There are a variety of modifications that can be made to any classroom to improve the quality of instruction for all students. These modifications are relevant to students with communication impairments, learning disabilities, cognitive impairments, and attention deficit issues. These modifications will also help students without disabilities to be successful in the classroom.
Freedom from clutter
Remove unneeded/unused and unnecessary items from the students’ range of vision in the classroom. Keep the classroom free from clutter. Children with disabilities have difficulty working in cluttered, unorganized or untidy rooms. Organization is a key to success. Storing items inside cabinets or storage boxes, keeping work areas free of unnecessary items, and stacking items neatly will help students focus on what is relevant, rather than clutter in the classroom.
Tables v. Desks
Tables provide a neater appearance to the classroom and also keep students from fidgeting with items inside desks and distracting themselves and others. Tables take up less space than desks. “Cubbies” can be used to hold student books and supplies (see community supplies and cubbies).
Stockpiling student supplies on a shelf will cut down on noise in your classroom. When students bring in their supplies at the beginning of the year, empty the crayons and markers into containers that they can share. If you have 24 students, then you should have 12 containers of crayons. Sharpen your pencils and put them in a coffee jar for passing out when students need them. Put one person each week in charge of sharpening pencils. Place glue containers in storage boxes of 5-6 per table. Keep books in student cubbies, and avoid using desks for supply storage. A storage shelf for supplies and student cubbies do not take up much space in a classroom and will save you instructional time in the long run. Having your students bring in 2-3 boxes of the Crayola “8” basic color crayons also cuts down on children arguing over colors. Purchasing crayons on your own through the school supply company is also a way to keep up your stockpile of basic colors (boxes of 8 crayons are only $.25).
Keeping community supplies serves several purposes. First, students will not have to search their desks for supplies if you keep community supply boxes. The supplies are out of the way during your instructional times, and are passed out just when students need them. This keeps students from fidgeting with them during instructional times. It also keeps student clutter to a minimum. The only problem arising with community supplies is if you don’t stockpile enough for your students. Try to avoid having more than two persons sharing crayons at a time and be sure to have all the colors your students need in each container.
Cubbies or Community Bookshelves
Building cubbies for student books or using bookshelves can help your students keep books and supplies organized. Again, if books and supplies are kept away from the work area until needed, students will not be fidgeting or looking at items when you are providing instructional time. These can be built or purchased inexpensively.
Students need room to move. Your room arrangement should be allow students to move from their supply or cubby areas to their tables, and in and out of the classroom without disturbing the class. It is also good to have an open area in the classroom where all students can gather and sit on the floor for a closer look (such as during story times, demonstration times, or special visitor times. An open area can be carpeted for noise control and comfort. It also provides an area for others visiting your room to provide instruction (e.g., special education collaboration, special events and classroom speakers).
It has been proven that soft, easy music promotes better concentration with children, especially children with disabilities. Instrumental music that has a rate of 60 beats per minute promotes improved concentration. Many artists perform this type of music, especially many of the new age musicians. Some to try are Gary Lamb, George Winston, Lisa Lynne, or Nakai. Gary Lamb has a website with more information on 60 beat per minute music and you can access it at: www.garylamb.com
Fluorescent lighting and bright lighting can be a major distractor for all children. Using ½ or 2/3 or your lighting can help to promote a calmer environment for all of your students. Lower lighting does tend to calm children and helps them to focus better. Eliminating fluorescent lighting totally would be optimal for students. If you could provide some incandescent lighting in your classroom, this also is calming for children.
Insulating your room from external sound is the best way to improve concentration and retention of information. Carpeting in any form will help cushion reverberation/vibration of sound. Covering the concrete walls with material, student work or bulletin boards also helps (not too cluttered, though…students do better with organized displays). Using heavy curtains also cushions sound. Using an FM system can also improve the quality of sound the students receive. You could hook up a “Mr. Microphone” to your classroom fm radio or use a karaoke machine to improve sound quality. If you don’t have carpeting, try tennis balls on the feet of the chairs to decrease chair noise. Using relaxing background music can also decrease noise levels in your room.
Carpeting will absorb sound made by students moving in the environment. It reduces distractions and creates a room free of reverberation from sound bouncing off of hard surfaces. It improves the quality of the teacher’s voice and allows students to attend better. If you can’t get carpeting, try area rugs to cover areas of the room. You can always roll them up during a messy activity if that is a concern.
It sounds very 60’s or 70’s, but aromatherapy does work with children. Using a scented potpourri helps to calm
children, especially with scents of cinnamon, apple, or vanilla. To eliminate fire hazards, it is recommended you use a potpourri simmering pot with liquid potpourri as opposed to scented candles.
We’ve all heard this before, but it is so true…keep control of your voice. Use a soft speaking voice at all times. Avoid raising your voice over the level of the children or yelling at them. Students perform better and are more secure when you are in control of your emotions. They need your example to learn and be comfortable in their setting.
Using overhead projectors and PowerPoint displays also provide a visual stimulus for children to focus upon when you are teaching. When you are completing worksheets, the overhead projector helps students to comprehend what you are talking about when giving directions or going over classroom work. PowerPoint presentations also provide a place for eyes to look and a specific place to focus. Using the PowerPoint also breaks information down into segments, which most students with disabilities need to process concepts and understand the material you are presenting.