So my official internship begins on Monday. My first assignment was a journal entry about what I have observed substitute teaching in the classrooms. In the last couple entries I have talked about how much I have learned this past month, so I thought I would share this journal entry assignment with you to give you an idea of what I really have learned!
¨ When directing students simple language is used. Depending on the verbal level of the student directions can range from full sentences to direct one-word requests.
¨ Within some of the classrooms I noticed that there was not a lot of processing time given to students. Once a direction was made they were expected to do it immediately. This was not the case in all the classes though. Many of the teachers knew which students needed a longer processing time and would inform me at the beginning of the day.
¨ Over the course of the month I noticed many different behaviors ranging from explosive and destructive to quiet and self involved. Examples of explosive or destructive behaviors include screaming, biting, pinching, hitting/kicking, and self-injurious activity. More self-involved behaviors included rocking, tipping objects, and scripting. These examples are two extremes, however there are behaviors in-between such as purposeful inappropriate talk, specific repetitive rituals and routines, obsessions. I found that a lot of the more aggressive behaviors were triggered by change. A change in the student’s regular routine, or even just the transition from one activity to another, could trigger massive tantrums. I also observed that in some cases a lack of communication would also be a trigger for behaviors. Students would get upset and frustrated when an adult, or even another student, did not understand what they wanted or needed or when things did not go their way.
¨ Behaviors were managed in a number of ways. In certain cases I was advised to completely ignore a student’s behaviors since they were specifically seeking attention. In other cases there were certain repercussions for a specific behavior such as isolating the student every time that behavior was exhibited. For more explosive behaviors more extreme measures sometimes had to be taken, such as implementing restraints and isolating students in the safe rooms around the school. Other times behaviors were managed simply by constant verbal reminders by the adults such as reminding students to keep their hands out of the pants, or to get their thumb out of their mouth.
¨ In the classrooms there are many different strategies implemented to facilitate learning and engage the students. One point that was ingrained in me from the beginning of my training was to “know the student.” Meaning that each student is an individual and as such they each have specific interests and things they like or dislike that can help influence them. By knowing what a student likes it may be easier to engage them in an activity by centering it around an interest of that student or offering rewards/incentives that they can work towards after they have completed an academic task. Many classes use a “token economy” system for certain students in which a student earns tokens such as poker chips or stars for activities done well, and after they amount to a certain number of tokens they are rewarded with an item or activity of their choosing. The rewards can range from a gummy bear to 10 minutes of computer time.
¨ Physical re-direction is used in many different ways. It can be simple like gently touching a student’s hand when their thumb is in their mouth to remind them to take it out. It can also be more overt such as turning a student around in the right direction if they are wandering away from their classroom or group of students. In these cases it can be gentle or forceful. In my experience and observation teachers almost always try to use gentle physical redirection first along with verbal redirection and if that does not work more physical force is applied.
¨ Within Wildwood school I observed a great deal of respect from the teachers and staff for the students. The teachers show the same politeness and respect that is expected of the students to them. In my experience, when addressing or directing students I always tried to add, “please,” and, “thank you,” since it is what I would expect them to say to me (if they were verbally capable). I found that teachers and staff made an effort to be good models for the students and show them what respect is, as well as giving them respect.
¨ Within the school day activities are structured mostly in half hour increments and for a lot of the more academic activities the classes are broken up into smaller groups so students get more individualized attention. As the students get older and move up in classes some time increments could be as long as 45-60 minutes.
¨ Wildwood, as a whole, uses the same transition methods to be consistent among the students. For the most part students are directed to put their hands on their head for a count of 10, and them give themselves “a squeeze” for another count of 10. The directions may vary a little from class to class, but the idea is always the same.
¨ In the younger classes students are given play/leisure time to play with toys or read books, or go outside on the playground. During these times the staff many try to play with the students and model appropriate play. In older classes more leisure choices are added, such as computer time, library time, or music time. In one classroom I observed a student earning tokens throughout the day in order to gain UNO card playing time with one of the behavioral specialists that they liked.
