Nine Tips to Help You Create a “Classroom” Curriculum for Your Hospital

Student-patients face many challenges when they enter a hospital for treatment. Many patients may miss a few days of school a month, while others may miss an entire year. The obvious challenge is how to help student-patients continue their education while undergoing treatment so they do not fall behind in school. Hospital administrators typically are not qualified to manage their patients’ educational needs, yet someone needs to be dedicated to supporting a student-patient’s academic success. To offer this support, some organizations tap into their program administrator to help their student-patients continue their education during their stay, manage the entire educational program, and create the classroom curriculum for the hospital.

Among their other responsibilities, program administrators are responsible for conducting hospital teacher evaluations, seeing how well teachers handle administrative tasks, and observing in-classroom activity to assess teachers’ professionalism in the classroom, including how well they connect with their students. They are also responsible for tracking teacher and program performance. For example, if a program administrator notices there are a lot of absences or if the school staff aren’t helpful, she can cultivate relationships with the child’s teachers and work with each teacher to solve any problems that may affect a student’s ability to learn.

A key component for success is making sure the program focuses on developing effective curriculum that meets each student-patient’s academic needs. To do so, it is necessary to look at the factors that go into developing a classroom curriculum for a hospital that is in line with state and national education requirements. Ideally, the goal is to help a child handle his or her own work as given directly from their school, but that’s not realistic for every child. So, if possible, it’s important to create lessons that allow student-patients to receive credit for the subject material they have missed while being away from school.

What it Takes to Develop Classroom Curriculum for Student-Patients

Because of illness, lack of consistent schedule, and lack of integration between school systems, tutors, and medical organizations, student-patients may face an uphill battle in regards to maintaining normalcy and education continuity.

  1. Your hospital education curriculum needs to be engaging

Given their unique needs, an educational program needs to take into account each student’s academic ability and challenges when they are receiving treatment.

To support these needs, hospital-based classes really need to be engaging. Teachers shouldn’t give students an article to read on their own and just walk away. Instead, they should set time aside to discuss the lesson for that day and be available to answer any questions after class. Students need to be allowed to share their voices, knowledge, and experience—something they don’t necessarily get in a school setting when they are well.

  1. Use reputable resources for course material

There are several online resources that offer course material, support, and ideas. Teachers Pay Teachers is a site where a community of educators can share their work, offer insights, and professional support. It is a place where you can buy reputable course material or search for curriculum teachers have shared for free. iCivics offers free lesson plans and games for teaching civics to adolescent students and Super Teacher Worksheets offers a paid membership where you can download numerous worksheets on each subject. Finally, Teaching Tolerance is a nonprofit organization that offers free educational materials to help support educators teach tolerance among their students.

  1. Keep material aligned to age and grade level

Great hospital curriculum needs to keep the material aligned with a child’s grade level and ability, as well as meet state and national standards.

There are two types of student-patients: pediatric patients attending secondary or middle school and adolescent patients who are finishing middle school or attending high school. The approach should be different for each age group.

For adolescent patients, you need to be aware of each teacher’s background knowledge. Teachers need to be experienced in a particular subject, like history or science. Many do not feel comfortable with history if they don’t have a background in the subject. The same goes for chemistry. If a teacher is going to present the lesson plan well, he or she needs to have an extensive understanding of the subject. 

A 13-year-old and an 18-year-old are in different places in their education. It’s important that teachers find concepts that are being used in the students’ prospective schools, and that they are knowledgeable about the subject they are teaching. If they include real world experience, this can help a student grasp the concept more effectively.

Some students may be resistant to education in a typical classroom setting. This is magnified when being taught in an atypical setting like a hospital. Try to combat this by including topics that the student wants or needs to learn about. Have you ever heard a student say, “when am I ever going to use this?” If the lesson plan includes pre-calculus, students might resist learning the material. However, teaching students how to budget for expenses is a practical math-based skill that they can use in the real world.

Student involvement is important. As noted above, don’t just give students an article to read and then walk away. Discuss the article or assigned work, keep it engaging, and let them contribute their ideas and experiences. Let them be heard. Give them ownership in their learning.

