Ideas Exchange: What Strategies Do You Use to Successfully Include Students with Disabilities in Your General Physical Education Classes?

Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators, January-February 2009 | Go to article overview

Ideas Exchange: What Strategies Do You Use to Successfully Include Students with Disabilities in Your General Physical Education Classes?


I teach primary physical education and I feel one of the biggest challenges as a teacher is incorporating children with disabilities. The majority of my curriculum consists of movement skills and manipulative skills, and then during the holiday season I am responsible for putting together dances for our students to perform during our Holiday Season Program.

When teaching movement and manipulative skills, students are given plenty of time to individually practice skills and then we usually conclude each lesson with some sort of related game. While students are practicing skills on their own, I always turn on music and circulate the room to offer individual help and praise. Additionally, during this time I am able to better assist students with disabilities in either performing the given skill or adapting the skill for that particular student, whether it be manipulating a movement or changing a ball size. If we are performing a paired activity or a group activity, I always stress to the students they are like coaches and they are responsible for helping their classmates get better at a particular skill.

Often the student who gets paired with a student with disabilities will get frustrated. I always stress to these students that this is their opportunity to "coach" this other student, and then follow up with praise as to how good of a coach they are. The same applies for the student with disabilities. They are told they are responsible for helping their classmates get better at a particular skill. Even if they cannot perform the skill due to physical limitations, they can still verbalize the particular elements of a skill.

During the holiday season, the same ideas apply. Students are responsible for coaching each other and adaptations are placed when needed. One year I had a girl with cerebral palsy. The previous year before I was there, she had to perform a dance on the floor while the other students were on stage. Not only did we get her on stage, we had her perform a partner dance without her walker which included several side-to-side movements and turns. We simply manipulated a few steps (i.e., one turn instead of two) and her partner, a fellow student, helped her onto stage. Her mother was extremely gracious that her daughter got to perform on stage rather than on the floor.

Sean Myers

Physical Education Teacher

Derry Area School District

Derry, PA

There is no one best way to include students with disabilities in general physical education classes. But rather, there are many different ways depending upon the type of disability, age of the students, and type of activity that the students will be participating in. My overall objective is to create a positive experience for the student with disabilities and provide an opportunity for the classmates to gain an acceptance and an appreciation for someone who has limitations.

I think it is very important for the other classmates to know the extent of the disability and to become aware of the limitations that the student is faced with. There are times where I will explain the activity that we will be doing, then ask the students to come up with ways of altering or adapting the activity. I want them to be thinking of ways to include everyone. This creates a sense of ownership with the adaptations needed and may foster a more open attitude toward helping others, no matter the diversities. The changes that students suggest may be effective, and if not, they then have the opportunity to see that ongoing adjustments may also be part of the equation. I always allow the student with disabilities to respond to the changes to make sure he or she is comfortable participating. Their feedback is just as important in making proper adjustments.

Every activity can be altered. Change the size of the ball to limit the flight or to slow it down, reduce the speed of the activity, or offer choices to provide opportunities for all skill levels. …

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