What Can Teachers Learn From Occupational Therapists

Topics: Building Capacity

Flexible learning environments meet the needs of every child – sometimes in ways that can surprise even the most experienced teacher.Flexible learning environments meet the needs of every child – sometimes in ways that can surprise even the most experienced teacher.

Marysville Exempted Village School District in Marysville, Ohio, recently tapped Pam Felix, the district’s occupational therapist, to deliver professional development to 150 educators to better help them understand neuroscience-backed strategies to support every child in the classroom. She asked them to think about each child’s preferences, any sensory processing challenges they might encounter and how a few nontraditional approaches might help improve students’ focus.

She encouraged teachers to address learning preferences in a few easy ways.

For visual learners:

  • gel pens and felt tip markers
  • shining a light directly on the task

For auditory learners:

  • nature sounds, monotones, classical music, soft volume and a predictable rhythm can be calming
  • to help children feel more alert, vary the intensity of pitch, 60 beats per minute to match internal heartbeat, great for independent seatwork

For tactile learners:

  • use a firm touch and warm temperatures to promote calm
  • alertness can be promoted through a light touch, cool temperatures and gentle but quick swiping movements

Felix also explored how scents can be used in the classroom, and can be emotional triggers for some students. Vanilla and lavender scents are calming, while citrus and peppermint can increase alertness. She also challenged teachers to think about how those students who fidget might benefit from chewing on something like gum, which research has shown can increase memory and retention by as much as 30 percent.

Personalized learning environments invite teachers and students to take risks – to think differently about challenges and work together to solve them in unique ways. The more environments can be tailored to students, and the better the teacher can understand each child’s individual needs, the more successful everyone will be.

Have more questions about what learning looks like in a competency-based classroom? We’ve got answers.