Adaptive Teaching In a Special School

What is Adaptive Teaching?

Adaptive teaching is an approach that teachers use to meet the learning needs of all students, regardless of their background or learning ability. The goal is to respond to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. A key element is to overcome any barriers to learning that may arise. I have seen the benefits of adaptive teaching first-hand, especially in special schools. In this post, I will discuss the principles of adaptive teaching and how it can be delivered in a special school setting. This recent post by the EEF highlighted the effectiveness of this.

Adaptive teaching is based on the idea that every student is different and that their learning needs vary. Teachers who practice adaptive teaching understand this and work to create a learning environment that is tailored to the individual needs of each student. To do this, teachers need to be aware of the different factors that can inhibit a student’s ability to learn and develop approaches that enable students to learn effectively.

Understanding The Needs of Your Students

Adaptive teaching requires teachers to have a deep understanding of the developmental stages of their students. They must also have a clear understanding of the needs of all students, including those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and those with English as an additional language. Teachers must be able to use a wide toolkit of teaching approaches to engage and support students.

One of the most important aspects of adaptive teaching builds on, or can be seen as an evolution of differentiation. Adaptive teaching seeks to address some of the concerns around the use of differentiation. The danger of permanent in-class groupings is that it may result in lower expectations. Labeling a group as “the bottom group” and giving them a different task without considering their specific needs and abilities can be detrimental to their learning. It is also not helpful to provide overly elaborate approaches that do not support the majority of pupils. Providing multiple levels of tasks with different worksheets for every lesson is not suitable.

Adaptive teaching requires teachers to have a deep understanding of the developmental stages of their students.

Adaptive teaching means that teachers create tasks and activities that are tailored to the individual needs of each student. For example, if a student has difficulty with reading, the teacher may provide additional support. This may be providing audio recordings of texts or breaking down complex language into simpler terms. Maybe even a reading pen. The teacher is able to ensure that each student is learning and progressing at a pace that is appropriate for them. In a special school effective use of teaching assistants is an essential part of making adaptive teaching work. They may adapt resources, create specialist AAC communication boards or pre-teach key concepts or vocabulary.

Reading pen for dyslexic pupils
An Example of a Reading Pen

In special schools, adaptive teaching is even more important. Students in special schools have a range of complex needs that require careful attention and support. Autistic students may struggle with social interaction and communication, while students with ADHD may struggle with impulsivity and attention span. Teachers in special schools must be able to recognise the nuances in student’s diagnoses and develop a teaching approaches that meets that need.

The role of Multi-Sensory Learning in Adaptive Teaching.

One approach that is often used in special schools, and I am a great fan of is multi-sensory learning. have a look at my multi-sensory stories here. This approach uses different senses to help students learn, such as touch, sound, and sight. For example, a teacher may use visuals, tactile resources and manipulatives to help students understand complex concepts. They may also use sensory materials, such as feathers or sand, to help students explore and learn in a hands-on way.

Another approach is task analysis. This approach breaks down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. Also known as chunking information. This is a key element of sequential planning. If a student struggles with reading, the teacher may break down the task into smaller steps, such as recognising letters, sounding out words, and understanding sentence structure using tools such as the SCERTS model. By doing this, the student is able to learn and progress at a pace that is appropriate for them. By reducing the pressure to keep up with their other peers the student may be more engaged in their learning.

Creating a Positive Environment

One of the key principles of adaptive teaching in special schools is to create a positive and supportive learning environment and relationships between students and their supporting adults. Students in special schools may have experienced difficulties and setbacks in their learning, and it is important for teachers to create an environment that is safe and welcoming. This means creating clear expectations, providing positive reinforcement, and building positive relationships with students.

Examples of Adaptations During the Lesson

Teachers and TA’s will often assess how well individual students are responding to, or engaging with the lesson. They can then make adaptations based on these assessments. Here are some examples based on the Education South West Adaptive Teaching Resource.

  • Reduce their language to make it more accessible to students
  • Provide step-by-step instructions to assist with understanding, this may be a mini-schedule or task breakdown
  • Model an example so students have a clear understanding of expectations
  • Highlight 1 or 2 key concepts that the student needs to know to access future learning.
  • Elicit responses via questions to promote critical thinking
  • Allocate a TA to a dynamic group to address misconceptions or keep pupils on track
  • Set intermediate goals to break down larger tasks into manageable parts
  • Provide prompts to help students get started on a task
  • Structure a group attempt before an individual attempt to build confidence
  • Improve accessibility, for example, by sitting closer to the speaker, increasing visibility of the whiteboard or reading text to students with visual impairments.

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