As professionals in education, one of the first items we think about at the beginning of the year is our schedule; it is also the first thing we expect to change. The more seasoned we become in our field, the more likely we are to exhibit flexibility (one of the executive function skills) to the unexpected changes in our schedule that happen on a weekly or sometimes daily basis. Yet, I recall when I was a nascent teacher, schedule changes caused a relative amount of anxiety, and I needed to SEE how the change affected the flow of the day.
Many of our students feel this same anxiety about the flow of the day and would benefit from a visual support. The presence of a schedule in the classroom is not just crucial for students with autism. It’s also very important for those who struggle with the Executive Function Skills of planning, time-mangagement working memory and flexibility/adaptability. Here’s why:
Autism: Children with autism struggle with expressive and receptive communication, flexibility ( NIH: Autism Fact Sheet) many also struggle with the concept of time because of the abstract nature of time. However visual processing is typically a strength and when provided with a visual schedule, social supports and a predictable routine, problems with receptive communication and flexibility decrease. (Visual Schedule Rationale)
Planning/Time-Management: Children who have difficulty with time management fall into two categories:
1. difficulty with planning and organizing, which means everything is completed at the last minute.
2 Difficulty gauging the passing of time and estimating how long it takes to complete an activity, which means they are often running late, unprepared for due dates. (Kaufman, 2010).
However, teaching students how to plan and manage time through creating lists of what needs to be accomplished, breaking down tasks, creating a personal schedule and slowly fading the supervision involved with these strategies over time will strengthen their time management skills. (Guare, 2009).
Working Memory: Children who have small or limited working memory capacity will find it difficult to hold multiple pieces of information in their mind and manipulate the information in some way at a later time. (Guare, 2009). However, minimizing demands on working memory can assist these students in becoming successful engaged learners. Minimizing demands includes using step-by-step instructions during lessons, using visual supports to decrease simultaneous processing, and increasing time to complete multiple step tasks, to name a few. (Kaufman, 2010).
Flexibility/Adaptability: Children who are unable to cope and adjust with unexpected changes will experience extreme stress and anxiety when unplanned changes come up in the schedule. These students may act out by yelling or refusing to transition. (Kaufman, 2010. Guare, 2009). While students are strengthening their ability to be flexible and adapt, environmental modifications to decrease the stress around new situations, transitions and unexpected changes; some modifications include: keeping schedules and routines consistent, review schedules daily, provide advanced notice of changes, whenever possible, to name a few (Guare, 2009).
A visual schedule allows students to become prepared for their day and provides a sense of control because they know what to expect. Additionally, it allows for easier transitions when schedule changes do occur and liberates teachers from following the same schedule everyday!
Here are other examples of a visual schedules you could post in your class:
I would encourage you to create your own so you can personalize it to the grade, level of your students and new activities can be easily added; however, basic store bought schedules are a good place to start! You can purchase this from Scholastic.
Click Here: Daily Visual Schedule
In any visual schedule 3 elements are crucial:
1. Start time: both digital and analog
2. Picture of the activity
3. Name of the activity
Visual schedules are easy to implement and can become apart of a simple and fun routine that happens during the first 5 to 10 minutes of the school day. Over time, students internalize the routine and will be eager to act as the ‘teacher’ to guide the class through the various components. Here is an example of a simple morning routine:
1. Shared reading: A note from the teacher, a fun fact, student’s writing sample, announcements
2. Review the day of the week, the month, the date and the year
3. Start with an empty pocket chart and add one activity at a time as you introduce what it is and when it will take place.
4. You can close with a short class activity: review months of the year, class counting by (10s, 5s, even, odds etc), fact families, etc.
Enabling the class to be aware of what to expect during the day guarantees an increase in insight, awareness and socialization that is not teacher-centered, rather value-centric and increase the impact of Executive Functioning Skill-worthiness of your teaching.