Classroom, Elementary, Junior High, school

Tips for Supporting Students Who Struggle With Transitions

It can be very difficult to help kids who struggle during transitions because there’s always so much going on!

Especially new or lesser-experienced teachers may not even recognize that there are any issues until a problem comes up.

There are many reasons why students may struggle with transitions. They may be overly energetic, the sounds of peers moving and talking may be overly-sensitive for them, they may be anxious about what to do, they may worry about not having completed their work, and so on.

Whatever the reason, there are several different things you can do to help support these students as they build their skills. Here are some of my top tips.

Supervise transitions


Make sure that when you have students transition, you are also supervising the process. Don’t just call out from your desk “time to clean up and pull out your math binder!”


If you aren’t present during the transition, there’s a good chance kids are going to make choices that are less than optimal.


Instead, ensure you are walking around during the transition and giving gentle and kind reminders about acceptable behaviour and what students should be doing.


Make sure you are doing this in a kind way with students, if they make a mistake, trust that it was unintentional and give a gentle reminder. Now, if the behaviour persists and becomes clearly intentional, then you’ll need to intervene and speak with the student.


Of course, depending on the severity of the behaviour, discipline appropriately and then work with the student on ways to improve transitions. Perhaps it will be better to improve this with them alone or with a small group; being around other students will give them an audience which could trigger inappropriate behaviour or make them emotional.


Give advANCED warning


It isn’t only students who struggle with transitions who appreciate warnings when a transition will be taking place.


It’s beneficial to let the whole class know that they should be finishing up what they’re working on. This way, all of them will start completing work and finishing up around the same time.


Let them know the amount of time they have left, what they should finish, and what they’ll be moving onto next.


Make sure you repeat these and go slowly. If you list three things students have to do, there’s a very good chance kids will miss some of this or forget by the time they’ve finished the first step.


So, remind them in a kind way of what you’d like them to complete and when.


For example, after you’ve given the full instructions, praise students who have started to finish up. Say things such as “Lisa, great work finishing that sentence, you can start to pack up your pencils now.” Or, “so many of you have cleaned your art up, great work! You can get your social textbooks now.”


Transition warnings are great for everyone, but they’ll really help support any students who have trouble during transition time because they have time to process what will be happening and planning in their mind how they need to behave and what they need to do. This can alleviate any anxiety or unintended behaviours.


Transition routines may need to be repeated many times before they become routine for a child with ADHD


For many students, for example those with ADHD or memory issues, they are not going to be able to practice appropriate transition protocols once and be able to successfully do it without support.


It’s always best to treat these kiddos with tons of patience and kindness as they learn routines.


Keep in mind that they will likely need a lot of verbal reminders to know what to do. Make sure that you are reminding kindly and are not assuming they’re purposefully not following rules.


You are also going to have to remember that these kiddos will likely need a lot of visual and hands on reminders and practice.

Thankfully, other students correctly following routines will provide plenty of visual support for struggling students. They will also be practicing daily themselves for hands-on practice. Just always keep in mind how much longer it may take some students than others.

Patience is on your side here; you don’t want to impact your relationship with the student if you begin to get irritated or short with them.


Use visual schedules


Visual schedules are a must in all classrooms. They help out so many students for various reasons.
Any student who is having trouble with transitions can easily look at the schedule throughout the day to see what is going to be happening.


Ideally, you will have a visual schedule at the front of the room which works for all students. In some cases, you may also need a schedule directly on a student’s desk. There could be several reasons for this to be necessary.


Perhaps the student has a different schedule than the rest of the class. They may have a diagnosis or other need which requires them to be on a different program. Therefore, the whole class schedule isn’t going to be much good for them if they are working on something else.


They may have a shorter attention span and have to have tasks broken into smaller chunks. While the whole class may be working on one thing for 45 minutes, another student may have things broken down into ten minutes with brain and body breaks included.


Some students also need to know exactly what they’re doing in each subject. So they may be able to look at the class schedule and see that social is coming up, but they may also need a desk schedule which breaks down what’s happening in social. For example, it may include “class discussion about current events, read textbook, answer questions” and so on.


For some students, these desk schedules can also act as tools for rewards. You can include “when/then” or “if/then” and give them a reward for each task they complete or after they do a certain number of tasks. That way, students can see their progress right in front of them. It’s also not broadcasted to the entire class, it can easily be used quietly and discretely.


state and display materials needed


Students who have difficulty transitioning often have difficulty remembering which materials they will need for the next task. This can be frustrating for you, peers, and the student themselves when you begin teaching the next subject and a forgetful student keeps having to pop up and grab forgotten tools.


While the students all learn new routines and expectations, it’s very helpful to post necessary materials for each activity up in the board.


I use images of materials with names written underneath and put them up on the board for each transition. This is easy to do and ends up saving you and the kids a lot of time. It’s also helpful for all kids as they can both see and read the materials, so kids who are behind in reading or are learning English can still see what is needed next.


When I give the kids my first transcription warning, I put up the next necessary material images on the board. Then, when I give their second warning I point out what materials they will need next, so they are prepared to get them and have enough time to clean up and prepare for the next activity.


Have locations for all materials


In your classroom, it’s highly beneficial to have all things located in spaces that make sense and are easily accessible for you and students.


For example, it makes sense to have all art supplies together. I keep all fidget tools, disco sits, and other tools my wiggly kids need together. Duotangs are all in the same location.


When you set up your room this way, kids know where to find things consistently.They also, generally, don’t have to travel across the room to various areas to find the things they’re looking for. Instead, everything is in one, common space.


This can also help ease transition times because, when all things are together, students can help one another out. For example, if all of your scissors are together in one bin, a student can just grab the bin and pass them out to everyone before an activity.


Not having to spend time searching, and not having peers around them searching, can ease a lot of students’ anxiety or restlessness and help significantly with transitions.


List steps necessary


Along with listing materials needed, listing steps necessary for tasks is hugely helpful for students.
Many of our kids struggle with transitions because they haven’t completed their work or are confused about where they should be. The idea of switching to something else can be frustrating because they not only haven’t finished what they were working on. They also may not know what’s required of them in the next task.


If you break an assignment or task down into simple and attainable steps, then list these for all students, it can be much easier to follow along with what to expect.


You can also break assignments down into what should be done and when. If you have a lot of anxious kiddos, only put up the steps you know they’ll complete in the time given. If you put all the steps on, they could get upset if they don’t finish them all.


I also always remind students as we transition that it’s okay if they’re not completed. Let them know about time they have during class to complete it, or if there are options at lunch, recess, at home, or so one to complete work if this was your last period. Just make sure you don’t present this as a punishment if they are not complete (unless, of course, they were being silly with their time).


PROVIDE an organized peer helper


If you have a student who continues to struggle with transitions, it can be useful to have another peer help them out.


You have to do this in a way in which both students are okay with it. You don’t want the student who “needs” the helper to feel lesser than, and you don’t want the helping student to feel like a babysitter.


Ideally, the students will be friends who genuinely want to help one another with things one is naturally stronger in. While one student can help out with reminding what to do during transitions, the other may be able to support with spelling, or something else.


As long as your peer dynamics work, this can be an excellent strategy for students struggling with transitions.

What do you think? Are these tips helpful? Have you used any in your own class? let me know!

Enjoyed this? Here are some other blog posts on Katie is a Teacher you may like:

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