Most teachers understand the importance of “experimenting” or experiencing using a hands-on approach. This type of learning is particularly valuable for children with autism and other special education needs, such as auditory processing challenges, executive function disorder, and visual-spatial difficulties.
A child who sees or perceives in a way that is different from what you or I might experience may not understand verbal directions or explanations. Or, she may understand only parts of the directions that are being given. It may be challenging for her to connect what she is hearing to a mental image or a kinesthetic response.
Modelling your expectations for her will begin the learning process but the real power will be in “doing with.” In the same way that a golf pro might put his hand over your hand to help you achieve a specific grip, a teacher may use a hand-over-hand approach to help a child personally experience the execution of movements required to hold a pencil, press down on paper, and move from a top-down, and left to right position. The repetition of these actions will help the child with special needs learn firsthand, not only through auditory and visual means, but by kinaesthetically feeling the muscles and joints setting pathways to the brain as they move, over and over again. For children who experience visual spatial challenges, these supported and precisely practised movements reduce the area of focus and inspire confidence in developing skills.
The learning by doing strategy can be applied to a wide range of learning areas from physical to academic: sports, writing, reading with fluency and expression, building models to solve mathematical problems, etc. The uses of frameworks like “the answer sandwich” teach children to apply a practised model to show their comprehension of texts or to apply higher levels of thinking.
Please share your ideas about how you teach students using a learning by doing approach…
Thérèse McNamara is a school administrator, special education resource teacher and mother. In her 30+ years as an educator, she has worked as a classroom teacher, computer/curriculum consultant, and education officer. She holds a Masters of Education degree with a focus on Literacy and has taught additional qualification courses for 3 universities. She has reviewed and written a number of professional learning resources and supports the application of evidence-based, best practices to support all students.