Unit 2: Identifying ways in which to create the right academic environment for these children.


Return to Main Page of Course: Supporting the Social and Emotional Needs of Children with Disabilities

You May Add to the K-W-L Chart at any time during this unit.

Target Objectives for this Unit:

  • Participants will be able to select and observe best practices in the creation of the right academic environment.
  • Participants will be able to give examples of strategies that improve the classroom environment.


It is important to remember that when the curriculum and classroom environment strategies do not capitalize on the child's strengths and address learning needs, frustration may result. The challenges is to minimize counterproductive experiences, while simultaneously providing positive learning opportunities. Designing these types of successful opportunities for students with social and emotional needs may require that educators change how they plan their instruction, manage their classrooms, and arrange the physical layout of the classroom. These efforts which may seem smaller or unnoticeable to some children may benefit some children greatly.

A sound classroom management system can provide the exact structure that students, with social and emotional needs, need for managing their own needs and behaviors. The following are the most important when managing a classroom:

  • Arranging the physical environment
  • Setting rules and expectations
  • Helping students comply with rules and expectations
  • Scheduling the day
  • Establishing routines and procedures
  • Building a positive classroom climate that provides all students with a variety of opportunities for success.

(Quinn, Osher, Warger, Hanley, Bader, Tate, & Hoffman, 2000, p. 22)

Arranging the Physical Environment Educators may discourage challenging behavior by the way they manage the space around them. Delineating Space. It often helps students to have the classroom space divided into place that have clear purposes. Controlling the degree of stimulation. Teachers may complete control over the amount of visual and auditory stimulation students receive within the classroom, therefore they should be aware that students can become easily distracted. Some easy ways to accommodate such students include covering storage areas, removing unused equipment from sight, replacing a loud fish tank motor with a quieter one, and keeping classroom displays organized. Monitoring high traffic areas. In such areas of the pencil sharper, the water fountain, the trashcan, and the teacher's desk, they can become distracting when another student is using such area. Students should be seated away from these areas while still within proximity or at least eyesight of the teacher or aides in the classroom. There should be procedures taught for using these areas as well, such as one student at a time or raise your hand before leaving seat. Establishing a quiet place. Students may need a quiet and safe place to sit and work, or calm down after an emotional outburst. Study carrels and desk blinders are good for students to use at their own desk. An area could be made such as behind a bookcase as a quiet area. However at all times, students should remain in full view of the teacher. Students benefit from having their own place to call theirs, or having a space to store their belongings from other students as well.

Setting Rules and Expectations At the beginning of the school year, teacher typically establish rules for the classroom. One way that may increase the compliance with such rules is to express them in a positive, concrete terms that describe the behavior that is expected of them, rather than what behavior is not acceptable. For example, "Raise your hand to be called upon to talk", instead of "No Talking". Rules need to be concise in order for students to remember them, short and to the point. Also reminders could be posted around the classroom as well. Students should be encourage, if possible, to help create rules and allow them to feel a sense of ownership and accountability. Consequence should also be logical, fair, predictable, directed at an inappropriate behavior and explained to the children before a consequence is given. Once these rules and expectations are stated, it is even more important for the classroom teacher and aides to assist students in how to follow such rules and expectations.

Helping Students Comply with Rules and Expectations At times, educators may assume that students understand and know how to follow classroom rules that are listed at the front of the classroom, but that is not always the case. Students with emotional disturbance and behavioral problems are especially prone to being punished for rule breaking, even though they sometimes lack the skills necessary to follow those rules. If there is a classroom rule to "listen when others are talking", then students need to be taught to listen. It is not always a skill that is always learned, it may need to be taught to students. Students with disabilities often have difficulty understanding the consequences of their behaviors. If a student does break a rule in the classroom, it is important and will benefit the student to have them explain the consequence for their action, if the child is able to do so. Even if rules are clearly stated and fairly enforced, there may be students who still have difficulty following the rules. This is where the teacher and aides in the classroom, need to evaluate if the child is able to understand the rules in that context. There are situations and times when best-practice procedures do not produce the desired results and behaviors in the classroom. This may be the time when a teacher may need to enlist support from the school psychologist, behavior specialist, the IEP team, special educator, and other support personnel. It may be that the team needs to reconvene to modify the existing behavior invention plan and academic objectives.

Scheduling the Day There are several considerations that might be useful when scheduling activities throughout the day. One being time for students to get calmed down while in a state of transition to a more structures activity can be built into the schedule to allow students to get comfortable for the next activity. Some students may have difficulty maintaining attention for long periods of physically inactive work time, it may be helpful to break large tasks in several smaller ones with short breaks between them to allow students a chance to relax before getting upset or frustrated at the situation.

