In partial fulfillment of the Fulbright Distinguished Award In Teaching
Education research focused on Students with Special Education Needs (SEN) in Singapore provides examples of organizational supports that underpin student achievement. Recommendations for state and district education leadership to draw on when designing career training programs or upgrading ones are highlighted. These 5 recommendations help build organizational capacity by supporting students with SNE.
Pay close attention this year as public school across the United States are realigning education curriculums in support of College and Career readiness objectives for graduates. Recently, the “Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act” was signed paving the way for students to gain valuable knowledge and hands-on experience necessary for jobs in a broad range of industries. As a high school special educator, I see tremendous possibilities as a result of this bill for students with diverse learning needs to gain access to exploratory career courses as they prepare for life after graduation.
CTE PARALLELS SPECIAL EDUCATION TRANSITION PLANS
Career Technical Education (CTE), previously called vocational education, is the present-day label used to denote specialized courses and programs that focus instruction in skilled trades and occupational readiness (Drage, 2009). The aim of career technical education for high school students is to prepare them for career endeavors (ACTE, 2009). This goal matches special education career transition goals for students served in special education. CTE pathways can include classes in Building and Construction, Business, Marketing, Finance, Hospitality and Tourism, Manufacturing, Medical, Communication Technologies, Media, Automotive Manufacturing and Repair, as well as other coursework relevant to current labor market needs.
As special educators, we know the value of skill building for our student population; often connecting academics to job skills is abstract and seem so far off in terms of time for most of our students. However, the current wave of new career linking educational opportunities has its roots in economics. Although unemployment is currently the lowest it has been in a century, the United States is currently experiencing a ‘skills gap.’ The ‘skills gap’ refers to the scarcity of students being trained to fill existing, in-demand jobs left unfilled due to a shortage of qualified individuals.
Career Technical Education participation serves a crucial link to post high school occupation transition for students with disabilities. At the high school level, CTE classes integrate core academics, job-specific knowledge with relevant curriculum and employability skills within the secondary classroom/workshop setting (Drage 2009). CTE classes combine academic skills with career cluster pathways, leading students from high school up into community college programs. Students with learning differences who successfully participate in CTE are shown industry requirements, develop soft skills, as well as earn high school credits that go towards meeting their high school graduation requirements.
SPECIAL EDUCATORS ARE THE NEXUS OF CHANGE
As a teacher in the field, I see a need for special educators and case managers to be more proactive in linking students with diverse learning needs in these CTE experiential courses. Firstly, when looking at future job projections, the positive trend in job availability for skilled workers shows no sign of declining; in fact, long-term occupational projections remain strong for trained individuals up through the year 2024. Forty-three percent of job openings are predicted to be in the middle-skill level job sector requiring individuals to be trained beyond high school, but not requiring a four-year degree (Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics by State, May 2015).
Secondly, the benefits of special education student engagement in CTE is well supported in the research. The enrollment of students with disabilities in Career Technical Education programs has shown to lead to a decrease in the high school dropout rate for this subgroup, and a subsequent increase in the high school graduation rates when participation in CTE is a factor (Bryk & Thum, 1989; Gray, 2004). This increase in the graduation rate may be a result of experiential learning opportunities that are a part of CTE coursework.
In CTE courses, students learn by doing and can apply abstract concepts to concrete learning projects. An example of this would be a student learning about automotive repair through book work, then applying what they have learned through observation and doing the repairs themselves. Additionally, researchers Harvey, Cotton, and Koch (2007) found that students with disabilities “who participate in a career technical education program significantly increase their chances for postsecondary success in both academia and employment” (p.1). Furthermore, special education students who complete a CTE course have additional skills relevant to a vocationally specific career; showed an increased tendency to vie for competitive wage jobs and to work full time after high school (Wagner, Newman & Javitz, 2015; Wehlage & Rutter, 1986).
