In The Classroom

The Year of the Visual Schedule – Part 1

I’ve been working in student services for nearly 5 years now, and therefore writing individualized plans for equally as long. A standard adaptation in all of my plans over the years (seriously, probably in every single plan I have written) has been to “provide a visual schedule” for the student in question. I’m embarrassed to say that when including this adaptation in plans over the years, I never really gave it much thought. I just assumed all teachers were doing this anyways. This was a misunderstanding on my part, mostly because I didn’t have a clear understanding of what a visual schedule was and how it worked. If like I did, you assume that displaying the day’s schedule on the board means you can tick that box, stick around to learn more about visual schedules and how to use them.

My guess is that in most classes teachers have the day’s schedule displayed on a corner of their board at the front of the room. In some cases it will be a handwritten plan of the day, in other cases it may even include nice visuals next to the words. Both may be enough for some of our students, but through much collaboration with my division’s positive behaviour support team this year, I have learned that many students need more than a simple schedule displayed at the front of the class.

Because I have had such success since my “visual schedule aha moment”, I feel compelled to share how I get started and what my team’s visual schedules look like. I will be sharing more specifically about the individualized schedules we have put in place for certain students, but I also now encourage teachers to use this format for their whole class schedule. As we know, universal design supports all of our students, so why not?! Knowing what I know now, I would actually encourage teachers to start at the whole class level and then individualize as they see the need.

My very first “real visual schedule!”

What is the purpose of a visual schedule?

Think of how lost you feel when you misplace your daily planner or phone in which you keep track of important dates, events and what’s coming up next. Or the PD event where the presenter doesn’t display an outline of the day, and the day seems to drag. We often assume that our students know what is coming up next or that they are checking the board to find out. Or, we don’t realize how much they also appreciate knowing what their day looks like. For our struggling students, a personalized visual schedule is a key part in providing a structured and predictable environment.

Who should have a visual schedule?

Individualized schedules have been working so well for my team and me  this year, that honestly, they have become my first course of action for students displaying difficult behaviour in class. They are also helpful for kids with autism, those who are anxious, those who struggle with transitions, or those with language disabilities. Really, the short answer is, they are useful for all of our students.

A whole class version of the visual schedule I have been using with my students. The schedule on the right displays what they will be doing from arrival till first recess. The blue and green are used as “first this…then that.”

Why do they work?

I think the reason my team is having so much success with these visual schedules is that they are kind of a catch all in that they serve a variety of purposes and fulfill lots of different needs.

     Visual schedules:

  • Reduce anxiety by allowing students to see what is coming up next (they are not left guessing and thus feel more secure).
  • Allow students to see all that they have accomplished throughout their day (like scratching things off of a “to do” list).
  • Provide tactile stimulation (they like moving things around).
  • Motivate students to work towards a preferred activity later in their plan.
  • Assist with transitions.
  • Help to keep students on task.
  • Provide structure and predictability.
  • Help maintain good behaviour.

In my next post I would like to share how I get started, specifics about the visual schedules I have been creating, and how it has changed things for them and the adults working with them. Stay tuned!

2 thoughts on “The Year of the Visual Schedule – Part 1

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