Students with disabilities need to be treated with respect and care. Each student is unique and it’s important to meet their individual needs in the classroom. One of our jobs as educators is to prepare our students for the next step in their educational journey. For students with disabilities, teaching independence at every step is vital. Setting up an efficient classroom environment and providing education materials that are appropriate is the first step. Using a color system in your classroom can help students who have difficulty reading signs/labels. Having items neatly organized can help the students with organizational problems streamline where things are located in your classroom.
Students with disabilities in the classroom will have varying levels of understanding and ability. Providing an environment with adapted features aid in facilitating independence. When the teacher gives the class a direction such as, “Everybody go get your math journal,” most students will go running to retrieve their math journal in it’s designated area. But students with a disability may be confused or not know where to go. That’s where the teacher can help connect the dots. If the math materials are all located in RED bins and are clearly labeled, this can help the student be more independent. Every subject in a classroom can be categorized in the same color to help the student with a disability. Red for math, green for science, yellow for reading and more!
Providing individual students with extra organization can help teach independence as well.
Having all materials nearby can reduce anxiety and avoid the situation of particular students always being last to get materials. Help the student with a disability by having a pencil box right on the student’s desk with everything the student needs (pencils, crayons, glue, ruler). Provide a chair pocket so the student can retrieve everything right from the student’s seat! These little things go a long way in helping the student with a disability organize their environment!
The levels of learning in the classroom can be varie
d. That doesn’t mean the student with a disability cannot participate in the group lesson if you make some modifications! If the students are asked to write a sentence about what they did over the weekend, perhaps the student with a disability can draw a picture or circle their choice from a list of items (the teacher has made that choice sheet ahead of time and handed out to those students who need that accomodation). When the class needs to write the information from the board but has difficulty with handwriting, the student with a disability could type the information on a tablet or laptop. You can also use digital learning to differentiate lessons for students of varying skill levels so that students don’t feel singled out.
Characters and Fiction vs. Non-Fiction
Students with disabilities are sometimes less mature and will prefer activities and topics that are geared towards younger age groups. It is advisable to avoid doing activities like using characters in the older grade level classes. If students are asked to pick a character from a TV show or movie that they like for an activity, a student with a disability may choose a pre-school character which may cause them to be ridiculed or laughed at by peers. To avoid having this uncomfortable situation occur, steer toward non-fiction subjects. Ask the students to choose a favorite animal, food or science topic. Non-fiction materials are much more age appropriate. A book set about science is more age appropriate than fiction books with characters.
Think outside of the box! Teachers can make small changes in their classrooms to accommodate students with disabilities in their classrooms by using more age appropriate materials. Be on the lookout for materials and management tools that you can use in your classroom. Be creative! You do not have to be a special education teacher to think like one! Have a great school year!
Kristyn Corace has been teaching students with special needs for 23 years at Thorne Middle School, a public middle school in Middletown, New Jersey. Her class is called a Multiple Disabilities class and she has students with Down syndrome, autism, communication disabilities, general cognitive impairments, physical disabilities and more. The focus of her class is independence! Kristyn and her staff of paraprofessionals work daily to help her students learn valuable life skills, make personal choices and communicate verbally, with Augmentative and Alternative Communication Devices (AAC) and sign language. It is important for Kristyn to teach her students in the community as well. The students practice their skills in the real-world every month on Community Based Instruction (CBI) trips! You can follow Kristyn on Twitter: @MrsCorace.