Many of us have students with special needs in our classes. And we may not be that familiar with the best strategies we can use to support them. This series will consider we should be doing.... so what is the best advice you can affer to teachers who have students with special needs in their classes? Below is an exert of Dr. Wendy Murawski's response.
"Dr. Wendy Murawski is the Executive Director and Eisner Endowed Chair of the Center for Teaching & Learning at California State University, Northridge. She is the author of 9 books, to include "Collaborate, Communicate, and Differentiate: How to increase student learning in today's diverse schools" with Corwin Press. Dr. Murawski is the CEO of the educational consulting company, 2 TEACH LLC (www.2TeachLLC.com):
My best advice is to collaborate and communicate! Teachers do not have to solve every classroom conundrum themselves. Ask the students what works with them and how they learn best. Reach out to families and share your desire to meet their child's needs - but be willing to admit you don't have all the answers. Invite special educators and instructional coaches into your room to consult, problem-solve or even co-teach! Go online and join groups like the Council for Exceptional Children (www.cec.sped.org) or read blogs like this one. The point is - you are not alone. The research and strategies are available to you but you don't have to be the keeper of all the knowledge.
My next best advice is to universally design the learning in your room. UDL stands for "Universal Design for Learning" and it is about how teachers can universally design their instruction to provide more access to all students. By providing multiple means of representation, expression and engagement, teachers won't need to worry as much about "retrofitting" their instruction after the fact for students with special needs. Dr. Katie Novak has a great book called "UDL Now!" published by CAST and in it, she describes specific ways for making your lessons more accessible for all.
Finally, be sure to view each student as an individual. Don't let a label cause you to make assumptions about a child. Just because the student has an identified disability and an IEP, or is an English language learner, or has a 504 plan, or is highly gifted, doesn't mean you know what that student needs. Once you have proactively designed your lessons to provide as much universal access as possible through UDL, you will need to do far less differentiation for specific needs - but you do still have to consider those individual needs as well. So once you've universally designed your instruction, you still need to be willing to go that next step to differentiate as needed. Want more strategies for what that might look like? You can also check out our book "What really works with exceptional learners" by Corwin Press (Murawski & Scott, 2017). Kids are kids. Just because one has a behavioral, academic or social difference shouldn't stop us from trying to be the best teachers we can for that student."
Read the full article, including responses by Jason Flom, Mani White, Tara Dale, Cheryl Mizerny and Karen Baptiste via Education Week Teacher.