Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) alphabet blocks

It is easy to misunderstand special educational needs (SEN), to mean diagnosis of a major disability, removal from the classroom and special provisions. But when you take this approach you end up giving the child a label and forgiving or excusing their lack of engagement. Not only do you label them in their own eyes but of course you give that label to all of their teachers and eventually all of their peers. SEN workers can therefore not only miss the mark but actually make things worse. Here are some golden rules for engaging SEN in your classroom and school:

  1. SEN is best dealt with as a whole- class and whole-school approach by differentiating for a large spectrum of abilities among students within the same classroom, including gifted students too. Don’t pick out individuals and make them feel different!

  2. Your guiding principle throughout all SEN work should be to enable the student to develop independent skills and use the fuel of their self- esteem to boost their progress. So, as a teacher, your focus should be on feeding their self-belief.

  3. Much of SEN goes unnoticed and can be misinterpreted as bad behaviours. The first question to ask yourself about a student who is not engaging fully is: how can I adjust my teaching in order to help this student engage more?

  4. Don’t say “this student is hyperactive” but rather “this student presents with hyperactivity at the moment”. A student should not be given a label but rather you can focus on his/her current presenting behaviours.

  5. If a student does present with a certain behaviour such as hyperactivity then ask yourself –what can I do as a teacher to differentiate for them? In this case, you might try giving them some work to complete the moment they walk into the classroom so they can be immediately occupied. If you really don’t know or are stuck – then write to me!

A student with special educational needs can be thought of incorrectly as “a problem a child that we need to fix” and I advocate a different approach: it is incumbent upon the school and the teacher to open its’ doors to all types of learning and not to label or judge any student.

Being truly inclusive isn’t easy. Yes, it requires training, planning and dedication – but what teaching excellence doesn’t? Training has to begin firstly with understanding about the presenting behaviours and what they mean i.e. what  the child is trying to say by acting in that particular way. Secondly, a teacher needs to understand the cognitive processes of learning and what happens when aspects of that process are impaired. Finally, a teacher needs to learn how to differentiate effectively so it eventually appears as though it is being done effortlessly.

It is my sincere hope all schools across the UAE and the MENA region will embrace the kind of classroom I have described above. Perhaps the time has come for a focused training on “Inclusive Classrooms” and if you think you or your school would be interested then please contact Teach UAE Magazine.

By Guest Writer Daniel Sobel

Daniel Sobel is the founder of 

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