For pediatric patients, a teacher’s knowledge of a particular subject is not as important. Many students who fall into this group may struggle in school and may have behavioral challenges that can be remediated. To teach successfully, you really need to have highly engaging material. Try to avoid assigning a lot of independent reading and handing out multiple worksheets. Pediatric patients need more hands-on engagement and enjoy active discussion sessions with opportunities to move around. Make lesson plans fun and interesting so they don’t feel like work, especially for students who are resistant to writing and doing homework. Our experience has taught us that this approach tends to work well for this group.

  1. Create material that gets your teachers excited

Create materials that your teachers are excited about. If they’re not excited or interested in the lessons, their students won’t be either. Two things you can do to accomplish this include:

  • Use real world examples that apply to the lesson for the day.
  • Create games that help increase a student’s understanding of the subject material.
  1. Structure the lesson to be inclusive

Ask interesting questions to get the students thinking about the lesson. Be aware that some students may have their own work, while others are following your lesson. The goal is to create an environment where student-patients can participate in a shared experience. For example, if you are teaching a lesson on energy, think of questions to ask at the beginning of class: What is energy? Where does it come from? How do we use it? This will give you a baseline understanding of what the students already know and where you should begin the lesson.

Additionally, begin the lesson with some guided instruction, like a five-minute lecture, and then allow them to work independently. Student-patients who have their own school work should only have to wait a few minutes to work one-on-one with the teacher. End sessions by reviewing the lesson, and then ask students what they have learned and how they connected to the material.

  1. Create a library of kid-approved lessons

Often times, when we enter an existing program, we find that the existing lessons that have been created aren’t very interesting or may be difficult to follow. Kids are recovering, so focusing on healing and engagement during school work can help to keep their spirits up. Develop lessons that are student-tested and approved by working out the kinks and making them mentally and emotionally stimulating.

Pro Tips

We consider the above tips to be required in every hospital-based curriculum we create. Incorporate these, then consider the following pro-level tips for your student-patient education programs. 

  1. Avoid material that might be a trigger

Some material can be a trigger for students. For example, we experienced this first-hand with an activity in a lesson called Lost at Sea, where the character’s father was a fisherman who ended up on a deserted island. Any lesson like the one mentioned that might have a tie to real-life situations may become a trigger for children struggling with a mental health disorder. It’s important to be mindful of your student’s emotional state and create material that minimizes triggers. It’s also important to incorporate breaks for kids to get some exercise and set aside time for snacks and meals.

  1. Get kids their actual school work

Ideally, kids need to keep up with their own school work. While some families and caretakers bring their child’s work from school, in many cases the proper connections have not yet been established to make this happen. It’s important to coordinate with teachers, guidance counselors, and principals to get any homework to your patients and then make sure completed work is returned to the appropriate school official. This helps student-patients transition back to school after treatment. You also need to create a balance between the kids who are learning solely from your lesson plan and those who are working on their own. Supply time within the lesson to allow for one-on-one time with kids who bring their own work. Don’t overlook over them by focusing solely on your curriculum. 

  1. Be flexible with the curriculum

Ask students about their connection, experience, and interest in the material. One teacher had a student who was resistant to the material but loved music, so one afternoon she found the bios for the members of his favorite band, typed them up, and brought them in so he could read about each band member and write about them.

While this might be difficult to do when you have many students, it’s an approach that may work really well with students who are difficult to engage. Try to weave it into their lessons. Validate their interests. In traditional settings, students don’t have a choice, so try to give them one because it’s not often that adults show interest in what a teenager thinks or wants to learn about. This approach may not directly translate into curriculum in a traditional school setting, but it can help you connect with your more challenging student-patients.

These tips should help your student-patients make a smooth transition back into the classroom once they have finished treatment. What are some of the unique successes you’ve experienced with your classroom curriculum for student-patients?

About the Author

 Melissa Hinojosa / Team Leader

Over the last 3.5 years Melissa Hinojosa has quickly grown to become a Team Leader. Coming into education, inc. Melissa received her undergraduate degree from Southwestern University, in Texas, majoring in Child Study and Language Development. In her time here she worked within a variety of settings including medical 1:1, CBAT, partial and inpatient facilities. Most recently, Melissa launched our new partnership with The Italian Home working with students ages 4-13. Her passion for education and students is very evident both inside and outside the classroom. In the last two year Melissa has been a driver in Region One’s Curriculum Development Project. Here Melissa creates, writes and reviews curriculum to match state and core standard. All lessons are three tiered or differentiated to meet the needs of our students in hospital placements while putting a creative and engaging twist to motivate students in our classroom.

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