Adapting Instructional Mechanisms to Accommodate Students with Special Needs

Well, our discussion regarding this topic is dependent upon your subject matter -AND- the nature of the needs being considered!

Given the topic (i.e. Adapting … to Accommodate … Special Needs), I shall convey an example that is based on my experience as a Career & Technical Educator while I was employed at a maximum security facility (for incarcerated youth).  This portion of my career was extremely challenging because of the context in which I had to implement my curriculum(s).  As such, some youth were only in my classroom for a few weeks/months; others had more extensive exposure to my teaching.  Furthermore, I had students entering and exiting my program almost weekly.  This scenario gives new meaning to the concept of differentiated instruction!

It is the intent of this post to illustrate the concept of adapting “your process” to address student needs.

Accordingly, the following context applies to our … ; I was initiating a graphic design project with students.  The curriculum involved a multi-stage (i.e. sequential) process that required students to produce a series of components which were based on a concept that I introduced via a short play/dialog.  Our topic: “A Discovery of Technological Systems” required students to develop multiple logos that would be combined into a master illustration of all constructs (i.e. manufacturing, communication, transportation, energy & power, construction systems and bio-technologies).  Each logo required students to “brainstorm” concepts (in the form of sketches) that could be refined and … combined with other logos to be assembled into a final “mock-up” which served as the template for — a screen printing activity — that would represent “mastery of the process”.

Note: Mastery of the process is not the same thing as mastery of the skill set!

Ok, now that you have an adequate illustration of the context in which the learning experiences occurred; I can finally convey the concept as described in the title of this post.  Well–one student in particular had not been to school (enough to complete …).  It was discussed at “our team” meeting that the extent of truancy (in this case) may have been six years.  It is sufficient to say that “our” … was a special needs student!

So, each day when “my” students arrived, we brought out their materials (generated from the previous sessions) and continued toward our goal.  (Are you following?)

Great, because I want to take this opportunity to tell you that “you” are responsible for the “safe keeping” of all work — “You must collect” & “You must distribute”.  This is essential  because “special needs” students may … the work of others (and they “may” sabotage their own efforts because of … fear of success … or a belief that they cannot possibly succeed).

So, you must control the flow of ALL resources pending/completed and/or utilized!

Back to the topic at hand–My special needs student came to class each day “scribbled out a logo” and told me — “that’s it”; it’s my design for …! I responded, let’s try another system. He (always) replied! That’s all I’m doing today!

How would you respond?

I simply stated: Ok, if you sit there quietly, without causing … (a disturbance), I will not force you to continue.  He probably thought he had this sucker wrapped around his finger.  But I had a longer range goal in my sights: HIS SUCCESS in fulfilling the requirements that were established.  Yes, he would screen print his design and wear his t-shirt (with pride); although he had yet to discover that fact.  This scenario repeated itself daily. Since I was collecting the work of all students (and securing it); some of my students had no idea that they were making progress!

Getting to the point:  This student finally developed all of the required sketches; when I said let’s refine them, he said nope that’s good enough for me!  So, I adapted my expectations (of success) to align with his expectations of failure.  NO WAY was I going to let this kid manipulate me; (SO HE COULD PROVE that HE WAS A FAILURE). As far as I was concerned; he was ready to print his haphazard collection of sketches — (after “pasting” them together into a final mock-up).  Subsequently, this student successfully “burnt” a screen template and prepared it for use on the “press”.  Finally, we slipped a t-shirt on the apparatus (after securing the template) and then, he stated he could not continue.  So, I placed my hands on top of his and “we” pulled the squeegee across the template.  Then, we gently lifted the press (i.e. template) and the image was perfect.  Wow, I don’t think I will ever forget the look on his face!~The Special Needs Student was just like all the other students in my class; HE WAS A SUCCESS. –AND– I had succeeded in guiding him toward that success!

At this point (in our story), I “almost” have a tear in my eye (and this interaction occurred over 20 years ago).  Perhaps being a scholar has “many” disadvantages?

Read my “free” white paper (About Systemic Educational Reform) @

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Filed under #Student-centered Learning, Classroom Management, Curriculum and Instruction, Education, Inspirational, School Reform Initiatives & Professional Development Strategies, special needs students, Teaching

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