for. The second, and less elating phenomena is the student who has learned the “new thing” and has successfully demonstrated the “new thing” all year without problem and today, they see the “new thing” maybe for the first time in a while, and they fall apart because this is a “new, new thing”. And you’re standing there stuck because it’s not a “new, new thing”.
The “new thing” could be anything. A social strategy, an academic concept, a self-help activity, a demonstration of independence, or a calming strategy. But the student is breaking over this. There may or may not be a full intervention needed because the student is screaming on the floor.
Sometimes this is an expression of anxiety. The end of the school year can be really hard. The count downs, the special schedules, and unusual activities that have no explanation all contribute to that emotional whirlwind of saying ‘good-bye and see you next year’.
There are also students, both general education and special education, who sincerely believe that now testing is over, nothing matters. This is horribly false, even for the teachers who may not have serious work from now until the last days of school. Truth be known, grades aren’t set into stone until they are turned in. Some students’ grades could easily flex 10-15% depending on the class. Okay some high school classes don’t have that much movement, but for some students, even those who do not seek the golden “A+”, this may mean the difference between passing a class and repeating it one more time. For a student who thinks they might not pass, this is a last chance to do those little pieces to keep things together.
There is also the weather to consider. Whether regular or not, warmer weather has arrived for most of the United States. If not totally arrived, it is on the horizon. The students just want to check out and think about anything but school.
So you have four students all unable to move on right now because one has anxiety, another checked out, a distracted student, and a student who just “can’t.” What strategies work best?
- Use a visual schedule. Even if you may have faded, giving this back brings some comfort. It doesn’t have to be a big production, it could just be a sticky note that sits on their desk that reminds them that today they may not have a service or that recess will be shorter.
- Help the student work for smaller chunks with more frequent breaks. Be clear that the break is the reward. If breaks aren’t rewarding, try something like a small package of a favorite food item. Whatever the reward really is: it should be quick, should be often as every day, and positive for the student.
- Realize that opposite of fading is a privilege. Sometimes, as the anxious student amps up, it’s nice to just sit within their eye sight and let them know you’re there to help them out. This requires none of the normal interactions, it’s just about being a parachute without verbally offering.
- Q.-T.I.P. Quit Taking It Personally. That student who didn’t do any work all year, did they really deserve to earn back those five to six points to get them into passing? And for the students who are having a full tantrum, they’re not planning on picking a fight right now. (Unless they are and that’s a different strategy to begin with.)
- Go moment by moment. Those special schedules that are breaking up the days are eating into your limited patience reserves. Just don’t look at the whole day. Worry about the bit before lunch and then look at the schedule again after lunch.
- Most important of all: enjoy because students are alike with or without disabilities. You never know when an invitation to go do something cool during lunch may come a student’s way or those moments that are real and sincere standing at the end of a long grade level hike at the cliff and being thrilled about the journey looking out and watching the scenery.
- Lastly: most important, document the refusal or tantrum to the “new thing” that they’ve been successful at. Either with a comment on a data sheet or setting up a data sheet specifically to track this at the end of the year. Having this may help next year or even help re-evaluate whether or not a student could be ready for the next levels of activities in a specific subject. Most of the time this starts innocently and you think it “may be something else” but suddenly you’ve felt like you’ve been doing this a lot lately. And just getting data helps put it in perspective. You may even be able to enlist the help of an OT for some things.
The end of the year is coming, and the students still need to focus on what is at hand. Though the books may be heading into the library and the technology may be away for the year, the year is going to continue to need the attention of everyone until the final bell.
Next week, we sign off for this academic year! Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to be a guest blogger? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online here, here, here, here, and on our website. Paraeducate is a company interested in providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published weekly during the academic school year on Thursdays, unless a holiday. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.