Dear Dr. Shore,
As part of the trend towards inclusion, a cognitively impaired student was moved into my regular education class. Much of the work is simply too hard for him. What can I do to help him be more successful with the class work?
Teaching a cognitively impaired student in a regular class can be a formidable challenge. The student learns more slowly than other students and struggles with higher-level thinking skills. Effective instruction demands a blend of patience, understanding, a belief that the student can learn, and the realization that progress might be slow. It also requires that you adapt instruction to the student's individual needs.
Your student might not be able to perform at the same academic or conceptual level as your other students, but he can learn many of the same skills if you modify your approach to instruction. That will demand flexibility, creativity, and advance planning on your part and perhaps assistance from another staff member. Timing -- introducing skills when he is capable of understanding them -- also is important.
Here are some examples of ways that you might adapt your instruction:
State directions in a clear and direct manner and use vocabulary the student knows. Have him repeat the directions to you or begin the task in your presence to check his understanding.
Give the student work and materials that match his ability level. Have him read high-interest, low-level books.
Give the student work in the same subject as other students, but with a different goal. For example, in a project on plants, the goal for the slower student might be to learn about the requirements for plant growth while for the other students the goal might be to learn about photosynthesis.
In teaching reading, inform the student of critical errors, namely those that alter the meaning of the passage, and ignore less important errors.
Explain new terms and use consistent terminology. The student will be confused if you use different terms to refer to the same concept (for example, times and multiplied by) .
Modify the student's homework assignment by assigning him fewer problems or pages to read.
Use the computer to individualize instruction. In that way, the student can work on the same subject as other students, but on different skills.
Use materials that the student can touch and manipulate. For example, use a yardstick to measure students and convey the concept of height, and a desk to teach about dimension.