Easy Strategies and Accommodations for Behavioral and Mental Health Needs in Learning Enviorments

The numerous accommodations and modifications that teachers make for students often amount to a lengthy list. These adjustments can involve altering not only instruction but also lesson materials, which tend to exhaust much of a teacher’s planning time. While circumstances, symptoms, and needs vary from student to student, there are some of the best “universal” practices that teachers can employ when a student is impacted by a medical condition, without causing a disproportional amount of stress to the teacher.

Symptom: Inattentiveness

Strategies Considerations
  • Verbal/non-verbal prompting or cueing
  • Checklists or sticky notes for work completion; a checkmark or small sticky on the desk indicating strong/prolonged focus
  • Offer preferential seating
  • Proximity while giving instructions/directions
  • Brain breaks for lengthy texts or multi-step tasks
  • Brisk transitions between tasks/activities to build attentive momentum
  • Prompting and cueing could be as subtle as tapping on the desk to regain focus, and could be as direct as asking which number the student is on and encouraging further progress
  • Checklists or sticky notes would typically be paired with a weekly/monthly incentive to track student’s attention goal (504/IEP)
  • Preferential seating doesn’t necessarily mean in the front of the classroom; this could mean near the teacher’s desk, away from the window or hallway, or in the quieter back corner of the room

Symptom: Vision issues

Strategies Considerations
  • Offer preferential seating
  • Provide larger text/font size on handouts
  • Limit screen time or allow frequent breaks during prolonged screen use
  • Provide highlighted and/or condensed teacher notes
  • Suggest colored overlays for students whose vision issues are exacerbated by bright white paper (often seen with PANDAS)
  • Highlighted/condensed teacher notes allow students to follow along with notes/outlines without straining their eyes to copy from the board
  • Notes also ensure that only vital information is visually presented, avoiding extraneous details
  • Colored overlays are inexpensive plastic sheets that students can lay over a textbook, worksheet, or even computer screen to dull the brightness of the white background

Symptom: Working memory/memory processing difficulties

Strategies Considerations
  • Allow extended time for assessments and lengthier assignments, including a reduced workload when necessary
  • Provide wordbanks, multiple-choice options, and true/false for exam questions that involve more memory recall or fact-based knowledge
  • Allow use of a calculator for math assessments not hinging on mental math skills
  • Provide sentence starters or transition wordbanks for essays or timed writing tasks
  • Extended time should account for the fact that the student likely required twice as much time to review and memorize info prior to the assessment
  • When possible, reduce the exam questions to account for mastery of the skill, not the number of questions answered
  • Quiz and test modifications, such as word banks, assist students with recall by providing examples
  • True/false questions still assess the student’s knowledge of the concept but reduce unnecessary memorization
  • If a math quiz is not based solely on the student’s knowledge of multiplication/division facts, the use of a calculator removes the mental math and memorization barrier

Symptom: Executive functioning difficulties

Strategies Considerations
  • Give checklists for multi-step assignments or complex tasks, making sure to model how to order multiple tasks and check off to-dos as students finish sections
  • Maintain consistent routines
  • Provide approximate, suggested lengths of time for homework and/or classwork
  • Provide brisk transitions between tasks/activities to build attentive momentum
  • Model organizational strategies
  • Check in frequently
  • Simplify written instructions and verbally review instructions for clarity
  • Review daily and/or weekly agenda; highlight due dates
  • Allow students to write directly on assessments; avoid bubble sheets
  • Consistent routines ensure that students know the basic procedural expectations and can execute them independently
  • Students may need to be explicitly shown how to place papers in organized sections of a binder
  • Students may need extra time at the end of class to organize papers, materials, etc. in designated places to maintain organization
  • Allowing students to respond directly on test booklets avoids the confusion of bubble sheets and/or the likelihood of them losing their place or skipping questions.

