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Effective Instructional Strategies for Special Education Students

written by: Barbara • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 1/6/2012

Students with disabilities often struggle in the classroom. By providing them with differentiated classroom instruction and modified curriculum, teachers and support staff can provide an educational playing field that is both equitable and accessible for students struggling to learn.

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    An Example

    Cindy is a 9th grade student in Mr. Sanders' Algebra 1 class at Marion High School. With an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), Cindy is struggling to understand the complexity of all of the variables and algebraic expressions that Mr. Sanders puts on the board everyday. She is exasperated every time he collects the homework assignments because she typically turns in incomplete work or has nothing to turn in. Currently, she is failing his class and now is starting to skip the class.

    Cindy has diagnosed math deficiencies in word expression and understanding basic computations in math. According to Boom (1982), "A student who is a struggling learner cannot learn at an average rate from the instructional resources, texts, workbooks, and materials that are designated for the majority of students in the classroom." Cindy exhibits the classic signs of a struggling student in that she has deficiencies in math skills and is becoming exasperated in not being able to fill in the gaps in her homework assignments or her test scores. In order for Mr. Sanders to address Cindy's learning deficiencies in Algebra 1, he must provide a differentiated instructional access and curriculum modification.

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    The Nuts and Bolts: Effective Instructional Strategies

    For Cindy and other struggling students in the classroom, teachers like Mr. Sanders must implement the following instructional strategies to make learning work for them:

    1. Provide differentiated instruction in math instruction. Utilize a student's learning style and IEP indicators to create alternative learning instruction that addresses the learning needs of special education students.

    2. Create lessons that are accessible and engaging for students. For example, Mr. Sanders can create lessons that address Cindy's math deficiencies by using her IEP to see what she understands and what her deficiencies are in math. If she has problems with word problems and the lesson plans are all about word problems, then Cindy is left out of the learning process with the given instruction.

    3. Construct a classroom learning environment that keeps Cindy in the classroom. The classroom should be supportive and engaging in helping all students struggling to learn new math concepts. If an IA (Instructional Assistant) is needed to help special education students with math organization and learning processing, then an IA can work with Cindy and other students to provide additional assistance in their learning.

    4. Individualize the instruction and create math chunks of information so that Cindy and other struggling learners can have more learning successes. For Cindy's math learning, Mr. Sanders can show her how to create numerical problems from word problems and problem solve for answers.

    5. Talk to Cindy and provide tutorial support on homework assignments and pre-assessment tasks. Homework centers and IA support can be instrumental in creating student connection in the learning by providing him/her with individualized tutorial support.

    For the struggling learner, all it takes is one teacher who cares enough to provide constructive feedback, instructional diversity and chunks of conceptual learning to accelerate that student's success and acquisition of the learning objective and outcome.