Four Components of Highly Structured Teaching
Highly Structured Teaching, an adapted version of TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children) underpins the practice of my classroom. I first started learning about and implementing this approach in 2015, where I worked closely with S.P who had just undergone TEACCH training in America. We began the year sharing the class, but by the end I took over the teaching responsibilities. Our class became a “pilot class” and throughout the year I was observed implementing Highly Structured Teaching, by both my colleagues and the wider education community.
There are four components of Highly Structured Teaching:
- Physical Organisation
- Scheduling (Visual schedules)
- Work systems
- Task organisation
Another important component of this approach is understanding the culture of autism. Generally speaking, students on the spectrum find visual communication easier to comprehend than verbal and so the use of meaningful, intentional and relevant language is encouraged.
1. Physical Organisation
One of the main principles of TEACCH is that the physical environment should be clearly laid out and free of clutter. This is the set-up of my classroom at the beginning of the year. You’ll notice that I have limited what I put on the walls, that there’s no objects hanging from the ceiling and the amount of children’s work displayed is minimal. It’s a little different from what most people imagine when they think of a primary classroom. The reason for these changes are to minimise distractions and avoid over-stimulation from too many objects so that children are able to focus on their learning.
The table to the far-left is my ‘Independent with Support’ table. This is generally where my SSO sits to work with children. I set up activities here such as matching the alphabet or a sensory activity that requires supervision. Some students are able to complete these tasks mostly independently, but may need some assistance. The tables with the numbered and coloured trays on them are tables for ‘Student-directed tasks’, that is, the work completed here is able to be completed independently by the student. I began the year with two of these tables, but now have 3 students who are able to work independently for a long period of time. I’ve now set up another ‘Student-directed task’ table to the left. The table to the right is my ‘Teacher-directed’ table, where I work 1:1 with children. The smaller table facing the window isn’t intended for work. I’ve set up a box with various fidget toys that students can choose and then sit at the “break table” for five minutes.
I’ve also attempted to implement the same theory in my Gross Motor area. My students know that this is the room that they use for exercise as they can see the equipment laid out. Last year I also wanted to clearly define where each movement would take place, so used tape to show where the trampoline goes. The horizontal and zig-zag lines were for students to follow while they were using the scooter board. Tape hasn’t proved practical this year, but I’ve added more equipment to this area, including a crash mat and a wedge.