Cases are built on facts, and if we’re going to build a case for student-specific curriculum for special education, we’re going to have to refer to a few facts:
- Each child is an individual
- Every child has a different learning style
- Special needs children have “learning differences” that do not impede their ability to think or to be taught
Keeping those points in mind, can schools develop student-specific curriculum for special needs students?
With over 6.5 million students with disabilities being served by schools across the United States, it might seem an impossible task.
But is it?
While conventional methods are effective for most of the student population in any given school, one cannot ignore or argue that learning and physical disabilities prevent some children from receiving and processing information in the same way as their non-special needs peers.
The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) states, “Children with learning disabilities…usually have average or above average intelligence. Their brains just process information differently.”
Even among others with the same disabilities, special needs children are not likely to learn in the same way. One reason for this is that there are different levels of disability. Students can be mildly, moderately or severely disabled.
Another reason is that everyone’s learning style is different. How material is presented may be effective for one child and not another. This is true for all students, disabled or not, but certainly can be exacerbated in the presence of some behavioral or learning disorders.
The Individual Education Plan
The mission of the U.S. Department of Education includes “assuring access to equal educational opportunity for every individual.”
With that in mind, one need not work hard to build an argument for student-specific curricula when it comes to special education. They need only to point to the Individual Education Plan (IEP), with an emphasis on “individual”.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities calls IEPs the “cornerstone of quality education” for disabled students. The Center states:”Parents, teachers, other school staff and often the student must come together to look closely at the student’s unique needs.”
According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, an IEP is beneficial because, among other reasons, it is specific to the child.
One might imagine that a student-specific curriculum would entail making major changes, but this is not so. For the most part, it simply takes making some minor adjustments to accommodate the student.
This can be as easy as moving the child’s seat or allowing more time to take a quiz or test.
Other ways in which students can be accommodated include:
- Altering material presentation, such as adding visuals or providing larger text
- Allowing the use of equipment such as tape recorders or speech-recognition software
- Changing test sites or schedules
- Providing breaks, as in many cases students can be easily distracted or have difficulty staying focused
A Benefit to All
A student-specific curriculum may not only benefit a special needs child but students in general classrooms as well.
For instance, a student-specific curriculum can be most effective for those children with behavioral issues. Modifying projects or material presentations in a way that emphasizes an individual child’s strengths or interests can produce more effective results.
Studies have shown that by assessing the interests of a child who displays disruptive behavior and presenting material in a way that draws on those interests will often result in a reduction in the unwanted behavior. This of course can have a positive effect on general education students, as the potential for distracting behavior is lessened or completely removed.
And anything that can impact the learning environment in a positive way, that benefits all students, is a win-win proposition.