What Factors Go Into Developing a Special Needs Curriculum?

When determining how best to instruct a child with a learning disability, there is no formulaic method for success. This is largely due to the varying degrees at which children are affected by their disabilities. For example, a child who is simply dyslexic requires distinct assistance from a child with severe mental impairment. As a result, a proper curriculum must take a wide range of factors into consideration:

Special Needs Curriculum

Image courtesy of Flickr

Meeting of the Minds

It is said that It takes a village to raise a child, and the old adage certainly rings true in special education. No single person, including the parents, will know all of the challenges faced by the child throughout his school day. It’s important to bring together, at minimum, all those who have direct contact with the child on at least a semi-daily basis. This includes the parents, a special ed teacher, a general ed teacher, the special education director, and even the child when appropriate.

Determine the Class of Assistance Required

This group will determine, through mutual agreement, exactly what type of assistance the child needs. From minimal collaborative assistance where the child meets outside of class with a psychologist, language specialist, or for other assistance as needed to a Self-Contained Special Education dynamic where the child does not attend or participate in general education.

Additionally, this can also be the time to determine the specific learning issues if hitherto unidentified, for the sake of all in attendance. Clear and deliberate communication at this stage provides the strongest path forward for both the child and those instructing him, as well as serving to minimize the potential for miscommunication. Image courtesy of Flickr

Lay Out Measurable Goals

As with General Education, a child’s progress needs to be measurable. The hindrances to the child’s ability to learn are not a reason to omit reasonable goals and standards of success. It may take some fine tuning to keep the goals attainable, but it is paramount that they be specific and therefore measurable.

It is not enough to say, “Julie needs to improve her reading.” This goal is based on an undefined sense of improvement that could be different to everyone observing her progress. Instead, set specific reading speed goals for each week, month and school year. Use comprehension tests to measure her ability to understand what she reads, and pursue specific increments of improvement.

Track the instruction as well. Sometimes it is the teaching approach itself that is responsible for delayed progress. Often small changes and improvements to the instruction can break through a stall that might otherwise have taken more time.

Verify the Curriculum’s Effectiveness

Regardless of the learning difficulties and feelings of those involved, the curriculum itself should adhere to a certain standard of quality. Some questions you might ask, among others, about the specific curriculum are:

  • Does it help achieve the various learning goals within the eight domains of learning as outlined in the learning standards of your state?
  • Do the expectations allow the children to master current skills as well as provide appropriate challenges that lead to new skill acquisition?
  • Does it build on and extend children’s current knowledge and abilities?
  • Does it promote the development of higher order abilities, such as thinking, reasoning, problem solving, and decision making?
  • Does it lead to conceptual understanding by helping children construct their own understanding in meaningful contexts?
  • Does it provide experiences that promote feelings of success, competence, and enjoyment of learning?

Monitor Progress, Amend as Needed

It is entirely possible that in spite of everyone’s best intentions, a curriculum may not create the desired improvement in the child’s learning. If this is the case, the parents or teachers, should feel free to offer thoughts on how the system might be improved and to shape the curriculum over time until it achieves the desired results.

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