Updated: Jun 24, 2021
By Jenna Sage
There are a number of good recipes for a successful inclusive classroom. You need a pinch of proactive strategies, a dash of diverse teaching styles, and a spoonful of scientifically-based instruction. Piece of cake, right? But even with the best recipe, there are times when we struggle with the daily routines and procedures involved in every classroom.
What about chocolate? It may be a survival food for many teachers, but it’s also a great strategy to help smooth a rough transition routine. You see, I’m a big fan of vegetables. I know that they are necessary for a healthy diet. But try allowing the average student to eat chocolate first and then convincing him to eat his vegetables. How many students would devour their chocolate and then munch on some juicy carrots and slender asparagus? Not many, right?
The same concept applies to transitions. Most students wouldn’t prefer to go from an engaging activity to a boring lecture. Students have difficulty moving from high-energy classes like physical education to quiet listening for math or reading. So, instead of creating transitions that go from chocolate to broccoli, create transitions that go from chocolate to chocolate.
Who Likes Chocolate?
The first step is getting to know your students. When you understand their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, you will be better equipped to schedule your lesson plans and activities. You can conduct interest inventories or short surveys of your students. You want to understand the students’ learning styles (auditory, kinesthetic, aural, etc.). With this information, you can build specific transitional activities into your day and lesson plans that address each area.
Chocolate is Chocolate, Right?
Not all chocolate is the same. Have you ever stood in a grocery store candy aisle? There is baker’s chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, milk chocolate, 70% cacao, and chocolate with every imaginable morsel added to it. When you are building your day and planning your lessons, you want to consider what kind of chocolate is the right one, right now, just like creating the perfect cookie dough. As an example, writing is often a challenging task for students. If your lesson plan includes whole group instruction in writing (broccoli, and maybe even cabbage or lima beans to some students) then add some hot fudge with an activity that includes movement and creativity. If you use centers or stations in the classroom, they can’t all be milk chocolate, or else the students will get a belly ache after the second station. Instead, mix up the stations to address multiple learning styles. For example, students could go from an action station to a listening station and then to a creative station.
Build a Chocolate Sandwich
When in doubt, sandwich it out. If you know that you have to move from a highly preferred activity to one less-preferred, let the students know that something fun is embedded into the lesson. For instance, if your daily schedule has language arts after music or art (typically more preferred classes), then create a lesson plan that includes a highly engaging culminating activity. Some ideas might be acting out letter sounds, recreating a play in modern times, or interpreting text by drawing or dancing.
Ring that Dinner Bell
For any transition, you want to have a built-in routine–your dinner bell. Some teachers use a visual prompt like switching the lights on and off. Others use a verbal prompt like “eyes on me” or “three, two, one.” My guess is that some teachers even use an actual dinner bell! When you deliver your transition prompt, do so in one specific place in the classroom or hallway. This is your transition prompting spot, a place never to be used for instruction. You don’t eat your meal in the restroom, do you? Your prompting spot is your dining room table (or in my case, the living room ottoman). Knowing that they only stand in that location for one reason, students know to wait for instructions for the next activity. Soon enough, when you start walking toward that area of the classroom, the students will begin to quiet down and await directions–technically referred to as “stimulus control.”
First Eat Your Vegetables
It’s also good to build in some broccoli-to-chocolate moments. In behavior analysis, we typically call this the Premack Principle, Grandma’s Law or First-Then. The concept works like this: By pairing a less-preferred activity with a preferred one, the more-preferred activity acts as the student’s reward. Eventually, with enough pairing, a student may even begin to like the less-preferred activity because they know something good follows. If they eat their broccoli knowing that they can have chocolate when they’re done… even a stubborn child may start to like broccoli!
And if the recipe calls for broccoli all day, every day… because teachers know that broccoli is unavoidable sometimes… sprinkle some chocolate on it!
Dr. Jenna Sage is currently working as a District Administrator for Special Education. Her position provides opportunities to facilitate IEP meetings, act as a liaison between schools and families, and ensure compliance with district, state, and federal policies. Dr. Sage’s experiences in education have included working as a paraprofessional, substitute teacher, classroom teacher, consultant, trainer and behavior resource teacher. She is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Her passion is providing supports and resources to school staff to ensure student success through compassionate and meaningful education. Dr. Sage can be reached at email@example.com.