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Do you have learners with special educational needs (SENs) in your class? Have you had any training for teaching these learners? Probably not.

Global governments are promoting a policy of inclusion for learners with SENs. However, there is often a gap in support for teachers to implement this, leading to anxiety towards teaching learners with SENs.

There are some common misconceptions which make teachers anxious.

5 myths that make teachers anxious

  1. You have to be a specially trained to teach learners with SENs
    Good teaching strategies will benefit all. Classroom management and a positive attitude are things every teacher can have.
  2. It takes a lot of time and extra planning
    If you plan your lessons with a variety of activities and use a multi-sensory approach, you do not need to do extra planning.
  3. You can’t do fun, challenging activities
    Learners with SENs have their own personalities and strengths. Discover your learners’ strengths and build on these in your activities.
  4. Other learners suffer because of having learners with SENs in their classes
    Other learners benefit from developing understanding and acceptance of differences.
  5. Parents of learners with SENs are challenging for teachers
    These parents have often had to struggle to get help for their children. They can help you to understand and develop strategies together which work. See them as allies, not critics.

So what works?

You already have lots of classroom management skills which will help. Like all learners, they need clarity, consistency, understanding and a multi-sensory approach to learning. In the case of learners with SENs, these things are absolutely vital.

8 top tips

  1. Instructions
    Make these concise and on a step-by-step basis. Give in different senses –have visual cues such as an ear for listening and gestures to reinforce. Avoid the use of sequencers, such as ‘before you do this,’ give the instructions in the correct order.
  2. Use positive classroom language
    Say what you want learners to do, not what you don’t want them to do. For example ‘Look at the board’ rather than ‘Don’t keep turning around’.
  3. Use visuals to reinforce rules and routines
    Have a traffic light system to show when the group is going off task. Use visual cues to let learners know the order of activities.
  4. Think about your learner’s needs with a seating plan
    Hearing impaired learners will need to sit near the teacher, learners with ADHD away from distractions.
  5. Learn from your students
    Ask them what helps. Understand their strengths and interests.
  6. Use a multi-sensory approach
    Have learners spell out a word, draw the word, and sing the word. Get feedback in different ways, for example, use individual whiteboards where learners hold up their answers
  7. Create a positive environment
    Have a buddy system where learners help those with SENs.
  8. Work with parents and other professionals
    Focus on what works, not the problems. See your learners as people and not as labels. And enjoy learning with them.

Marie Delaney is a teacher, trainer, educational psychotherapist and author of ‘Teaching the Unteachable’ (Worth). She has worked extensively with pupils with Special Educational Needs and trains teachers in this area.