Special Education Needs Facing Elementary School Teachers

A funny thing about knowledge is that the more you learn, the more you realize how much you have left to learn. The same idea applies to our understanding of special education in the United States, which has changed dramatically in the last decade. Educators develop new teaching strategies for engaging students with special educational needs, revisiting and reimagining the fundamental ways we think about reaching exceptional students.

The online Master of Education (MEd) in Special Education with a concentration in Teacher of Students with Disabilities program from William Paterson University (WP) gives graduates the skills to tailor learning environments to accommodate elementary school students with special needs.

Practice Principles of Universal Design for Learning

Many of these strategies build on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles, a set of guidelines that provide educators with concrete suggestions to make their lessons more inclusive and accessible for all learners. In an article for Education Week, associate editor Christina A. Samuels suggests that one of the most important ways future educators can create meaningful learning experiences is by understanding and implementing the principles of universal learning design.

Offer Alternative Learning Materials

One way to implement UDL principles is by including additional and assistive learning materials. Reading Rockets contributor Kathleen Bulloch lays out adaptive strategies educators can utilize when adapting their lessons for a variety of different learners, including younger students.

For example, students who have difficulty learning by listening could benefit from a shortened listening time, flashcards, a script of a film or presentation, or additional written directions. Students who struggle to write legibly could use a tape recorder or try pages with wider rules. Additional reading time or alternative presentations can help students who have trouble reading.

Assistive technologies cater to students with physical disadvantages. Providing large-type materials for students with visual impairments is an example. By making these accommodations a foundational part of instruction, teachers can create more inclusive classrooms for students with special needs.

Reinforce Positive Learning

Positive behavioral techniques are another option for teachers to support students with special needs. The method uses data-backed practices to help students develop communication, social and critical-thinking skills that foster intrinsic motivation and lead to better performance. The subjects are not usually directly addressed by teachers but instead taught using alternative methods such as role-playing, group activities and journaling. Particularly in lower grades, when social skills are still developing, these practices can offer critical outlets for exceptional students to express themselves more freely.

To some extent, all of these techniques result from evidence-based practices, an approach that documents proof of what’s working to identify the most effective programs for students. As researchers learn more about the roots of special needs and learning disabilities, professionals can use that understanding to continue honing special needs education practices for students of all ages. Teachers can begin their journey to meet these needs by earning their MEd in Special Education – Teacher of Students with Disabilities online from WP.

Learn more about WP’s online Master of Education in Special Education with a concentration in Teacher of Students with Disabilities program.

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