Choices – the Secret to Getting Students to Work

I’ve been talking about Brandon, who was having a difficult time completing his assignments, or anything else as far as that goes. On the spectrum, he would lock onto his pattern blocks and refuse to do anything else.

This went on for a while until he grew bored with his pattern blocks. After that, he would be willing to do an assignment or two, but only if it interested him. That is typical of kids with learning issues. Brandon’s real problem was writing. We couldn’t deduce if this brilliant kid could write or not, because he flat out refused to do it.

Enter choice time. Do you want to do this or do you want to do that? It’s such a simple thing, but it gives kids with learning issues power.

At first, you can’t expect the student to work with a complete curriculum or expect much of anything as far as that goes. The goal is to complete assignments and gain confidence from it. As a teacher or parent, you can’t pick their paper apart or make judgments. Just praise, praise, praise for completing an assignment.

Too many people get hung up with details when working with these kids, but one thing I have learned is to give them choices and don’t expect perfection. That, and stay positive. That praise, praise, praise goes farther than you think, especially for kids who’ve rarely heard it at school.

This worked with Brandon. We made a worksheet with two squares in it. When he finished an assignment, we would cross out a square. When he finished another, we would cross out the other square.

Enter reward time (more on that later). For Brandon, reward time equated to computer time. We set a timer and let him choose an age appropriate game on the computer.

At first, his mom wasn’t happy about letting him play computer games that he could play at home, but when she saw the amount of work he was doing and the progress he was making, she was blown away.

Before long, Brandon was writing sentences, completing assignments with ease, and singing while he did it! We changed his worksheet to three squares instead of one, and he didn’t fuss. The amount of work he did was growing to the point where he wrote a five-point paragraph.

Praise. Praise. Praise.

Choice. Choice. Choice.

Life, for all of us, ends up with a series of choices, and kids on the spectrum or with other learning issues, need them more than anyone else, because most of the time they feel completely powerless in a world that swallows them alive and spits them out on the other end broken and bruised.

Choices equate to power. Time and again.

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