Most classroom teachers never have to encounter teaching the mentally ill, unless they teach EBD or what is known as the Emotionally Behaviorally Disturbed. Although my certification is in Special Education, I also never thought I would be teaching anyone with a mental illness. Now I find myself teaching life skill classes at a hospital for the mentally ill. I have discovered that standard teaching techniques don’t work with a person who is suffering from a mental illness. A few teaching techniques can be implemented to make learning easier and more fun for those who need the help . What follows are a few of those suggestions.
1) I have discovered that the individuals I teach have a very limited attention span. Some of the curriculum for the people I teach is very long. For example, one article was four pages, with six different sections. I employed a teaching technique called Jigsaw Puzzle to teach the material. I divided the reading material into six different sections, and had 2 individuals work on their particular section. To assist with what they were to do, I found an on line Jigsaw Puzzle graphic organizer. Each group was given fifteen minutes to read their section and write what they had learned. They then came together as a group, and each of the six groups shared what they had learned. This way, no one person was reading all four pages.
2) I often have to write answers on the board. Many of the patients I work with, are at some stage in psychosis and hear voices. Therefore, teaching through an auditory method does not work. If I explain answers are on the board, they will then pay attention. They are copying answers, but at least they are paying attention.
3) I also have found that graphic organizers work well to help keep their train of thought, as their attention is short. I have found that the two favorite ones are the Web diagram and the T chart. Both help an individual visually see how information goes together.
4) Besides the Jigsaw Puzzle method described above, the individuals I teach do very little group work. Many are paranoid and prefer to work alone. However, I have divided individuals into groups, and chosen a leader that is higher functioning to lead the group. This only works well if you have some higher functioning individuals in the group.
5) Many of the individuals I teach do not remember from day to day what they have learned. Although their groups are only 45 minutes, I spend about 15 minutes reviewing what we have learned from the day before. All lessons are sequential, so going over the previous days lesson, helps the individuals stay on track.
Teaching the mentally ill is a challenge, but only through education about their mental illness and how to cope in the community once they are discharged, can they truly become well again. I have found that these and other teaching techniques make my job easier. Hopefully they will for you too, if you find yourself teaching the mentally ill.