John Wagner, the author of the book, Most Likely to Succeed, touches on how education is changing to fit the needs of individuals in a rapidly changing society by stating, “The skills needed in our vastly complicated world, whether to earn a decent living or to be an active and informed citizen, are radically different from those required historically” (p. 27). Special Education stakeholders need to understand that training programs in CTE are part of new comprehensive education efforts, and students with disabilities who take part in these programs increase their odds for post-graduation job obtainment (Harvey, Cotton, & Koch, 2007). Engagement in CTE courses enhances learning opportunities for students with disabilities and provides real-world skill development. Taking advantage of these course offerings levels the playing field for career development.
About the Author
Dr. Christine Carrington Powell is a career Special Educator currently working in Southern California as a high school teacher and teacher trainer. Christine is a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher Scholar studying CTE pathways for diverse learners in Singapore. Her area of expertise includes teacher professional development and analyzing educational organizations to increase inclusive learning opportunities for students with disabilities. Reach Christine at http://www.linkedin.com/in/drccpowell/
Bryk, A. S., & Thum, Y. M. (1989). The effects of high school organization on dropping out: An exploratory investigation [Electronic version]. American Educational Research Journal, 26, 353-383.
Drage, K. (2009). Modernizing Career and Technical Education Programs. Techniques: Connecting Education and Careers (J1), 84(5), 32-34.
Groshen, E. L. (2015). Opportunities and Challenges Facing the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Business Economics, 50(2), 91-95. doi:10.1057/be.2015.10
Harvey, M. W., Cotton, S. E., & Koch, K. R. (2007). Indiana Secondary CTE Instructors’ Perceptions of Program Expectations, Modifications, Accommodations, and Postsecondary Outcomes for Students with Disabilities. Journal for Vocational Special Needs Education, 29(2), 16-32.
Mathis, W. J. (2010). The “Common Core” standards initiative: An effective reform tool. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public.
Wagner, T. & Dintersmith, T. (2016). Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Wagner, M. M., Newman, L. A., & Javitz, H. S. (2015). The Benefits of High School Career and Technical Education (CTE) for Youth with Learning Disabilities. Journal of learning disabilities, 0022219415574774.
Wahlage, G., & Rutter, R. (1986). Evaluation of model program for at-risk students. Annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA.
At face value, the state of American education is on an upswing; 2014 was a landmark year, with the highest graduation rate on record in American high schools. An increase in the number of students that earn a diploma has been a reliable indicator of the preparedness of our youth to pursue college and career opportunities. The upward trend in graduation rates has some scratching their heads about the trustworthiness of these numbers. The argument made, is that the uptick has been realized by a lowering of the standards, making the value of a diploma seemingly less than it once was. But until there is another way to benchmark student achievement, the diploma is the standard, and it is better to have one than not.
Absent from this conversation is an acknowledgment that graduation numbers for students receiving special education services continue to be appalling, despite alleged cutting of the criteria. Many high schoolers receiving special education services never make it to graduation, as evidenced by graduation data. In 2016, 61 percent of students with disabilities graduated from high school; a glaring 20 percentage points lower than the national average of 82 percent for students without disabilities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 2013-2014 data indicates that in 20 states, the graduation rate for students with disabilities is lower than the national average by an additional 3 percent, meaning that these students often lack the fundamental skills to move into the workforce. These same students who leave their education early are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, less inclined to go back to school, and less likely to live on their own (Newman et al., 2001).
The silver lining is that federal initiative, to include the Civic Marshall Plan, requires schools to address the achievement gaps of subgroups to include students with special education needs. The aim is to raise graduation rates to 90 percent, and have students complete at least a full year of postsecondary education or training by the year 2020. With every passing year, schools and educators are learning more about how to help students with disabilities as research continues to explore available evidence and expertise for ways to assist with the systemic challenges in working with diverse populations.
Accordingly, there are recommendations to support students with special education needs. The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) recommends several practices to prevent students from dropping out of school. Included are targeted and schoolwide interventions such as assigning adult advocates to students, providing increased academic support and enrichment, and adopting personalized learning and strength-based teaching schoolwide. Research supports inclusive education practices, finding that across all disability classifications, students with special education needs who were in inclusion settings for the majority of the school day, graduated at a higher rate than students in disability-specific programs. Additionally, a peer-reviewed study showed that effective practices to include increased collaboration between special education and general education teachers, access to the core curriculum, and targeted professional development for behavior management lead to improved student achievement for students in special education. And perhaps most promising are the positive effects of student engagement in career technical education (CTE) as a remedy to the alternative to dropping out. When students with a special education need successfully participate in a CTE course, they are less likely to drop out, more apt to compete for competitive wages post-graduation, and develop the skills and attributes required for future education and training.
