• Abhishek Panchal

Channeling creativity in students with learning differences: Classroom management in the art studio

The Classroom management module by the American Psychological Association (APA) underlines the importance of using effective classroom management strategies at the universal level through a tiered model. They serve as prevention and intervention methods to promote positive outcomes for students in the classroom. In addition to the classroom expectations mentioned in Tier 1. The Gateway School of Mumbai reinforces a standard set of strategies across the school. It includes school-wide regulations for verbal and physical bullying: including reinforcement of verbal-visual cues and prompting students to maintain personal space in a structured — as well as unstructured setting. The uniformity in language across school facilitates an effective reinforcement of these expectations.

The APA module recommends that teachers avoid uncertain classroom strategies. During my initial years at the school, I spent a considerable amount of time observing behavior and classroom management strategies used by my colleagues in their classrooms. I adopted these practices in the art studio. It was wise to establish these fundamental strategies for setting basic classroom expectations. It ensured a familiarity and uniformity in expectations for the students, without overwhelming them with vague expectations in the art studio. The studio is equipped with a facility to work on a table and the floor. The former art therapist used both arrangements for her sessions. In the following years, as I aspired to develop a skill-based studio art curriculum, I gradually shifted the existing studio environment to an alternate setting — suitable for studio practice using new art equipment. For students, it primarily involved transitioning to an independent desk-chair seating arrangement and working on an easel.

In elementary school, a unit required students to produce a 2'X2' mixed media painting on canvas. During the introductory classes, I established classroom routines besides teaching the nuances of handling studio material to thirteen elementary school students. As the students struggled to settle in a designated spot on the studio floor, they would occasionally get into a conflict with each other. The core philosophy of the school believes that a child can learn when their body is ready. It involves appropriate seating, supported by sensory equipment: for example, a lap pad. The proximity of the student to the board and teacher is equally important. In the subsequent classes, I focused on classroom management. I created an entry ticket to the classroom. The students would line up outside the studio. Going down on my knees at the door, I would greet every student with a high-five. I would make it a point to tell each student how excited I was to see them. It helped me build rapport with the students.

While preparing for class, I would revisit the observation data, which included peer structures, students who were required to be seated apart, and placed model students across the circle. To decide seating positions for the group, I marked circles on the floor with chalk and wrote the names of each student inside the marking. It helped the students to identify their spots within the circle, avoiding any struggle and saved valuable instructional time. If a student was late to class, it ensured that they entered and occupied their place without disturbing the group. To delegate responsibility — via turn-taking, the students were given a turn every week to collect and distribute materials from predesignated counters in the studio and clean the materials post-class. Before the class, I would write the role next to the student names on the board. A consistent reinforcement over the weeks established familiarity with the routine. Two students in the group needed an explicit classroom agenda with movement breaks. The classroom agenda written over a laminated sheet was taped next to their spot. This way, I could easily redirect them back to the task. The classroom noise and students speaking would irk a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), making it challenging for him to focus. His advisor would preprogram him before the art class, and eventually, I allowed him to carry his iPod to the studio. A minor accommodation helped him immensely to focus on his painting.

Over the years, I have learned that building a rapport with the students is significant before they are engaged in learning. Behaviors are normal. They could originate from different reasons. However, they are manageable by consistent structures, positive reinforcements, and making learning modifications. These strategies, however, require an assessment of the students and the learning context. Thus observations are a key to developing and reinforcing classroom management strategies. In my case, consistent collaboration with student advisors, special educators, and the students themselves helped me immensely to understand the students beyond their Individualised Education Program (IEP). Every student learns differently. No solution has a standard application to support learning differences.

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