Last week brought you some examples of process-oriented learning. This week, we continue with this topic. We heard Rae Leeper say that at the Rebecca School, this process looks different depending on the developmental level of the student. Julia Feltus from the Rebecca School provides some examples in this week’s podcast.

Facilitating process-oriented learning with developmental level in mind

by Affect Autism

The “D”, the “I”, the “R”, and Process over Product

Process-oriented learning is used to apply the Developmental, Individual differences, Relationship-based (DIR) model at the Rebecca School. Staff take into account where the students are developmentally, their personal and unique sensory processing profiles and other individual differences, and form safe, warm, and nurturing relationships so the students trust them.

Head teacher of the classroom, Julia Feltus, says that when she is designing curriculum, she is always thinking about the students’ developmental capacities: Are they regulated? Are they able to share attention? Are they able to sustain engagement? She’s also thinking about their interests and their passions (recall the affinities-based learning discussion last week).

When she teaches, she always has a few different activities in the back of her head, based on how the kids present in that moment. They are currently reading Hansel and Gretel.

If there are students who are a bit upregulated or dysregulated and need to move their bodies, she might make an obstacle course where they walk through the (imaginary) forest, picking up pebbles along the way.

She also has teaching assistants to help out when children need to be met where they are at if they are not “in it” with the group. They might go and do an obstacle course in the hallway.

Moving around will help the students get regulated so they’re able to sustain attention and engagement for a longer period of time.

For the kids who are at the higher capacities, such as being able to answer more abstract questions, they might be building witch houses, figuring out where to buy supplies, and wondering what witches would eat. Julia is also ready at any time to throw away her plan if a student has an idea or interest.

She will go with that because that’s how the students will be engaged for a longer period of time. For example, a student decided he wanted them to re-write the story and have the children eat the witch. So she went with it. This allows the students to release the higher level skills. It’s about the process not the product.

This also helps the students learn about the sense of time and work on rigidity. Some times there’s not enough time for a lesson. A student will say, “Hey it’s time for yoga now!” Julia will say “But we’re working on something different now”. Life is not predictable. This is a natural way to work on changes when things don’t happen as you expect.

Teaching to different developmental levels

Julia’s class has a Community Foods Group, run with a speech therapist. Each week they have a new food and predict what it might be. She has a mystery bag so the students can feel and smell the mystery food but not look yet.

Students of all developmental and sensory capacities can participate. Some kids don’t like slimy or sticky things so they can smell it, others can explore it through touch.

This provides a lot of different ways to explore the same thing so no student is turned off and can join the group in whatever way they are able to. Julia also shared in the podcast the example summer topic of exploring “transportation” in different ways with her students.

The Social Challenge

In last week’s podcast, Dave Nelson highlighted the group process of co-regulation. This week, Julia tells us about how she facilitates perspective-taking and frustration tolerance in her group of students. It’s about getting the students to participate together in the activity.

In her literacy lesson last week, the students were trying to explain why Hansel sticks out a chicken bone instead of his finger when he was locked in the cage by the witch. Some of the students understood that he was trying to trick the witch, but others didn’t. So she had them try to explain to the other peers by acting out the scene, which solidified their understanding.

This really helped the students work on regulation because the ones who didn’t understand had to tolerate their frustration and the others had to take another’s perspective and wait for the others to understand. Julia says that you’re really trying to glue the students’ experiences together.

Facilitating Process is about the Just Right Challenge

Children work together to set the table for lunch at the Rebecca School. There were no forks one day. Some kids know where the forks are kept and how to get more. The staff tries to shift them to “how can we help our friend who doesn’t know?” by perhaps saying “there’s none here… where else can we look?

Here both students get the just-right challenge because the helper student is widening capacity 4 to understand the other’s perspective, while the recipient student’s learning of how to figure out what to do when there are no forks is being scaffolded and supported by the helper student.

The hardest jump in development is from the third to the fourth capacity. A few of Julia’s students are at the cusp. The students who have the higher-level skills are filling in the holes at the bottom and the others are just getting there.

One student lost his blue cup. They only had a pink one. For over two weeks, he and Julia worked on what they would do. He wanted to colour it blue, but it washed off. Then they painted it, but the same thing happened.

The process is so important and so meaningful.

Julia Feltus

Head Teacher, Rebecca School

Then the student noticed a peer who had a milk drink he really likes, so he took off the wrapping and laminated it and taped it around the pink cup so he’d have a cup like his friend’s milk drink. It wasn’t blue, but he liked it, and it was his idea. What was important to Julia was the 2-week process it took him to get there.

If something is easy all the time, we won’t know how to get through it when something is hard. The just-right challenge facilitates a necessary part of learning and growing.

Co-Regulating Through the Challenges

When unpredictable things happen, there are students who drop down to the first capacity. The staff right away will change how they interact in the moment: they drop down to co-regulate until the child is ready. Julia gave us another example of a child who had an idea for a new Disney show with one of the teaching assistants as the star.

He couldn’t think of how to show the T.A. the Disney logo and wanted a phone to show her. They don’t use technology, for the most part, at the Rebecca School, though, so the student became really distressed. The staff helped him through it by co-regulating and then problem-solving. He was finally able to draw the logo to show her what he meant.

Julia gave another example of one student passing out plates. Some are blue while the rest are white. One student got a blue plate and was really upset. Instead of giving him a white plate, they helped him work through it. She co-regulated saying, “I can see you’re upset“, mirroring his affect on her face and drew emoji’s on a white board of what he was feeling. After about 15 minutes he was ok and said “maybe tomorrow I’ll get the white plate“.

Co-regulating is about the “It’s going to be ok. We’re going to be ok. We’ll make it to the other end.” The staff scaffolds the students through the process so they don’t give up. Next, the staff reassures the student once he finally “gets it”, and later reflects with the student that “You did it!

It’s all about the Relationship

The students in these examples are able to get through their distress because of their Relationship with the staff member. Julia says that the students need to be able to trust you and feel comfortable because we’re asking them to be really vulnerable. She says that the Relationship is the most regulating thing for them–moreso than sensory regulation.

The “R”, or “Relationship” in the DIR model is empathic staff constantly attuning to the students. They are always co-regulating and practicing frustration tolerance and problem-solving in a loving and respectful way.

Dr. Gil Tippy, the clinical director at Julia’s school has pointed out to us before the importance of moving from the concrete to the abstract world where you realize that if you are really thirsty and want some water, it doesn’t matter if your cup is blue or pink because it’s the same water inside. Julia says that with a good Relationship, you can see where the students are on their road to abstraction.

In her Hansel and Gretel example her students helped to make the gingerbread house. One student may choose to decorate it with graham cracker cookies and candy, while others decide they want to make it out of McDonald’s hashbrowns, hot dogs, and french fries.

For the staff, it’s always about moving them towards abstraction by applying that just-right challenge: “How can we make it a little bit different?” and “How else can we make it different? Can we use a different colour candy? What else could we use?” Once you have the relating and communicating, which you’re still always working on, the staff will inspire thinking in these ways.

If you found this post and podcast informative and/or helpful, please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter. Also, if you have any comments or examples of using process-oriented learning yourself, please consider commenting below in the Comments section.

Until next week… here’s to affecting autism!

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