Symptom: Fine motor issues

Strategies Considerations
  • Enable use of a word processor for written assignments
  • Provide teacher notes; modified note-taking
  • Utilize multiple-choice, true/false, matching, or short answer opportunities to allow students to demonstrate mastery
  • Provide the student with a larger or slanted work surface
  • Use larger lines, boxes, or spaces for written responses
  • Allow the student to use bulleted responses when appropriate
  • Encourage the use of a mouse instead of a touchpad
  • Utilize speech to text technology if available, or a human scribe if not
  • Offer pencil grips for writing and wrist supports for typing
  • Allow verbal responses
  • If providing teacher notes, encourage students to participate by highlighting or starring essential material; have them include labels or symbols while following along.
  • For lengthy assignments, consider other methods for demonstrating understanding:
    • Put story events in order using event cards instead of writing a summary
    • Match pictured steps/photo cards of a science lab to written steps, then put them in order
    • Use Scrabble letters or alphabet cards to take a spelling quiz, instead of writing out the list

Symptom: Behavioral issues

Strategies Considerations
  • Utilize verbal/non-verbal prompting or cueing
  • Use positive reinforcement when procedures/behavioral expectations are followed
  • Offer preferential seating
  • Give instructions/directions in closer proximity to the student
  • Allow frequent breaks for lengthy texts or multi-step tasks
  • Utilize brisk transitions between tasks/activities to deter off-task behavior
  • Use data tracking sheets and hold a weekly conference with the student, possibly providing incentives
  • Utilize the 2 X 10 strategy to build positive relationships between adults and students. In this technique, teachers engage a student in a meaningful, genuine, 2-minute conversation, unrelated to academics, over a span of 10 days.
  • Prompting and cueing could be as subtle as tapping on the desk to deter off-task behavior.
  • Prompting could also be as direct as reminding a student of behavioral expectations
  • Checklists or sticky notes would typically be paired with a weekly/monthly incentive to track a student’s behavior goal (504/IEP)
  • Preferential seating doesn’t necessarily mean in the front of the classroom; this could mean near the teacher’s desk, away from the window or hallway, or in the quieter back corner of the room.
  • Moving closer (proximity) or sustaining eye contact can often deter misbehavior.
  • The 2 X 10 strategy is proven to build rapport in difficult classrooms. It encourages a positive outlook regarding school and adults in schools.

The classroom environment is filled with a countless array of personalities, abilities, and levels of motivation. Add to that the various medical considerations or chronic illnesses that students might experience and teachers no doubt feel stressed about making sure every learner receives what he or she needs in order to be academically successful. To ensure that students’ accommodations are met, every student must be provided with differentiated, personalized learning experiences to foster intrinsic motivation and appropriate levels of challenge.

Want to Graduate Sooner? Find a Great Advisor

Credit: ​​Photo courtesy of CSU Chico​​​

Most college students juggle a lot: studying, getting to and from class, and, for many at the CSU, working and meeting other obligations. So it can feel like the last straw to hear that you should find and check in with an academic advisor regularly.

But if you take the time to seek out someone to guide you in choosing courses and ensure you’re on the path to graduate according to your goals, you’ll be likelier to earn your degree in less time, saving money and launching you into your career sooner.

That’s why many California State University campuses have put in place easy-to-access, interactive programs designed to make advising much simpler. Even better, many are customized to meet the specific needs and academic goals of each student. (Some CSU campuses are in the planning stages of adding these resources, so they may not have made it just yet to your school.)

The advancements are tied to the CSU’s Graduation Initiative 2025, which focuses on increasing graduation rates for all students while eliminating opportunity and achievement gaps.

What is ‘Intensive Advising’?

Referred to as “intensive advising,” students and their advisors — which now includes faculty, staff and peer mentors on many campuses, as well as formal academic advisors — work together to form a powerful partnership.

“[Intensive advising] involves intentional, one-on-one contact with students,” explains ​Karen R. Moranski, Ph.D., associate vice president for Academic Programs at Sonoma State University.

