Teaching Elapsed Time to Special Education Students

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Teaching students how to solve problems that use elapsed time is a big part of helping them work with time in context. This lesson shows you how to teach elapsed time to special education students.

Why Elapsed Time Matters

This year, Ms. Emerson, a third grade teacher, has noticed that many of her students have a lot of trouble dealing with elapsed time. This means that they have trouble figuring out how much time has passed or will pass between two different events.

Ms. Emerson teaches in an inclusive setting, where students with special needs learn alongside their typically developing peers. She notices that her special education students are having particular struggles when it comes to elapsed time problems.

When she thinks about it, though, Ms. Emerson realizes that elapsed time is very important; after all, in her own daily life, she thinks frequently about how long something will take, how long she will have to wait, or how much time will pass before the next thing happens.

She becomes determined to teach elapsed time to her special education students effectively.

Special Needs and Elapsed Time

Of course, as Ms. Emerson knows, students with special needs are diverse and might struggle with different things for very different reasons. She tries to get to know each learner as a whole person, focusing on their strengths, weaknesses and passions as she helps them learn about elapsed time.

Still, Ms. Emerson also understands that there are some typical challenges special education students might face with these kinds of problems:

  • Students with language-based learning disabilities often have a hard time untangling the complicated and multifaceted language in elapsed time problems.
  • Students with autism may also struggle with the reading involved. Further, they may become overwhelmed by these problems or have a hard time understanding the aspects of elapsed time that have to do with relationships or relational issues.
  • Students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and executive function struggles may have difficulties holding one part of a problem in mind to solve the other part of the problem.
  • Students with dyscalculia and memory difficulties may struggle with the numbers involved in time problems and may not understand the concept of time properly in the first place.

Teaching Strategies

Once Ms. Emerson understands the specific nature of each student's difficulties with elapsed time problems, she is able to customize and scaffold her instruction accordingly.

Visual Techniques

Many of Ms. Emerson's students benefit from visual techniques that use images or graphic organizers to make sense of elapsed time.

  • She teaches her students to create time number lines, with large jumps to represent the passage of days, smaller ones for hours, still smaller ones for minutes, and then the smallest ones for seconds, if relevant. This helps students visualize what it means for time to pass.
  • When students are reading a complicated problem, she encourages them to stop, close their eyes and envision the scenario in the problem before attempting to solve it.
  • Ms. Emerson gives her students toy clocks that they can manipulate and also look at when they are solving elapsed time problems. For problems involving bigger chunks of time, she also gives them calendars.
  • She teaches her students to use a three-column t-chart to keep track of elapsed time in terms of hours, minutes and seconds respectively; this helps them keep track of their work so that they do not forget what they have already figured out.

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