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How to Differentiate Content for Special Education Students

During our previous post, we gave an overview of differentiation and the different ways in which a teacher can differentiate instruction for students with disabilities.  In this post we are going to go into more detail about how exactly a special education teacher can go about differentiating content for students with learning disabilities.  

 

Definition

First, let’s start with how exactly we define content.  Content is what you teach and what you expect your students to learn.  For many special educators, the content is grounded in the Common Core State Standards.  

 

School districts and individual schools typically have a curriculum in place for teachers to use as a roadmap for delivering grade level content.  It is then up to the teacher to ensure that all students are given access to the content by creating lesson plans specific to the students in each of their classes.

 

Assessment

Before a teacher can begin to look at differentiating content for a student, it is important that some form of pre assessment or analysis of data occurs related to the content to be taught.  Many times information about how a student is performing in a particular content area or on a particular grade level standard is included in the Individualized Education Program or data has already been collected during beginning of year assessments.  

 

Assessment information should be used in order to determine if the student is missing in foundational or prerequisite skills related to the new learning.  If this information is not readily available, then it may be necessary for a teacher to create a pre-assessment to determine the student’s strengths and weaknesses in relation to the content.  

 

Addressing Prerequisite Skills

If a special education teacher finds that there are gaps in the learning or that cause the student to be unable to engage in the grade level instructional material, then it may be appropriate to approach the content at the student’s instructional current level.  

 

For example, if you are going to be engaging in a sixth grade math lesson on ratios and proportions, the student may need a series of pre-lesson that covers foundational skills such as fractions, multiplication, and division prior to engaging in the content at their grade level.  By planning for these skills deficits up front, a teacher is able to ensure that the student has greater access to the content at their current grade level.

 

Differentiated Materials

Another strategy for differentiating the content would be to utilize a lower level text for instruction in order to deliver a English Language Arts lesson.  If a student’s IEP indicates that they are reading on a third grade level, but the grade level text is on the eighth grade level, then it may benefit the student to have access to a text a third grade level.  

 

If the content standard and lesson objective involves identifying main idea and details in an informational  text, then the student can still engage in activities related to the eighth grade content standard. However, instead of using a text that they are unable to read, it may be better to assess their ability to independently identify main idea and details using a lower level text.

 

A Strategy for Supporting Students with Disabilities

Differentiating content can be a great way for special education teachers to support students with disabilities.  By incorporating differentiation strategies into your daily lessons or sharing with general educators ways in which they can differentiate content for students with learning disabilities, special education teachers can ensure that the needs of their students are being met across all settings.  

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