How to Support Students with IEPs in Mainstream Classrooms

Creating an Inclusive Learning Environments for Special Needs Students

How to Support Students with IEPs in Mainstream Classrooms

IEP Implementation11/16/2023

Modern education embraces the core principle of inclusive education, ensuring that all students, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, have an equal chance to learn and flourish together in Individualized education programs (IEP) and mainstream classrooms.

Mainstream classrooms today encompass a rich tapestry of learners, each with unique strengths, needs, and learning styles.

Among these students are those with special educational needs, who require additional support to thrive in the traditional classroom setting.

As educators, it is your responsibility to foster inclusive learning environments that embrace these students' individualities and empower them to reach their full potential.

In this article, we discuss effective strategies for supporting special needs students in the mainstream classroom.

1. Understand the IEP

IEPs serve as vital roadmaps for students with disabilities in mainstream classrooms, outlining their unique needs and goals, but they can be complex and time-consuming to understand and implement.

AbleSpace, a dedicated special education IEP software, serves as a powerful solution to streamline these processes, empowering teachers, therapists, and paraprofessionals to provide personalized support and foster inclusive learning environments.

Nurturing Inclusive Learning Environment: An Example

Sarah, a student with dyslexia, navigates the challenges of learning in a mainstream classroom. Her IEP outlines specific accommodations designed to support her academic success.

These accommodations, ranging from extended time on tests to access to assistive technology, serve as vital tools for leveling the playing field and enabling Sarah to reach her full potential.

The responsibility of implementing these accommodations falls squarely upon Sarah's teacher. Understanding the nuances of Sarah's IEP and translating them into actionable strategies is crucial for creating an inclusive learning environment.

For instance, teachers can provide Sarah with a copy of test questions in advance; she can utilize the text-to-speech program to familiarize herself with the material, reducing the anxiety and frustration often associated with reading under time constraints.

Preferential seating near the front of the classroom ensures that Sarah can clearly see the board, minimizing visual strain and enhancing her ability to engage with the lesson.

Beyond these specific accommodations, utilizing visual aids, incorporating hands-on activities, and offering alternative assessment methods can cater to Sarah's strengths and preferences, fostering a sense of confidence and engagement.

2. Collaborate with Special Education (SpEd) Professionals

Collaboration among various stakeholders on the IEP team is critical to the success of students with disabilities in mainstream classrooms.

It allows SpEd professionals to share their expertise and resources to create a personalized learning plan for each student.

  • General education teachers can identify students' academic strengths and weaknesses in the mainstream classroom and offer additional support.
  • Special education teachers can leverage their expertise in specific disabilities to develop strategies and accommodations.
  • Speech therapists can help students with speech and language disorders communicate effectively.
  • Occupational therapists can help students with fine motor skills.
  • Other specialists, such as psychologists, social workers, and counselors, can help provide students with emotional and behavioral support as per their IEP goals.

3. Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction for students with IEPs is a teaching approach that allows teachers to tailor their instruction to meet the individual needs of all learners.

Teachers consider students' different learning styles, abilities, and interests when planning and delivering instruction.

Some common strategies to plan and deliver differentiated instruction for special needs students with IEPs in mainstream classrooms may include:

  • Use visual aids: Diagrams, charts, and graphic organizers can help students understand complex concepts.
  • Hands-on activities: Help students learn through experience and develop their problem-solving skills.
  • Organize students into groups: Help students learn from each other and develop their collaboration skills.
  • One-on-one instruction: Provide students with the extra support they need to master specific skills.

4. Accessible Classroom Materials

They are essential for supporting students with disabilities in mainstream classrooms.

However, many teachers struggle to provide accessible materials due to time constraints, lack of resources, or knowledge.

Universal design for learning (UDL) for students with IEPs provides a framework for teachers to design accessible learning experiences for all students. The framework provides students with different ways to access and understand information.

One way to apply UDL principles to classroom materials is to provide students with learning material in various text formats, such as-

  • large-print,
  • digital books, and
  • audiobooks.

You can also provide students with access to text-to-speech software and other assistive technologies.

Bridging the Accessibility Gap:  Supporting a Student with Visual Impairment

Consider the case of a student who faces the challenge of accessing standard-sized textbooks due to their visual impairment.

To bridge this accessibility gap, the teacher implements a thoughtful solution based on the UDL principles: providing the student with large-print textbooks and digital resources equipped with text-to-speech capabilities.

These adaptations empower the student to independently access the same information as their peers, enabling them to fully participate in class activities and assignments.

The large-print textbooks, for example, provide the student with a visually accessible format, eliminating the strain and frustration often associated with reading small print.

The digital resources with text-to-speech capabilities offer an alternative pathway to information, allowing the student to convert text into spoken audio, further enhancing their comprehension and engagement.

5. Establish a Structured Learning Environment

Consistency and structure hold the key to establishing a nurturing environment for special needs students with IEPs in mainstream classrooms.

These students often thrive in predictable and organized environments where they know what to expect and how to behave.

Establishing a Structured Environment for Enhanced Learning: An Example

A teacher creates a visual schedule for a student with autism who struggles with transitions.

The schedule can indicate all activities that will take place during the day in the order in which they will occur.

The teacher can also use visual cues to let students know when they transition students with IEPs to a new activity.

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