Exceptional Children: Navigating Learning Differences & Special Education

Easing Classroom Anxiety

Bookmark and Share


With its constant sensory and social communication challenges, in addition to academic expectations, the classroom is often an environment of high anxiety for children with learning differences. Eliminating the source of a student's anxiety can make a dramatic difference in the child's ability to focus, learn, and achieve. With an eye to increasing your student's comfort level, take a look at how you communicate with your student and how you structure your classwork and classroom environment.

Communicating with your student
  • Move near to him when giving instructions. This reduces interference from other classroom noises that he may not be able to filter through. Consider your vocal volume--loud enough to be heard, but not so loud as to embarrass or cause sensory overload.
  • Many children with learning differences need extra processing time--as much as 20 to 30 seconds-- before replying or reacting to a request. During this time, your student is decoding your language, attempting to retrieve and apply the proper information to respond, and motor planning his next actions. His brain may not readily cross-reference these tasks as do typical brains; he needs the extra time to perform each task separately. Be sure to allow adequate response time.
  • His response may not come in words. Be alert for nonverbal responses, such as facial expression, gestures, and other body language. Silence is a response too, telling you that your student may be overwhelmed, may not know the answer, may not understand the instruction, or may be embarrassed to speak. All of these behaviors are legitimate forms of communication and need to be respected as such.

Class assignments and activities
  • Not all students with learning differences are visual learners, but for many, visual reinforcement of assignments and expectations can be the difference between success and failure. Provide visual backup for step-by-step instructions, and a visual of what the completed project or assignment will look like. Reinforce by saying, "I'll know you are done when _______________." Your student may also need visuals to respond to your requests or to complete a written assignment.
  • Use concrete, three-dimensional manipulatives whenever possible. An excellent example of the effectiveness of this type of visual is a math teacher who "tried everything" to help her student understand place value. It clicked "like magic" when she finally used bowling pins for the numerals and a tennis ball for the decimal point.
  • Assign a peer buddy to model the activity.
  • Being part of a cooperative small group may ease the pressure of solo performance for your student. Don't ask him to go first in an activity. Placing him third or fourth gives him a chance to observe his peers and plan his own words and actions.
  • Introduce new subject matter through hands-on activities rather than reading or lecture. Try games, dioramas, art activities, or appropriately calibrated multisensory activities.

Your classroom environment
  • No surprises! Until you are 100% sure he can handle it, don't call on your different learner to read or present to the class without allowing him adequate preparation time.
  • While you are providing your student with visual reinforcement for assignments and activities, reduce visual clutter on the walls of your classroom. When your student's eyes wander, he should see only material that is soothing or pertinent--some examples are the week's spelling list, artwork, photos of class members, or the weekly schedule.
  • As much as possible, use natural colors and materials in the room. Fabrics are more calming than plastics, wood has a warmer feel than metal, and plants and fountains add life to the room.

Three-time ForeWord Book of the Year finalist Ellen Notbohm is the author of Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew and three other award-winning books on autism. The second edition of her popular 1001 Great Ideas for Teaching and Raising Children with Autism and Asperger’s will be released this March. For book excerpts or to explore her work, visit www.ellennotbohm.com.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

Bookmark and Share

Have something to say?

Let us know!

Send a letter to the editor at voice@cwla.org.


ad ad ad2 ad2 ad