Early intervention research unequivocally points to first grade as the time when education has its greatest impact. Unfortunately, students with complex learning needs are often overlooked. Here, Leah Valentine, The Wolf School’s Kindergarten teacher extraordinaire, explains what a difference it can make getting Complex Learners ready to learn when there are intensive classroom supports early on.
I love it when my students are successful in math, read a sentence full of new words, or write their name with newly learned lower case letters. My favorite student achievements though, are small social moments that may not look like much but are actually very complex victories. Last week three students were playing with cars and dolls. One student became frustrated trying to get a doll in the driver’s seat of a car so he stopped and took a deep breath, and then let it out with an audible sigh. His sigh caught the attention of his classmate who stopped playing and looked at him, read his body language and facial expression, and said, “Here, this one is smaller.” The third student heard this interchange and looked up to see his two classmates working together to switch the dolls. He drove the motorcycle he was playing with over to the car and said, “She can ride on this.” Victory!
My students have worked very hard this year in all areas. The Wolf School provides each of them with their own recipe for success and for the younger students, their age is a significant beneficial ingredient. They have developmental time on their side. They are learning to see things from another person’s perspective, learning to be aware of themselves and how they can relate to peers, and learning language they can use to be successful in those relationships. As these skills are emerging, we are guiding them with modeling, role-playing, strategies and even Social Thinking® superheroes that excel in these areas. We are preparing them for the social engagement and learning readiness that school requires.
Most of us take these kinds of abilities for granted, but for Complex Learners, their neurological, sensory and cognitive challenges can be overwhelming. To see my students defeat frustration, read social cues, offer help and engage in cooperative play makes them superheroes too.
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*An earlier version of this blog post was published in 2014
Leah Valentine holds a BS in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology from Ithaca College and an MS Intensive Special Needs degree from Northeastern. She has worked at B.O.C.E.S. in upstate New York and in the Boston Public Schools. Leah loves spending time with her husband and two boys boating and hiking. Her superpower is teaching.