“Its goal is to create a positive relationship with an advisor that leads to increased academic success and persistence. It is also preventative, in that it anticipates issues that may keep students from graduating.”

In specific, advisors and student success centers on the campuses work closely with each student to set goals, evaluate progress over time and ensure the goals are being met or intervening to offer support if they’re not.

Ideally, the partnership of student and advisor begins as soon as a student arrives on campus, whether as a first-time freshman or a transfer student from a community college or another university.

Online dashboards and planners will also help students stay accountable for their own success.

“The development and usage of these technology-based advising tools have brought a culture shift in both the advising and student communities,” says S. Terri Gomez, Ph.D, interim associate vice president for Student Success at Cal Poly Pomona. She adds that advisors use data to refine how best to work with students, while students can easily access and use the technologies, making it simple to integrate academic tracking into their busy schedules.

The Link to Student Success

When academic advisors leverage technology and students find it easy to use, the benefits can be significant, according to early findings from CSU campuses.

Here are three specific ways having an advisor (or an advising team) to guide students in planning classes, finding tutoring or other help when necessary, and learning how to better track their progress could be a game-changer for increasing graduation rates. Most CSU campuses have developed specific advising programs aimed at helping students navigate college. Below are just a few examples of some of the programs available.

  • ​Students are aware of how they’re tracking toward graduation 24/7. Online advising resources allow students to access their profile whenever and wherever they want, so they can always check their progress toward their degree, plan course schedules in advance, and enroll in classes. Sonoma State, for example, launched the Seawolf Scheduler and Degree Planner as part of its E-Advising Initiative. Cal Poly Pomona recently invested in redesigning its student success dashboards with Tableau, an accessible, responsive data analysis and visualization tool that’s part of its MyPlanner student success portal. And CSU East Bay has introduced The Bay Advisor.Dynamic, live tracking systems and dashboards allow faculty, administrators and advisors not only to see how their students are doing, but the data collected will make it easier to predict how successful these “intrusive” advising strategies really are in keeping students on the road to picking up their degree.
  • Struggling students are caught earlier. Early alert systems, which will be implemented on CSU campuses such as Cal Poly Pomona, CSU East Bay,  CSU Fullerton, and CSU San Bernardino, are able to identify students who are having trouble academically, who haven’t signed up for classes, or who show signs of academic setback, such as low grades or poor class attendance.Retention specialists — staff who help ensure students stay enrolled and moving toward their degree — are being added to teams throughout the CSU to identify and assist students at risk of dropping out of college. Other campuses require students to provide detailed plans of their coursework schedule as they near graduation.A student doesn’t need to be at risk of failing or dropping out, though, for an advising team to get an alert. An advisor might simply contact a student approaching graduation to assist and eliminate obstacles as early as possible.
  • Advisors create a personalized plan for every student. No two students’ college experiences are the same. That’s why a number of CSU campuses have implemented “student success teams” that provide a tailored advising experience.The teams are made up of academic, peer, and professional advisors, along with career services counselors and graduation and retention specialists. Students who haven’t declared their major may be required by some campuses to enroll in specialized advising efforts – such as meeting regularly with advisors who track their progress – to ensure they ​aren’t left behind. ​

Efforts to bolster and improve advising are ongoing across CSU campuses. Sonoma State will launch the Center for Transfer and Transition Programs in fall 2017; it will provide personalized advising, mentoring, social support, and other resources for transfer students, with the goal of eliminating the opportunity gap.

This fall, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s College of Engineering will launch a proactive advising model that will specifically target underrepresented, first-generation, and Pell-eligible students. The campus hopes to scale the model to all of its colleges by 2019.

These existing and forthcoming advising services encourage students to set and meet their academic goals, ensuring success throughout their time at the CSU.

Learn more about Graduation Initiative 2025 and the ways in which the CSU is working to close the equity gap for underserved students. ​

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