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Students with Disabilities in the Classroom

Including Students with Disabilities in Your Classroom

As a general education classroom, chances of having special needs students in your classroom are very high. Depending on your school, you will range from a couple, based on the students’ ability level, or you could work in a full inclusion school where all special needs will be in the general education setting. Ask around to see what your schools’ set up is so you may adequately plan the way your classroom will operate. Having a SPED student will make you a better teacher and you will beam with pride.

student with a disability in the classroom
An elementary age Caucasian boy helps read a book to a preschool age Hispanic boy with Down Syndrome. They are looking down at the book and enjoying each other’s company.

Utilize Your Resources

A huge perk of teaching in the 21st century is there are several support resources available within your school and district. Unfortunately, many teachers simply fail to utilize those resources.

The first, and one of the most important, resource is your special education department. Take full advantage of their familiarity and proficiency of the teachers in your school, who work every day with students who have IEPs (Individualized Education Program) and/or 504s. Those educators have substantial training working with children with learning AND behavioral disabilities. Reach out to those in the SPED department (teachers, diagnosticians and even the paraprofessionals) and let them know you want to do what is best for your students and would love to discuss strategies to make your students successful.

The second readily available resource, is the students IEP. The IEP has a list of very specific goals and objectives for each, individual, student. There are also possible modifications that you should use. You should receive a copy of each students IEP in a confidential folder or packet. If you haven’t received one, ask your diagnostician for a copy. Keep in mind, these are legal documents you must follow. When working with SPED students, you may be asked to attend an ARD (Admission, Review and Dismissal) meeting, which includes – diagnostician, SPED teacher, general education teacher, administrator, the student and the parent(s) of the student. This is both an eye opening and wonderful experience working with a team for the best interest of the student.

When planning a particular unit, don’t rely on just your textbook. Pull up your state standards. For your SPED students, really focus on your primary standards. Primary standards are the foundation for the secondary standards. If your students can master these standards, you are setting them up for success. What does it mean to “master an objective”? Here is an example of an IEP goal: John Doe will demonstrate, with 80% accuracy, using context clues to define a word. You will achieve this by tests or homework, with evidence based on the students grade.

Support For SPED Students

Once you understand your resources, make encouraging your students a priority; SPED or not. Every student will have what they view as a “weakness”. Your SPED students are no different. Praising a student for their hard work can create a self fulfilling prophecy for these students. The more positivity they hear, the more they will believe in themselves. Take into consideration what reinforcement is appropriate and meaningful for each student. Make it age appropriate and take into consideration if it might embarrass them. In my classroom, I find a time to talk to my SPED students separately and discover what form of reinforcement works for them.

Positive reinforcement does not have to be about making a great song and dance. This is where getting to know your student is critical. If your student is sensitive to having attention
brought to them or if they tend to be shy, keep your positive reinforcement subtle and casual. Above all, be enthusiastic in your encouragement.

Some examples of positive reinforcement

  • thumbs up
  • “I love the way you…”
  • Allow them to leave the room first for lunch – Choice of music to play
  • Free 10 minute break (keep a timer to allow them to be able to transition back to classwork)

Next, focus on being supportive of your students. Start with relationships. Not only between you, as the educator, but also within the classroom with other students. Create opportunities for students to interact by utilizing relationship building activities. For example, when your lesson plan calls for group work, take a few minutes to have the student group themselves according to their birthdays or favorite color. When students see they have something in common with others, it allows the possibility to build relationships.

Advocate for your SPED students. You will see what they are struggling with first hand. Keep open communication with your team. If you know of a possible resource that your student can benefit from, request a meeting with the team to discuss the ways to help them be successful. Utilize the students parents as a valuable resource for building a plan that can ease the strain on their education.

Overall, focus on your students strengths and be supportive of their weaknesses. Let each student know that you believe in him or her. The rewards will be tremendous for you and your student.

Helpful Resources – Whether you’re a general or special education teacher, principal, specialist, or paraprofessional, you play a vital role in helping children with learning disabilities achieve their full potential. LD OnLine has gathered the following resources to assist you in your important job! – Inform yourself about curriculum strategies and classroom management for students with different learning needs. We have resources on everything you need to know about teaching special needs students effectively. – Do2learn provides thousands of free pages with social skills and behavioral regulation activities and guidance, learning songs and games, communication cards, academic material, and transition guides for employment and life skills.

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