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[Special Education] 4 Teaching Best Practices

Tuesday, December 12, 2017 -- McKenna Wierman

The use of blended learning models is becoming more widespread as educators strive to meet increasing expectations to personalize learning with fewer dollars. And in the 21st century classroom full of students with diverse needs and abilities, technology and differentiated instructional strategies can be a great equalizer—especially for students with special needs.

Here are four best practices for special education teams to provide high-quality, laser-focused instruction for students with the help of online programs:

1. Try out the station-rotation blended learning model to individualize instruction. 

For special education (SPED) students, spending time in the general education setting is extremely beneficial for both academic and social reasons. However, it often adds another layer of complexity to providing quality individualized instruction. The station-rotation model, also known as centers or stations, allows students to rotate through various learning activities while freeing up the educator to work with a small group of students on a particular concept. Besides providing opportunity for socialization from working in groups collaboratively, centers work well with special education students because they allow for movement and sensory-based practice rotating through various activities, and using manipulatives in stations. This structure also helps them develop independence, as students work up to successfully being able to rotate and begin a new activity autonomously. Teachers can also place SPED learners in stations with other students that might be able to provide additional assistance as needed, while they work individually with another student. Utilizing this blended learning models not only allows you to better facilitate student learning but also expands the flexibility and individualization capabilities of your classroom. 

2. Use instructional content that engages students through multiple learning modalities.

It is essential that classroom instruction appeal to auditory, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic learners—not just in SPED classrooms, but in general education as well. When students are exposed to a variety of instructional modalities that engage all learning styles with a pedagogically sound approach focused on mastery, instruction becomes more meaningful. There are several ways to add multiple learning modalities to your instruction, but if you’re low on storage space, the answer might just be in your classroom technology. While it can’t replace traditional physical manipulatives, using tech allows teachers to present instruction or assign practice to students using multiple learning modalities. Virtual labs and tutorial videos can supplement regular instruction for kinesthetic learners, while visual and audio learners can utilize video or recorded lectures and lessons, and printable worksheets help tactile learners get a more hands-on learning experience. Multi-modal tech-based instruction also allows for a learning experience that is both unique to the student and easily transferable to different classrooms or learning environments. So, when the time comes for a student to move into a new classroom or continue work at home, he or she will still be able to work through lessons that serve multiple learning modalities, as long as they have access to a computer or personal device. For learners who thrive on routine, using a device they are already familiar with to deliver content that is completely customizable is a perfect combination.

3. Use assessments that are flexible and diagnostic.

Students that receive SPED services may not initially be able to demonstrate on-grade level mastery, so why administer a fixed benchmark that only assesses one grade-level’s worth of curriculum? Using more flexible and adaptive diagnostic assessment tools allows you to get the full picture. These tests meet students where they are by carefully administering questions across a broader curriculum range to diagnose what their unique strengths and needs are. While all students benefit from assessments of this nature, those that require additional academic support can experience great success with diagnostic tests. Additionally, monitoring data becomes more focused on the little wins that add up to growth—even if mastery is several steps removed. So, not only will you and your SPED students have a better picture of where each learner stands academically, your students will be encouraged by tracking their improvement.

4. Get to know your students’ standards-based IEPs.

Over the past several years, there has been a welcome push to improve the quality of IEP goals to include recognized state and national standards. There is no question that this levels the playing field for students receiving special education services, and it has drastically improved instructional goal setting. However, this emphasizes that any tool used for students receiving special education services be flexible enough to provide instruction, assessment, and reporting based on state and national standards. For general education teachers, the best way you’ll be able to customize your instruction to support your students’ IEPs is by familiarizing yourself with both the IEP process and the actual IEPs themselves. This will not only allow you to better tailor your instruction by getting to know what specific student needs you should be meeting, but also help you build solid relationships with your students so you can work together toward successful learning outcomes.

Every student, regardless of their needs or abilities, benefits from a more personalized approach to learning. And when it comes to SPED, the more tools you have at your disposal to better personalize a student’s learning experience, the better the outcome. For more information on IDEA, IEPS, co-teaching strategies, and more special education topics, check out The Teacher’ Ultimate Guide to Trends in Special Education on our blog!