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We Are All Special Education Teachers

Okay, now let me first preface this blog and say that I completely understand when it comes to special education, there are a myriad of laws and policies that are in place to protect diverse learners and special education teachers and case managers know them best. I am not saying that as a general education teacher, you can replace a special education teacher because, honestly, I know that this is simply not true. There. Stated.

BUT, just because you aren’t a special education teacher, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t a special education teacher. As a general education teacher, it is your job to make sure that if a child sits in your classroom, you are ensuring that his/her needs are met to the best of your ability. This week, I am going to give you a few tips to help support ALL learners in your classroom.

#1: Co-teach. Now, this one seems like a no-brainer right? How many times has a co-teacher been left out of the loop or simply was inactive in class? If you have a special education teacher that serves as your co-teacher, do just that, co-teach. You and your co-teacher should sit down and plan units and lessons together to not only ensure that all needs of all students are met, but to ensure that both of you are active players in the classroom. Just because a student does not have an IEP does not mean that he/she won’t benefit from the knowledge and expertise that a special educator brings to the classroom.

#2: Incorporate visual aids. If you find that you have to lecture or simply explain material or a concept, be sure to include visual aids. Visual aids allow students to follow along, map, and organize information that is being taught. As a person who is NOT an auditory learner, I struggle immensely if I don’t have the opportunity to see something written, illustrated, or broken down into an easily digestible graph. Perhaps that’s why I write blogs and record vlogs….

#3: Review and revisit. This concept applies to both information and skills that were previously taught in the year and during the class. Keep a visual that shows students what process or skill that they have learned. For example, when I teach students how to write introductions, I create a graphic organizer that illustrates each part of an introduction and constantly review the process that I use to teach them thesis statements. I never abandon the process. Be sure to do the same, sometimes students need a reminder of steps in a process or key skills they need to accomplish a task.

#4: Chunk! Are you chunking your assignments? Chunking helps make assignments or tasks that seem unachievable become more accessible. For example, if you want students to complete a summary of a four paragraph response, divide the response into four sections and have students write a sentence to summarize each paragraph, pulling the sentences together at the end to form a summary.

#5: Use various mediums. I loved doing this an English teacher. One year, I had a student pull me to the side to explain that reading was a struggle, I’ll call this student Margaret. Although Margaret struggled with the decoding that came with reading, she still could orally explain very complex ideas. I showed Margaret a painting and asked her questions about the picture, which she was able to easily talk to me about. In class, I always made sure to incorporate a visual—a piece of art that represented a major theme we were talking about or use graphic novels and other visuals to support texts. By including mediums that were more accessible to my students, they were able to experience success.

#6: Vary the final products. Another way to support students is to vary those final products! All of your final assessments don’t have to be essays or exams. Students can present things orally, illustrate them, or use online tools to help them illustrate their responses. For example, one year I had a student, let’s call this student Ryan, who was unable to write full sentences or read above a 1st-2nd grade level. I allowed Ryan to draw responses to questions because drawing was something that Ryan could easily do for me. You can even use the BINGO final product option which requires students to choose from a variety of options, all incorporating different learning modalities, that help them demonstrate the skill that is being assessed.

These are just a few tips that you can use to help support all students in your classroom. Like I said, these do not replace the professional expertise of a trained special education teacher, BUT we all have the skillset available to serve all students in our classroom. In most cases, all students benefit from these tips—not simply our diverse learners.

This blog was co-written by Barbara, a former classmate who I featured in the Friends Series. If you are interested in hearing more from Barbara, you can check out her video on Parent Communication Tips.

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