Here are four videos that represent the perspectives of students with various learner characteristics. Imagine you have these four students in your class. How might you support them?

These four students have different needs but some discussions of students with special needs treat all of these students as being identical. For example, I recently got asked how to best support the students in a school with special needs. My first response, which I kept to myself, was to figure out what their special needs are and meet them.

My next response was to share these three resources:

  1. Use instructional routines as part of core instruction. These routines embed supports that aim to improve the odds that all students understand the mathematical ideas being shared. Further, the use of routines reduces the cognitive demands students (and coincidentally their teacher’s cognitive demands as well) often have around making sense of frequently changing instructions and structures for working with other students. When these demands are reduced, students have more cognitive space available to make sense of mathematics.
  2. Many of the strategies embedded within the routines can be used outside of the instructional routines. These strategies are also described in detail by Grace Kelemanik and Amy Lucenta in their book, Routines for Reasoning.
  3. This interactive table has suggestions aligned to specific characteristics of the learner. For example, for a student who is hard of hearing, using non-verbal communication such as pointing at what is being discussed increases the odds students can follow along.

Instead of making assumptions about what students with special needs can or cannot do, determine what the specific needs are of the students you have, and then make your best effort to meet those needs.

There is a problem with the third set of resources as they essentially follow a diagnostic model — figure out the problem and then assign a cure, but many advocates for students for special needs want us to stop considering the students broken, and instead think of them as whole human beings who have needs, just like everyone else. I’m actually not sure how to provide helpful advice and resolve this issue comfortably.

Additional resources: