With the right strategies and techniques, special needs teachers can make the learning process fun and engaging while respecting the individual needs of students with disabilities.
An advanced education degree in special education can prepare professionals to teach special education students with compassion and structure. Let’s look at some of the best strategies to facilitate learning in the special education classroom:
- Classroom Setup
Divvying up the classroom into groups or centers can help pupils learn from one another and focus on the content that aligns with their knowledge level. The teacher can rotate among the groups and give specific instructions and assignments for each. Teaching assistants can be quite pivotal in aiding the smaller groups, as well. As a tip, the Resilient Educator blog suggests that “each center would specialize in one area or level. The centers would be self-contained in terms of instructions and all lesson materials. They would also be somewhat self-explanatory and self-guided to allow the teacher to rotate among the different centers and provide appropriate guidance.”
- Establishing Expectations
Clear communication is key when working with students with special needs (and their parents). Teachers are encouraged to lay out all academic and behavioral expectations for students in a deliberate way, such as instructing students to raise their hand before speaking or ask people for verbal consent before doing something. Letting pupils know what they will learn and what they are expected to accomplish by the end of the day, making a list of rules of how to behave in the classroom and creating boards with each student’s progress are other options.
- Breaking Down Steps
Sometimes taking a huge leap can be daunting. To make a specific lesson, content, book or assignment more manageable, try breaking it down into smaller steps. For example, you can separate an assignment into tasks and highlight what is important within a certain section. This practical step can not only help students feel like they’re following the lesson plan, but it can also help teachers correctly assess a student’s area for improvement before it snowballs into a long-term issue.
- Alternative Assignments and Tests
It is true that the schooling system as we know it puts great emphasis on tests and evaluations. However, some students with special needs are challenged by test taking and may fail even if they have full comprehension of the lesson content. Letting students show, in their own way, how they’ve gained an understanding of a certain subject may be an alternative solution to both tests and smaller assignments. A teacher can, for example, let a student give a presentation instead of writing a paper, allow them to consult a reference book or have more time during a test. In one ThoughtCo. article, Sue Watson offers some great pragmatic ideas of how to implement this in the classroom, such as dividing tests into smaller sections.
- Universal Design for Learning
An excellent way to practice the universal design for learning (UDL) curriculum approach is by using different mediums in the classroom for the same content. According to Understood.org, “in a UDL classroom, materials are accessible for all types of learners. Students have many options for reading, including print, digital, text-to-speech and audiobooks. For digital text, there are also options for text enlargement, along with choices for screen color and contrast. Videos have captions, and there are transcripts for audio.” Assigning a text and then combining it with a game or showing a presentation with visual cues and audio narration can be great solutions as well.
To use this technique, get to know the students and ask their parents what their preferred learning method is. Some students on the autism spectrum, for example, may be sensitive to noise and information overload. UDL is, in general, a principle that professionals can apply to any special education classroom.
If you want to pursue a career in special education, a master’s degree can equip you with the necessary basic skills and methods to successfully lead a special education classroom.