In a previous post, I shared a recess rubric for students on the autism spectrum. Here is one that may be helpful for students with a learning disability, especially twice exceptional (2e) kiddos. These kids are often desperate to get out of the classroom, away from tremendous stress (and boredom, in the case of 2e kids). Why would LD kids benefit from a recess rubric? Again, stress. They often feel stupid and invalidated in a classroom, no matter how smart they may be, no matter how supportive their teachers are. When they hit the playground, these students are often over-eager to show off athletic skills. They may vent their frustration on peers or withdraw from the group altogether. Social skills intervention is helpful when LD students find themselves in constant conflict at recess. Remember that you cannot toss a rubric at a student and expect it to “work.” Kids need to rehearse needed skills and rubrics should be modified to match individual needs. A rubric can be used to measure progress over time, which is very important for kids who face an uphill battle with academics.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if school were so engaging that all kids would be riveted by their activities? Allowed to move as needed? Where teachers and classmates assumed the best? Do teachers believe that students come to school deciding that they will be distracted all day? The truth is that no one can maintain attention for hour after hour. It’s not how the brain functions. For kids who struggle with attention, it may be a constant battle to stay focused. This student video on Understood provides powerful insights into the conflict that students experience as their bodies and minds pull against their best intentions. After months or years of this struggle, many students give up and become serious classroom disruptors.
Here’s a rubric I’ve used with kids struggling to pay attention. Many of these kids were medicated and just as many had parents who were adamantly opposed to meds. Regardless, we can help kids feel better about themselves by rehearsing strategies for paying attention. Students’ sticky notes can replace impulsive comments and record positive efforts to focus. Other elements of rehearsal include practice finding the best places to sit in a group, such as on the sides, near the teacher, and/or next to a supportive partner. Students should also practice making positive self-statements to combat that inevitable sense of failure. Getting the classroom teacher to support their plan is huge. These students should be allowed time to leave the group in a socially acceptable way, should be encouraged to advocate for privacy but not continuously excluded, and their efforts should be praised. They may respond well to a fidget item; a wristband can work if they have rehearsed keeping it in place (and not using it as a slingshot!). May parents can provide an after school outlet for energy, such as martial arts or sports. Some students benefit from an external reward system, especially one administered by parents. One student’s dad took him to the gym after a predetermined number of earned stars. Finally, these students should NEVER be denied an active recess.
I’ve had some recent opportunities to support the social skills of siblings in a home environment (my home, actually), which is code for “How can I teach these kiddoes to stop slugging one another?” “Slugging” is a bit strong; it was more like scratching and screaming and a little whacking. Before I had kids, I said the most ridiculous things to parents. Now I get a taste of my own medicine in trying to retrain some youngsters who have experienced a number of setbacks in life. At their core, they are compliant and eager to please. One-on-one, they are 100% delightful. In a group, they are determined to get attention in any way that presents itself. If that means unleashing revenge for the long list of wrongs they have compiled against one another, all the better.
This rubric is a way for me to measure their baseline behavior and growth. And my baseline behavior and growth. I have already learned that I must intervene rapidly when body parts are about to collide. I must effectively engage them in positive and active pursuits. Equally important, I must “publicly” rotate between activities which are special to each child. That means we do a bit of everything in 5 hours. One child wants to see a Barbie video, one wants to play pirates, and one wants to play Mario Kart. No one gets to completely finish anything but the good news is that secretly, they all do enjoy what the others are doing. I drink a cup of tea before they arrive, as a caffeine boost, and honestly, enjoy myself a lot. They are bright, imaginative, and affectionate kiddoes coping well with tough situations.
This rubric has been inspired by the book I recently reviewed, “Social Rules for Kids” by Susan Diamond. One of her rules is BE FUNNY BUT NOT TOO SILLY. Some of our special needs kids laugh hysterically when a classmate passes gas, or they may tell the same joke over and over, despite the groans of their audience. They may annoy their teachers with outbursts of “uncontrollable” laughter. Even so, monitoring “funniness” is highly dependent upon factors such as age and social context, to name just two. A number of popular comedies would earn very few stars if judged by the rubric below. However, the beauty of a rubric is that you can change the range of behaviors quite easily to suit your situation. This rubric is probably best for a school environment but may not pass muster on the playground. Laughing with friends beyond the range of adult ears would be a category unto itself. As with all rubrics, if you want it to be successful, you must provide opportunities for students to practice the required skills, especially putting the brakes on laughing. It’s also worth remembering that toilet jokes are popular with both first graders and many adults.
As mentioned in a previous post, special needs kids often excel in areas such as science and social studies. I do remember when those were the very subjects my students would miss in order to receive a double dose of reading and math or to attend a social skills group. Also, science and social studies may be textbook-boring, instead of the hands-on, energized subjects we might hope for. Putting those two dilemmas aside, science and social studies can provide terrific opportunities for leadership training with our twice exceptional and high-functioning autistic kids.
There are a number of ways to take advantage of these kids’ interests and skills in science and/or social studies. Here’s the shortened version: assign special needs kids as “teaching assistants” or “mentors” to small groups rotating through centers in a regular classroom. You’ll need a willing classroom teacher, schedule congruities, and a heads-up on science/social studies topics. With rehearsal in a social skills or other small group (even reading, writing, or math), you’ll provide rubric-based practice for your leaders-in-training. Depending upon your student’s maturity and skill levels, you could assign them to work with younger or same age peers. Here are some other important steps:
- Make sure your kids have opportunities to develop familiarity with that classroom teacher and room (visit during lunch or before school).
- Provide your student with the center topic, materials, and expectations (preferably assisted by the classroom teacher/assistant and reinforced by special ed teacher and perhaps parents).
