As the number of students requiring special education has increased, 47 states are currently experiencing a deficit of teachers to fulfill this need. It is imperative that an educator today be armed with the tools and strategies necessary to benefit all of their students, regardless of impairments or ability.
Use Assistive Technologies to Teach Various Skills
By capitalizing on the student’s strengths, assistive technology (AT), can help a variety of students with special needs. Whether the student has dyslexia, cognitive problems or physical impairments, here are a few examples of how AT can help in bypassing specific areas of difficulty:
Talking calculators, spell-checkers and electronic dictionaries to assist students with dyslexia.
Electronic worksheets assist students to digitally line-up words and numbers on their assignments.
Personal FM listening devices help to transmit a speaker’s voice directly to the student’s ear.
Variable speed recorders allow a student to hit record during a lesson and later go back to speed up or slow down the speaker’s voice.
Alternative keyboards are programmable devices that are designed to reduce finger and wrist movement and allow the individual to customize the keyboard based on their own needs, such as with colors or words.
Introduce Different Learning Strategies
By implementing a variety of learning strategies in the classroom, educators give their students the tools they need to be successful in understanding concepts, interacting with their peers and developing ways in which they can thrive. Here are some examples of diversifying learning in the classroom environment:
Pausing mid-lecture gives students an opportunity to reflect, marinate, discuss and apply ideas presented to them during the lecture. Additionally this gives students a moment to reboot their attention and focus, allowing them to release any pent up energy acquired during a lecture.
If your students are able, get them up and moving around. Create different workstations around the classroom with a variety of tasks for the students can choose from, enabling them to be in control of the way in which they learn and their own experience of learning.
Switch up the learning environment. A change of scenery using bold, bright colored or interactive decorations in the classroom or a relocation to an outside environment can re-energize a student’s focus and attention and help them to create new tools for learning success.
Provide a Positive Environment
According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, in order for a student to learn they must first feel safe, engaged, connected and supported. These “conditions for learning” are critical for the student’s experience on a personal level.
Additionally, creating a positive environment engages the student on a level where they feel respected and enthusiastic about learning. Here are a few tips to create an environment to help students thrive:
Show your students they matter by actively listening.
Say “please” and “thank you” even if their answer is incorrect.
Create a zero tolerance policy for bullying or put-downs.
Make eye contact.
Greet students at the door, help them to feel welcome in your classroom.
Give students at least 6-8 seconds before answering, allowing them time to process your question with their experiences and knowledge.
Develop Support Groups and Activities
Creating an environment in the classroom in which all of the students, regardless of their needs or impairments, feel respected, safe and cared for can certainly be a challenge.
Establishing ground rules for a culture of consideration and esteem from Day 1 can help to set the tone for students to comprehend that there may be a variety of needs, strengths and hardships within their peers and that there is a zero tolerance policy for behavior or words that will make anyone feel unsupported.
Additionally, grouping students desks or pods strategically can create a mini-environment to help students balance each other’s strengths, especially during group activities and discussions.
Maintain a Diverse and Welcoming Curriculum and Environment
Often times, depending on the individual student’s needs and regional location, one classroom can be their learning environment for 5 years or more. One of the most crucial aspect to building this environment is creating a space where the student feels safe and secure.
Creating a space that feels like home can also be a great way to establish familiarity and consistency for a student who thrives on repetition. Additionally, utilizing the space of the classroom to create areas of flexible seating so that students can move around to communicate and complete assignments can be a great way to diversify and encourage learning.
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