Instructional Strategies for Students with Emotional Impairments

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Teaching students who have emotional impairments can be very challenging, but it can also be meaningful and rewarding. This lesson offers instructional strategies that work for students with emotional impairments.

Teaching Students with Emotional Impairments

Tina has been teaching special education in an inclusive classroom, or one where typically-developing students learn alongside those with special needs, for the last three years. This year, however, she is in a unique situation because two of her students have severe emotional challenges that make it hard for them to work well in the classroom setting.

As a special educator, Tina knows that emotional impairments, or disabilities that impact a person's ability to identify, regulate, and understand emotion, can make a huge difference in behavior as well as learning. She decides to do the best she can to learn what will help these students succeed in her classroom.

Clear, Simple and Repetitive

First of all, Tina knows that her students with emotional impairments might get easily overwhelmed and overstimulated in the classroom, which can trigger problematic behaviors. As a result, she determines to make all directions for her class clear, simple, and repetitive. In addition, Tina applies the same characteristics to her class rules and all expectations.

  • Clear - Tina makes sure that all of her rules, assignments, and directions make good sense and are easy for students to interpret.
  • Simple - Tina makes an effort to use the minimum number of words and clauses in order to get her instructional points across.
  • Repetitive - Tina always gives directions at least twice and strives to provide consistent visual cues and reminders to her students as well.

Separate the Cognitive From the Emotional

As Tina gets to know her students better, she comes to understand that their emotional impairments can make it look as though they have academic struggles, when really they do not.

Of course, some students with emotional impairments also have learning challenges but as we teach them, it is important to try to separate their cognitive capacity from their emotional regulation and maturity. This means providing them with access to the same curriculum, work, and activities as any student at their level. Sometimes, as Tina gives her students more challenging work, she notices them rising to the occasion and surprising her with their ability to regulate their emotions while staying on task.

Preview, Preview, Preview

One thing that Tina learns quickly is that her students with emotional impairments don't like to be surprised. Tina makes a practice of meeting with each of these students at the beginning of the day to preview, or go over in advance, anything out of the ordinary that might be coming up that day.

In addition, she meets with these students before lunch, recess, and other potentially-triggering situations to go over what they can expect and what is expected of them. Previewing gives Tina's students a sense of control and some time to prepare themselves for challenging scenarios.

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