When students with disabilities enter the mainstream classroom, it can be a challenge for teachers. We examine some issues - and offer solutions - to help make teaching these special classes less stressful.
Teaching Strategies to Help Ease the Strain on Mixed Ability Classrooms
Integrated classrooms can be a challenge for students and teachers alike. But with proper planning, support, and a few simple strategies, teachers can ease the strain and serve every student better.
A Growing Issue in Modern Classrooms
In the past, schools may have only had a handful of disabled students requiring special care. These students were typically sequestered in the special education department. In today's modern classrooms, mainstreaming the growing number of students with disabilities is the order of the day. This mixing of classrooms can present a challenge to teachers already coping with reduced funding and overcrowding. It also provides a wealth of learning opportunities for both instructors and their students.
As Vanderbilt University's Center for Teaching is quick to point out, combined classrooms offer critical lessons in patience, empathy, and the value of community. These opportunities might be missed in schools where special needs students are kept in isolation.
Training and Support are Crucial
Like any program involving children with special needs, training and support are critical to ensuring every student's needs are met. Enlisting extra aids - preferably those with Special Education training - can make all the difference in easing the burden.
For school districts with budgetary restrictions to hiring additional staff, classroom volunteers can make all the difference. Volunteers can help provide extra instruction, supervise during projects, and support student learning. Another pair of hands and eyes not only ensures that students get the help they need, it can free the teacher to instruct the rest of the class.
Plan for Success
When planning for an integrated classroom, there are a number of simple methods teachers can incorporate into their classroom plan to make challenging subjects less stressful for teachers. Some useful tips include:
- Incorporate Life Skill Training into the Curriculum
- Make Use of Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences
- Maintain Flexibility
- Begin Your Planning Early
Teachers should review the needs of their students with disabilities prior to planning the week's lessons. Extra planning helps teachers tailor their offerings to the student's needs. This extra time will also allow you to arrange more classroom helpers for those days when the curriculum might prove to be more than your special needs students can manage.
Beyond the help of aides, the support of your peers can go a long way in helping students get the most out of any class. The William and Mary School of Education advocates a collaborative approach to teaching inclusive classrooms that benefits the students and teaching staff as well.
Some of the methods Sue Land, M.Ed., an educator at the school, recommends are:
- Interactive Teaching
- Parallel Teaching
- Station or Center-Based Teaching
- Alternative Teaching
Using one - or many - of these methods help to provide special needs students with the support they need while ensuring that standard student's learning doesn't suffer.
Practice Positive Classroom Management
As with any successful classroom plan, positive classroom management techniques are key. A good plan will help students of all abilities understand and adhere to your expectations. More importantly, providing students with clear guidelines helps them to take ownership of themselves and their actions. This extra responsibility can foster a sense of ownership of their actions, as well as increase their independence. Some of the techniques outlined in the Study.com Classroom Management course that work well in blended classrooms include:
- Display and Review Classroom Rules
- Employ Positive Reinforcement
- Establish Non-verbal Signals Linked to Desired Outcomes
- Post the Schedule and Keep to It
- Use Positive Language that Focuses on the Student, Rather Than the Disability
Other strategies will vary depending on the needs of your students and the support you receive from your school district and volunteers.
Vary Your Approach
Varying how you approach learning helps not only the special needs students in your class; it can benefit the standard students as well. By demonstrating that there is more than one way to solve a problem or learn a concept, you are preparing students for life beyond school, where thinking outside the box can reap huge rewards.
The Learning Disabilities Association of America offers some helpful tips to teach children of all abilities how to learn:
- Use Visual Aids to Enhance Understanding
- Supply Regular Feedback
- Engage Students with Open-ended Questions
- Model Behavior and Learning Practices
With these methods - and a little patience - teachers can provide every student in their classroom with the high-quality education they deserve. An effective plan will prepare them for a time when they will have to make their own way in the world beyond the safety of the school's walls.
The Benefits of Inclusion are Many
As the NY Times reported as far back as 1993, when inclusive pilot programs began, with proper support and teacher training, special needs students can thrive both academically and socially. And studies have shown they aren't alone. Integrated classrooms provide a real-world atmosphere that teaches all students how to better cope with challenges, explore new concepts, and develop the positive personality traits that prepare them well for a world full of people of differing abilities.
Something well worth the challenges of integration.