Class Environment

A big consideration in prepping for the workshops is the class environment, or how things are arranged and set up in the room to best support student learning.

One important component of design for the sessions I run is a circular structure.

I do this because I want the poets to be able to reference one another. The social-emotional and self-expressive aspects of these workshops are just as important as the academic and in order to facilitate these empathic aspects I need to set up the room in a way that promotes communication between poets.

A circle of classrrom chairs, black and one blue, on a tiled floor. In the middle of the circle of chairs is a smaller circle of colored cards. In the foreground is a classroom dry-erase whiteboard.

A circle of classrrom chairs, black and one blue, on a tiled floor. In the middle of the circle of chairs is a smaller circle of colored cards. In the foreground is a classroom dry-erase whiteboard.

For example, in my younger workshops where I use the movement cards I put the circle of cards in the center of the larger seating circle. This gives each poet a kind of performance for their turn and then I still keep an open space for writing on the board, trying to keep it so that the poem is a kind of part of the circle.

I like to keep the room clear as well, nothing but the seating and activity.

It’s important to note as well, that teachers, therapists, and other facilitators are sitting (or standing in the case of other workshops) with the poets. This equanimity in seating is twofold in that it’s a visual representation of the fact that all voices are valued, student voice on the same tier as adult voice, and it allows for seamless 1:1 support. Whether that support is because a therapist is using this session as a group mandate and needs to work in close capacity to fulfill goals or because a poet needs sensory support in a moment of challenge, this set up makes it so that there are no dramatic/run across the room/jump in the middle of the activity/ stop everything situations that arise.

It’s pretty simple, but taking small considerations can make big improvements in peer learning.

If you enjoyed the read, help me keep content like this free and become a poetry Patron!

Sensory Supports

Working with a population of learners who have a wide array of sensory needs means adapting the classroom space to meet those individual needs. As I reflect on this past semester I wanted to create a little list of some easy sensory supports to include as part of a workshop, or classroom, environment.

 One easy thing is alternative seating like a yoga ball. The bouncing of the yoga ball can help offer input for students to be more attentive and engaged in the lesson. The one difficulty is sometimes everyone wants a turn to sit on the ball, whether it’s right for their sensory system or not, so establishing it as special seat for an individual student right from the get-go is important. 

Tiled classroom with a white board. Black chairs arranged in a half-circle around the white board. In the middle of the chairs is a teal yoga ball intended to be a seat. On the board can be seen some writing.

Tiled classroom with a white board. Black chairs arranged in a half-circle around the white board. In the middle of the chairs is a teal yoga ball intended to be a seat. On the board can be seen some writing.

Another easy tool is a weighted blanket, providing deep pressure to help students remain seated and regulated who might otherwise want to move around to seek sensory input. I’ve found there isn’t as much temptation from other students around these blankets, so it’s a nice, low impact addition to the classroom space.

The student it’s intended for can keep it on their body, take it off when it’s their turn to go to the board and then put it back over them or have a staff put it over them as the other poets take their turns.

 

Teal and dark blue weighted blanket sitting on top of a black chair in a tiled classroom.

Teal and dark blue weighted blanket sitting on top of a black chair in a tiled classroom.

Another, subtler and smaller form of deep pressure are hand squeezes to rhythm. A colleague of mine offers this to a poet in one of the rhythm and movement based workshops I run. It’s a simple tactile cue that helps the poet stay attuned to the group activity while also giving their body a bit of support.

For the workshops that are doing writing on paper rather than the white board I like to offer writing utensils that have different sizes and textures. This way every poet should be able to find a tool that fits comfortably in their hand.

Clear mason jar of writing utensils on a tiled classroom floor. The Jar has plastic ball point pens with both smooth and rough grips, pens with cardboard wrapping, regular sized pencils, and giant pencils.

Clear mason jar of writing utensils on a tiled classroom floor. The Jar has plastic ball point pens with both smooth and rough grips, pens with cardboard wrapping, regular sized pencils, and giant pencils.

These are a few ideas I have, but I’d love to hear what else is out there and what other artists and educators use in their spaces!

If you enjoyed the read, help me keep content like this free and become a poetry Patron!

Braille Trail in Watertown Riverfront Park

It’s summer vacation! Which for me means hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail with my brother. While I’m off on trail, I wanted to share a cool hiking path I came across when I was staying with my friend in Boston for the Berklee ABLE Assembly.

Charles River in the background around mid-morning. A gray brick walk way is visible leading up from the river. The bricks are in field of grass with some leafless bushes planted in between. In the foreground are large rocks forming a little barricade between the grass and a gray, cement, sidewalk.

Charles River in the background around mid-morning. A gray brick walk way is visible leading up from the river. The bricks are in field of grass with some leafless bushes planted in between. In the foreground are large rocks forming a little barricade between the grass and a gray, cement, sidewalk.

Along the Charles River Path, a walkway and bike path that stretches from Watertown, MA all the way into downtown Boston, there’s a section dedicated to help individuals who are blind and visually impaired get out into nature. The aptly named Braille Trail is a lovely stretch of trail right beside the Charles.  A press release from Wicked Local Watertown describes the park quite accurately:

“a crescent-shaped trail of a quarter mile, for blind as well as for seeing visitors. The trail is marked by a guide wire that runs along the edge and which users can hold as they visit the trail. The interior of the trail is a sensory park, which includes a marimba bench and large wooden boats on the ground for visitors to climb on and sit in. There are also walls and logs for visitors to interact with.” [1]

Three wooden objects suspended on a metal string, two rectangles on the left and right and in the middle a cube. A large, cement pole with indistinguishable writing is in the middle of the string behind the cube. Further in the background is a small park with trees and lawn.

Three wooden objects suspended on a metal string, two rectangles on the left and right and in the middle a cube. A large, cement pole with indistinguishable writing is in the middle of the string behind the cube. Further in the background is a small park with trees and lawn.

The Perkins School for the Blind is right across the street from the trail and they were a partner in it’s development with the Massachusetts DCR[2].

Blue sky and few clouds frame an old, brick tower. The bricks are sandstone in color and the tower is gothic in design. A green banner reads “Perkins School for the Blind.” In the foreground are trees in a park sloping uphill to the road, as denoted by a steel barrier.

Blue sky and few clouds frame an old, brick tower. The bricks are sandstone in color and the tower is gothic in design. A green banner reads “Perkins School for the Blind.” In the foreground are trees in a park sloping uphill to the road, as denoted by a steel barrier.

As an educator and hiker, it feels like a real triumph, the coordination of diverse education and public interest to create a singular nature path. Walking along the trail was a real treat and if you find yourself in the Boston area, I suggest you make your way out to Watertown and check it out for yourself!

Four images in row:

Left most is a wooden block with English and Braille reading “Sphere” clearly with other writing difficult to read from the photo.

Next is another wooden block with English and Braille reading “Cylinder” clearly with other writing difficult to read from the photo.

Then a steel concrete pole behind a metal rope with a wooden sphere and cylinder. No writing is visible on these wooden figures

Fourth, all the way on the right, a dirt walking path with a modern design bench. The bench is cement and wood with the wooden panels placed both directions, one facing the Charles River, the other looking out to a park that’s out of frame of the photo.

Sources:

[1] http://watertown.wickedlocal.com/news/20160721/braille-trail-officially-open-at-watertown-riverfront-park

[2] http://www.perkins.org/stories/new-riverfront-park-makes-nature-accessible

If you enjoyed the read, help me keep content like this free and become a poetry Patron!