What did you say? Do I need a pencil? What do I do when I am finished?

Posted by Kris Baker on 12/7/2018 7:00:00 AM

You should know that by now!  You know what I expect! You should have been paying attention!  These are phrases I hear often as I travel from classroom to classroom observing students for interventions.  As stated in my previous article, each classroom and each setting, from the hallway, to the library and even recess, have different expectations that we assume children understand.  Additionally, each teacher communicates their expectations differently; this includes all forms of communication from the words they use, to their tone, their cadence and the amount of information given.  For example, I once observed a teacher giving a list of ten instructions for a single spelling activity followed by a list of about eight other activities the students could do if they finished the spelling activity.  Keep in mind that the lesson not only involved different steps, but there were unspoken expectations with regard to the materials and supplies needed, as well as behavioral expectations. All of these instructions were verbal.  Many students were lost, and only remembered a few of the steps or started on the activities that they were to do when finished because they missed the initial instructions resulting in classroom consequences.

Executive function skills such as planning, organizing , prioritizing, working memory, processing, sustained attention,  aren’t fully developed until the age of 25. When a teacher gives a list of instructions for a lesson, the students are required to use all of these executive function skills which is why they often miss some of the instruction and misunderstand some of the unspoken expectations.  When a teacher asks students to simply put away certain materials and take out other materials, using only verbal directions, some of those steps and expectations can and will be missed.  Here are a few suggestions that are quick and simple and benefit ALL students.

First, for the take out and put away directions, how about having an empty model desk in the classroom.  Then the teacher can place only the needed materials for the activity on the model desk. This way, students can refer to the visual support of the model desk instead of having to ask repeated questions.  One of the other options is to place the needed materials on a document projector. This is a quick and easy visual support for those students that may need additional time, struggle with sustained attention, are slower processors or struggle with multi-step directions.


One teacher, when the students are working at their seats on writing had a student sit at the document projector and complete their paper as a visual for all students to use.


How about having your expectations projected in class?  You can visually define your expectations for any activity and identify other information such as  what materials, what work, how much work, and the expectations when students finish. This information can then be emailed to resource teachers, parents or students as needed.  Another option is to project a Google Doc with the agenda, materials, homework and other announcements. These Google Docs can be linked to QR codes for students to scan at anytime.  You can then send home the QR codes (for each class, period, or subject) for parents and students. The Google Doc can change daily for the different in-class assignments, homework and other announcements while the QR code never has to change.  See the examples below:


When we provide information regarding our expectations, whether those expectations involve behavior, the actual activity, the materials needed or what students should do when they are finished, it is essential to provide this information in multiple modalities.  If you are only using verbal instructions, the minute you finish talking, your words, those instructions and expectations are gone forever. These visual supports allow the expectations and instructions to remain as long as each student needs them, and can be used at later times when accessed via the QR code, a Google Doc or via a class website or email.  Keeping our expectations and instructions clearly defined and visual benefits ALL students.


Kris Baker, Autism Consultant