Thoughts on Teaching Writing to Children with Special Needs
All children are special and unique. Each comes to us needing guidance and good teaching. However, some children face challenges that make learning more difficult, needing accommodations and flexibility with classroom curriculum. Teaching is a demanding profession, one that pushes us in new directions every year when we find ourselves face-to-face with a new group of students. It’s our job to figure out what their strengths are and meet them in their place of capability, nudging them along the way.
You might have a student with special needs this year and be wondering, “How can I best teach this child?” Here are some ideas that might be helpful when tackling the many challenges of spectrum disorders, attention deficits, language barriers (not just ELL but children who struggle to comprehend spoken language), motor challenges and social emotional disorders.
Many of these can be used with any child and are beneficial to all learners.
When we begin working with students who have special needs it’s important to understand as much as we can about the need, but it is perhaps even more important to understand the student’s strengths. When we begin to see what the child can do we become less concerned about what they can’t do and can begin moving forward.
It’s important to be flexible and accommodating to the student. I find that I often use “if/then” statements with special needs children. If you complete this task, then you can do a preferred activity.
These “if/then” statements lead right into accountability. We want to have high and realistic expectations for students of all needs. It’s important to nudge them just enough and set attainable goals. Celebrating small accomplishments, especially for independent tasks, is incredibly motivating and leave students with a sense of success.
It’s important to remember that often times students with special needs have assigned goals and accommodations that are not just recommended but required by law. I cannot stress enough how important it is to be well versed in the goals that have been attached to your students. When I have come into contact with goals or expectations that do not seem appropriate I have asked for a meeting with the team of specialists who determined the needs. I find having open and frequent communication with the specialists helps immensely when there is a desire to make changes to an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan.
There are many resources available to students with special needs in the area of digital tools and technology. Personal iPads, word processing instead of handwriting and programs developed for children with specific disabilities have opened up a world of learning and communication for many children. Here is a link to 10 Great Writing iPad Apps for Students and Teachers
Using visual schedules and progressive visuals that show a process step-by-step helps establish routines. Below is an example of a visual chart I used with a class that was particularly high needs. Instead of making one for an individual, I used the progressive chart with the whole class. Similar charts can be made on a small scale with a simple clip or Velcro dot to move across the writing process.
Focus on Progress
Children with special needs are very familiar with the word, “no.” No, that’s not right. No, try again. No, don’t do it that way. It’s important to not only recognize their strengths but inform them that they have many! When there are accomplishments, celebrate! Even the smallest of milestones can be a huge undertaking for a child with special needs.
I think it is important to have a classroom environment that is set up to include several seating/standing options. Setting up individual desks for students who need a defined space is beneficial for some students, while a table with a group is better for others. Allowing students to stand at a counter or lay on the floor with a clipboard or three ring binder as a little desk can help students who struggle with fine motor issues. Taking the legs off a table so students can sit criss-cross applesauce can be more comfortable for some learners. It is all about assessing the need and meeting it to ensure an optimal learning environment.
Sometimes, in some situations, it is helpful to inform the class of their special needs peer. There are several picture books that cover an array of special needs that help students become familiar with difficulties their peers are facing, in a kid friendly way.
As I savor one more day of summer, I know there will be a whole class of special little people waiting for me at school tomorrow. I hope to make some great connections and reach those who need the most. I hope you will too.