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Why does structure for students in Special Education matter so much? Why does structure for students matter at all? I can tell you exactly why structure matters. Structure is one of the most important things educators can offer their students regardless of if they have a disability. Children need consistent structure to know what to expect from their day and what is expected of them.
Do you watch Abbot Elementary?
If the answer is no, it should be yes, so watch it now.
Do you remember that episode where Ava has to sub for Janine and doesn’t even write the date on the board?
Ava put music on; they drew because music meant drawing. Ava sat in the chair by the rug; they expected a story because that was the story chair.
Janine had established a routine for them, and they were unmoored when Ava did not follow it.
Well, Gregory was totally correct when he lectured her about that. Small things like that matter a lot to students. It’s how they start their day and signals to them that school is about to start.
The day’s structure is even more important for our students with disabilities. But why? What’s the research and science say?
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Why Structure Matters
You have very little control over your world when you’re a child. It might feel that way when you’re an adult too, but let’s focus on the kids for now.
When you’re a child, the world around you is huge, and you have little control over what you do for most of your day.
Adults tell you when to go to school and what school work to do; if you don’t, you face consequences.
Their lunch is scheduled, and their recess and breaks are scheduled. Sometimes even bathroom breaks can be restricted (and that’s a big problem).
If that were me, it would leave me feeling very anxious. It did leave me feeling very anxious.
Click here to see more about how I teach with OCD.
Structure can help alleviate those fears and concerns. You come to school, you know there will be announcements, the pledge of allegiance, and a morning meeting, and you’ll go on with your day.
While you might not have control over your day, you know what is coming and what is expected of you.
You can rely on these things in this world you can’t control.
Why Structure Matters in Special Education
Structure is even more important for our students with disabilities.
They have the same need for control and clear schedules as our students in general education, but they also need it to learn and improve behaviors.
Structure can lead to generalization
I’m going to pause to tell you a story. I was still working as a one-on-one SEIT in someone’s home.
The student had been dealing with some frustrations lately and punching people. We had built a structure around how to respond to that, and it was putting him in a corner for three minutes to help him get his body and emotions back under control.
He learned that if he punched, that was our response, and he tested it on everyone, and the punching was decreasing.
Then one day, he grabbed his family’s remote and chucked it at the wall, breaking it.
He looked at me.
I looked at him.
And we both knew what was going to happen.
Consistency in disciplines and rewards helps with behavior management. Students learn the negatives and positives related to each behavior when you’re consistent. If you’re not consistent, it’s just a thing that happened once.
It goes beyond that, though.
Without consistency, you can’t get improvement in anything, including IEP goals.
A good IEP goal will need to be worked on repeatedly, consistently, and always. You have to consistently work with them towards achieving and meeting their goals.
That is why structure matters. You can’t get consistency or progress without it.
It’s the backbone of emotional health for kids and academic growth.
People underestimate how important structure and routine is in special education. Our kids need to know what to expect, what consequences they’ll face, and what positive outcomes they’ll have.
Not only that, though, structure provides the foundation for the consistency you need to help children grow and reach their IEP goals.
Suppose you’re looking to make your teaching life easier in addition to providing structure. In that case, you can join my email list to access my free resource library, which is full of free printable resources that are great for special education teachers.