These recommendations, although significant and revealing, will likely not be enough to substantially close the current 20 percent graduation gap between students with special education needs and their peers in general education. Keeping students engaged and in school requires acting on the above research-based recommendations, as well as continued investment in creating an eco-system of support. Most importantly, there needs to be transparency in graduation rates, and a targeted pledge to close the gap and ensure all students graduate ready for what lies ahead.
Managing a Learning Center and Supporting the Students on Your Campus
By: Dr. Christine Powell
The role of a special educator in supporting students with special education needs on K-12 school campuses takes different forms. Programs and services for students depend on many factors and take into account the requirements of the federal Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). While a child’s Special Education Team determines a student’s educational program, one important consideration is meeting the students’ needs in the ‘least restrictive environment’ or the LRE. The LRE refers to the educational program a student follows, making sure they are in the general education setting with their peers to the maximum extent appropriate. One model that supports both the inclusion of students with special education needs in general education and provides targeted intervention outside the classroom is the Learning Center model.
Not a New Model, but May Have A New Name
Also known as a Resource Room or Learning Lab, a Learning Center is a designated classroom where special educators provide multi-leveled instructional support per students Individual Education Plans (IEP’s). Students come to the Learning Center at designated times throughout the school day to receive research-based interventions. The activities and interventions used by Special Educators provide targeted support to address a student’s IEP goals, so each student’s program is specialized. The following are 9 suggestions for managing a Learning Center and supporting students on your campus.
Design the Learning Space for Student Success Be mindful of student needs when considering the layout of the room. Many students respond favorably to inviting environments with flexible seating and age-appropriate visuals. Creating several areas to accommodate both small group instruction and independent student work are the basics in defining the space. You will want to consider where to position desktop computers, iPads, and laptops. A small part of the space needs to be free of visual distractions for students that have a difficult time focusing. Additionally, if space allows, consider a reading area as well as a designated workspace for students taking a break (more about that later).
2. Get and Stay Organized Organization is key to managing a schedule in a Learning Center. One solution is to create individual binders for each student that remain in a central location in the classroom. After each student signs into the Learning Center at the start of each visit, they collect their binders for the day’s activities. In each binder is a printed copy of the student’s IEP goals for a quick reference guide and notations made by the teachers/paraprofessionals regarding progress towards goals. As students work through lessons in the Learning Center their binders will contain artifacts of work, anecdotal information, and data on learning progress. The binders can be easily taken to meetings with general education teachers or provide documentation of work a student has accomplished. Another organization tip is to share an online calendar between school staff to make scheduling IEP meetings a coordinated effort.
3. Prepare and Anticipate Student Needs
As important as creating a comfortable and conducive space for learning, it is also equally important to have the necessary supplies. From sharpened pencils, highlighters, paper, and dry erase markers, and there are a few not so common items that should also be in the classroom:
*Headphones: For students who have a sensory aversion or need a quiet space
*Independent whiteboards: Cut to 11×17 inches for students to record answers on and easily erase (Green Tip!)
*Colored pencils and markers: Allow students to check over their papers with colored pencils. It is a strategy to encourage students to check their work
*Student Calculators: Again, an approach to teach self-check
*Grade Level reading books: An excellent way to get a book into the hands of a reluctant reader is to introduce it, provide details of a compelling storyline, then ask if they would like to look at it
*Index Cards: Used for keeping students’ eyes focused on a single line in a book or decorated as a bookmark; cards can also be made and used to study vocabulary, terms, or dates. Also, check out online study cards.
*Concentration Screens: Made from cutting packing boxes in half, study screens act as dividers and surround a student on three sides.
*Fidget items should include stress balls and putty for students with ADHD, as well as sensory items for students with autism.
