There are various sensory contribution factors that support productive learning. What is the best way for a teacher to familiarize themselves with their students' sensory needs, so that as a teacher you implement appropriate sensory integration with lesson content?
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"Sensory contribution and integration" sounds like a pretty intuitive concept, but I can conceive of a number of ways of approaching and defining it, ranging from cultural to neuroscientific. I'm going to approach it in terms of contribution to the learning environment, i.e. things that contribute to learning and things that distract from it. In order to recognize a student's sensory needs, a teacher should be at minimum familiar with these elements.
Some common-sense features that support learning include;
- Visibility. Written material in particular should always be clearly visible. In practice I have found that this not only includes writing in large and legible handwriting, but in avoiding things like light-green markers, which don't have a very high contrast value and can be virtually impossible to read. Nuances like this are revealed through experience. I have also found it best to avoid direct light on a whiteboard or screen, as the glare can prevent some students from seeing it.
- Personal Space. The class should be relatively easy to move around in. Students should not be in uncomfortable seating positions, such as having to turn their heads or bodies to look at the board. The teacher should also be able to physically access each seating location easily.
- Noise. This is probably the element with the widest range of effect, both good and bad. Supportive noise elements involve a clear understanding of the language, tone and volume to be used inside the classroom.
Some detracting sensory factors include;
- Personal Medical Issues. Do your best to look into each student's records and familiarize yourself with the student's individual needs. Some students are reluctant to admit or discuss a condition, and will attempt to avoid accommodations for it.
- Uncontrollable Environment. A few days ago I was working in a classroom that was across the street from a loud construction area. Quiet individual work was not realistic under these conditions, so we did conversational group work instead.
- Language. While not exactly a sensory issue, there is some overlap.
I think the best way for a teacher to familiarize themselves with their particular students is to walk around the room frequently. In my experience, some teachers tend to "hide" behind their desks, and I have personally experimented with both styles. I have found that walking around the room gives me greater insights into individual student behaviors, causes them to ask more questions, and gives some of them the courage to say or ask things that they would not bring up otherwise. This also gives me a better understanding of the ways that they work (or don't work) with other students, and adjusting seating charts appropriately to minimize physical and conversational distractions.
I think there are two ways to look at this question: from a perspective of a student with a disability and a student without one. Students without disabilities should be able to answer basic questions about their habitat when they're in the classroom and what makes them comfortable: do they like overhead lighting or lamps? Do they prefer a room to be warm or cool? Do they study best with music or in silence? However, for a student with a disability, their sensory needs are quite different, and need to be studied and examined to find out how to best meet their needs. A great first step for students with disabilities is to read their IEP; this should have a functional level of performance included with their academic information. When possible, allow the students to have preferences about where they sit and how they are required to interact with their surroundings. Some students may prefer to sit in the back of the room and squeeze a ball, not maintaining eye contact or taking notes, but are able to absorb most of what's being said because they're in a comfortable environment that's conducive to their learning style. A learning preference assessment is also helpful for the students to fill out, as well as the parents, if possible.
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