Classroom Management Strategies for Special Education

Instructor: Lori Sturdivant

Lori has a specialist's degree in Instructional Leadership/Mild Moderate and currently serves as the Lead Teacher for The University of Southern Mississippi's Autism Project.

Are you looking for fun and practical ways to manage behaviors in your classroom with special needs students? This lesson will provide you with easy-to-implement activities that you can begin using today!

What is Classroom Management?

Johnny gets up out of his seat without permission, Susey yells out answers, Jimmy lays his head down during activities, Janie throws paper at Sally, and Lanie won't stay out of the art supplies; and this is all before the tardy bell has rung to start the day... If your classroom is anything like this, you need classroom management strategies.

Classroom management is the procedures and processes you create and implement in your classroom to increase appropriate behaviors and decrease undesirable behaviors. An effective classroom management strategy will increase academic engagement, because students are focused and on task. Classroom management also refers to the way you arrange your class.

Consider Classroom Arrangement

Do you have students with visual or hearing impairments? Maybe Jimmy, for example, lays his head down because he can't hear or see you well. Do you have students who use wheelchairs? Maybe Janie is trying to throw her paper away and not at Sally, but she can not properly maneuver her wheelchair to the trash can. Did you leave room for a wheel chair to pass through the rows of desks? These are just some of the things to consider in a special education classroom. You must think about every aspect of the lesson, routines, and procedures, as well as the physical layout of the room, to maintain discipline in the classroom.

The classroom designed for students with special needs is not a typical classroom. When students with special needs are in your class, you must take extra care to plan, because their ability to process information may be very different from their typical peers. Lessons in this classroom are designed to meet learners at their cognitive and instructional levels rather than their grade level. This classroom often uses a lot of hands-on activities and a lot of movement within the classroom. Student safety is a huge concern, but an effective classroom management plan will keep students safe as well as engaged.

Develop a Classroom Management Plan

To create an effective classroom management plan for students with special needs, you must have clearly defined rules and procedures. Have a procedure for every little thing! You should have a process for lining up, getting out and putting away supplies, throwing away items, asking for help, going to the water fountain, etc. Procedures will help students know the classroom expectations, and the more that students know what is expected of them, the less likely they are to deviate from the set procedures you have established together.

When possible, let your students help you come up with the classroom rules and procedures. This will give the students some control and accountability over their behaviors.

Use Positive Reinforcement

A positive behavior system (PBS) is a systemic approach that rewards students for behaving appropriately and following the rules and procedures. You can encourage students by using specific positive praise. Specific positive praise means verbally praising the student for the exact behavior they demonstrated. It is not enough to say, ''Good job Jimmy.'' This is especially important for students with special needs who often need explicit instructions. A token economy system can also encourage positive behavior. When you incorporate a token economy system, students will earn a token (or fake dollar, gold star, etc.) for following the classroom rules and procedures.

Say, for example, that Janie is following the rules today. You might say the following to her:

  • ''Janie, I really liked how you waited until I called your row before you gathered your art supplies.'' (Give Janie a token.)
  • ''Thank you, Janie, for raising your hand to ask me a question.'' (Give Janie a token.)

At the end of a certain time frame determined beforehand, students can use these tokens to purchase items. Depending on the instructional and cognitive level of your students, you could arrange shopping sessions daily, twice a week, once a week, etc. It will depend on how long your students can hold out for delayed gratification. If you make them wait too long, the tokens will lose their meaning.

The items students shop for can be tangible, like small toys, fun school supplies, or approved snacks. The items can also be intangible, such as extra recess time or a homework pass.

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