4. Be a Team Player Realize your seamless schedule for students coming to the Learning Center may be disrupted from time to time due to both expected and unexpected circumstances. Special class activities, student absences, substitute teachers, or a host of issues may impact the time a student comes to the Learning Center. Remain flexible and work with the teacher to make up the missed time during the week to stay in compliance with the IEP minutes. You are part of a team, and remaining adaptable and collegial will go a long way. Also, provide at least 3-4 weeks’ notice to general education teachers for meetings. This time allows them to collect information and work samples. Also, allow 3-4 weeks’ meeting notice to parents, and follow up with the appropriate service providers to address any specific concerns before the meeting.
5. Create a Student Friendly Environment Clearly label your materials and spaces in the Learning Centers and make sure they are easily accessible and well-stocked with the supplies necessary for students to work independently. For activities, make sure that the goals and directions are communicated in student-friendly language so that students can derive the maximum benefit from their usage. Create a storage system such that students know where they can access what they need to complete assignments.
6. Differentiate the Learning Center Activities Include a variety of activities to engage different types of learners. Avoid providing only paper and pencil tasks. Students should have opportunities to draw, match, cut, glue, figure, listen, fasten, select, compare, classify, outline, assemble, rearrange, etc. Be sure to allow for student choice among the activities offered. Allow students to practice self-direction, responsibility, and accountability for their work at the Learning Center. Periodically add new activities to maintain student interest. Additionally, stay abreast of research-based interventions. As the Special Education teacher you are responsible for keeping abreast of best practices in the field of education that best meet the needs of your students.
7. Plan for Learning and Breaks Assist students in establishing a routine while in the Learning Center. For students that may have a hard time remembering directions, list the procedures for getting ready in the Learning Center near the classroom door. They can include 1) Sign In 2) Get activity folders 3) Preview lesson for the day 4) Gather essential materials 4) Prepare to begin. Include both visuals directions with graphics and written instructions. You can also use a check-off sheet for students that need a structured approach to completing tasks. If students have been diligently working and an agreed number of problems have been completed, a brain break may be in order. As mentioned in number 1, create a designated workspace for students to take a break by incorporating ‘Brain Games’ and ‘Mind Puzzles.’ This break allows students to step away from a learning task- and participate in a different, often, more relaxed skill building activity. Include age-appropriate word searches, Sudoku, connect the dots, and riddles, to name a few options. Although students are taking a break from direct instruction, the activities help students work and refine other other skills.
8. Utilize Technology Often students like working with technology. Technology helps to increase a student’s independence in a skill set and allows for more personalized learning. A student can move through a program at a speed conducive to their rate of learning, and gamify learning increases student engagement. Additionally, student performance serves as formative assessment data, which can be analyzed to make next step teaching or remediation decisions.
9. Evaluate and Revise Understand that a Learning Center is dynamic and may need to be changed or reimagined as student needs change. Reconfiguration is not always the case but small improvements may be in order. Still, Special Educators will need to understand that reflecting on what is and is not working in the Learning Center is best practice. Evaluating what may work better is an iterative process. Use student self-evaluations as well as your observations to determine the success of the Learning Center. Make changes based on the data you gather as students use the center.
Although the above list of suggestions is not exhaustive, it provides a framework of 9 important considerations for designing and managing a Learning Center. The importance of staying organized and open to change is indicative of the flexibility a Special Educator will need to run a Learning Center within a broader school environment. The other key points mentioned have highlighted the often overlooked areas requiring purposeful planning and attention. By taking into consideration the above suggestions, Special Educators will be better able to create, manage, and maintain a learning environment that meets the needs of the students it serves.
As a parent, you play a unique role in supporting and framing what success looks like to your young adult. Navigating the often-unchartered terrain of figuring out what the future holds can be a challenging time for both parents and children alike. Supporting your child in making decisions that impact their future is not a difficult practice, but it is just that, a practice. The following are a few suggestions to aid you in offering support to your child so they are better prepared to make informed decisions about their education and career choices.
