Special Education in Secondary Schools
Special Education teachers were typically my favorite colleagues to work with. In my experience they were motivated, optimistic, empathetic, and great collaborators. Moreover, you could see the bonds they formed with students because of the sincere care they had for them as individuals. This sentiment was typically reciprocated towards because, I hope, they knew I respected them as peers and admired their skillsets, calm disposition, and ability to motivate to students in any class or grade level.
It was during my first few years as a teacher when I began collaborating with Special Education teachers, that I started to equate them to the military’s special forces. Compared to my daily schedule, theirs were more unpredictable. In turn. they needed to be more agile, have greater attention, and be advocates for students that are not always the favorites of teachers.
Because special education services are ubiquitous across our schools but don’t necessarily belong to a specific content area, each member of your team working with schools should have some level of understanding of special education. Even a basic understanding will prove valuable as you work with and listen to educators using your service.
Below are three areas where your team can begin building their knowledge. Just as special education teachers use “scaffolds” to support student learning, the topics below are arranged in a way that will help with your conceptualization. To be explicit, also a valuable strategy for comprehension, the structure below flows from general to specific practices.
To begin, your tea should be familiar with a few essential instructional models used by special education. Knowing these improves your ability to connect on a macro level and connect your services and products to the model in general or in particular.
- Universal Design for Learning (UDL): An approach to teaching and learning that gives all students equal opportunity to succeed. The goal of UDL is to use a variety of teaching methods to remove any barriers to learning. It’s about building in flexibility that can be adjusted for every person’s strengths and needs.
- Co-Teaching: An educational method that involves two teachers working together to plan a classroom and make assessments on one group of students. Often, a special education teacher will be paired with a content (math, science, history etc.) focused teacher.
These models require more nuanced moves performed by teachers to support their students. The two most common moves are “modifications” and “accommodations.”
- Modifications change “what” is learned and therefore changes aspects of the curriculum’s content.
- Accommodations are strategies that helps a student overcome or work around the disability. These changes are typically physical or environmental changes.
To go even further, accommodations can be broken down into specific practices. These become part of the classroom learning experience.
- The use of assistive technology.
- Use screen-reading technology.
- Access to speech-to-text software.
- Simplify directions and verbal instruction.
- Establish a regular form of communication between home and school.
The list of five accommodations is only the tip of the iceberg. What’s more, as you develop your understanding of the demands and challenges schools and special education teachers have, you should be both pro-active and prepared to offer solutions when asked how you support special education teachers… and their students!
Written by: Craig Perrier
Educational Thought Leader and Practitioner
Craig is the High School Social Studies Curriculum and Instruction Specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools in Fairfax, VA. He also is an online adjunct professor of education for Framingham State University and the teacher certification program, Educate VA. Previously, he taught at American Schools in Brazil for six years and for six years in public schools in Massachusetts.
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