If you have spent some time looking over my history, you know I have worked as a teacher in the past. I was considered a highly effective teacher. I can teach 3 subjects and still hold an active teaching license. One thing I see that poses challenges for teachers is meeting the needs of exceptional students. I want to touch on what worked for me in teaching the sciences in meeting the needs of not only my exceptional students but every student in my classroom.
I feel it is a bit of a pitfall to assume only students who have documented learning issues need separate/different teaching methods and assignments. There are students who go undiagnosed, students who are misdiagnosed, students who have parents in denial of issues, as well as students who are too poor for private testing.
As a teacher, many can and do recommend state paid for testing for various students who show some learning issues. However, teachers are not necessarily trained to identify student learning issues. They may take a class or 2 however, they are not mental health professionals. Many students fly under the radar of detection because their needs may be mild, moderately self managed, and/or considered to be something else entirely outside of learning issues…ie ill behavior.
The documentation aspect is to ensure schools recognize that a student is actively diagnosed with a learning need. It is meant to protect the student showing that they are given an ample education and resources needed to be successful. It is a means for a school to show they are actively working to meet the needs of those students who are diagnosed. These documents include 504 plans and I.E.P.’s They are meant to outline what teachers and the school is to provide to students as discussed by the students’ doctors, teachers, parents, special ed workers, and administration.
Below is a list of common teacher and school accommodations of 504 plans and I.E.P’s
- Extended time on a test/homework
- Abbreviated/modified assignments
- Printed out notes to copy from/or have in notebook
- Closer seating
- Read aloud questions on a test
- Behavior plans with rewards and goals
- Learning plans with rewards and goals
- Group work/peer tutoring
- Coping time/activity if student becomes overwhelmed
- Redo assignments
These are all common classroom modifications for exceptional students. Many teachers can easily be overwhelmed trying the meet the needs of several students who have combinations of any of these accommodations. It can be a daunting task looking over the lists from various students who need classroom modifications. Standard instruction clearly does not work for every student, especially those with special needs.
Taking what we know in regards to these accommodations and the fact many students largely go undetected in learning issues…what do you think happens when you allow these classroom modifications for everyone?
A lot of learning and achievement happens…
Rather than sweat over the handful of students who I had to be certain I was meeting their learning needs according to all the legal documents…I offered it all to everyone in my classroom.
- Picked their assignments out of a list for each unit. (abbreviated/diversified assignments)
- Could move closer to me/board on any given day if they needed. (I still kept my exceptional students close)
- Corrected their tests (after taking it) with their notes to receive added credit. (redo option)
- Had the option of me reading questions on tests if they needed it.
- Had printed out notes to copy from.
- Had rewards when work was completed and behavior was positive.
- Worked in groups (if they wanted) on assignments.
- Had time after completed work to rest/draw/play games (coping time)
- Could turn in work at any time during a 9 week period (ext. time)
I implemented this in EVERY class I taught. The results were substantial. The students became in charge of their own learning. They knew their grade was determined by them. They new my expectations and that I was being fair in their assessments. They knew I cared about their learning.
Another positive benefit? I never singled out my exceptional students. Not a one. Many exceptional students turn down accommodations because they feel shame for their learning needs. I eliminated that shame by offering this to everyone.
My students excelled in my classroom. On average (each year I taught), I moved 30% of my students above their state tested expected scores.
Now with these helpful suggestions, I am going to make a list of things that are not helpful for your exceptional students. I am on your side teachers…please avoid these practices as they do more harm than good…
- It is not helpful for teachers to give zeroes to exceptional students who show content mastery in other ways.
- It is not helpful for teachers to NOT accept late work from exceptional students who are easily overwhelmed.
- It is not helpful to complain about having exceptional students who don’t finish their work on time when you won’t allow them to take home their work to complete.
- It is not helpful to complain about exceptional students when you don’t return parent emails.
- It is not helpful to expect your exceptional students who struggle in a particular subject to complete assignments when you were not willing to work with them after school.
- It is not helpful to call exceptional students “those people” separating them from your traditional students.
- It is not helpful to expect exceptional students to do the same assignments as other students who are wired differently from them.
- It is not helpful to use zeros as a means to punish your exceptional students when you know they can’t complete the work in a timely fashion.
- I have a very hard time sympathizing with teachers who fail (punish with low grades) their exceptional students knowing they can do the work…and offer little to no assistance or parental communication.
- Never expect exceptional students to do work in the same manner as everyone else because it’s not possible for many of them. Rather than force them to conform, tailor assignments to meet their needs.
I offer this list as I have encountered quite a few teachers who expect students to “fall in line” to how they want these students to learn in their classroom. This is not what teaching is. Teachers deliver content and assignments in many ways to help their students learn. It is NOT a dictatorship. Respect is mutual. A teacher can not force any student to learn in a way of the teacher’s choosing. That is not how the brain works nor is it effective in establishing respect and a conducive learning environment. There are countless studies supporting this. One large study can be found here.
Not much preparation is needed to institute diversification of assignments and instruction if it is blanketed for every student in the classroom. Once a teacher sets up the first year, future years are ALREADY sorted in the work invested that first year.
Here is a list of what to do in order to “reuse” everything from the first year.
- Store everything digitally and in 3 places.
- Keep all lesson plans with generic dates so they can be reused for future years. (Ex. 1st 9 Weeks, Week 1)
- Keep generic spreadsheets for student goals/behaviors
- Maintain parent/student communication via email (also have text options for mass text reminders)
- Use audio podcasts as well as access to digital notes (WordPress and Podbean are great!)
I was able to reuse everything I generated in the first year I started my “blanket approach” in instruction and assignments. The first year is demanding, however…once it is set up, it flows so easily. Work less, my dear teachers, and work more effectively.
I send solidarity and support to my teachers and professors. If you need any insight as to how to apply such methods in your classroom, I am happy to help. Contact me here or on twitter and I will do what I can to help!
Thank You for Reading,