While Teaching Artists (TAs) might not have much control over the visual stimuli in an established classroom, there are steps that you can take to reduce sensory overstimulation during your lessons. Even slight adjustments to the environment and how you introduce materials can reduce the amount of information to process and allow more space for students to fully engage in the workshop.
If enough natural light is available in the space, turn off the overhead lights to reduce the noise from fluorescent bulbs.
Instead of raising your voice to gain students’ attention and refocus the group, use a visual method, like a “Quiet” sign or signal.
Reveal each visual direction one at a time, and keep the rest out of sight.
What Is Sensory Overstimulation?
The more stimulation in an environment, the more competition for attention there is in the part of a student’s brain needed to focus. Processing may slow down or stop if a student is overloaded with visual/auditory information.
Students may be under- or over-responsive to outside stimuli, so maintaining a balance in the classroom is important. In general, keeping a “low stimulus” classroom can help students focus on the stimuli on which you want them to focus.
Many of these tools might be more useful to Classroom Professionals when setting up their rooms. However, they may be helpful for you to know as you choose what materials to bring in, and as you move things around when you come in for your arts residency.
TAs are “visitors” to a classroom, but as you develop a relationship with the Classroom Professionals, you may be able to integrate more of these strategies. You may be visiting the same room over a long period of time. This may give you the opportunity to have more of a say in the setup of the classroom or the space you use while you are there as a guest.
Switching between various visual settings: screen sharing, multiple-participant or single-speaker view.
Sound carries very differently and often in a harsher way on digital platforms.
Lots of visuals moving quickly in and out of videos.
Switching between full-group and small-group without preparing for transitions.
Lighting: Is it hard to see you?
Your background: Is it cluttered? Is it hard to focus on you? Are there distracting images or text?
Audio feedback or echoing.
Everyone turns their camera off.
Everyone mutes their microphone to reduce background noise.
Invite everyone to find a household item that makes them feel calm.
Have a moment to focus on only audio input or visual input.
Reveal one agenda item, visual object/cue, and instruction at a time. Keep the others out of sight when not needed.
Try to put your visuals on blank backgrounds (e.g. not on top of the visual materials already posted on the walls by the Classroom Professionals). Alternatively, bring a larger blank piece of paper to create your own “blank space” for visual supports.
Turn off computers and SMART Boards when not in use.
If a student is over-responsive to tactile stimulation, try positioning them at the end of a line or on the side with space between them and other students. Provide clear boundaries (e.g., colored tape, carpet square, poly dots) to allow for adequate space between students.
Be judicious about what you share visually. Ask the following questions about any visual supports, posters, signs, and displays for your lessons.
Raising your voice to gain attention might be overwhelming for a student who is sensitive to noise. Use a visual or nonverbal method to gain class attention (e.g., turning the lights off/on or holding up a “Quiet” sign). Establish with the class what strategies you will use (i.e., do not surprise students by turning off the lights).
Put rubber feet or furniture sliders on tables, chairs, and set pieces to prevent a “scraping” sound when they are moved.
Colors can affect our own mood, and the same is true about the students in our classrooms. Blues, greens, violet, white, and pastels are colors that tend to calm. Red, yellow, and orange are colors that tend to energize. Purple is a color that stimulates imagination. Learn more about Classroom Color Psychology in the External Resources.