There are so many factors that need to be considered when planning and delivering a high quality lesson. It can often feel like juggling several objects at once and this can be quite stressful at times. One of these factors is how we approach the needs of students with special educational needs (SEN). As our schools identify these students in our class lists, we begin to feel the pressure of catering to each of their needs. We are aware that an observer may focus on these particular students. In this article I will be providing some tips on how to approach teaching SEN students. These strategies are informed by research and my own experience in Secondary School classrooms.
Approach to SEN Students
I will start with some good news. There is actually little evidence to suggest that a distinctive teaching approach is beneficial for students with SEN. This means that we do not need to radically change lessons. There is no need to provide completely separate learning outcomes or alternative tasks for each individual student. In fact, it could actually be detrimental to separate SEN students from the rest of the class. (Florian & Davis, 2003) In order to teach SEN students effectively, we should take an inclusive approach to learning. At the same time, we should recognise and respond to individual needs. This could be in the form of adapting the learning environment, providing more visual resources or placing SEN students in a seating plan that allows them to access peer support.
Planning for SEN needs
As mentioned previously, it is important to recognise individual needs. Students identified as SEN may have vary different requirements and you can learn this through experience, or collaborating with SEN staff at your school (Friend & Cook, 1993). SEN staff will often know about the student's preferences and they will discover lots more in each lesson, through conversations and witnessing the progress being made. Listening to ideas from Teaching Assistants and other SEN staff is very important. Once you are aware of individual learning preferences, you should begin to think about scaffolding the tasks that are originally in your lesson plan. The question you should be asking yourself is "How can I give all students access to the learning outcomes". This could be done by providing additional resources such as study guides, highlighted texts, definitions of key words or access to dictionaries or peer tutoring through a well thought out seating plan. By taking an inclusive approach, you are ensuring that SEN students are not prevented from exceeding expectation. This also happens to make your life easier as a teacher. You do not have to plan separate activities for those with particular needs.
Collaborate with SEN staff to identify the learning preferences of SEN students in your class.
Take an inclusive approach, trying to scaffold the activities rather than sending SEN students down a separate pathway.
Make adjustments to the learning environment that may suit the learning preferences of SEN students. This could be anything from the seating plan to displays and visual resources.
Provide supportive resources such as dictionaries, highlighted texts, study guides, key word lists, or opportunities for peer support.