- Have an adult nearby for at least the first rotation of students; a classroom or special ed assistant (prepared to use the same rubric as the student) would be perfect.
- Review the adult’s rubric and comments after the first center activities are complete. I set up a Wikispace for assistants to provide me immediate feedback.
- Plan on meeting with your student as soon as possible after their first session to elicit feedback and review the rubric.
This process is a bit labor-intensive on the front end, but soon settles into a routine. Voilà! Your special needs student becomes the resident expert, other kids now look up to him, and his confidence and skills have received a huge boost. The following rubric is a sample for this process and would need to be individualized for each student. The student’s “title” should reflect their role and aspirations. Their goal (number of stars) should also be defined and gradually increase over time.
Here’s a sample rubric for good sportsmanship. I do use that term, even with kindergartners, because I figure they might as well start off learning terminology that we’ll continue to use in the future. When teaching kids how to join in a game, we do a lot of videotaped rehearsals and practice with puppets and peers. Most of my kiddos hate to lose (me, too!) so I give them opportunities to win games and then gradually wean them off victory into the “real” world. They enjoy hearing how I used to cheat my sister at Monopoly (“Oh, my teacher is human!”) and I emphasize candor as we navigate the winning and losing issues. Obviously, some rubrics for good sportsmanship will have a greater focus on simply joining in, because some kids are at a loss during recess. Other kids need more emphasis on playing fair or managing their feelings if they lose a game. The best rubrics are individualized and supported by direct instruction.
I get a lot of requests for rubrics. Here’s one for completing homework. (One caveat: I am NOT a homework advocate, but I recognize that I hold a minority opinion, since every kid I serve has homework.) I am assuming that your child is a special needs student, although the rubric could be used by any student with homework issues, so it would be a good idea to get the special educator to support the rubric. As always, someone must rehearse the use of a rubric. This can involve role-playing, videotaping, possible incentives, and discussions, perhaps with the special ed teacher; many kids do best when they know that the work is “teacher assigned.” I always imagine a student in order to create a rubric, so like all effective rubrics, this is individualized to meet the needs of “Jacob.” Jacob must earn 12 stars for his reward as we start using this rubric. The number of stars required will rise as he meets that first modest requirement. If your child does not experience initial success, then you must lower the bar pronto. Say, “Oops! I thought I said you had to get EIGHT stars! My bad!”
In response to a question about how to support special needs kids in school assemblies, I have created the following rubric. Before using it, though, you need to role-play and discuss the relevant issues. For some kids with sensory disorders, an assembly can be a nightmare of sound, action, and bodies. Most kids already know what aspects of an assembly are the most distressing. The assembly’s topic, length, volume, and visuals can all create problems. Many presenters begin by greeting the audience and then ratcheting up “attentiveness” by repeating, “I can’t hear you!” At that point, maybe 200 kids are screaming at the top of their lungs, so my student with sensory overload is already in dire straits. Consider these issues:
- Seating: Try to place your student near an adult who will be responsive to your student’s needs, including leaving the assembly if needed. Seating near the end of a row is also helpful for quick exits and for reducing the number of people clustered around your kid.
- Topic: Consider an alternative, non-punitive activity if you know the assembly topic will trigger serious distress. I’ve had kids who were freaked out by scary puppets and “evil” characters. With their parents’ approval, they could skip assemblies with a fairy tale focus. You may include that modification on IEPs as necessary.
- Volume: A small pair of foam ear plugs may help; check with parents first.
- Preview: Most assembly presenters provide a description of their performance, including an online site. Students who know what’s coming are at an advantage. In fact, it’s remarkable how little any kids can describe an assembly. We’ve often discussed them during lunch bunches and I’ve been amazed at how little the “typical learners” retained.
- Debriefing: In light of the item above, follow up with your kids by eliciting details and sequence of events. Like a good lawyer, don’t ask questions for which you don’t know the answer! It’s best to attend the assembly yourself, if possible.
Remember that rubrics should be individualized to meet the needs of specific students; I wrote this one with a certain kid in mind.
Again, in response to a request, here is a rubric for eating in the cafeteria. Cafeterias tend to be large and noisy. The following rubric would be useful for kids on the autism spectrum as well as kids with ADHD and social skills weaknesses.
You’ll notice that that the rubric can be used to determine whether kids are getting foods they like to eat. Kids need adequate nutrition if they are to make it through a long school day. I have found that some kids need support in asking for food they want, rather than simply accepting the tray handed to them. Cafeteria workers are under time pressure; if a kid cannot easily be heard or make a quick decision, that child may not get what they want. Parents and teachers can help with this, whether it is practice in speaking clearly, holding up an index card, or checking the menu choices before arriving at school. Also, parents may need to know that their child is tossing the lunch prepared at home. I am sometimes surprised that parents don’t know their child HATES peanut butter sandwiches. If parents want to “train” a child to eat foods through their school lunch box, please think again. Kids get so tired and irritable on an empty stomach.
As I’ve noted before, don’t just send a rubric along with a student, hoping it will work. Each of the items must be discussed and rehearsed, while several of these will need role-playing.
I’ve been asked to create some sample rubrics for social skills. The following rubric is for a high functioning autistic kid who struggled at recess. He did not use recess effectively to “chill out” (which can be vital to an ASD kid’s daily survival), nor did he feel satisfied with how he occupied himself during recess. Wandering around was sometimes a good method of relaxing, but he was conflicted between isolating himself a little and also wanting to make friends. He had “buttons” that a few kids delighted in pushing, so he needed an advocate (adult or classmate) to support him at times.
Remember that each rubric should be individualized to reflect the needs of the student. Rubrics should also represent actual rehearsal of skills through role-playing and videotaping, or they’re largely a waste of time. If a student has “getting help”on a rubric, make sure some adult is actually going to help, not tell the student to “go and play.”