ESE teacher helps ESE student in a science class

Florida uses the term “exceptional student education” (ESE) to refer to the help that children with disabilities receive at school. The Florida Department of Education states that the purpose of ESE is to help each child with a disability progress in school and prepare for life after school.

Along with parents and specialists, teachers form an important part of a team of people who help make decisions about the child’s needs and ESE services. If the child is eligible for ESE services, an individual education plan (IEP) is written to outline specific services and supports the child will receive. Teachers then use the IEP to plan for specific classroom accommodations and instructional strategies to help meet the student’s needs.

There are several ways that teachers can help ESE students. The following sections explore just a few strategies.

How to Teach ESE Students

Ensure Your Classroom Is Accessible for All Students

An educational framework known as Universal Design for Learning (UDL) helps create flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences. As a handout on ESE strategies from the Florida Department of Education explains, UDL classrooms help make sure that “all students have options, not just students with disabilities.”

There are three principles in UDL that guide curriculum, instruction and assessment:

  1. Provide multiple means of engagement. Enhancing individual choice and autonomy enables students to be motivated and engaged in several ways, which increases self-determination, self-esteem and feelings of connections to content. Extend choice to how to reach a particular learning objective and required tools or support. Other ways to promote engagement is through self-regulation and supportive individuals or tools, which can include setting personal goals, practicing self-reflection activities, utilizing coaches or mentors, and creating checklists.
  2. Provide multiple means of representation. Explore supports for word recognition like text-to-speech or a screen reader. There are books that are available in print, digital text, audio formats and as movies, along with books of different sizes and readability levels. Students can choose the format and use multiple ones.
  3. Provide multiple means of action and expression. Students can write, speak, draw or use another method of expression to demonstrate what they have learned and what they still need to learn. Look at supports, such as graphic organizers, planning forms and technology, to strategically plan, organize and produce the desired products.

Discover Your Students’ Strengths

Find out as much as you can about your students’ strengths and abilities. Education Week Teacher advises performing an assessment of those things before they even come into your classroom. Having a strengths inventory can be helpful when planning for certain accommodations.

Follow up with your students. What interests them? What are they good at? What would they most like to study? Ask these types of questions to see what might best motivate and engage your students.

Create Structured Social Interactions

Participating in social interactions for students with disabilities can be difficult. Sometimes, they are excluded by their peers. Try to foster relationships between all of your students by providing structured opportunities for social interactions. One way to do this is to assign students specific roles, such as handing out supplies for an assignment, and coaching students with socially appropriate speech. You should also take advantage of students’ strengths. If a student who has autism is particularly strong in math, that child could help others study for a test in the subject.

Explore ways to create these social interactions through small tasks, games and learning activities.

Provide Positive Role Models with Disabilities

Students who have disabilities should have an opportunity to learn about individuals with disabilities who have become successful. Education Week Teacher recommends creating a curriculum unit that examines individuals like Nobel Prize-winning biologist Carol Greider (dyslexia), film director Steven Spielberg (ADHD) and animal scientist Temple Grandin (autism). Look for individuals in the community who would serve as good role models.

Use One-on-One and Small Group Instruction

For certain lessons, vary the size of the group you’re teaching. Sometimes, the material is best for a small group of students. According to Understood, a nonprofit resource operated by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, learning in a small group or one-on-one can be very helpful for students with learning and attention issues, such as the following examples illustrate:

  • Dyslexia: Consider having a small group of children at the same reading level read together. You can also build groups to work on a particular skill, with children helping out each other. Small groups for reading can also be good for students who have a common interest in a book.
  • Dyscalculia: Instead of having the whole class involved, try placing one or more students with dyscalculia in a small group to get some extra practice on their skills.
  • Dysgraphia: A lot of teachers have writing conferences to meet with students individually and discuss their progress with what they’re writing. Consider doing this, but when speaking to students with dysgraphia, take extra time to work on specific skills.
  • ADHD and executive functioning issues: A small group or one-on-one instruction is crucial to limiting distractions and helping students stay on task. It can also help develop a skill like self-monitoring, or the ability to measure his or her behavior and then compare the result to a pre-determined standard.
  • Slow processing speed: Adjust the pace of instruction to give students the time to respond and consider the lesson. In groups, not only can you focus on certain priorities and allow for additional time, but a focused setting can decrease anxiety for students with slow processing speed compared to whole-class lessons.

One of the Most Powerful Ways to Support ESE Students

The Atlantic reports that between 1989 and 2013, the percentage of students with disabilities who were in a general education class for 80 percent or more of the school day increased from about 32 percent to nearly 62 percent. The push for this trend is backed by research, which has found as many as 85 percent of students with disabilities are able to master general education content if they receive educational supports. Examples of supports include access to a special education teacher, having material read aloud or being able to sit in a specific part of the classroom. Students with disabilities placed in general education classrooms receive more instructional time, have fewer absences and have better post-secondary outcomes.

However, educator instruction hasn’t kept up. One study in the Atlantic found that teachers are simply unable to teach to “different needs.” There are time constraints, academic standards that must be taught and a lack of support that contribute to the problem. “Teachers are not only hesitant to implement individualized instruction, but they do not even know how to do so,” according to the study’s authors.

Teachers need specific instruction to develop the skills and knowledge needed to reach students with disabilities in general and special education classrooms. Thankfully, an ESE program can prepare teachers with the practical, research-based knowledge needed to thrive in this critical-needs area and reach students.

Southeastern University’s online Master of Education in ESE can advance your effectiveness, knowledge and employability. Learn how to better reach students with disabilities by studying in a convenient online learning environment that allows you to maintain your personal and professional commitments.