Establishing Routines and Procedures Establishing routines for how things are done and teaching students how those routines can help them stay on target in the classroom will be very beneficial to the whole classroom. Here are example of simple tactics that educators can use to support students in accomplishing routine tasks; Student Cue Cards: small cards on which transition steps are written can serve as visual cues, they can be taped to the student's desk, written in a notebook, or carried around personally. The teacher or aide can direct the students attention to the card before moving on to a transition period. Reflection Time: Many educators find that having students pause all activity for a moment and reflect on what they are going to do next helps in preparing students for an actual transition. Advance notice: some students find it difficult to cognitively and emotionally disengage from an activity they are absorbed in, so giving the child advance notice prior to the activity ending prepares them for the disengagement and movement/ transition to the next activity. Peer Support: Assigning peer buddy to reinforce and guide students through new routines or activities can at times allow for a more positive transition. Subtle Prompts: A teacher can point to a clock, or show putting away materials which can cue students that it is time for a change. Praise and encouragement can be very useful and effective in preparing for a positive transition to the next activity. Even verbal prompts such as "You have really worked hard on your paper" or "Look how much you have written today", help to focus the student's attention on wrapping up the activity and transitioning to the next one.

Building a Positive Classroom Climate Communication is a large aspect in creating a positive classroom climate. Communicating respect is important to supporting growth in the classroom. For students with disabilities, or emotional and social needs, building a positive rapport through mutual respect and acceptance is the first steps towards establishing trust in the classroom. Teachers need to be actively listening and letting students know that they are being listened to. Eye contact and paraphrasing what the student stated are two simple ways to demonstrate that the teacher is indeed listening to what the child is saying. When students have misbehaved or broken rules, it is important to focus on "what" and "how" questions rather than "why". Students with a history of behavioral difficulties have learned that "why" questions often accompany disciplinary action as well as feeling put on the spot. Tone of the teacher's voice is also important. Questions and conversations should be asked as a genuine effort to help the student understand the behavior, not to yell or look down upon them. It is important for students to talk about themselves, sharing details about their likes and dislikes can open the door to broader achievement and feeling a sense of comfort in the classroom as well. Students need to be aware that is the behavior that they exhibiting that is problematic, that the student as an individual.

Additional Tips for creating a positive classroom climate include learning and using the student's name, yes I know it sounds silly and obvious but not all teacher do this. Learning something about each student, their likes or interests. Hold daily classroom meetings each morning where everyone gathers to help build a sense of community and can provide opportunities for conversation among students and teachers as well. Provide the students with unstructured time, for example recess, where students can practice their social skills with peers. Lastly, make sure you are providing students with an opportunity for them to tell you about the school experience and show that you are interested in their thoughts and concerns. It is vital to knowing how each student feels in a classroom, they should feel comfortable enough to share with you if their level of language allows them to do so.

(National Association of Special Education Teachers, 2001, p. 5)

Video Segments

Collaboration amongst school and service providers is critical for the success and support of all students. Below are a few clips of different classroom management and classroom environment tips.

As you review the following two clips, list the pros and cons of evidence seen in the video comparing the two videos and their elements.

NOW take a look at Clip #1: Flexible Classrooms

NOW take a look at Clip #2: Ineffective Classroom Management

This classroom is a.png

Now Think about the following questions

  • How were the experiences of the students in these videos different?
  • How does a teacher instruct students with disabilities differently?
  • What are your thoughts on collaboration in the classroom among a team of professionals in Clip #1?
  • How could the teacher in Clip #2 restricted the classroom for better classroom management?

OPTIONAL EXTENDED VIDEOS The following links leads you to additional videos on classroom management and environments for your review. They discuss educational strategies used with students with disabilities and the effect it has on the classroom.

Effective Classroom Management Tips

Teaching Students with Autism

Questions for Reflection:


  • Do you have additional tips for classroom set up and management?
  • Is there a way to get students involved in classroom environment?
  • If you have a classroom now, would you change anything based off of these tips or management strategies?

What Can You Add to the K-W-L Chart At This Time?!

Congratulations! You Have Completed Unit 2 and You May Now Move On To: UNIT 3


National Association of Special Education Teachers (2001). Promoting Positive Social Interactions in an Inclusion Setting for Students with Learning Disabilities.

Quinn, M., Osher, D., Warger, C., Hanley, T., Bader, B,D., Tate, R., & Hoffman, C. (2000). Educational Strategies For Children with Emotional and Behavioral Problems. Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice American Institutes for Research.

YouTube Videos