” Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.”
– Proverbs 16:3 NIV
After the 4th of July, many of us realize that we have about a month or so left of summer break before we report back for professional development, setting up our classrooms, and begin preparing for the year ahead of us. For new teachers, all of this can be overwhelming because this is your first classroom and you may not even know what you need or have not even seen your new classroom yet. There is a lot of excitement and fear of the unknown as we wait for the school year to begin. As a new teacher preparing for the school year, it might be a good time to think about how you will plan for students with special needs, gifted learners, as well as learners who are behind academically.
Students with Special Needs
If you work in a private or public school, you will most likely have students with special needs in your classroom. The summer is a great opportunity to talk with special education providers to gain an insight on what might be needed to help those students reach their full potential. There are a variety of special needs that students might have, but here are some of the most common:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Cognitive Impairment (CI)
- Deaf-Blindness (DB)
- Early Childhood Developmental Delay (ECDD)
- Emotional Impairment (EI)
- Hearing Impairment (HI)
- Other Health Impairment (OHI)
- Physical Impairment (PI)
- Severe Multiple Impairment (SXI)
- Specific Learning Disability (SLD)
- Speech and Language Impairment (SLI)
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Visual Impairment (VI)
Check out this link from Michigan Alliance for Families to get a description of each category.
Steps to Take to Accommodate For All Students
Once you meet with the special education staff or service provider, ask them to walk you through the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Make sure you get a copy of it as well so you can revisit it at a later date. Within the IEP, you can get a snapshot of the student’s current performance as well as goals and objectives for their IEP calendar year. The accommodations section of the IEP is very important as it pertains to what should be made available for the students in the classroom setting. Here a a small sampling of accommodations you might see in an IEP
- Extended time for assignments and assessments
- Guided notes during period of extended writing
- Test read aloud to the student
- Head phones made available to reduce audio stimulation
- Quiet corner in the classroom to take a break
- Multiplication chart for multi-step multiplication problems
- A back supported chair to help with posture
There are many accommodations out there and you can find a larger list here. Once you are familiar with the document and the accommodations, you can work with the service providers to set up your classroom to make sure those accommodations are in place.
Gifted and Talented Learners
There is a also a possibility that you will have students above grade level in your classroom as well. When you are asking about students, determine if you have any Gifted and Talented (GT) students in your classroom. If so, try to obtain a copy of their yearly plan. These students will need to be challenged so it might be worth talking to their previous year’s teacher to determine what worked for them last year. If they are working on math for instance at a higher level, they may move to another classroom or be involved in virtual learning that will challenge them. Just like students with other special needs, GT students need to be met where they are otherwise they will not be able to meet their potential. If you have one or two GT students in your class I would:
- Get a copy of their GT plan
- Records Review– Review accommodations and have a conversation with the staff member in charge of GT plans
- See what has already worked– If a student is working at a higher level, talk to other colleagues and see if you can use curriculum from a higher grade level to match their abilities
- Consider more project-based learning– Have students cover the same content as their peers, but give them a challenge to dive deeper into the material and come up with a solution to the problem, another way of writing the ending of the story from ______’s point of view, etc.
- Seek support– Ask your administration for support on how to help your GT students. Contact a GT specialist in your district or region to help you develop a plan that is manageable for you and challenges the student. Check out this blog post from the National Association for Gifted Children on some Do’s and Don’ts for GT students.
We all know that new teachers have an insane amount to prepare before the school year begins. These records reviews and conversations can help set you up for success with knowledge and accommodations in place to help all of your learners start on the same playing field and reach their full potential. If you are looking for a book with a ton of great resources for teaching students with special needs, check out Special Needs In The General Classroom, 500+ Strategies for Differentiating Instruction by Susan Fitzell.
Always be on the lookout for ways in which you can enrich and re-mediate students with special needs in our classrooms.