Updated July 2022
Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati
Accompanying podcast episode (published July 2022):
Teaching is an amazing and inspirational vocation. Just think: every single day we get the opportunity to literally help, inspire, motivate, coach and train young people. All of our learners are special and unique, but I’ve found that working with students that have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) can be the most rewarding part of the job.
Here’s my take on it all:
So how do we best help those students who may face additional challenges in school?
Whether it’s dyslexia, dyspraxia, English as an Additional Language, problems with motor function or even low emotional intelligence and mood swings, I’ve found that the following actions always achieve positive results:
Create and use Individual Educational Plans (IEPs)
Two things amaze me about IEPs:
- Many schools (especially internationals schools) don’t create IEPs for their students with ALN. Moreover, despite easily having the ability to do so, many schools still don’t embrace the idea of enabling full provision for SEN students and instead focus on raising the grades of their high flyers as much as possible.
- Of those schools that do create IEPs, it is alarming just how many teachers don’t read them, use them or fully contribute to them.
Creating an IEP should always be the first step in providing help for any SEN student.
It’s impossible to fix a problem if you don’t know what the problem is
You don’t need a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) or even anyone with specific training to create an IEP. Follow these steps:
- Speak with all of the teachers of that student who have ether worked with him or her in the past and/or those who are teaching the student now. Take a survey of all of the concerns they have. What kind of challenges are commonplace? What kind of barriers to learning seem to be ubiquitous? What actions do you all agree on? What kind of help can be put in place? If the student is new to school then contact their previous school (even if it is in another country) and gather this information.
- Produce a table outlining all of the actions that have been agreed on
- Monitor progress along the way.
Rapport is the key strategy
SEND students often require much more one-to-one attention than students in the mainstream.
Embrace the opportunity to build up a great rapport with these students. You’ll notice amazing results within a very short space of time!
Rapport is the one key characteristic that all successful teachers have. It’s so important, that I wrote a whole chapter about it in my book. A summary of good rapport building strategies is given in this guest blog I wrote a short while ago, and a quick list is given below:
- Take a genuine interest in your students. Find out what their hobbies and interests, and their likes and dislikes are. Find out what’s going on in their lives. Ask them about it regularly. Remember what they’ve told you. For example: “Hi Mark! How’s the violin lessons coming along? Are you ready for your concert next Tuesday?”
- Use tasteful, laid-back humour in your lessons. Plan well. Include a wide-variety of tasks that cater for as many learning styles as possible. Include cut-and-stick, model-building, ICT tasks such as movie-making and blogging. SEN students often adapt well to multiple tasks, activities and exciting learning challenges.
- Use sincere praise as often as possible. Always encourage SEN students: even for little steps of progress, such as using a ruler to draw a diagram. Record this progress. Remember it. Reward it using your school’s rewards system.
Personalize your resources
Are you giving all of your students the same material despite a broad ability range within the class? Do your ESL students read lengthy prose and try to decipher complex adjectives alongside their native-speaking peers?
Back in the day, we called the technique of personalizing your teaching as ‘differentiation’. It’s vital if you want your SEN students to access the curriculum.
Differentiate your worksheets, your verbal questioning, your ICT activities, your homework. It’s not ‘dumbing down’ and it’s not making life easy for some students and difficult for others. It’s called provision.
This website offers some great ideas for differentiating your resources. And don’t worry about time – lots of differentiated material is ready made for you at places such as TES resources and ESL Gold.
If you do have to make resources from scratch, then be organized enough to keep them stored, ready to use again with future students.
Embrace the use of ICT
I write about this at length in my two previous blog posts here and here. SEN students loves using technology, and you can even use instructional software which does all the teaching, assessment and differentiation for you! Now what could be better than that?
Working with SEN students is rewarding and, when you get to my age, you’ll even see what happens to these kids when they leave school. Many of my former students who had incredible learning challenges in school, went on to become tradesmen and women, college graduates, business owners, artists and even teachers themselves! When you discover this, it’s brings a profound sense of satisfaction and happiness to your life.