December 2, 2019

Teaching Students with Disabilities in an Inclusive Classroom

GoGuardian Team
A cartoon illustration of four students with their laptops and a teacher

A number of different learning disabilities, such as dyscalculia, visual perception disorders, and dyslexia, adversely affect the way kids can process and comprehend information in the classroom. Students with learning disorders may have trouble listening, writing, speaking, thinking, or spelling. However, the answer is not to segregate them. It is likely that you will get the chance to work with special needs students, and it is important to accommodate these students with open arms.

Nobody wants exclusion from social groups, because it can bring up feelings of anxiety, isolation, doubt, humiliation, confusion, loneliness, and sadness. You can think back to your personal experiences from adolescence or childhood. Perhaps you were not accepted by members of a certain social group that you really admired and liked to be part of, or you were not invited to a cool party you wanted to go to.

Although accommodating special needs students presents a myriad of challenges for you as a teacher, it is also an opportunity for you to learn and grow. So, how do you teach special education students? This guide will equip you with the right tips and strategies so you can overcome the common obstacles you might encounter when teaching special needs students in your classroom.

What is an Inclusive Classroom?

Classrooms of today look quite different from the conventional ones of yesteryear, thanks mainly to the evolution and growth of inclusive classrooms. Inclusive classrooms are general education classrooms where students with and without learning disabilities and challenges learn together. An inclusive classroom works on the fundamental premise that kids with disabilities are as competent as students who do not have any learning disabilities.  

Inclusive classrooms are the opposite of special education classrooms, in which students with disabilities and challenges learn with only other students with disabilities. A general education teacher and a teacher trained to work with students with special needs usually teach these classes collaboratively. The use of a co-teaching model is an excellent way to create an inclusive, welcoming, and encouraging environment in the general education classroom.

Successful inclusive education is possible when teachers understand, accept, and cater to student differences and diversity. Teachers should also be comfortable in allowing their special-needs students and the general students to make mistakes.

Parent involvement is also instrumental to the success of inclusive learning. The classroom is often set up into learning centers or stations rather than traditional rows of desks facing the front so that the students can be active learners.

Types of Student Disabilities

We can classify student disabilities as temporary, recurring, or long term. Some of the common disabilities are as follows:

  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Dyscalculia
  • Visual Motor Deficit
  • Dyslexia
  • Hearing loss
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Language processing disorder
  • Executive Functioning

Indicators of Students with Disabilities

Sometimes it is obvious that your students have special needs. However, at other times, it will not be so clear. Note that a kid with a learning disability or disorder often has many related signs, which do not go away or improve with time. In addition, the signs or indicators of learning disabilities can vary from one child to another.

How obvious the signs are depend largely on the type and severity of special need or learning disability your student may have. For example, a physical disability, like deafness or blindness, can become apparent quite quickly. On the other hand, a mild type of learning disability, like dysgraphia or dyslexia, might be a little harder to detect. Students with a learning disability have:

  • Difficulty sustaining attention in various classroom tasks or play activities
  • Difficulty in recognizing words out of context
  • Trouble remembering facts
  • Problems with phoneme awareness
  • Poor handwriting skills in relationship to predicted quality
  • A poor concept of time
  • Trouble retaining math facts
  • Coordination problems
  • Trouble distinguishing one sound from another
  • Difficulty keeping score when playing games
  • Visual-spatial confusion in various tasks
  • Difficulty playing different types of strategy games, such as chess

Accommodations and Modifications for Students with Disabilities

In a diverse and inclusive classroom, many students will need some accommodations and modifications in order to access and understand the curriculum and express what they know. It is important to keep in mind that modifications and accommodations are two different things.

An accommodation is a change that removes barriers and provides your students with equal access to learning. Note that accommodations do not change what your student is learning; instead, they change how your student is learning.

Most schools and education centers have academic standards for what students must learn in each grade. For example, third graders should be able to learn multiplication in math class. Modifications change these standard expectations. These modifications are handy when a student has trouble keeping up in school.

Lists of Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Testing Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

  • Additional time
  • Extra credit option
  • Oral testing
  • Untimed tests
  • Choice of test format (such as essay, multiple-choice, and true-false)
  • Progress reports rather than grades
  • Grade content and spelling separately
  • Highlight key directions
  • Pace long term projects
  • Test in alternative site
  • Divide tests into smaller sections
  • Allow use of a calculator
  • Simplified test wording

Accommodations for Students with Physical Disabilities

A disability accommodations chart lists numerous physical disability traits and common accommodations made to address them.

Accommodations for Students with Intellectual Disabilities in the Classroom

Disabilities are often invisible and lie in the student’s intellectual capabilities. The following suggestions provide resources for students with intellectual disabilities.

Presentation Accommodations

  • Provide learning materials on audiotape
  • Provide learning materials in large print
  • Reduce the number of items per line or page
  • Provide a designated reader

Response Accommodations

  • Permit verbal responses
  • Allow tape recorders to capture responses
  • Allow for the answers to be dictated
  • Allow them to give responses via computer

Environment Accommodations  

  • Use special lighting
  • Use sensory tools, like an exercise band

Time Accommodations

  • Allow more frequent breaks
  • Extend the allotted time for an exam or test

Scheduling Accommodations

  • Administer tests in several timed sessions or over multiple days
  • Take an exam at a certain time of day

Assignment Accommodations

  • Create alternate assignments
  • Write shorter papers

Curriculum Modifications

  • Use a different grading standard
  • Excuse students from certain subjects

Teaching Students with Disabilities in the General Education Classroom

Inclusive classrooms allow students with special needs to learn in the same classroom with same-aged peers who have no disabilities. Moreover, this model is becoming common as schools are trying to mainstream their classrooms. Teachers familiar with various disabilities, such as autism, can better help special needs students within an inclusion classroom.

While inclusive classrooms require many adaptations to accommodate the diverse needs and requirements of its students and skilled staff, with a suitable foundation and support, students of all ability levels can learn effectively together. Transitioning learning disabled students from special education classrooms to general classrooms takes time and is not an overnight process.

You can create a sense of community in the classroom. Assigning specific jobs to each student and letting each student have a voice during circle time are often great ways to make special-needs students feel that they’re part of the community. You should also establish a relationship with the student’s family. Parents often know and understand their kids best and can offer valuable information.

Learn How GoGuardian Can Arm You with the Tools You Need to Accommodate Students with Disabilities in the Classroom

GoGuardian Teacher™allows teachers to have visibility over their students’ work. This insight can enable teachers to customize learning programs for each student based on their individual performances and learning levels. With Teacher’s screen views, you’re able to see which students need more time or more resources to stay on task and complete an assignment.