- Inclusivity and wellbeing
- Teaching trends and techniques
In this blog, James Laidler talks about his insights into how to plan lessons for neurodiverse students. James is a teacher and has been a Special Educational Needs (SEN) Coordinator for the past 18 years. He also discusses how important it is to consider your terminology, using phrases like ‘special learning powers’ or ‘neurodiversity’ to break down negative stereotypes. On top of this, he wants to help teachers and students recognize the strengths SEN students can bring to the classroom.
James explores special needs education and what teachers can do to ensure their lessons are inclusive for all. A lot of these lesson tips are also great to apply to keep all students engaged, SEN or otherwise.
Defining Special Educational Needs
To define what Special Educational Needs (SEN) is, a child has SEN if they have a learning difficulty or disability that calls for special educational provision. Learners with conditions such as autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia or anxiety disorders come under this framework.
Inclusive lesson tips for neurodiverse students
Although teachers want to create inclusive lessons, many feel ill-equipped to support neurodiverse students. To help, James offers some tips for lesson planning which aim to turn learning diversities into strengths:
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is a condition that can include symptoms such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Students with this disorder may have a short attention span, constantly fidget, or act without thinking.
Lesson tips for ADHD students:
- Movement breaks – Students with ADHD may struggle to sit still for extended periods of time. Include short breaks in your lessons that offer them the opportunity to get up and move around at regular intervals.
- Group work – To keep learners active and engaged, include group work in class. This means they don’t have to focus on the board for too long.
- Dramatise lessons – A really effective activity is to bring drama into the classroom. For example, students can act out role plays or other fun drama-based activities. It keeps them motivated, holds their attention and can be fun for all of the class.
Dyslexia primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent reading and spelling. It may affect a person’s phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed. Lesson tips for dyslexic students include:
- visual aids – Learners with dyslexia tend to have excellent visual memories. Try bringing in pictures to illustrate ideas or add them to lengthy texts to help students when doing reading comprehension exercises.
- font and spacing – When setting reading tasks, simply changing text font, enlarging font size, and double spacing is hugely beneficial to dyslexic students. Simply adapting the text can make their learning experience much easier.
- text-to-speech software – Using a text-to-speech specialized software often provides significant support to those who struggle with reading or digesting text on computer screens – try ClaroRead or Kurzweil 3000.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
ASD is a developmental condition that involves challenges in social interaction, speech and nonverbal communication, and restricted or repetitive behaviors. The severity of symptoms is different in each person. Lesson tips for ASD students:
- Encourage systematic skills – Often students with ASD may be more systematic than other students. This means they favor routines, regular processes, and predictable activities. Try bringing out these skills by asking students to spot patterns, analyze numbers or evaluate data.
- Talk about interests – Autistic students may have specific interests they love to research. Engage them by getting them to talk about their hobbies or ask students to create projects on a topic they choose that they can present to the class.
- Teaching online/blended learning – If you have a learner who is struggling socially at school, it may be an option to include hybrid or blended learning. This takes away the social and emotional challenges of school and people interaction, which can benefit ASD students.
Anxiety disorders differ from normal feelings of nervousness or anxiousness, but rather involve intense fear or anxiety. This condition is becoming increasingly common in young people since the onset of the pandemic and greatly affects their ability to learn.
Lesson tips for anxiety disorder students:
- Changing language and terminology – Our education system is very exam driven, which can cause students to experience much stress. By simply offering reassurance, guidance, and motivation, you can help to reduce their feelings of anxiety.
- Talk openly – Encourage learners to discuss their feelings if they struggle. They can do this with you, a classmate, or a support worker at the school. If they open up to you, focus on strategies to combat negative feelings and emotions.
- Mindfulness techniques – Try adding five minutes at the start of the day for guided meditation or breathing exercises. It may help students to begin the day in a calm and relaxed manner.