1. Nurture Them to Develop Self-reliance
Children thrive in a nurturing environment. When a child feelsvalued and loved, they will develop self-confidence. Confidence is key for children to make informed decisions about their education and career choices. Helping your child to develop as a confident young adult may mean you love them enough to let them fail. This may seem counterintuitive, but loving them without always trying to fix things on their behalf helps them develop perseverance. Support your children in their decisions, but let them understand there are consequences. This lesson is much harder to bear once they are out of high school, so let it happen a few times in a structured and supported place.
2. Take Notice of Their Capabilities
Each young adult is a unique combination of talents, interests, passions, strengths, and motivations. You should pay close attention to the areas your child shows interest in and where they shine. In this way, you can highlight their capabilities, and speak to their strengths. By observing and discovering your child’s abilities, you are better able to help them in their education and career exploration.
3. Be an Informed Guide
As your child develops new areas of interest ask questions to seek understanding. Ask about the classes they enjoy taking and the ones they don’t; most importantly ask “Why?” Have open and non- confrontational talks about grades, teachers, their friends, future goals and ambitions. These subjects are not off limits to parents as many teenagers would have you think. If you do not regularly have an opportunity to share, now is a good time to start. Showing an interest in your child’s daily life is not being nosey. Practicing communication is important and conversations at home are different than the ones students are having at school or with peers. Knowing your child well helps you be an informed parent, and can inform options that may be of interest in further education and possible career opportunities.
4. Share Your Journey
Start by sharing information about your career path. Sharing information about work from a first-person perspective is powerful. Seize on teachable moments about your own personal experiences with education and career decisions, and let your child inquire about areas they have interest in. Your education and career path may have been a seamless one, but many educational journeys are not so straight forward. A young adult may need to hear that traversing higher education and the labor market offer a range of experiences. Invite family and friends to share their career journeys and take the taboo out of talking about work.
5. Seize the Opportunity
Carpe Diem. When you are out with your child, have them put the phone down and engage them in a conversation about some of the different jobs in the community (restaurants, retail, banking, education, public service, etc.). Discus qualifications or skills a job may require, what are the pros and cons about certain jobs, what level of education is typically needed, and what are the opportunities for growth in a career sector? You may not have all the answers, but a quick Google search will let you keep the discussion rolling along. While you are on-line, visit a local college website, plan a campus visit, and talk about programs and educational pathways that lead to career tracks. There is no cost to visit a college campus and walk around, an important first step to your child ‘seeing themselves’ as a college student.
6. Promote 21 Century Skills
Help your child to develop a set of skills valued in both higher education and the workplace so they are fully apprised of what is needed to be successful in both. These competencies, known as 21 century skills include: 1) Time Management: the proficiency to effectively manage their time to include meeting deadlines and being punctual 2) Teamwork: the competence to work collaboratively as a contributing member of a team, with the aptitude to realize other people’s perspectives. 3) Problem Solvers: Utilize problem-solving abilities, which include asking questions and applying strategies to solve challenging issues or dilemmas. 4) Effective Communicators: To be an efficient communicator beyond just texting and the use of memes. Young adults need to be able to be articulate in both written and oral communication forms to include emails, essays, and presentations 5) Critical Thinkers: To be a critical thinker you need to use information from a variety of verified sources. It requires thoughtful synthesize and evaluation of information to form rational and logical answers. Help young adults learn these skills at home, as research suggests they are sorely lacking in many high school graduates.
7. Be a Role Model
Children learn largely by observation and expectations. Their aspirations, beliefs, attitudes and motivations are often influenced by their immediate surroundings; which include you- their parents. Embrace lifelong learning and encourage conversations centered on skill development as a lifelong process. Show your child that learning does not only happen in school by encouraging them to find out more about different industries and related careers, by seeking out career counseling at their schools, supporting them in volunteer work in the community, or helping them procure a part time job or internship to glean experience.
In closing, these 7 practices offer a starting point for parents. The ways you encourage, talk about, and expose your child to future possibilities will play a role in building confidence and knowledge for them to make informed decisions. These suggestions are intended to lay a foundation for how to begin to navigate the challenging space between your support and your child’s future. Begin the conversations now.
Although global competency is defined in various ways, the sweeping changes of globalization—new information and technologies, increasing economic integration, and the emergence of global environmental, economic, social and political challenges—demand an urgent and thoughtful re-examination of what is learned in the classroom for both economic and civic reasons.
