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Feb 08

Teaching Tips and Techniques for Special Needs Educators: Make a Difference by Thinking Differently

By Brian D. Hadfield – Middle School Teacher – Chippewa Valley Public Schools, Michigan Special Education Articles Add comments
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When it comes to education, it’s impossible to take a “one size fits all” approach. Not only is every student different, each student learns differently, too – and this can be especially true of children with special needs. Because teachers are not provided specific textbooks for these students but are still held accountable for imparting state standards, developing lesson plans or modifying the current ones can be quite challenging. However, by educating oneself about the various types of learning disabilities, and by collaborating with other educators, the experience can also be extremely rewarding.

The first thing you can do is to learn as much as possible about different types of learning disabilities. While all are neurologically-based processing problems, they can affect different areas. The problems may interfere with reading, writing, or math; or they may impact higher level skills such as organization, abstract reasoning or time management. So while these students may need more of your time and patience, they will be able to learn once your instruction methods have been tailored to their specific abilities. Once you understand the challenge you’re facing, you’ll be better equipped to help the student rise above it.

Most students will benefit when provided ample direction on a project or an assignment; for the special needs student, however, this is generally a necessity. Providing instruction in a variety of ways will allow them to latch on to the method of learning that suits them best. For example, directions can be provided both verbally and in writing. During discussion, important points can be spoken aloud as well as pointed out visually on a whiteboard, overhead or PowerPoint presentation. Encourage participation – any activity that gets students applying what they’ve learned to their everyday life makes it relatable, and therefore more interesting.

Because students with learning disabilities may need to review material several times in order to grasp the information (but may not be adept at note-taking), you can allow them to borrow your notes or a classmate’s notes; you may also allow them to use a digital voice recorder. Sometimes, you may need to think outside the box, such as checking to see if there are audio recordings available for book reading assignments. Many libraries offer books on tape, as well as audio books for the visually impaired; either may be of great use for a student who excels at auditory learning but underperforms in reading.

Today, most kids have an amazing command of the computer. Use their acceptance and familiarity with technology to your advantage, and house assignments, instructions, and course outlines on a secure site. If you’re as technically inclined as your students, you can also include audio instructions and lectures, along with uploads of visual aids. Students will be able to review items as necessary, returning to the site for clarification or help as needed. And while there is no substitution for essential face-to-face parent/teacher meetings, this does provide the perfect platform for giving parents access to material so that they can review and help their child at home.

There is another form of support that many teachers may tend to overlook: their colleagues. Remember, they are most likely teaching special needs students as well, or at the very least, have had experience with them in the past. Tap into their knowledge to make your classroom as learner-friendly as possible, and consider setting up regular get-togethers to pose questions and offer solutions, or share successes and discuss strategies. You can also venture out into the online world for support, as many teachers share ideas, resources and lesson plans through websites and blogs.

A few final thoughts: though classrooms are often full of unavoidable distraction, do your best to be sure student workspace is clear, and that whiteboards and other visual aids are free from information not relevant to the lesson at hand. Frequent progress checks, providing immediate feedback, encouraging team learning and providing plenty of praise for a job well done can also go a long way for helping the special needs student. Remember, prior to arrival in your classroom, they may have not had much support. By creating an atmosphere of understanding and acceptance, you may be providing something new that could profoundly impact their life – and your professional growth.

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Teaching Tips and Techniques for Special Needs Educators: Make a Difference by Thinking Differently

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