Sunday, March 8, 2015

Effective Classroom Facilitation






Photo source: www.learn2learnclinic.org, www.specialeducationguide.com



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A classroom facilitator, or “shadow”, is someone who goes into the school setting with their client to help them benefit from the educational environment. There could be multiple reasons why classroom facilitation is necessary: problem behaviors, difficulty with group instruction, child is not toilet trained, social skill impairments, or to help the child function appropriately in the least restrictive environment. Sometimes a school setting may be unfamiliar with ASD and require a 1:1 aide not necessarily because the child needs it, but so the teacher can learn from the aide the most effective ways to work with the child.

A sad conundrum I see many families go through is their child is placed in a general education classroom where they struggle to keep up academically or stigmatize peers with their behaviors, OR they are placed in a special education classroom where they are bored, not being cognitively challenged, and learn lots of new problem behaviors. These choices pretty accurately fit the saying “stuck between a rock and a hard place”. When it comes to school placements, there may always be some degree of dissatisfaction but it’s important to consider the difference classroom facilitation could have on a child’s ability to meet the demands of a classroom setting.

It’s important to understand what a great shadow does and does not do, before attempting to start facilitation with a client. When I first started seeing clients at school, I wasn’t given much information about my role. It was described to me as “helping my client be a part of the class”. Looking back on those experiences, I misunderstood my role to be prompting the child all day long  from a very close proximity. What can happen if you cause your client to depend on you too much as their shadow is the classroom kind of melts away and you and your client become an island. Your client will only respond to you, the teacher will tend to move around you/your client (treat you like your own class), and the other students will completely ignore you and your client. All of these are indicators that you aren’t facilitating properly, and don’t understand your role.

Photo source: www.barnesandnoble.com

Think of this like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You can be a shadow who is too HOT, too COLD, or just right:

  •        Too HOT – You hover over your client, and use physical prompting throughout most of the day. You adapt every task your client is given, and constantly make separate assignments just for them: if the class is drawing a picture of their family, you take your client to the library to read books. You miss some opportunities to encourage social interaction because you and your client were too busy playing with each other, instead of your client playing with peers. You rarely ask the teacher questions or give her any input/strategies because you are too busy tying your clients shoes, wiping their nose, or correcting their worksheets. Step back!
  •  Too COLD – You stand or sit in the back of the room, and occasionally look up to check on your client and see what they are doing. Mainly you collect data, or record notes on your clipboard. You miss some opportunities to prompt or to encourage social interaction because you have to dig in your bag to find your clicker, or because you were graphing the frequency of vocal outbursts.  You often step out of the classroom to call your Supervisor or to send long text messages about your ideas for classroom modifications. When the teacher asks for your  help because the client is exhibiting problem behaviors, you tell the teacher you are just observing and don't want to interfere. Step up!
  •  Just right- Based on the needs of your client, you move in close when you need to but stay a good distance away when they are doing fine. You rotate around the room instead of permanently standing right next to your client or at the back of the room. If prompting is needed, it is the least intrusive necessary. You interact with the whole classroom, not just your client, to build rapport with the teacher and students. You collect data and notes during breaks or when your client is engaged with a task. Otherwise, you keep your eyes and ears alert for social opportunities, triggers/antecedents to problem behavior, or learning scaffolding opportunities. You encourage independence in your client and only modify classroom tasks when necessary, and after speaking to the teacher. You walk a delicate line between supporting the teacher and fading into the background so the teacher can learn how to teach your client. Keep up the good work!


When working as a school shadow, think of yourself as an excellent paraprofessional. Great parapro’s do not hover over the children, and they also don’t sit down in the back of the room all day long. They assist as needed, they discreetly steer away a student who is attempting to swat at a peer, they bend down to tell a student quietly to have a seat at their desk, and they are there to support the teacher in managing the classroom and teaching the curriculum.
A great shadow is not the teacher’s best buddy, but you also aren’t there to be the teacher’s enemy. As an ABA professional, you possess knowledge and training the teacher may not have. Part of your job is to eventually fade yourself out of the classroom, at which point the teacher should be prepared to use ABA strategies to prompt your client, reinforce your client, and keep your client on task.

Working with a client in a classroom is SO different than the typical in-home session. That intensive 1:1 attention needs to be kept at a minimum, and the client needs to be able to receive instruction from multiple adults or peers, as well as work for a delayed system of reinforcement (Don’t pop Skittles in your clients mouth every time they perform a task. Yes, I have actually seen that happen). 

The ideal role of a school shadow is to make sure that the client is equipped to meet classroom expectations which can include specific behavioral, emotional, social, and academic criteria: Can the client raise his hand to answer a question? Can the client manage conflict with peers without becoming aggressive? Can the student easily transition from one task to the next, or from one room to the next? Can the client join an ongoing conversation and stay on topic? Can the client independently use the restroom, including first requesting the restroom (if appropriate)? Can the client sit and wait appropriately if they finish work early? Can the client differentiate between when to imitate peer behavior and when not to imitate peer behavior? These are just a few of the many specific skills that children are expected to perform in a classroom setting, every single day.


For more helpful hints about classroom facilitation, check out this training handout.

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