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5 Myths About Teaching Learners With Special Educational Needs

9 Comments

Group of friends in a circle from belowMarie Delaney is a teacher, trainer, educational psychotherapist and author of ‘Teaching the Unteachable’ (Worth). She has worked extensively with pupils with Special Educational Needs and trains teachers in this area.

Do you have learners with special educational needs (SENs) in your class? Have you had any training for teaching these learners? Probably not.

In many countries across the world governments are promoting a policy of inclusion for learners with SENs. However, there is often a gap in training and resources for teachers to implement this. This has led many teachers to feel anxious and insecure about their teaching skills. There are some common fears and misconceptions which make a lot of teachers anxious.

5 myths that make teachers anxious

  1. You have to be a specially trained teacher to teach learners with SENs
    Not true. Good teaching strategies will benefit all learners. Good classroom management and a positive attitude are things every teacher can have.
  2. It takes a lot of time and extra planning
    It doesn’t have to. If you already plan your lessons with a variety of activities and use a mult-sensory approach, you do not need to do lots of extra planning.
  3. You can’t do fun, challenging activities
    Not true. See beyond the label. Learners with SENs are individuals with their own personalities and strengths. Discover your learners’ strengths and build on these in your classroom activities.
  4. Other learners suffer because of having learners with SENs in their classes
    Not true. Other learners benefit from developing understanding and acceptance of differences.
  5. Parents of learners with SENs are challenging for teachers
    This does not need to be the case. These parents have often had to struggle to get help for their children. They can help you to understand the issues and develop strategies together which work. See them as allies, not critics.

So what works?

You already have lots of classroom management skills which will help learners with SENs. Like all learners, they need clarity, consistency, understanding and a multi-sensory approach to learning. In the case of learners with SENs, these things are absolutely vital.

8 top tips

  1. Instructions
    Make these clear, concise, give them on a step-by-step basis. Check by giving an example and getting an example. Give in different senses – for example, have visual cues such as an ear for listening and gestures to reinforce. Avoid the use of sequencers, such as ‘before you do this,’ and give the instructions in the correct order.
  2. Use positive classroom language
    Say what you want learners to do, not what you don’t want them to do. For example say ‘Look at the board’ rather than ‘Don’t keep turning around’.
  3. Use visuals to reinforce rules and routines
    For example, have a traffic light system to show when the whole group is going off task. Use visual cues to let learners know the order of activities in the lesson.
  4. Think about your learners needs and have a seating plan
    For example, hearing impaired learners will need to sit near the teacher, learners with ADHD need to sit away from distractions such as windows and radiators.
  5. Learn from your students
    Ask them what helps. Get to know their strengths and interests.
  6. Use a multi-sensory approach
    For example, have learners step out the word stress, draw the word stress, sing the word stress. Get feedback in different ways, for example, use individual mini whiteboards where learners hold up their answers
  7. Create a positive environment where learners help each other
    For example, have a buddy system where learners sometimes help those with SENs. Use activities which develop empathy such as guessing about people in the room.
  8. Work with parents and other professionals
    Focus on what works, not the problems. Do more of what works.

Above all, see your learners as people and not as labels. And enjoy learning with them.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and other ELT professionals top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help further their ELT career. Follow Oxford ELT on Twitter. Find Oxford ELT on Google+.

9 thoughts on “5 Myths About Teaching Learners With Special Educational Needs

  1. Reblogged this on MercedesViola's Blog and commented:
    Debunking myths

  2. Pingback: 5 Myths About Teaching Learners With Special Educational Needs | Teachers Blog

  3. Reblogged this on English – Batteries not included… and commented:
    Really good thoughts on how to approach SENs in your class.
    Putting labels aside is the first and biggest step, I think, although it can be difficult at times, particularly when your students and their parents are already somewhat prejudiced themselves. It’s an odd circumstance, when they feel they will be treated differently, mostly because – in my experience – they are used to that behaviour from previous schools or teachers. You as a teacher might not consider a student with SENs as someone who needs to be approached in a particular way, but what if their parents expect you to?

  4. Pingback: 5 Myths About Teaching Learners With Special Ed...

  5. I really liked this text. I´m also going to hand it out among the teachers at school

  6. Reblogged this on sharingteaching.wordpress.com as I start as SEN teacher. Great ideas to start a new year afresh!

  7. It is encouraging to read this. I have a number of SENs in one of the classes I teach and I agree that being positive about their abilities is vital. I think it is incredibly important to give them an overview of what is going to be taught in the lesson. As with all of my classes I write this on the board as I enter the room. I usually have a “fun” activity like a game or a YouTube to watch written at the bottom of my list, and they know that if they work well we will have time to watch the YouTube or play the game.
    I like the ideas of using visual clues to keep them on task. I will try the traffic light system. I am assuming red is for them to stop and refocus. I would really like more information on how you use these.

    As you say , I think it is mandatory to break tasks down into clear achievable steps for these students. It gives them a sense of achievement after they have completed the task.
    I like the way you refer to a multi sensory approach. It certainly makes the lesson more interesting and engages a range of different learning styles.
    I find the biggest challenge with these students is getting them past the mind set that they cannot achieve and encouraging them to try and persevere with a task or even with reading a novel that should be accessible for them. It is encouraging to read this. I have a number of SENs in one of the classes I teach and I agree that being positive about their abilities is vital. I think it is incredibly important to give them an overview of what is going to be taught in the lesson. As with all of my classes I write this on the board as I enter the room. I usually have a “fun” activity like a game or a YouTube to watch written at the bottom of my list, and they know that if they work well we will have time to watch the YouTube or play the game.
    I like the ideas of using visual clues to keep them on task. I will try the traffic light system. I am assuming red is for them to stop and refocus. I would really like more information on how you use these.

  8. It’s really stimulating to enter this blog. Last year I lived the experience of teaching a SEN student for the first time. I was not ready to do it but the girl was fantastic because since the beginning she started to be totally co-operative and ready to learn. I had great problems with time because the class had lots of other difficulties and I couldn’t spend the right time with her.
    Anyway I knew by her mum that it was the first time she studied English with interest ( she’s a fifteen-year old Italian student in a Liceo Scientifico). Obviously we still have a lot to do and this year the syllabus for the class is on English literature and culture. I need to be helped by you. What shall I do with her ? Shall we continue to work on daily language or shall we use the topics of the general syllabus to improve her English?

  9. Really interesting and useful to know your advice

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