Is there seating I can provide for students with issues in balance and core strength?
The short answer is yes. Wedge cushions are a great addition to a chair to help support a weak core and balance issues. The longer answer is that we want to help the student build core strength and improve their balance. This is where our support services are a great resource. If the student is not already receiving these services, consult with an OT or a PT to see if they qualify. If the student already does have these services, see if you can develop a plan with the specialists to support them and also ask for some exercises or classroom tools you can use to build that strength.
How does flexible seating improve or distract from learning?
I like this question because I feel that flexible seating is a double-edged sword. The benefits for students, especially those with unique learning needs, are great and it can help them get their sensory needs met in a functional way. But flexible seating options do have downsides in terms of students arguing to sit in certain seats, students being distracted by spinning or rocking, or horseplay. I find that flexible seating is all about how it is set up and what expectations are in place for the students. To bring it specifically to classrooms with unique learners, flexible seating should be done with a purpose and should be a result of consultation with support services, assessment and data collection. In my room, I have flexible seating but I do not let it become a free-for-all. The special seats (wiggle seats, rocking chairs, bean bags, wedge seats and arm chairs) are typically reserved for a certain student to support a need or are reserved for a specific area. To help limit distractions, I try to have times in my daily schedule where there are opportunities for movement and other types of seating instead of allowing flexible seating anytime during the day.
One of the benefits of placing labels with words and symbols on things throughout the classroom and school is that it promotes whole language reading as well as language development. Providing those visuals helps students make the connection between concrete, real-world objects, pictures of those objects and then the words for those objects.
What is the best way to set up a small-group area?
I find that this is a good place to have some flexible seating as small-group instruction often has collaborative aspects to it which are more difficult for students with unique learning needs. So giving them some extra sensory input or movement in the small-group area is a good idea. I also find that having visuals taped to the table outlining the expectations for small-group instruction and what materials students need are a great way to support students.
How do you create a functional sensory area rather than a free-for-all, which I often see?
As we discussed in the physical access portion of the webinar, I start with only making some sensory items available at certain times and rotating other ones in to keep it new. Then, I usually have a schedule created for when students are supposed to be in that area and, further, there is a schedule of what they should be doing when they are in that space. I find that oftentimes students are given sensory time as a reaction to behaviors in the classroom. This is problematic for two reasons: first, it reinforces that behavior and if it was a negative behavior it could cause it to increase, and second, the student might not be in control of their actions and might be unable to use the sensory area properly without supervision. To avoid this issue, it is best to have a set schedule and also teach the correct use of sensory equipment before allowing students to use it independently.
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