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How to Design Curriculum for Students in Special Education Classes

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 4/20/2015

This article explores how to design curriculum for students in special education classes, with a focus on catering to the multiple needs of a student group and finding a balance between student needs and school / staff availability. Perfect for the new special ed teacher!

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    First Steps in Curriculum Planning

    As a new special ed teacher, you are possibly wondering what on earth you are meant to teach to your class, and how you can Helping Special Ed Students design curriculum for special ed students that will meet the students' needs while showing that you are accountable and delivering content which is achievable, measurable and reasonable. The list of challenges can sometimes seem almost overwhelming! Relax - help is at hand. Let's look first at some basic student needs as they fall into some simple categories:

    Physical needs - this can include the need for meal assistance, eating, drinking skills, physical mobility, gross and fine motor skill development, game playing, operating in an indoor or outdoor PE environment, and toileting support.

    Cognitive needs - this can include developing thinking processes such as critical thinking, reasoning, using judgment and making decisions and choices (with a wide variety of levels depending on your students and their level of intellectual disability).

    Emotional needs - this can include the ability to express oneself to describe emotions, using emotion based language, showing thoughts and feelings through facial expression and gesture etc.

    Social needs - this can include interacting with others, making friendships, clear social expression, asking and responding to questions, taking turns and listening to others in a group situation.

    Communication needs - there is some cross over with communication into many of the other areas, as it is such a vital and wide ranging topic. Communication needs can include giving a yes / no response, using a reliable communication system (such as a communication board, gesture, sign or a voice output device), interacting with others outside the school environment and sharing and expressing views in an appropriate way at school and in public.

    Independence needs - this can include using public transport, organizing belongings, taking out the correct tools and equipment for a task, assisting others when needed, taking initiative, showing leadership, dealing with unexpected events and taking responsibility for activities of daily living.

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    Finding a Balance

    It is important to balance your curriculum so that there is a focus on all the important areas required for student success, and so that student IEP goals are able to be worked upon and hopefully met. You will also need to refer carefully to your state or region curriculum documents, so that you know how what you are teaching fits within the wider parameters of curriculum, assessment and reporting requirements in your area. Obviously this will vary greatly from country to country and even state to state, so get in touch with your school or department leader or a teacher who acts in a mentor role, and check what your own area's requirements are.

    As a guide, when you try to design curriculum for special ed students, work on having a blend of activity types from the list above spread throughout each day and each week. This ensures that students are achieving across all the learning areas (such as meeting literacy and numeracy needs related to special education), and not spending too much time on a single one whilst neglecting others. For some students, beginning each day in a predictable way (such as with a morning greeting circle and then a movement activity) allows for a communication need and then a gross motor physical need to be consistently met each day.

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