5 Effective Strategies to Teach Kids
With Special Needs
A lot has changed over the years in the attitudes towards children with special needs in the education sector. Instead of helping these kids cope with other students, schools failed to recognize their unique needs and looked upon them with pity and unease.
Today the education sector has modified its practices to provide specialized instruction to such students, either in special education classes or mainstream education. Teachers dealing with special needs students now adopt strategies that consider the students’ unique needs. Let us now discuss some very effective strategies you should adopt when teaching mentally or physically challenged students.
1. Stock your classroom with special learning materials
If you are teaching at a school solely for special children, you will face students with a wide range of special needs. Some may have physical limitations, while others have neurological deficiencies. However, since every child has a unique requirement, you must stock your class with various learning aids. For this very reason, unlike mainstream classes, special education teachers have greater freedom of choice.
You can keep timers for introducing arbitrary concepts or to time reading tasks. Highlighter strips or reader trackers are good tools for students with attention deficits or reading impairments to help them keep track of the line or word they are on. With large foam dice, you can teach addition/subtraction in an engaging hands-on way. These and many other learning aids are very helpful for mentally challenged students.
To familiarize yourself with teaching strategies and learning aids that best meet kids' needs in special education classes, you can enroll in a Special Education Master's in Teaching Degree. Such degree programs are designed to instruct special education teachers in the best ways to meet their student’s unique needs.
2. Introduce students to the concepts to be discussed in upcoming lessons
Students with special needs benefit from detailed instruction and clear expectations. Prior to any lesson, clarify students about future learning and behavioral expectations. Teachers should inform students about what they would learn in the next class and what behavior they need to adopt during the class. Also, inform them about what learning materials they would be using. Uncertainty and inconsistency are unsettling for any child, but those with special needs are particularly sensitive to it. Outlining goals, both in the short and long term, benefits them. You should also take time to set individual targets so that each child has a personal goal to work on.
3. Encourage teamwork
There is often so much diversity in special education classrooms that collaboration becomes difficult. One clever way around this is to group students into smaller learning groups based on their progress. So students still learning how to read will be in one group, while those who have moved on to comprehension of text will be in another. You can also group students based on their skill sets to make it easier to set personalized goals. This will enable you to provide specific instructions without dealing with each student individually. After the formation of these groups, encourage teamwork. Teamwork teaches interpersonal skills, boosts self-confidence, and reduces bullying by providing social support.
4. Encourage students to participate actively
Participation is the key to comprehension. For special children, being called upon to answer questions on the spot can be highly stressful. As with other children, they may feel humiliated or frightened when they give an incorrect answer or cannot respond at all. You can adopt techniques to prepare them in advance. For example, a simple pat on the back, a tap on their table, or a sticky note before it is their turn to answer. This lets them prepare mentally. Once you have posed the question, give them sufficient time to respond. Don’t respond with criticism if the answer is wrong. Move forward with the correct answer and ask the next question.
5. Be consistent in your approach
Children with special needs often face difficulty adapting to changes in routine. Inconsistency for someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder, for instance, is highly unsettling. They stick to rigid daily schedules and hate change. Keep your students on track with a daily routine that stays more or less consistent. You can divide your lesson with fixed breaks and keep a specified time for certain regular activities like question-answer sessions.
To design a routine, select an activity and familiarize all the staff members with your teaching plan. For example, how much time will the students be allowed? When and to what extent can the instructor intervene to help? Should any positive reinforcement plan be followed? Ensure that everyone is on the same page and there is no significant variation in routine.
Teaching children with special needs requires a unique skillset and teaching strategy. You need to have patience, be consistent, and encourage participation. Use an approach based on team collaboration and different learning aids. Doing so is known to give excellent outcomes for special children. Most children just need a little more personalized attention to catch up with their peers, so don’t underestimate their ability to learn and grow.
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