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SOESD / Learning Matters / Newsletter Archive / February/March 2006 / Engineering Space to Meet Student Needs

Engineering Space to Meet Student Needs

Susan Peck, Teacher, Hedrick STEPS Classroom

Traditional ways in which parents are informed about their child’s learning include attending open house and parent-teacher conferences. This fall these activities offered an opportunity for parents of Hedrick STEPS students to learn about improvements to the learning environment.

A very diverse group of students in Mrs. Susan Peck’s class this fall presented distinct challenges in instructional planning with respect to physical space. Disabilities represented include autism, Down syndrome, communication disorder, hearing and vision impairments, and other health impairment. Whereas one student needs space without student desks and noise restrictions to move freely for “down time”, another student needs a more familiar dedicated workspace in a quiet area to complete paper-and-pencil school assignments. With support from principal Paul Cataldo and assistant principal Sheryl Lipski, the STEPS class assumed a classroom adjacent to their current one.

Each room is geared to the specific needs of learners: one where movement and sound are encouraged as communication attempts and one in which assigned seating, more traditional materials, and a quieter atmosphere are used. In the former space, students may listen to music and dance, seek out favorite free time activities, or engage in fun structured (and sometimes loud!) communication activities. In the latter, students can attend to reading comprehension activities with worksheets, work on the computer, and participate in teacher-lead small group discussions on topics of interest. Students in this room are encouraged to transition across activities and locations on campus in a timely fashion with little staff support. The common thread is a focus on students’ present levels of performance and individual abilities.

Students with learning styles requiring specific environmental elements have been greatly served by two distinct spaces. Lucy Webb, whose son Chris is in the STEPS program, views the separate learning spaces as a real advantage. “We see it as a benefit for Chris as he is able to keep focused on tasks,” Mrs. Webb says. With reduced noise levels, “it’s easier for him to think. He’s getting more interaction with adults on a positive level. His attitude is improved. His social skills and personal accountability for his actions are increased.”

Having two spaces out of which to operate “one classroom” has created a challenge for staffing patterns and student supervision. Flexibility and creativity are key to keeping all student needs met. The Hedrick STEPS team has nearly perfected the “art of precision staff scheduling” to ensure all students transition about campus on time and have Individual Education Plan goals addressed while meeting supervision needs. In short, twice the space makes twice the opportunity to create environments that meet the variety of student learning styles.




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