March 5, 2012

The Learning Zone

I used to regularly have my students identify their feelings at the beginning of social groups. What I found was that many of my kids on the Autism Spectrum had immense difficulty identifying anything other than feeling happy...
or mad...

When I delved deeper I realized the problem was that they didn't know what feelings felt like in their bodies. It became more important to me that they identify how their bodies felt and how that related to being ready to learn. After developing the skill of analyzing their own bodies, we could move into explicit instruction in labeling the feelings that are frequently attached to those physical feelings.

I came up with a tool that we use daily called the Learning Zone. I ask the students to check how their bodies feel on a spectrum that ranges from low energy states to high energy states. The visual tool helps teach the students that there is a range of states that can still encompass being in the "Learning Zone". Too many times I had students who felt like they couldn't pay attention in a group because they weren't "happy". This tool shows that you don't have to be in a perfect place in order to attend to the group. If your physical state is outside the Learning Zone, then you must take steps to bring yourself back into the Learning Zone. This encourages the students to actively use strategies to help regulate their bodies.
I had the poster professionally printed pretty inexpensively through our school district's media center. I added a strip of velcro down the side of the spectrum, printed out small laminated cardstock name tags and put adhesive velcro on those. The kids know that when the come into the classroom they are to "check in" at the Learning Zone visual, choose an appropriate activity that will help them either stay in the Learning Zone or choose an activity that will help them get into the Learning Zone (gross motor to increase energy or something calming if they are overly excited). After their Sensory Break, they re-check in at the poster to see if they regulated their bodies.

When I introduce the concept of the Learning Zone, we spend a session or two exploring the different tools available in the Sensory Break Center (pics to come soon!). The kids are given a survey sheet where they try various tools and mark whether it helps them have more energy, less energy, or no change. These become their sensory "menus" when they need to choose a tool. I will post pictures soon of the Sensory Break Center and will hunt down a copy of that survey!

I have a list a mile long of all the books I intend to write and the Learning Zone is on that list, but school and children and cats and dogs and church and Boy Scouts and writing the great American novel and Mr. Hively came first! In the meantime, a great book has come out called The Zones of Regulation by Leah Kuypers. We have since combined the use of my Learning Zone tool to be used in conjunction with the Zones of Regulation. It is a perfect fit! One of these days I'll get my book put together, but until then I encourage you to think about ways you can use this tool in your practice and to check out The Zones of Regulation.

Cheers! ~ Kelley


  1. Very nice! I will definitely use this and share it!

  2. thank you soooooo much for posting this info. it's sorely needed with my two ASD kids.

  3. This is a wonderful tool!It sounds like it will work well for higher functioning students with ASD. What about students that are non-verbal or lower functioning? Do you modify this in anyway? Thanks for your blog, I am so glad I found it and will be following it closely as you guys have some great ideas!


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