How to help SPED Students

About Writer of this Post: Cynthia Mathews is a Doctor of Education per Curriculum and Instruction and Education Leadership. She is a school teacher of English secondary education, and she spends her time creating and conducting professional development workshops for educators. Mathews creates and promotes education forums, stage plays, and directs students in leadership. She is author of several education books, including Cynthia Mathews on Curriculum and Instruction and A Nice and Nippy Discourse.

How to Help SPED Students

Scenario of a Teacher and Students

Many students sit there. They stare into my teacher face with little facial expression of their own. I find it difficult to discern if they are listening to my lecture. I try not to lecture often, yet when teaching a new lesson, my lecture is necessary. Yet, many students stare into my face, wanting, I suppose.

What are they thinking?

After the lecture, I ask, “Any questions?” Not one student raises his or her hand to respond.

I wait 15 seconds: Again, “Any questions?”

“Great! Let’s practice.”

Students slowly borrow a piece of paper from another classmate or they slowly take out their computer to proceed.

Again, students sit there, staring now at the paper or the computer.

I walk around and witness nothing on the paper or on the computer screen.

I ask, “Do you understand?” Finally, an answer. “No, I don’t” . . . Or, the student passes me an up and down movement of his shoulders, indicating—Well, I am not sure. . .

I venture to calm the other students who are currently talking disruptively to other students. . . .

“Class, shhh. I am trying to help your classmate.”

I hear in the back ground, “For what? He’s slow.”

Without thinking–“And what does that make YOU saying such a thing?”—

“Class, listen. Focus on your work. I will make my rounds to help everyone one-on-one.”

The interruption continues.

“May I go to the bathroom?”

“No. You know the rules.”

”May I work with a partner?” (Impossible. New lesson).

“Noooo. Look at rule #3 on the wall: No interrupting instruction.”

Okay, back to the student I am helping.

“Yes, your response is correct. The manner you have shown is how to complete the problem. Now try another problem on your own while I help another student.”

Student pauses. He stares at the paper.

When I return, the SPED student has not worked a problem on his own, yet when I nudge him, “Yes! Now circle the the subject of the sentence.”

Subject? (Wait! Did he not know what a subject meant?)

“Yes, I mean, circle the person or thing that the sentence speaks—I mean, is talking about”

Blank stare.

I search for words to reach him. “You know, who is doing the talking?” He understands, and points at the subject. He looks up to me for validation.

“Yessss! That’s correct. . .”


“Teacher, someone is throwing spitballs.”

“Okay. Wait! Students. Please. Be mindful that you are in school to learn, not to play.”

Students’ voices drown my voice, and I result to—

“Okay. SILENCE. Speak nothing! (My right eyebrow raises.) This assignment is now a test. Complete as much as you understand. End of test, write a message to me to explain what you have learned.”

With “This is a test!” directive, students begin to listen, to complete their work. I walk the isles for the remainder 20 minutes of class, forbidding anyone to speak.

In reflection, I begin to think about how my SPED student was able to understand the lesson while I was within proximity to teach him. He listened, he reasoned (with my probing) and he figured out the answers.

I suspect that many SPED students need one-on-one instruction from teachers. When a teacher is nearby to confirm right answers or to gently guide a student toward the right answer, the student tends to learn.

Unfortunately, many SPED students are placed in general classes, usually with other students that are playful and less concerned about completing assignments.

Placing a SPED student, especially the ilk of sped students who show promise for learning, in a general class of nonchalant studen, is not a best practice.

A better alternative is to place the willing to learn SPED student in an honors class where the classroom environment is more conducive to learning. The teacher will have time and noise free space to provide one-on-one aid for the inclined SPED student to learn.

The suggestion for placing SPED students in honors classes is specifically for helping. Other SPED students, ones that create a problem in the classroom, might be better working with a SPED teacher in isolation, in another room where the number of other students is limited. Or, problem SPED students may be placed in general classes where they may receive instruction on learning the standards and also receive instruction on proper student behavior. Many students in general classes—SPED—or not, can benefit from lessons on “civility.”

