Advice on the Best Practices for Teaching Special Education
Learning the best practices for special education gives teachers a crucial advantage in the classroom, where special-needs children face a broad range of difficulties in learning.
The reasons for these difficulties are as unique as the children themselves. Teachers who understand the best practices can act appropriately to keep the learning momentum going forward. Here’s a look at how to make that happen in your classroom:
Create a positive, safe learning environment
By establishing the guidelines and boundaries in the classroom, the teacher sets the expectations for the students’ behavior. Examples:
- Let the students know precisely which behaviors are forbidden and which are rewarded.
- Make sure students understand that all will be treated equally under the rules of the classroom.
- Emphasize that positive behaviors are rewarded and other behaviors are not.
When the learning environment is rewarding, children can be motivated to stop misbehaving if they think they might be removed from the classroom.
Understand behavioral assessment and intervention
The special education teacher is often the first to have contact with a student who exhibits behavioral problems in the classroom. In a moment’s notice, teachers must be able to determine what triggered the behavior and how to respond.
Sometimes, the removal of the behavioral trigger will calm down the student. Other times it may require the use of a different trigger to distract the child from their behavior so they can return to their lesson. Being knowledgeable and confident in these situations allows the teacher to quickly and effectively intervene.
Learn multiple techniques to reward positive behavior
Positive behavioral support is motivating when tailored to each student. Some students are satisfied with praise when they have done a series of tasks successfully. Others need the incremental support, for instance as they pick up their book, find the correct page and paragraph, and read it aloud to the class. Praise at each step gives these students something to build upon to reach the next step.
Find the student’s strengths
The sooner a teacher knows the strengths of each student, the sooner she can create a learning plan that works for that student. Treating all students alike means being successful only part of the time. Some students like to think out loud. Others need time to contemplate their work. Some are shy and hate speaking in front of the class. Others are eager for that experience. Unknowingly pushing a student into something that causes anxiety can easily trigger unwanted behaviors in the classroom.
Track each student’s progress
Special education students require much more documentation than other students. By keeping track of each little success and setback, the teacher will quickly see the trends that help create a positive learning environment for each student.
Sharing the progress with the students is another form of positive feedback. Even less-than-positive notes become a motivational tool when presented as “here is where we’ve found something that we can work on together.”
Know when it’s time for evaluation
Countless students struggle year after year, only to discover that something has been getting in the way of their learning. If the disability were caught sooner, the student’s life would’ve been much easier.
If as a teacher you begin to see signs of consistent struggle in one area, talk to the parents, administrators and counselors about an assessment. There could be unrecognized ADHD involved or something as simple as the student needs a change in their eyeglass prescription so they can read easier.
Master differentiated instruction
Particularly in the special education classroom, teachers must provide students with different paths to their learning. Each student will have a unique path to success. Forcing all students to learn the same way means some will always struggle, a few will be very successful and the majority will just get by. Being prepared with various teaching styles for the same material gives each student the opportunity to learn with the class. Even on separate paths, students can reach their learning goals.
The best practices for success
An understanding of the best practices for special education students creates a foundation upon which the teacher will develop their own style. These are not prescriptive techniques, but suggestions based on the experience of many teachers “in the trenches.” As teachers advance in their profession, they will discover their own best practices to add to the knowledge pool for others.