¨ Each student is different and learns in different ways and speeds. A lot of the learning done within the classes is with the help of visual aids to give the students a mental picture of what they are being taught. Since not all students have developed verbal skills teachers use methods such as having them point to answers or choose between two answers during the teaching process. During writing activities a lot of “hand over hand” help is given in order to help the students get the feeling of what they are supposed to be doing when writing their name or the date. This is also the same for activities such as gluing or cutting.
¨ Throughout the course of a school day there are many “teachable” moments for each student. These moments can be simple like reminding students that “we don’t hurt friends,” or,” we don’t take friend’s toys.” They can also be more complex like teaching a lesson after a student has had an outburst and had to be isolated. After a larger event such as a tantrum it is important to take the time and simply explain to the student why their behavior was wrong and why they were given certain consequences such as being restrained or brought to a safe room.
¨ During my month of subbing I got to experience many different classroom styles and really observed what seemed to work, and what didn’t. I found that the classes that were more organized and structured, with more expectations of the students, seemed to have fewer problems. In these particular classes students were expected to sit in their assigned seats when entering the classrooms in the morning, and every time the students came back from an activity outside the classroom. During certain times in the day the students could have toys or books, but they had to play with them in their assigned seats. These structured classes tended to work better than others where the students did not have assigned seats or were not expected to sit in them all the time. Other classes had more of a “milling around” policy in which students were free to roam the classroom, play with toys where they wanted, and were less organized with their schedules. I observed that when the students are given that much freedom to just walk around the class doing as they please during certain parts of the day, the students were less likely to listen during transition times and exhibited more behaviors. When the class had little structure it was hard to actually get the students’ attention when it was time to do an activity and there were more problems between students since they were not expected to sit at their desks. There were disputes over toys and books, rough play was more likely, and there was just an overall feeling of chaos sometimes.
Within the classrooms I also saw a difference between the teams in structured classes and unstructured classes. In classes with more structure each team member knew where they were supposed to be and at what time. There was cohesiveness between the teachers and all of the TA’s in which you could see they were all working together and on the same page. In less structured classes there was not as much as a cohesive feeling. Though the team may have been together for a long-time and work together well, there was always a slight feeling of not knowing what I was supposed to be doing. This could just be because throwing a sub into the mix confuses things a bit, but there was more of a lack of direction and scheduling. Each morning stepping into a new classroom I could immediately get a feel for how the day was going to go. In the structured classrooms I was told exactly how the classroom was run and the schedule for my day would go, I was also given a heads up about certain students and general classroom directions. In less structured classrooms I definitely felt like an outsider when I walked in. Though the schedule was on the board I was not really told where I was supposed to be and I had to do most of the asking about students behaviors and what the class day looked like.
This is not to say that there is a huge rift between structured and non-structured classes because some classes fall right in the middle. They are as structured as possible, but sometimes with certain students it is hard to keep the exact structure intact. This is completely understandable, but when there were students with more pronounced behaviors I found that other, more behaved students, were left to the wayside. In those classes I sort of made it my goal to actually pay attention to the students that did well and were not disruptive because I felt that they did not normally get a lot of praise for actually doing their work or staying in their seat and following directions.
¨ Overall my experience this past month was amazing. I gained new insight into the behaviors of the students and got to know and bond with them as individuals. I got to work with a range of students from younger to older, and presenting on all parts of the autism spectrum. Within my music therapy training at Berklee we got to work with student only in a music therapy setting, which was great. But after this experience I feel it is important as a music therapist to get to know each student outside of music. Observe their behaviors and triggers, and find out what they like and dislike. Knowing this will make me a better music therapist since I know the students on a more personal level and can apply it into music therapy sessions with them, using topics I know they enjoy and tailoring activities to not only get positive outcomes, but to challenge them when I know they can do it and help facilitate their growth not only in music but as an individual.
Hopefully now you learned something too!!!