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Motivating students can be a challenge, especially when those students have special needs and spend so much of their time working with providers and learning challenging simple tasks. Often times the drills and expectations of students with special needs are very lacking and dull. Our students struggle to stay engaged. That is why, as a SEIT, I love teaching to an event! I can be a great way to work on concrete skills, get the students motivated, and help unite everyone on the team to work towards a meaningful goal.
Do you ever get bored working with your students on the same skills over and over and over again? It can feel like we spend our time doing roughly the same thing again and again with only slight variations.
If that’s how we feel as adults then imagine how the students must feel!?!
I think we can all agree that sometimes we just need to spice things up and work towards something meaningful and exciting for our students.
Once upon a time for me, that was a Bar Mitzvah. An older brother of one of my students was going to have one, and his family obviously wanted my student to attend.
There were a few problems though.
- This student had severe anxiety in crowded loud spaces
- He had to give a speech
- This student had rarely left the house in years
So when his parents asked us what we could do, they weren’t optimistic about our chances of success.
Cut to a few months later, he not only went to the Bar Mizvah and had a great time but did a lovely job reading his speech a the synagogue.
So how did we do that? We taught to an event!
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What is teaching to an event?
Do you know what test prep is? Probably since you can’t work in education without hearing about it these days. Well, it’s like that, but instead of working towards taking a test, you’re working towards completing a meaningful social activity.
When teaching to an event you have to ask yourself, what will your student need to be successful at this event. Which of these skills do they have, and which do they not have?
Then work out a plan with the whole team, and keep the deadline (the date of the event) fresh in everyone’s minds.
If we look at the case of the bar mitzvah, they’ll need to be able to leave the house, be in a crowded space, and speak confidently in front of others.
For the next two months, everything was about building upon those skills, and the whole team had to be working towards those goals.
The speech pathologists worked on the language for the speech and practiced it. OT had taught the student several ways to cope with anxiety in the body, and that left the SEITs in charge of working on getting out of the house and being in crowded spaces.
We all had to be on the same page every step of the way and worked together to help this student improve on these skills.
I didn’t expect complete mastery in only a few months, even if it was the whole team’s focus, but the day after the event, this student was in a much better place than when we started a few months ago.
He had a good time, and yes he had to take a couple of breaks throughout the night. But when the party was over he cried, and for weeks kept asking everyone when we could do it again.
Is it Valuable?
While it might seem like you’re only preparing your student for a niche little event or birthday party or what have you, I do think that teaching to an event is incredibly valuable.
It’s a great motiving factor, especially if the event in question is something the student is motivated by. On top of that, it has clear definable goals and skills that need to be mastered so that the whole team can get behind.
If you look at the Barmitvah example the benefits were obvious. It had started getting that student out of the house and improved his ability to function in less controlled environments.
Those skills didn’t disappear after the event was over, and we were able to build on them. Additionally, the student was less resistant since he had a foundation now.
Teaching to an event can be a great way to kickstart your student on skills that are lagging or hard to motivate them to work on.
Events to Teach To
Events that are great to work towards include family events, religious milestones, and sporting events.
Some of my favorites are
- Birthday Parties
- Religious milestones (Baptisms, Barmitzvahs, and so on)
- Anniversary Parties
- Games (Soccer, Basketball, Hockey, and so on)
- And any other life event worth celebrating
My personal favorite on this list is birthday parties. You can teach your students common games that other children love and will come up again and again.
All my students know how to play pin the tail on the donkey and musical chairs. It’s a great way to work on social skills.
Additionally, having your students help create the decor for their birthday parties can be a great way to work on fine motor skills.
There are tons of fun ways to use big events and parties to work on building skills and meeting goals, as it has a clear deadline, brings teams together, and is motivating for the student.
Teaching to an event might require a lot of planning and collaboration, but the progress and motivation it can provide to students make it well worth the extra effort.
Plus it makes the event so much sweeter. Seeing children with autism and other disabilities have positive experiences out in the world is incredibly rewarding and builds their confidence.
If done right, the event becomes a celebration and reward for all the progress and growth they’ve made.
If you’re concerned about the collaboration element, click here to get my tips and tricks on collaboration as a SEIT.