In January 2017, the U.S. Department of Education provided the following definition for a globally and culturally competent individual:
Proficient in at least two languages;
Aware of differences that exist between cultures, open to diverse perspectives, and appreciative of insight gained through open cultural exchange;
Critical and creative thinkers, who can apply understanding of diverse cultures, beliefs, economies, technology and forms of government in order to work effectively in cross-cultural settings to address societal, environmental or entrepreneurial challenges;
Able to operate at a professional level in intercultural and international contexts and to continue to develop new skills and harness technology to support continued growth.
Calling educators interested in gaining global competency & learning best pedagogical practices. After taking online modules- I am making my way through the U.S. Department of State and IREX Global Education course & earning digital badges to share the details of my achievements in the course- Try it!
value, the state of American education is on an upswing; 2014
was a landmark year, with the highest graduation rate on record in American
high schools. An increase in
the number of students that earn a diploma has been a reliable indicator of the
preparedness of our youth to pursue college and career opportunities. The
upward trend in graduation rates has some scratching their heads about the
trustworthiness of these numbers. The argument made, is that the uptick has been
realized by a lowering of the standards, making the value of a diploma
seemingly less than it once was. But until there is another way to benchmark
student achievement, the diploma is the standard, and it is better to have one
Absent from this conversation is an acknowledgment that
graduation numbers for students receiving special education services continue
to be appalling, despite alleged cutting of the criteria. Many high schoolers
receiving special education services never make it to graduation, as evidenced
by graduation data. In
2016, 61 percent of students with disabilities graduated from high school;
a glaring 20 percentage points lower than the national
average of 82 percent for students without disabilities. According to the National
Center for Education Statistics, 2013-2014
data indicates that in 20 states, the graduation rate for students with
disabilities is lower than the national average by an additional 3 percent,
meaning that these students often lack the fundamental skills to move into the
workforce. These same students who leave their education early are more likely
to be unemployed or underemployed, less inclined to go back to school, and less
likely to live on their own (Newman et al., 2001).
The silver lining is that federal initiatives, to include the Civic Marshall Plan, require schools to address the achievement gaps of subgroups to include students with special education needs. The aim is to raise graduation rates to 90 percent, and have students complete at least a full year of postsecondary education or training by the year 2020. With every passing year, schools and educators are learning more about how to help students with disabilities as research continues to explore available evidence and expertise for ways to assist with the systemic challenges in working with diverse populations.
Accordingly, there are recommendations to support
students with special education needs. The
Institute of Education Sciences (IES) recommends several practices to prevent
students from dropping out of school. Included are targeted and schoolwide
interventions such as assigning adult advocates to students, providing
increased academic support and enrichment, and adopting personalized learning
and strength-based teaching schoolwide. Research supports inclusive education practices,
finding that across all disability classifications, students with special
education needs who were in inclusion settings for the majority of the school day,
graduated at a higher rate than students in disability-specific programs. Additionally, a
peer reviewed study showed that effective practices to include increased collaboration
between special education and general education teachers, access to core
curriculum, and targeted professional development for behavior management lead
to improved student achievement for students in special education. And perhaps most
promising are the positive effects of student engagement in career technical education (CTE) as a remedy to the
alternative to dropping out. When students with special education needs successfully
participate in a CTE course, they are less likely to drop out, more apt to
compete for competitive wages post-graduation, and develop the skills and
attributes required for future education and training.
These recommendations, although significant and
revealing, will likely not be enough to substantially close the current 20
percent graduation gap between students with special education needs and their
peers in general education. Keeping students engaged and in school requires
acting on the above research-based recommendations, as well as continued
investment in creating an eco-system of support. Most importantly, there needs
to be transparency in graduation rates, and a targeted pledge to close the gap
and ensure all students graduate ready for what lies ahead.
A messy workspace is not always the hallmark of a creative mind- It can be down right distracting. Dr. Christine Powell, Special Educator, provides 6 tips inspired by organizational guru, Maria Kondo, to create a calm and centered workspace.