Student Civil Behavior

A SPED student’s misbehavior could be due to his or disability. An Individualized Education Plan should accompany the student’s learning plan and should be followed precisely. Nevertheless, a lesson in civility—how to behave in a learning environment, how to respect self and others—is a lesson to be added to class instruction to help improve the overall behavior and learning of students.

Lessons that support the morals of individuals are very important. Civility lessons may be drawn from many sources of etiquette. A recommended book for class instruction is Civility by P. F. Forni.

In this book, lessons abound on civil behavior. Students will benefit, and lessons may be incorporated with the school’s learning standards.

To have a major impact on student civil behavior, civil lessons should be taught in every classroom with some time spent on completing exercises of civility by students.

When students learn how to behave in a learning environment they will be able to learn free of disruptions and will provide SPED students the opportunity of having a teacher to work with them in proximity.

All students deserve the right to learn in the utmost, learning conditions; yet, SPED students need every opportunity to operate in an environment that is helpful and attentive to their special needs. Allowing for a civil behavior lesson plan in all classes, yet especially in general classes, can be extremely helpful and may allow room for learning strategies that SPED students need.

Research Based Learning Strategies

Children have different developmental issues, and teachers that apply different teaching strategies can help SPED students learn appropriately. Naturally, a plan for student learning should be followed, yet being cognizant of research based strategies for learning is also useful. The link below provides SPED strategies for instructional purposes:

A Different Scenario for a Teacher and Students

“Good morning class. Today we will learn about subject-verb-agreement; you will learn how to identify the subject and the verb to make both words agree in syntax.

. . .Before we start the lesson, let me remind you of the classroom rules: Do not interrupt instruction for any reason. Your listening to my lecture will help you understand how to complete the lesson on subject verb agreement.

. . .No conniving. No bothering other students. If caught, you will be identified. Lastly, remain quiet and civil while I walk around to help each student. Understand?”

Students acquiesce.

To a SPED student: “How may I help you?”

“I dunno.”

“Okay, first find the subject, you know, the person who is talking in this sentence.”

The student points at the subject.

“Great. Now, remember, Jason, ususally the verbs comes after the subject. . .so what is the verb?”

He points.

“Yes?” You have identified both the subject and the verb. That is awesome! Now, see if you can find the subject and the verb in the next lesson, and I will be back to check, okay, Jason?”

The student smiles.

“Class, thank you for your fine behavior. I am able to help each of my students when civility is in the classroom . . . “

Research supports setting goals and expectations at the beginning of a lesson. Then the teacher may proceed to teach and to help. The teacher should remain cognizant of SPED students and provide them with one-on-one instruction under feasible circustances.

Below are strategies for teaching SPED students developed by the writer of this post:

  1. Recognize SPED students in the classroom.

2. Seat SPED students in front of the class.

3. Make a point to ask SPED students, “Do you understand?

4. Stand next to the sped student for a full minute or longer while teaching him or her.

5. Recognize mistakes but do not make a big deal about it. Just correct and explain.

6. Work two problems with the SPED student and then ask him or her to work the next problem on his or her own.

7. Compliment work progress of the SPED student.

8. Refer regularly to the SPED’s Individulized Education Plan, and follow it precisely.

9. Teach civility and self-improvement lessons.

10. Smile while referring to a SPED student by his or her name.

Published by cynthiamathews

I'm an innovative spirit, one who seeks new and practical ways to learn about life. I enjoy exploring innovative styles to motivate people to persevere in a challenging world. Having a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Curriculum & Instruction, I am inspired to maintain a life long learning experience that will allow me to share my knowledge with others. My expertise includes detecting apathy in individuals and prescribing ways to motivate them to be their best. To initiate this endeavor, I create and conduct personal and professional development programs. I write briefs and pamphlets and instructional guides to inspire, and I speak--upon request--to those who need a reminder of their inner excellence. My blog's main focus is to document my research on motivation and curriculum instruction and to share with subscribers the understanding, the ideas, and the strategies that result from my research. I am a native of Alabama, a teacher, and an author. I look forward to learning with you.

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