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Tips for Improving Special Education Instruction

Tips for Improving Special Education Instruction 

Special education programs are intricate arrangements of various procedures and practices developed to provide students with the best possible educational experience. Teaching students with special needs and conditions can be challenging, but you do not need to be an expert in every aspect of special education for you to be a good teacher and supporter for your students. However, developing an understanding of the basic strategies of effective special education instruction can be extremely beneficial in navigating your teaching experience and improving your special education teaching skills. Below are a few tips to help you enhance your special education instruction methodologies.

Focus on outcomes rather than inputs.

Too many teachers and school administrators pour hours of effort and countless dollars into their special education programs, grasping at straws to improve the system and provide their students with better educational experiences. However, very few schools take the time to actually analyze their special education programs. Instead of tracking their students’ progress and results, they simply hire more staff and hope the situation will improve. But money does not buy success. No matter how much money or how many resources put into the special education program, your students' success depends on you and the methods you use in your classroom. 

If you notice that your special needs students are acting out or that their grades are not improving, take time to reevaluate your teaching strategies. You might be doing everything right, but if your students aren’t reaching their goals and improving every day, something needs to change. Revisit your special education teaching strategies and plans and adjust where necessary, keeping track of the results that you see each time you make a change. Within a few weeks, you will start to see increasingly positive outcomes in your classroom.

Offer additional teaching time for struggling students.

If any of your special education students are struggling, it’s your job to offer them the help they need. Not every student works at the same pace, so there may be a few students who need extra time to catch up on assignments and relearn concepts in order to keep up with the other students in your class. At the beginning of the school year, make sure all of your students (specifically your special education students) know that you are available to assist whenever needed and remind them that asking for help is not a burden or something to be ashamed of. Set specific hours for additional teaching time and use those hours to reteach lessons, pre-teach upcoming concepts, address knowledge gaps, and rectify misconceptions. Too many schools offer extra adults (teachers’ assistants, reading aids, etc.) but not extra time. Time is absolutely crucial when it comes to helping struggling students keep up in school. Dedicate a period to additional instruction for your special education students and encourage them to stay and get the extra help.

Encourage educators to use their strengths and specialties.

No two teachers are exactly alike—and that’s a good thing! Make use of your teaching strengths and encourage other educators to do the same. When you play to your strengths, you make room for other teachers to do so as well, which helps you create the most positive and effective learning environment for your special education students. You also create opportunities to dive more deeply into your specific role in the special education program and master the skills. Below are a few examples of teaching strengths you or other instructors may want to focus on.

Subject Expertise

Subject expertise refers to teachers who are particularly skilled at teaching certain subjects such as math, science, English, history, or reading. If you or another teacher has special skills in a particular subject, devote your energy to helping students with that subject and recruit other teachers to fill the remaining roles.

Didactic Expertise

Didactic expertise, or instructional expertise, is proficiency in the area of teaching and instruction. Teachers with didactic expertise are familiar with various teaching strategies for students with disabilities and are comfortable accommodating their special needs.

Psychosocial Expertise

Psychosocial expertise refers to special knowledge of a psychological and social nature. Teachers with a background in psychology or social work should focus on providing individualized social and emotional support for special education students.

Program Expertise

IEPs can be incredibly difficult to develop and keep up with, and some teachers are better at it than others. When developing IEPs, you need someone who is thorough, efficient, and involved in the students’ educational experience. Delegate the role of IEP development to a teacher who has program expertise and would thrive in that role.

Center paraprofessional aid on safety, health, and behavioral needs.

Special education paraprofessionals are individuals who assist teachers in providing special education services. As a teacher, you and your colleagues are certified to provide the best support and education for your students. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need help! Rather than employing paraprofessionals as teaching aids that you don’t necessarily need (which might detract from your students’ learning experience), give them opportunities to provide safety, health, and behavioral support for your special education students. Struggling students need certified teachers to provide core instruction, but paraprofessionals can help meet and address students’  behavioral, health, and safety needs.

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