Tips for Teachers and Classroom Resources Updated November 17, 2017

6 Strategies for Teaching Special Education Classes

By The Room 241 Team

Special education classes provide a unique service to physically or mentally challenged students. The ideal special education classroom provides quality instruction to students with disabilities. While the push in education these days seems to be toward online education and the inclusion of special education students within mainstream classrooms, special education classes are still needed for more severely disabled students. The purpose of the special ed classroom setting is to provide more intensive, individualized attention to the students who most need it.

However, even in special education classroom settings there can be a wide a range of skill levels and abilities. How can teachers provide quality instruction to all students? Here are some strategies that special education teachers can use to benefit all of their students:

1. Form small groups

Forming small groups of two or three students within the class grouped according to their level can help with personalizing the teaching while not sacrificing class instruction time. For example, in math class, one group could be working on the basics while a more advanced group could be working on their geometry skills. Students would be grouped together according to similar skill levels and objectives along their education pathway.

2. Create classroom centers

Classroom centers are another effective way students can be grouped. 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. A teaching assistant, parent or volunteer could help facilitate the groups. Such centers would strike a balance between being self-explanatory, without totally giving up more direct teacher time.

3. Blend ‘the Basics’ with more specialized instruction

Still another way of instructing multiple levels of students is to teach general concepts to the whole group while pairing it with individual instruction. Since every school subject has some general concepts that could be relevant, individual students can benefit from this no matter what their level of proficiency.

Reading comprehension strategies, the basics of math, organizing writing ideas, or even a scientific theory are some examples of general concepts that could be taught to support what each student is learning in that area. Students can then apply this knowledge to their particular individual assignments. However, the teacher could always add some additional content for more advanced students.

4. Rotate lessons

Lessons within the different groups or centers could be rotated so that on any given day the teacher could introduce new material to one group, while only having to check in on others who are doing more independent activities. The teacher assistant could also be of service within such a lesson cycle.

5. Try thematic instruction

Thematic instruction is where a single theme is tied into multiple subject areas. This method of teaching has been shown to be very effective in special education classrooms. A “theme” could be anything from a current event, honing the skill of reading comprehension, a writing topic or a historical event. For example, a historical event could be tied into all other subjects. The theme should be attention-getting — something that will grab the students’ interest and keep them engaged.

6. Provide different levels of books and materials

Since there will be a variety of proficiency levels in the classroom, be sure to have different levels of textbooks and other teaching materials available for each subject. Having a range of levels on hand will ensure that each student can learn at the appropriate level. This minimizes frustration and maximizes confidence and forward momentum in the student.

As you can see, teaching special education students effectively can be enhanced with some adjustments. Regardless of the severity of their disabilities, classes can be structured in a way that caters to the individual level of functioning.

Doing so does not mean giving up quality personal instruction time. No matter what the content areas or variety of levels your students are working on, harmony and integration are possible. Strategies such as grouping, learning centers, rotating lessons, choosing class themes and having a flexible array of texts and materials can help teachers to provide ideal instruction and support within their special education classes.

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