Research supports the fact that disorganization causes stress, and that clutter affects the way we work. Adults are often more disciplined than children and realize that creating an organized workspace can facilitate good work habits and shorten the amount of time spent on tasks. Children often need to be taught how to get organized. Although they may like their workspaces messy and cluttered, science supports the fact that a chaotic workspace increases distractions, decreases focus, and may case anxiety. With this in mind, here are six tips to help you and your child tame the clutter and create a workspace worthy of an A+.
Creating a Study Space
Whether the study space is in a general use area of your home or a corner of a separate room, the study space should be relatively free from noise and visual distractions. These diversions can be in the form of high traffic areas of the house, noise from a television, or individuals talking on the phone. When you are creating a space, position a table or desk in a well-lit corner of a room, away from disturbances that will pull your child’s attention from studying. Ideally, the child should be seated facing away from activity, and preferably, they should not be facing a window. Although the view might be beautiful, it might be tempting to look outside and cause distractions, making it challenging to concentrate.
Consider the Light Source
Light has a psychological impact on students, which can affect their learning and studying. Studies have found that students perform significantly better on standardized tests in classrooms where natural light is present. Overly harsh lighting, to include florescent light can be harsh on the eyes, and it is recommended to use natural light when available. A work area that is too dark may induce feelings of tiredness, which impacts motivation and effort. When studying in the evening, it is recommended using a lamp that has a flexible arm. An adjustable arm will allow your child to focus the stream of light, eliminating glare and shadows, which may result in squinting. Reducing glare can cut down on eye strain and increase focus. Additionally, research suggests that using white to natural bulbs creates a light source that is easier on the eyes and facilitates alertness.
Only the Basics
An optimal study space should have the materials your child needs to complete tasks within arms reach. These items include pens, paper, laptop, study aids, etc. A functional study space should not have attention-stealing knickknacks, as clutter can contribute to over-stimulation. Over-stimulation may have a negative effect on how your child adjusts emotionally to the task of studying or completing homework. Enlist your child to help with decluttering, explaining the thinking behind putting distracting items away. While supporting your child to take the lead, encourage them to spot the difference between items that may help contribute to studying verses others that are attention thieves.
Comfortable seating is often the most overlooked aspect of creating a well-designed study area. When considering the type of seating that is most conducive for your child, asking for their input is essential. Having buy-in will create ownership on your child’s part and may encourage increased time on task. You do not need to invest heavily in a special chair, as nowadays there are many alternatives to a conventional chair, to include Yoga Balls, backless chairs, and stools. Whatever type of seating you choose, it must be comfortable. Make sure that your child’s feet can reach the floor, which will assist in physical stability and aid in feeling stable and in control.
Take A Technology Inventory
Unless a computer, iPad, or other technological device is necessary for homework or study, make sure it is off and out of sight. There is no better time to teach your child the benefits of being unplugged and developing concentration skills. Although getting your child off their device may prove challenging, research supports study time without phone use. Research published in Computers In Human Behavior (2013) found that students spend only two-thirds of their time working on school assignments during study time when they have access to their phones. Help your child understand that study time will decrease without the added distractions of media-tasking. If a computer device is required, consider setting parental controls on social media platforms to assist your child in developing the skills necessary to unplug during study time.
A study by the University of Edinburgh published in Landscapes, and Urban Planning (2012) found that individuals are less stressed when they spent time in nature. If spending time at a nearby park or in a green space is limited, consider getting a small desk plant. The effects of increased greenery may prove beneficial in helping to create a calming environment conducive to homework.
Creating a space at home to study should be a combined effort with you and your child participating. The start of a new school year provides an opportunity for parents to work with their children to declutter and rework their home study space. Use these tips to help create a space that makes the grade.
Author: Christine Powell is a special educator, researcher, and education advocate helping parents and students make purposeful educational decisions. She is a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher Award fellow and adjunct professor.
My Fulbright inquiry project has yielded information I hope impacts education training opportunities for students w/ diverse learning needs. The title is Vocational Education and Training in Singapore: Examining Programs and Practices In Support of Students with Special Education Needs. Please share this information as my goal is to support access & equity in career opportunities for as many students as possible. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you want more information.