Unique Solutions for Diverse Learning Styles

By: Jessyca Tierney-Smith

As educators, we sometimes meet and work with children who may have behavior issues that are hard to understand. During my 15 years of teaching and working as an instructional coach, I encountered students who struggled with the classroom environment and demonstrated this in different ways such as bothering those around them and wandering around the room.

Through my own research and observations, I learned these children were often struggling with sensory issues that affected the ways their brains reacted to touch, sounds, sight, and movement. For example, my student Jackie, struggled with touching those around her and staying focused. With the help of our occupational therapist, I offered Jackie different seating options such as a disk trainer and a balance board for standing at her desk. Jackie used these two different tools at her discretion and with much success.

I also discovered that Jackie was overstimulated when the noise level in the classroom became too high and began to offer her the option of working in the hallway, or in a quieter corner of the classroom. Jackie also chose to wear headphones to block out the noise. In addition, I found that giving Jackie a small piece of modeling clay and applying a piece of rough Velcro to the bottom of her desk, kept her hands busy, and decreased her urge to touch others.

Over time, other students began to ask to use the sensory tools. I had Jackie “teach” the others how to properly use the tools which boosted her self-confidence and gave her an opportunity to be a leader among her peers.

If you are struggling with how to modify the environment to better meet the needs of a student, I encourage you to reach out to an occupational therapist for guidance or suggestions. These professionals can offer practical, low cost ways of adapting the environment.

For other ideas on how sensory integration might help those in your care, please visit the following websites:




Disc trainer and balance board

About the Author:

Jessyca Tierney-Smith graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Elementary Education & Curriculum. During college she worked with different afterschool programs, teaching art and outdoor education. She furthered her education at Northern Arizona University where she obtained her Masters Degree in Elementary Education. Jessyca has been in the education industry since 1995 where she served as a teacher for 7 years, and later became an instructional coach and curriculum coordinator for 8 years. Lastly, Jessyca served for three years as a director for Camp Invention through the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame and the United States Patent Office. Jessyca now works for MindWorks Resources as a certified writer and education expert.

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