What is the one of the most frequently repeated pieces of advice given to Special Education teachers? They say you have to slow down. It takes special education students longer to learn.
I agree and disagree. I agree you must slow down in the sense that you must provide smaller chunks in each lesson and provide more lessons for the students to learn the content. But, I disagree that you must slow down during each lesson. In fact, I would argue that teachers going slow during a lesson directly contributes to struggling students struggling even more as well as teachers collecting inaccurate data from students.
During a lesson I recently observed in an SDC classroom, the teacher provided a clear model for the students. The teacher progressed in the lesson to facilitate guided practice.
The teacher directed the students to execute the first step of the math procedure. The procedure called for building a simple model using manipulatives. From my vantage point near the back of the classroom I was able to quickly observe nearly all the students were completing the assigned task within 20 to 30 seconds.
It was not surprising that the students were able to accomplish the task, the first step of the procedure, so quickly and easily.
Students had completed a similar task during a previous lesson presented in a different context. In addition to being successful on a previous day, the students also built the same type of model during the review portion of the current lesson.
Even though the SDC students had provided data indicating the first step of the procedure would not be difficult for the students, the teacher inspected each student’s work individually. Even though there were only 9 students in the class it took several minutes for the teacher to get to each student in the class to check their work in spite of the fact that the students had been successful in the task. In truth, the further in the order a student was in the checking of their work, the longer it took for the teacher to observe and give feedback.
Why was it taking longer to check the latter students? As an observer, it was very clear what had happened. The latter students, who were being checked up 5 minutes after the task was assigned, had already created the model with the manipulatives, disassembled the model, and began building other non-lesson related creative objects. When the teacher arrived to check their work, each student had to disassemble the manipulatives and reassemble them into the requested model as prescribed by the procedure.
In other words, it was not the students who were slowing down the process; it was the teacher’s structure and strategy for checking each student that was the slowing down the lesson.
As the lesson slowed down, the students’ attention wandered, behaviors began to manifest, and incorrectly, the teacher determined that the students were not as ready for the lesson as she thought.
The moral of the story: If you properly chunk a well-designed and properly sequenced lesson, nearly all students will be able to perform requested tasks in a timely manner. Make sure you have structures, procedures, and strategies in place that permit you to keep up with your students’ pace. Don’t you be the reason the class is slowing down.