In this episode of the Pearson English Podcast, the panel speaks with James Laidler about his findings on lesson planning for neurodiverse students. James is a teacher and has been a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SEN) for 18 years.
Let’s examine his views on special needs education and see what teachers can do to ensure that their teaching is inclusive for all.
Definition of special educational needs
According to British SEN Code of Conduct, a child has SEN when they have learning difficulties or disabilities that require special education. Learners with conditions Autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia, or anxiety disorders fall within this framework.
However, according to James, this definition and the language in which SEN is spoken of leads to negative connotations. This can lead SEN learners to think that something is wrong with them. Through his work, James tries to change that notion. He aims to help both teachers and students recognize the strengths that SEN students can bring to the classroom.
For example, he argues that something as simple as using different terminology can help break down negative stereotypes. He suggests using expressions such as “special learning skills” for younger students or “neurodiversity” for older students.
Create inclusive lessons for neurodiverse students
Although teachers want to create inclusive teaching, many do not feel equipped to support neurodiverse students.
To help, James shares some lesson planning tips aimed at turning learning diversity into strengths.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is a condition that includes symptoms such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Students with this disorder may have short attention spans, constantly fidgeting, or acting without thinking.
You can include the following activities in your lesson plans to help students with ADHD:
- Exercise breaks – Students with ADHD may have difficulty sitting still for an hour. Include short breaks in your lessons that allow them to get up and move around at regular intervals.
- work in groups – To keep learners active and engaged, incorporate group work into the classroom. This means that you don’t have to concentrate on the board for too long.
- Dramatize teaching – A really effective activity is Drama in the classroom. For example, students can perform role play or other fun dramaturgical activities. It keeps them motivated, keeps their attention, and can be fun for the whole class.
In addition to being helpful for students with ADHD, all of the other students in the class will benefit from these practices as well.
Dyslexia primarily affects the skills required for accurate and fluent reading and spelling. It can affect a person’s phonological awareness, verbal memory, and verbal processing speed.
James recommends incorporating the following Exercises in your classes for students with this disorder.
- Visual aids – Learners with dyslexia are prone to excellent visual memories. Try adding pictures to illustrate ideas or adding them to long text to help students with reading comprehension exercises.
- Font and spacing – Easy when setting reading tasks Change text font, the enlargement of the font size and the double spacing are of great advantage for dyslexic students. Simply adapting the text can make your learning experience a lot easier.
- Text-to-speech software – Using software that specializes in text-to-speech often provides significant assistance to those struggling to read or digest text on computer screens – give it a try! ClaroRead or Short term 3000.
You may also want to read Dyslexia and ELT: How to Help Young Learners in the Classroom.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
ASD is a developmental disorder that involves challenges in social interaction, language, and non-verbal communication, and restricted or repetitive behavior. The severity of symptoms is different for everyone.
Try these classroom activities to help students with this disorder:
- Promote systematic skills – Students with ASD can often be more systematic than other students. That means they prefer routines, regular processes, and predictable activities. Try to highlight these skills by asking students to spot patterns, analyze numbers, or evaluate data.
- Talk about interests – Autistic students may have specific interests that they like to explore. Get them involved by making them do it talk about their hobbies or ask students to create projects on a topic of their choice that they can present to the class.
- Online lessons – If you have a learner who has social problems in school, it may be an option to include hybrid or blended learning. This takes away the social and emotional challenges of school-to-people interaction, which ASD students can really benefit from.
Anxiety disorders are different from normal feelings of nervousness or anxiety, but rather involve intense fear or anxiety. This condition is becoming more common in young people since the outbreak of the pandemic and strongly influences their ability to learn.
James suggests a number of activities that teachers can use in the classroom to help students struggling with anxiety:
- Change language and terminology – Our education system is very exam-oriented, which can lead to a lot of stress for the students. By simply offering security, guidance, and motivation, you can help reduce your feelings of anxiety.
- Speak openly – Encourage learners to share their feelings when they are having trouble. You can do this with yourself, a classmate, or a school assistant. When they open up to you, focus on Strategies for combating negative feelings and emotions.
- Mindfulness techniques – Try adding five minutes for at the beginning of the day guided meditation or breathing exercises. It can help students start the day calmly and relaxed.
Students without anxiety disorders also benefit from these activities.
SEN support for teachers
Some teachers may feel that they do not have the experience or expertise to help students with different learning needs. James suggests a number of strategies and resources teachers can use to learn more about neurodiverse diseases:
1. Talk to your students
When you feel able to do so, try to communicate compassionately with your students. You can find a quiet moment with them before class or during break. Allow them to open up to you and tell you what they like and dislike in class, what might help them, and how they are feeling. This will give you a clearer idea of what you can do to help.
2. Explore neurodiversity online
There is a lot of information on the internet. For example, you can get the British Dyslexic Association, National Autistic Society and ADHD Foundation. These bodies have published research papers, training tips and advice for teachers.
3. Talk to the school’s Special Education Coordinator
Your school’s SEN coordinator may be able to provide background information on the students and their particular conditions. In some cases, they may also have access to educational psychology reports that can help you better understand your learners.
At Pearson we have a Resource Area Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). This supports educational professionals who work with students of all ages in regular and special schools. We have resources, training, and support available for all teachers.
To learn more about special education, Listen to the full podcast episode.