SETSS is a uniquely useful setting to support students with developing independence. Students with disabilities at our school often receive SETSS because of a lack of executive functioning skills. It is my job as the SETSS provider to help identify the barriers in place preventing students from working independently and then scaffold tasks in a way that makes independent work accessible. It would be great if there was one technique that I could teach every student to use, however, the reason they have SETSS is because their needs are more unique and require individualization. Some students struggle with reading, with writing, with organization, with attention, some have emotional challenges that make academic work difficult. Fortunately figuring out barriers and developing individualized strategies is a challenge that I enjoy.
Sule struggles with organization. His inability to find the resources he needs to begin any assignment is his primary barrier. His backpack looks like a recycling bin. When we first began working together three years ago Sule needed adult support to develop an organization system for his materials and he required daily check ins to ensure its maintenance. Now, Sule develops and maintains his own organization with some adult intervention. While he’s improved significantly, organization is still a barrier for him. In SETSS class Sule regularly sits down in front of a computer and waits for me to help him identify what he needs to work on and where to find it. This challenge is compounded by the fact that some of his assignments are on paper, some are emailed to him, and others are in Google classroom. For longer writing assignments Sule likes to start right away without planning his writing and can end up either getting frustrated and giving up or writing something that is not what the assignment asked for. As we prioritize independence as a goal together, I will help Sule develop a practice of a) organizing his materials, b) making a to do list, and c) outlining his writing before he starts. All of these are tasks we have been working on for years, but now it is time for Sule to begin them on his own and only reach out to me when he’s hit a roadblock.
Leo struggles with sustained focus. When he comes into SETSS class he suddenly has a desperate need to check his email, go to the bathroom, talk with this or that teacher, get a drink of water or a snack, etc. If I allow him to leave the classroom he returns in 20 minutes because always, uncannily, some adult stops and needs to talk with him. Leo reads well and writes well too. He care tremendously about getting good grades and making his mother proud but inevitably he ends up spending only the last 15 minutes of each 45 minute period working after he’s exhausted all his excuses. Leo always knows what he wants to work on in SETSS class. In order for us to work on his independence we will use a timer. In the first ten minutes of the period he must sit down, take out his materials and open whatever document he is typing in. Then he can take a five minute break. Then he must type (or write) for 10 minutes, then a five minute break, type for 10, etc. If he successfully completes that challenge I’ll text or call mom with a shout out (even 17 year olds love shout outs). As he becomes accustomed to the 10 minute intervals we will increase to 15 minute intervals and 20 minutes, etc.
The challenge of SETSS is that there are six to eight students, all with high needs and low executive functioning who are clamoring for my attention, or clamoring to avoid from my attention. But if I focus my POP on these two students, with these two strategies, I think I’ll see some success and may find other students in SETSS who benefit from the same interventions.