The majority of students with disabilities is now served in general education classrooms as we embrace inclusive practices in our schools. The primary dynamics of the general ed classroom is changing due to these inclusive measures. Continuing scarcity of special education teachers and movement toward team teaching or co-teaching impact the process that districts approach special education as well. The lines are blurring in diagnosis, pedagogy, and instruction between a general education classroom and special education approaches to instruction.
As mentioned, both here and in previous blog posts, the classroom is changing. The focus of educators is becoming more about supporting students who face trauma, catastrophic events, multiple disabilities, and special talents, all without the benefit of a clear diagnosis. This is leaving general education classroom teachers responsible for a greater need for understanding of student learning that falls outside the realm of a worksheet and basal reader.
Let’s take a deeper look into some of the top five issues that are currently trending in the world of special education.
As technology continues to substantially alter the classroom, students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are especially targeted for extra support. By leveraging technology, classroom instruction can be enhanced with individual learning occasions, which allows teachers greater flexibility for differentiation in instruction through blended learning opportunities and the variety of Web-based, evidence-based practices. No longer are students stuck in a classroom they don’t understand, learning at a pace they can’t keep up with.
Students and teachers are often faced with dire situations far outside their control. Managing these situations and addressing the emotional impact can make day-to-day instruction feel trivial in comparison. How do you face a traumatic event and continue to learn fractions?
This school year, we have seen flooding, fires, tornados, mudslides, polar vortexes, and hurricanes affect communities. Surely these should be considered traumatic events! The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) counts natural disasters as traumatic events. The NCTSN defines a traumatic event as a “frightening, dangerous, or violent event that poses a threat to a child’s life or bodily integrity.” Each student reacts to trauma in his or her own way. While there is no clear-cut set of cues to spot, there are many resources describing possible signs of trauma to keep an eye out for. According to the NCTSN, there is a variety of behaviors that you might observe in students affected by trauma.
These students are dealing with issues that are far outside of the classroom, yet impact learning. How students deal is unique to them, but they do not qualify for special education services immediately. Trauma-screening resources are available for educators to help providers identify children’s and families’ needs. Knowing the signs and resources is a first step to managing a general education classroom with these special students.
Students who face trauma certainly require special accommodations. Their world and work are significantly impacted by forces outside of their control. There are behaviors we can look for and resources we can put in place, but as educators, and often participants of the same catastrophic events, we need to be aware of the resources and act as part of the solution, not the only solution.
To explore some of the ways that educators can support students who have gone through trauma, as well as some additional resources
Educators are well aware of the impact of poverty on students and learning. But, do you know how many of your students are homeless? This is a challenge being faced by more students than you might expect, and under new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requirements, increased focus is being placed on monitoring the academic growth of this specific population. Again, these students fit outside the realm of traditionally acknowledged special education students.
For homeless students, the classroom could be the one safe, stable place in their day-to-day lives, an important tether to the safety and security of routine and, perhaps most critically, an essential support in the journey out of poverty and into a better situation. These students are being forced to deal with significant, difficult, and interrelated challenges outside of the classroom that inevitably impact academic performance and the ability to participate in instruction.
At this point, it should come as no surprise that for children already identified as needing special education services, the stresses of homelessness can exacerbate learning problems. After all, transitions are often hard for children with exceptionalities—can you imagine anything more transitional than being without a consistent place to sleep every night? However, not all homeless students have gone through the evaluation process (or need to), so providing educational support and resources is not an option, but consider how difficult it must be for general education students to deal with the uncertainty of circumstances and continue to maintain focus on classroom instruction.