10 Special Education Teaching Styles & Approaches
Special education is a broad term that encompasses the provision of education for pupils with special educational needs (SEN). SEN can include learning difficulties, physical disabilities, sensory impairments, communication disorders, emotional and behavioural difficulties, and autism spectrum disorders. According to the 2001 SEN Code of Practice, there are four main areas of need: communication and interaction, cognition and learning, social, emotional and mental health, and sensory and/or physical. there are no specific special education teaching styles but there are a range of approaches used.
Principles of Special Education Teaching and Learning
Special education teaching styles are the methods and approaches that teachers use to meet the diverse and individual needs of their pupils with SEN. There is no one best teaching style for all pupils with SEN, as different styles may suit different pupils, subjects, and contexts. However, some general principles that underpin effective special education teaching styles are:
- High expectations for all pupils
- Inclusive and collaborative practice
- Personalised learning and Adaptive teaching
- Evidence-based and reflective practice
- Multisensory and interactive learning
- Specialised Formative assessment and feedback
SEN Teaching Approaches
Based on these principles, here are 10 special education teaching styles, or more accurately approaches that can be used in UK schools to support pupils with SEN:
- Individualised learning: This style involves providing different tasks and support for each pupil based on their abilities, interests, and preferences. Individualised learning can be delivered through various models, such as independent learning, classroom-based activities supported by a teacher or teaching assistant, or digital technologies that offer adaptive learning and feedback. Individualised learning can help pupils with SEN to progress at their own pace, develop their self-regulation skills, and increase their motivation and engagement.
- Precision teaching: This style involves breaking down complex skills or concepts into small and manageable steps, and teaching them through repeated practice and feedback until mastery is achieved. Precision teaching can be used to teach basic skills such as reading, writing, spelling, or maths, as well as higher-order skills such as problem-solving or reasoning. Precision teaching can help pupils with SEN to improve their accuracy, fluency, and confidence in learning.
- Cooperative learning: This style involves organising pupils into small groups and giving them structured tasks that require them to work together and help each other. Cooperative learning can foster positive interdependence, individual accountability, social skills, and peer support among pupils with SEN. Cooperative learning can also enhance their academic achievement, self-esteem, and attitudes towards learning.
- Direct instruction: This style involves providing clear and explicit instruction on the objectives, procedures, examples, and practice of a lesson. Direct instruction can be delivered through whole-class or small-group teaching, using scripted lessons, modelling, scaffolding, questioning, and feedback. Direct instruction can help pupils with SEN to acquire essential knowledge and skills in a systematic and efficient way.
- Inquiry-based learning: This style involves engaging pupils in exploring questions or problems that interest them, using various sources of information and evidence. Inquiry-based learning can foster curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, and metacognition among pupils with SEN. Inquiry-based learning can also help them to develop their research skills, conceptual understanding, and personal relevance of learning.
- Multisensory learning: This style involves using different sensory modalities (such as visual, auditory, tactile, or kinaesthetic – This is beyond VAK into crafting planned learning activities that are designed to engage SEN learners) to present and reinforce information. Multisensory learning can enhance memory retention, comprehension, and application of learning among pupils with SEN. Multisensory learning can also cater to their preferred learning styles and strengths.
- Universal design for learning (UDL): This style involves designing the curriculum, instruction, assessment, and environment to be accessible and flexible for all learners. UDL is based on three principles: multiple means of representation (providing different ways of presenting information), multiple means of action and expression (providing different ways of demonstrating knowledge), and multiple means of engagement (providing different ways of motivating learners). UDL can help pupils with SEN to overcome barriers to learning and participate fully in the educational process.
- Behavioural approach: I have written about this more in our post on Autism and Behaviour from a Neurodiversity Affirming Perspective. I am moving into more relational approaches but PBS is widespread and adapting. This style involves using principles of behaviourism (such as reinforcement, shaping, modelling) to modify or change undesirable behaviours or promote desirable behaviours among pupils with SEN. Behavioural approach can be used to teach social skills, self-management skills, or academic skills that are affected by behavioural difficulties. Behavioural approach can help pupils with SEN to improve their behaviour outcomes, emotional well-being, and academic performance.
- Social stories: This style involves using short stories that describe a specific situation or event from the perspective of the pupil with SEN. Social stories can include information on what happens, what people do or say, how they feel, and what they expect from the pupil. Social stories can be used to teach social rules, or expectations that may be challenging or confusing for pupils with SEN, especially autistic pupils. Social stories can help pupils with SEN to understand and cope with social situations, reduce their anxiety or stress, and improve their ability to manage social skills.
- Mindfulness: This style involves teaching pupils to pay attention to the present moment, without judgement or reaction. Mindfulness can be practiced through various activities, such as breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or art. Mindfulness can help pupils with SEN to regulate their emotions, reduce their stress, enhance their focus, and improve their well-being.
These are some of the special education teaching styles that can be used in UK schools to support pupils with SEN. However, it is important to note that these styles are not mutually exclusive or exhaustive, and that teachers may need to use a combination of styles or adapt them to suit the needs of their pupils and the context of their teaching. Teachers may also need to collaborate with other professionals, such as SENCOs, educational psychologists, speech and language therapists, or occupational therapists, to provide the best possible support for their pupils with SEN.