Everyday classroom changes to support vulnerable learners

I remember listening to the psycho therapist Una Firth some years ago who told the true story of 3 brothers who presented differently as a result of family trauma- the eldest with anti-social behaviour, the middle boy with eating disorders and the youngest being deeply withdrawn. The youngest had the most profound distress even though his only recollection was of the door slamming as his mother left.

At the time this made me think about classroom environment in different ways starting with pupils sitting near the door- which is where I placed vulnerable children on the basis they could easily get access to ‘out of class’ activities and be removed when having ‘a moment’!

So here are 5 ways that I have found to provide better classroom environments for vulnerable learners:

  1. Sit vulnerable pupils nearer your own table/ desk. They will feel more secure and will be less aware of the comings and goings through the door. Children who have a history of distress are susceptible to over and under stimulation both of which will raise their anxiety level.  Doors often have association with arguments, being excluded and feelings of being abandoned.
  2. If the key adult- e.g. the class teacher- has a planned absence, leave a used garment on the back of a vulnerable child’s chair. The pupil may not be aware of this but they will be aware, at a sensory level, of the connection to the significant adult which will be soothing. If you like you can always ask the child if they wouldn’t mind looking after the garment for this short while.
  3. Keep bright lights to a minimum for sensitive pupils. Do not sit them under the window or under low afternoon sunlight. Highly sensitive pupils, including those with Asperger-like behaviours, find that lighting interferes with their neural processing. It ‘jangles’ their body and mind so that they find it difficult to learn.
  4. You probably provide ‘fiddle-boxes’ for hyperactive pupils and some people offer ’sticky-tack’ too. These can provide comfort. Even better is a small sand traywhich encourages the child to make smaller, smoother movements. This has more of a mindfulness effect– and, if you are worried about sand being fidgeted all over the floor- don’t worry, it doesn’t happen as the child’s movements change on contact with the sand.
  5. Many immature readers prefer to hold their bools at right angles- up and opposite their faces- rather than laying them flat on the desk. As teachers we tend to flatten their books onto their desks as a matter of habit. However, this distorts the text if the eye is immature. Text at right angles is the most effectiveand most 6-7year old’s will choose to hold their books upright. Delay correcting this, especially with pupils with slower development and learning difficulties.

If you have any other tips that you would like to share with colleagues, do send them to me. There is a community of colleagues out there who soak up your ideas and will deliver more solutions to the children we so care about.