By Sarah Sherwood, Director of SEN at LVS Hassocks and LVS Oxford
For students to access learning effectively and get the most out of their education, it is crucial they are able to stay calm and focused. Many are anxious before they enter the classroom, and may need a transitional activity to help them settle into the lesson.
Having a calm plan that is accessible, and known by staff, supports the student to manage themselves and avoid a more intense anxiety ‘meltdown’. Calm plans can include time out of class for five minutes with a timer to remind the student when to return, sitting quietly in the calm area of the classroom, reading a favoured book or engaging in sensory activities. Class passes ensure that a student who is taking time out of the classroom to become calm is not repeatedly asked by other staff where they should be, which may elevate their anxieties further.
Many students benefit from regular movement breaks, for example taking a message to the school office or another classroom, or collecting water for peers. Another calming strategy at LVS Hassocks is to give students access to a special sensory room, allowing them to calm down and stimulate communication, ready for returning to class. The sensory room’s range of equipment, including a bubble tube, spaghetti LED lights and waterbed, allows students to engage senses and put them in the right frame of mind for class.
In The Classroom
Within the classroom, once students are settled, having their own timetables which they can manipulate themselves helps them stay focused. Some students benefit from having an individual workstation that may have screening at the sides, facing a blank wall to reduce distractions and sensory stimuli. Having ear defenders available for those students who have auditory sensitivities screens out intrusive noises. At LVS Hassocks on-site occupational therapists support staff to ensure classrooms are ASD friendly, and suggest additional solutions such as ankle weights or weighted vests.
These methods can be extended to helping students stay calm in preparation for exams. LVS Oxford’s first year of GCSE results in 2016 yielded 100% A* – C grades, with a contributing factor being desensitising students to the exam room itself over the preceding months, helping familiarise them with it, and empowering learners with individual coping strategies.
Motivating students with rewards linked to their special interests helps them to focus, especially if a photo is taken of the reward and inserted into the student’s planner to remind them what they are working towards. High street vouchers work particularly well with older students, as do class trips to a favoured location that enable peers to be mutually supportive so the group is able to attend the trip.
A new Cabinet of Dreams initiative at LVS Hassocks incentivises students to work towards rewards, shown visually in the cabinet, by accumulating points in every lesson for such things as attitude to learning and respect for others. Student Toby said: “The Cabinet of Dreams is really good – it encourages learners to focus in lessons to earn points. I stayed in all of my lessons, listened to the teachers and completed my work. Wanting to earn points for a gift card encouraged me to do that.”