February is a packed month in ParaEducate. There are a lot of things that need our attention at this time of year. Renay just came by with a sticky note of a list of things, but we were not up to the task entirely just yet. We wanted a conversation, however, it took us a few minutes to realize the conversation was the whole point of the sticky note.
The things at this point in the academic school year are easy to ignore if you are not on top of things. But being on top of things is not what this whole month of February is about. If you forget to make connections, then you’re going to miss out on things that are truly important.
Time and time again, not just because studies have said this, but connecting with students is important to their success. It gives a student a person at school to be ‘safe’ with. They know when everything is going wrong, that they can come to you and know that you will have limits for their behavior. Sometimes, this also means the student will be likely to not work with you. But they are here right now and that matters. But there are specific things to think about when making connections with students.
How to care about the things the student cares about
The quick highlights of the current world according to students, no matter how old, can be amusing. However, this also is a doorway into needing limits on the things that attract our attention or guidance on how to raise the bar a bit on the things that we wish we could spend every moment on.
The quick highlights of the current world according to students, no matter how old, can be amusing.ParaEducate
For the obsessions that gather the attention of students, we offer some key questions to help navigate those hour-long lectures on trains/Minecraft/whatever video game actually/aspect ratios of quantum physics/strategies of playing chess/and other various attention foci.
- Tell me one thing you think was the best strategy. Give the student a concrete number that limits their lecturing.
- What is a question that you had when you first started learning about [the favorite lecture topic]? This is a good way to help draw in a peer who may be interested but hasn’t found a way to have a conversation with the student yet.
- Who would you ask for help if you did not know an answer to the topic? Do not take “Google” as an answer for this one. Challenge the student to think about getting another person who might like the topic.
- I see you’re interested in this topic. What other interests do you have?
- Hey, I have a question, where are we and what can we talk about right now? This one we use a lot in classrooms. We want students to talk about the subject they are supposed to be talking about.
We care about our students who have seemingly laser focus on topics they care about. But we also are in the business of putting ourselves out of a job and helping those students make connections with their peers about other topics. And if you know what the student likes: do some research enough to have a short conversation about their favorite thing. Yes, it means you have to fake liking sports, computer games, music, that book series you’ve been avoiding, the movie everyone else seems to love, or maybe how to use royal frosting and fondant.
About That Off Task Conversation…
We were working on preparing a student to learn how not to hit their classmates when we had a conversation about the social conventions of roughhousing, especially around boys and young men. Even in settings when students are told directly that they should never touch anyone without their permission, male students seem to be very interested in shoving each other and laughing about their behavior together. And then we took a step to the side and realized, the student was not hitting out of anger necessarily. The student was trying to emulate their peers and ‘be one of them’.
This reminded us that off-task behavior in any given situation is as important as on-task behavior. Students learn social skills when they are not strictly speaking about the topic at hand. They learn how to determine if they are ‘done’ as a group with a given task, even if they are not actually completed with the things they need to do at the moment. The exchanges, even off-task ones might forge beginnings of friendships.
Off task has its purpose. Don’t break up off-topic behavior right away. Keep an eye on the behavior and wait and see how students interact. It might be a worthwhile investment.
February, as the conversation went last week in a class Renay was working with, is the shortest month and known primarily for “Valentine’s Day”. But February is more than that. And Renay took the time to engage with her students about February’s highlights. Though the students she engaged this conversation with are beyond basic calendar skills, it serves as a reminder of the importance of having conversations with students who may miss the chance to have a conversation about upcoming events for school or the community. Certainly, this is a month in the United States that has a lot of celebrated holidays that affect schools being open — at least two, though some schools invest in a week off during this month. Getting the highlights down when looking at the whole month matters to older students to start reaching to that perspective of trying to balance all the things that call their attention.
Our Main Connection
We are currently a few days and a month away from being out for Cal-TASH. We are excited to return to this conference. It feels like home. It was where we first announced ParaEducate and where we will continue to connect with different educators, self-advocates, and families.
Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? 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 during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.