The quest to improve special needs education is an ongoing one. While our understanding of best practices has grown over time, and special needs programs do have more resources than they have done in the past, there is still work to be done to ensure that every special needs student can achieve their full potential.
1. Evidence-based special needs education
Even though our understanding as to how to teach children with special needs has improved rapidly in recent years, research into how special needs education can be made even better is (and should be) constantly ongoing. Following the most recent evidence and applying it in the classroom is an important part of lesson planning.
2. Properly training and equipping teachers and support staff
A special needs program is only as good as its staff. That includes both the teachers themselves, and any support staff. All should be properly trained and certified, with a clear idea of their specific role and access to the resources they need.
3. Emotional and behavioural as well as academic support
An important aspect of teaching children with special needs is realizing that you are not just trying to teach them to read and write, but also how to manage their emotions and avoid unhealthy behaviour. Lessons need to balance all aspects of learning.
Scheduling is essential for both students and teachers. You need to ensure that everything is covered, but also that there are appropriate breaks. Different classes need to coordinate together when sharing resources.
5. Slower pace/additional time
Many special needs students will be able to achieve similar goals to children in general education, but not at the same pace. Being willing to take things slower and allocate extra time is essential to ensure no one falls behind.
6. Individualized programming wherever possible
It cannot be repeated too often that every special needs child is an individual with their own strengths and weaknesses. Small class sizes, individual tuition sessions and personalized learning plans ensure every child has a curriculum tailored to their needs.
7. Parental involvement
Lessons learned at school are more effective when reinforced at home. Parents are often one of the most valuable sources of information about their children. Keeping communication channels open between school and home is vital for providing the most comprehensive support.
8. Accurate data collection
Planning is essential for a successful special needs program, but that cannot be done without accurate data collection first. You need to know how many students, the different types of special needs and which programs do or do not work effectively.
9. Appropriate assessment
You cannot measure the success of a special needs program without assessment, but the standard assessments used in general education will rarely be appropriate. Children do, however, need recognized qualifications if they are going to use them in future. This means any assessment program needs to be carefully tailored to the needs of students.
10. Embrace modern technology
Technology has created invaluable assistive devices for a wide range of special needs. It also changes rapidly, which can make it hard for teachers to keep pace. As children will need to use technology in adulthood, teachers need to be fully technologically aware.
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