Special Needs Education

Many ALT ( assistant language teachers) are asked to teach Special Needs Education classes. They can be the most challenging, and most rewarding classes. But in Japan there is a severe lack of training and resources. Very often even if you suspect a child has a particular learning difficulty and you know the word for it in Japanese, the Japanese teachers won't know what it is or how to deal with it. To help you out, an ALT from Nagasaki, who is also a qualified teacher back home in the UK, has written this page of advice. We've also included links to pages in the Wikipedia to get more information, or to print out in Japanese to show your teachers. Some pages, however, may not be fully up to date or correctly described on Wikipedia so please be careful.

Similarly with this article, it's not definitive, and if you find any points you disagree with then please let us know, but hopefully it may be of use in bringing a little genkiness to all your students.

be genki,


Tips and tricks for special needs students:

by Jennifer Willett

What is 'special needs'?

The term 'special needs' covers a wide range of situations, from students that have difficulties with reading, writing, memory or motor skills, to behavioural problems, to gifted students who require more challenging activities than the majority of learners.

Why should I teach special needs classes?

Special needs students in separate classes greatly benefit from being included in a wide range of school activities, including English lessons. Here is a brief list of some great reasons to teach SEN classes English:

They will benefit from the experience of internationalisation, learning about other cultures and working with foreign teachers, learning more about the world and that foreigners are not scary.

Students will feel more confident and included in school life.

Students can show teachers just how much they can achieve and perhaps make people reconsider their assumptions about these students.

They will have fun and so will you!

Remember that you most probably have special needs students in mainstream classes too.

Do some of your students:

Finish activities quickly and wait while others 'catch up'?
Have a very short attention span and are easily distracted?
Really struggle and seem to panic when they are behind in an activity?
Keep very quiet and don't attempt much of the activity set?
Disrupt learning and distract other students while they are trying to work?

Differentiating your lessons will help to solve these problems and challenge every student in the class, giving them an achievable goal.

Different kinds of special needs

Teaching special needs can be daunting because there are no hard and fast rules for how a particular condition may be catered for. Students often have a combination of difficulties and the ways that these may manifest are also dependent on other factors, like age, personality and attitudes. It is well worth remembering that teachers' expectations of their students is the most influential factor in their performance; if you set the bar high, they will strive to reach it, if you keep activities safe and simple, your students might not fulfill their potential.

Try to find out the name for the condition(s) that your student has, use a dictionary or bilingual online encyclopedia to find out the English name and details about the condition. Work with staff and parents wherever possible to get to know your students well.

Here are some common problems that students face and simple ways you might be able to help them:

Visual impairment (remember even colour blindness can cause problems in certain situations) - make large print copies of all texts and tests, read aloud to the student or pair them with another student who will read to them, arrange seating so that they are near the board. If a student has profound visual problems then use real objects, make textured displays and focus on speaking and listening activities e.g. memory games.

Hearing difficulties- arrange seating so that the student is near the front, use a microphone and receiver if the student has one, use gestures and allow the student to see your face to start learning lip reading skills in English.

Speech impediments- be patient and repeat words slowly with the students, allow them to use written answers if absolutely necessary.

Cerebral palsy - ( Wikipedia in English - Japanese ) alter activities involving movements so that your student can perform them.

Dyslexia - ( Wikipedia in English - Japanese ) allow students to give verbal answers instead of written ones and read texts allowed to them (including in exams if possible), students might benefit from the use of a tape recorder to play back spellings of words and phrases read aloud, include tasks that utilise drawing to show comprehension (e.g. a comic with the words printed which is read to the student who then draws the situation to show understanding).

Down Syndrome - ( Wikipedia in English - Japanese ) use repetition and drilling to help with any memory problems that students may have, keep activities short and focused if your students have problems with attention span, keep worksheets simple and clear.

Dyspraxia- ( Wikipedia in English - Japanese ) steer clear of activities involving a high level of motor coordination, students generally don't have problems with speech, so use verbal activities if this is the case and help out writing down students responses if this is required.

Autistic spectrum disorders- ( Wikipedia in English - Japanese ) Keep lessons and activities structured, speak literally, giving clear instructions. Give students varied tasks in the course of a lesson; some allowing them to use their preferred working method and other tasks to work on social and communicative skills.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) ( Wikipedia in English - Japanese ) - Give clear simple instructions, keep tasks short and focused with definite outcomes, reinforcing good behaviour. ADHD students may be willing to try new things without feeling nervous, use this in your lessons!

Gifted and talented students- these students may be very skilled in one or more areas, use their skills in the classroom wherever possible without singling them out. You can make tasks more challenging for these students including activities such as scrambling the spellings to known vocabulary, ask for several variations of answers to the same question, set students an extra project to work on when they finish normal work e.g. story writing, a comic or a movie review.

Many students with learning difficulties greatly benefit from having more time to do an activity, this includes tests and exams, try your best to make adequate provisions to allow these students to demonstrate their full potential without rushing them to finish with other students.

Easy games and ideas for specialist SEN classes:

Teach the students 'rock, paper scissors' and encourage them to practice with the staff in the school and other students.

Use subjects that your students like; get them to make karuta cards ( small picture cards ) with their drawings and play with them to drill new vocabulary, this is a nice quiet time in a hectic lesson for students who are easily overwhelmed.

You can use the karuta cards in different ways; say the word and get students to pick the right card, let students pick a card and use it in a key sentence (e.g. use sports cards and make the students say 'I like [sport]' when they pick up the card) or pick up the card yourself and the first student to say the word or key sentence gets to keep the card. Ask a teacher to play English karuta with the class if you are working away at other schools to keep up English skills.

Use songs with strong rhythms or make actions to teach simple vocabulary. You can even make simple animations with software such as PowerPoint. You can also use big flashcards on the board or floor and get students to students run to the cards at the right time and do an action in the song, or look at the card to help drill the language.

Make displays using art skills and photos with the students, do musical activities with percussion instruments, grow plants (names in cress, vegetables, flowers to learn colours etc.), go for a walk to learn the names of things outside (e.g. tree, house, road, car etc.), make a dance for an English song to remember the words, cook (or maybe just eat) international foods.

If you're stuck think about things you enjoyed doing at your students' age (or mental level ) and adapt the activity to involve some English learning. Put the emphasis on fun and your students will learn as they enjoy themselves.

Where to find out more:

There's a very comprehensive article on teaching ESL SEN pupils here http://www.kyoto-su.ac.jp/information/tesl-ej/ej01/a.4.html

Teaching strategies for Down syndrome students

There are links at the top of this page to information about many of the learning difficulties mentioned above and details of teaching strategies too.http://library.thinkquest.org/C003703/ Click on the 'dealing' tab and select the learning difficulty you wish to view at the top . It is very slow loading but well worth a look, so please be patient!

Guidance from the QCA (English educational authority) on teaching gifted and talented pupils.

Famous people with learning difficulties:

Remember to reflect the diversity of the real world in your teaching, many celebrities and famous figures have dealt with learning difficulties, so use them as positive role models in your lessons (look through the lists here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_with_disabilities and here http://schwablearning.org/articles.asp?r=258 ). This can help students and teachers to realise that everyone can achieve if they have the drive and a positive environment.

(C) Copyright 2006 Jennifer Willett

If you have experience in this field and find any problems with the material presented here, please let us know. This article is not meant to be a definitive way of teaching Special Needs students, it's simple a guide that we hope may help some teachers better cope with their classes. We are always wishing to improve the quality of information here, so if you have any comments to make, please get in touch.

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