Teaching students with special needs comes with unique responsibilities and enormous rewards. Modifications-both to your physical classroom and to your teaching style-are often necessary to accommodate them. Modifications mean change while making accommodations means adapting to those things you can't change-existing circumstances. Interventions involve skill-building strategies that are designed to move special students to more advanced academic levels.
Do you and your classroom have what it takes? Here's a checklist of strategies to help you develop a classroom that should meet the needs of all your students.
___ Special needs students should be within close proximity to the teacher or the teacher's assistant.
___ Implement procedures that are well understood by all your students to keep noise levels at an acceptable level. The Yacker Tracker is a worthwhile investment.
___ Create a special carrel or private location for taking tests, and/or revise existing seating to accommodate students who more acutely need to be free of distractions for ultimate success.
___ Eliminate as much clutter as you can. This will also help keep distractions to a minimum.
___ Try to avoid presenting instructions or directions only verbally. Use graphic organizers, as well as written or graphical instructions.
___ Clarifications and reminders should be given as regularly as necessary.
___ Needy students should have agendas which you give them regularly and that you refer to yourself.
___ Communication between home and school should be in place for all students, but particularly for those students with special needs. Your relationship and interaction with a child's parents or guardian can be an invaluable tool and ensure consistency between the classroom and home.
___ Break down assignments and work into manageable chunks, particularly for students with attention span deficits. Provide frequent breaks. Make learning fun, not a draining challenge. A tired child is never at his most receptive to new information.
___ Your classroom expectations should be clearly outlined and understood, as well as consequences for inappropriate behaviors. Your approach for conveying this information will depend on the individual special needs of the children involved.
___ Extra assistance should be available when needed, either from yourself or from a more accomplished peer.
___ Praise students when you 'catch them doing things correctly, but don't overdo it. The praise should be a real reward, not something that happens over every small accomplishment but rather in response to a string of related accomplishments.
___ Use behavior contracts to target specific behaviors.
___ Make sure students are familiar with and understand your curing and prompting system that helps them stay on task.
___ Never begin instructions or directions until you have the undivided attention of your entire class.
___ Allow additional 'wait' time for your special needs students.
___ Provide special needs students with regular, ongoing feedback and always promote their self-esteem.
___ Make sure all your learning experiences really do promote learning.
___ Provide activities that are multi-sensory and that take learning styles into consideration.
___ Allow time to let your special needs students repeat instructions and directions.
___ Modify and/or shorten assignments to ensure success.
___ Have methods in place so students can have text written to them and so they can dictate their answers.
___ Provide opportunities for cooperative learning. Working together in groups often helps to clarify misconceptions for learning delayed students.