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Working with Exceptional Children

The academic and social/emotional success of students with special needs takes a whole team of educators, community and family members as well as a cohesive plan. The person who bears the responsibility of organizing the team and plan is most likely a teacher who is well-prepared, compassionate and qualified to work with exceptional children. The teacher is responsible for coordinating academic services and determining what teaching strategies will prove most effective for each student. In addition, the special education teacher will ensure that each student is provided a safe learning environment.

Effective Instructional Strategies for Exceptional Students

Because exceptional students have a harder time adapting to new or difficult situations, teachers who work with them need to find innovative strategies that will help their students make progress.

Here are a few teacher-tested strategies:

  • Pre-teach and use vocabulary students will need for upcoming content-area lessons.
  • For students in a larger group who need more time to process questions and determine an answer, announce that you will ask the question but then wait for everyone to have an opportunity to think.
  • Break class assignments into smaller sections and ask the student to check in and review directions after each section.
  • Shorten independent work assignments and tests. Provide additional support. For example:
    • Offer fewer choices for multiple-choice activities.
    • Provide a word bank for fill-in tests or activities.
    • Provide examples of each type of problem to be solved.

Providing a Safe Learning Environment for Exceptional Students

All students come to school with a multitude of experiences and habits, some good and some difficult. Emotional or behavioral challenges that students with special needs bring to the classroom will affect their ability to focus on academic work. In order to process information and perform at their best, they are more likely to need a safe learning environment, free of peripheral challenges and distractions.

A carefully designed learning environment addresses two areas of concern:

It provides a barrier from outside distractions that other students may be able to ignore. This barrier may also include separation from students who lack the patience or understanding to work either collaboratively or side-by-side with a student who works more slowly. Students with disabilities also benefit from learning environments in which they can ask questions and make mistakes without fear of ridicule.

It acknowledges that students with behavioral or emotional disabilities may need physical places in which they can process academic information and environmental changes. Students with both learning and behavioral or emotional disabilities usually work more productively if given a quiet area with plenty of space in which they can move around and think out loud.

Preparing to Teach Exceptional Students

The Master of Science in Education in Special Education degree from Northwest Missouri State University is designed for experienced educators who want to expand their understanding of teaching students with special needs in their general education classroom or who wish to explore the possibility of teaching exceptional children full time.

The all-online program will prepare you to meet the academic and social/emotional challenges faced by students who already receive special services and who benefit from an Individualized Education Program.

In addition, it explores the skills required to work with students who are not yet receiving services, but who have been identified as “at-risk” and require additional support from well-prepared professionals.

This graduate program will prepare you to work with exceptional students as a classroom teacher, a special education teacher or an interventionist. Earn this degree and be ready for the next step in your teaching career.

Learn more about Northwest Missouri’s online MSEd. in Special Education program.


Education Week: 6 Strategies for Working With Diverse-Needs Students

Reading Rockets: How to Adapt Your Teaching Strategies to Student Needs

U.S. Department of State: An Educational Approach for Teaching Highly Capable/Gifted Students

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