Trends in Working with Special Needs Students

Article excerpt

Students with special needs often appear at the forefront of our public education system today. The push to involve all students in the regular classroom has brought about new dynamics of classroom procedures in order to be able to communicate effectively in the classroom. Agricultural education programs that develop a method of integration, that allows for the success of special needs individuals, will be prepared to assimilate these students smoothly and completely. By modifying methods in classwork, laboratory exercises, Supervised Agricultural Experience Programs, and FFA activities, developing innovations that facilitate meeting the requirements of special needs students are easily implemented.

Full integration of special needs students into the agriculture education classroom requires prior planning and preparation. There are many strategies available to make this transition as seamless as possible. Effective curriculum adaptations can be directed into four areas, including instructional strategies, instructional materials, curricular content, and assessment practices (Bashinski, 2002). It is important to realize that while all students may be in the same room, they are not all in the same place. When incorporating special needs students into any classroom, it is important to have those students participating at the same time as the mainstream students. This includes arriving at the same time, participating in classroom activities, and leaving the classroom together.

These students should be seated so that the teacher and other students can interact with them easily while they observe the entire classroom and participate in class activities. The same expectations in behavior and participation should be upheld with special needs students as with students without disadvantages. Special needs students should socialize with other students and have this socialization supported by their peers and instructors. These students should be expected to dress and behave in an age appropriate manner (SNOW, 2002). As adolescent students place such a high importance on outward appearance, setting this expectation will ease interactions between mainstream and special needs students.

Most strategies for integrating special needs students involve merely a reminder to treat those students as though they were not any different. Where this varies is in the case of curriculum. When developing curriculum, teachers work within the school, collaborating with psychologists and counselors to determine the most effective levels and types of learning required by specific students. However, there are some steps that can work universally in your agricultural education classrooms.

Special Needs Opportunity Windows (SNOW) is an organization that provides resources for teachers working with special needs students. This organization recommends several classroom modifications. Teachers should require students to spend specific time organizing their work. This is an area with which special needs students commonly struggle. By implementing a mandatory 2-3 minutes at the end of every class devoted to organization, all students will benefit. Providing study tools is also useful. Most special needs students simply do not have the capacity to sit down and study on their own. By providing a "study buddy", creating flashcards, and teaching integrative study techniques during class that the students can use at home, teachers will see that their special needs students immediately improve. Specific methods that SNOW proposes include providing a sample chart to schedule home study time, having students evaluate their own use of time, teaching the RAP-- study method: READ - ASK yourself what you read - PUT it in your own words, creating pre-lesson outlines to use as a study guide, using note cards for themes and ideas, and teaching mnemonic, or word game devices when possible to facilitate retention. SNOW suggests that organization will be increased by using a calendar or timetable, creating personal assignment records, developing task analysis sheets that break larger assignments or projects into smaller pieces, and teaching visualization so that students can 41 see" the final product before they start on the project (SNOW, 2002). …