The power of visual schedules

by Jill Detwiler CCC-SLP July 17, 2018

the power of visual schedules

As we all prepare for a new school year, it’s a good time to reflect on what’s working well in your classroom and what could go smoother. One of the easiest and best classroom management tools in your toolkit should be Visual Schedules. I distinctly remember a seasoned coworker kindly sharing examples of schedules they created for their students. It took trial and error to find the right fit for each student, but it quickly became the one support I used across the board for all of my students.   

What is a visual schedule?     

Do you use visual schedules? For many teachers and clinicians, they are a big part of classroom management. Visual schedules help to represent the “big picture” or the sequence of activities that they plan for the school day. Visual schedules can be photographs, symbols, drawings, objects or lists of words. Sometimes, they pertain to an entire class while other times they are individualized and portable for each student.    

Why use a visual schedule?     

The use of visual schedules creates a smoother flow of instruction for both students and teachers. When students feel more secure and prepared, they can predict expectations and what is happening next.  Problem behaviors like distractions, avoidance or even aggression tend to lessen when you make the expectations known. Specifically, visual schedules can help students to be more independent, more engaged and make transitions between tasks easier. When all these pieces fall into place, students are better able to be attentive, engaged and acquire new knowledge easier.   

Creating a visual schedule   

How do you create a visual schedule? The first step is determining how to represent the schedule for the student. Determine the objects, photos, symbols or words (or a combination of forms) that are most easily understood by the student. Some students may initially benefit from the use of concrete objects or photographs and will eventually grow to comprehend symbols or words.    

Once you decide how to represent the information, the next step is to consider how much information to present at one time.  It may be overwhelming to present a full day at a time to some students, and they will benefit from breaking the schedule up into shorter segments of time.    

The last step is to consider how students interact with the schedule as they complete activities. Some students enjoy moving Velcro items into a “completed basket,” while others will like crossing off items as they go. Once you develop the schedule, the staff should begin to teach the student how to use it. It is important to remember that many students need explicit instruction to use it.    

Creating the ideal visual schedule for each student or class may require trial and error. Just as all students are unique, so are their preferences and needs when it comes to visual schedules. As literacy, language, and attention skills improve, you can continue to iterate on how to best share and represent this information to your students. Have fun making your visual schedules this back-to-school season! They are your best friend!  

Jill Detwiler CCC-SLP
Jill Detwiler CCC-SLP

Jill Detwiler, CCC-SLP, is a Speech-Language Pathologist who currently holds the position of Content and Curriculum Writer at Tobii Dynavox. Before this, Jill worked in the public schools as a Speech-Language Pathologist supporting kids with diverse abilities. Jill lives in Central Pennsylvania and loves to spend time with her husband and son.

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