Students who learn differently will need a lot of support through adolescence, whatever their learning environment. One of the things that parents will do well to remember when evaluating the fitness of Classical Conversations Challenge classes for their children is that students with attention and social difficulties will need a lot more parental support for a lot longer than other students their age. My experience in Classical Conversations, with classical education in general, and with all of my beautiful friends (my own child and the many students I have taught and tutored over the years) who have autism, ADD, ADHD and other marks of God’s ownership is that they learn and process better when there is a parent close by providing good feedback, instant reinforcement for right choices, and instant correction when needed.
In Classical Conversations classrooms (Foundations, Essentials and Challenge), students with disabilities are usually better able to participate and benefit from the cooperative learning environment when their parents come alongside them throughout the community day, modeling appropriate behaviors and coaching the student in proper classroom deportment while providing that much needed weekly opportunity to practice the rhetorical skills that will make them astute thinkers and convincing speakers.
What we have to remember with our older students is that our presence as their parents is often the stabilizing factor that makes it possible for them to process and learn. It is why we brought them home for school in the first place. Stay close, Mom and Dad. Your words in his ear, your hand on her shoulder, and your presence close by are the external controls that may need to stay in place for a while until your young man or young lady looks at you and says, “I’d like to try this one on my own.”
Our different learners will do best in Challenge when they are overly prepared for class each community day. They will be more confident, less distracted, and more engaged when they have a reason to fully attend to each seminar’s content. They are going to need us to help them manage, and in some cases to scale, the Challenge work load so that they can come to class each week with something to contribute to the discussion. Students with disabilities are not good at “winging it.”
Speaking of scaling assignments, let’s talk about that for a moment, shall we? It is a little scary, is it not, to take those Challenge Guide assignments and break them down into smaller pieces, or to divide the work differently to suit the goals and abilities of our unique learners? Please remember that the guide is created as a resource to serve your home school, not the other way around. The goal of a classical, Christian education is to attain virtue, appreciate beauty, articulate truth, and identify what is good—not to check every single item off a list created by someone who has never met your child. In scaling or altering assignments, remember that there are many ways to go about accommodating your student. Can you act as your student’s scribe, allowing him to think and process without the motor and processing task of writing to slow him down? Consider reading the Challenge literature aloud in the summer to give a preview and to aid comprehension for future class participation. Take math and Latin at your student’s speed, whatever that may be.
When schoolwork is only part of a picture, and the rest of the scene includes therapies and doctor visits, it is easy for the things that make childhood and adolescence glorious to go by the wayside. Please make time in your days for these things. Put away the math book and go outside. Make a routine of limiting ‘seat work’ to a certain number of hours in each day so that it does not take over. Say to your students what Paul said to Timothy, “…the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5, NASB). How wonderful that we are able to do these things in so many pleasant ways.