Marie 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Other learners suffer because of having learners with SENs in their classes
Not true. Other learners benefit from developing understanding and acceptance of differences.
- 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
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.
- 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’.
- 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.
- 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.
- Learn from your students
Ask them what helps. Get to know their strengths and interests.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.