By Lynn Samartino
Every year that I teach special education, I think about the word normalcy more and more. As teachers, we are highly impacted by differences and when something veers from the norm. Some of us look at the difference as a burden or extra work, when instead we should see it as a time to evolve and learn how we can improve our daily regimens.
How can we best meet the needs of our diverse learning students?
We must embrace a collective sensitivity to diverse learners by evolving education to bring a sense of normalcy to our classrooms and our students’ lives.
Diverse learners are born with or develop a disability. While they might have some life difficulties, we can provide them with a high quality education that includes accommodations and modifications to make life and learning easier. Bringing comfort and a sensitive nature to these students’ education plans can also alleviate some of the social stigmas surrounding the special education student.
Change Special Education to Diverse Learners
Bringing the sense of normalcy to special education students begins with a change in terminology. This is the first year that I have heard the term special education being changed to diverse learners more frequently. It serves as the first step in distancing ourselves from the stigma that has surrounded the term special education.
Since the term diverse learners is currently most often used by special education teachers, these teachers must lead the charge in changing the terminology among colleagues, administration, and parents.
Offer Better Materials for Diverse Learners
If our population dictates that we focus on English Language Learners (ELL) and diverse learning students, then it should be standard practice for materials.
For example, our instruction is novel-based at the middle school level. The students enjoy reading the novels and the activities we develop to enhance their learning needs. However, many of the novels are available in one version.
In education materials, everyone should have access to the same fundamental material but in a presentation that is suitable to one’s needs. Before publishing a book, the writer and publisher should think about the diversity of their audiences and therefore make the piece available in many versions—including multiple languages and different levels of text—instead of limiting it to the general population.
Society Must Adapt
We must stop looking at things in our daily lives through one lens and instead see them through multiple lenses. For example, I see my students in three categories: the general population, diverse learners, and ELL. When I am creating lesson plans, I think about my students in these three specific ways to better meet their individual needs.
Using this expanded viewpoint model, how can we help society better meet the needs of our diverse learners? Take the example of movie theatres. I recently learned that some movie theatres offer special showings for diverse learners. This is a wonderful example of a business adapting for the diverse learner population’s needs, but why doesn’t everyone know about this option? If it was better publicized, so many of my students and their families could take advantage and enjoy these movies.
Through research and development, I hear about new events and things that being done to meet the needs of our developing learners. But why isn’t this information readily available? Teachers—especially diverse learning teachers—must research these social opportunities online and attend professional development opportunities that focus on these events.
What can we do to better support our diverse learners?
- Teachers can create opportunities for diverse learners by advocating for their students and organizing events with local businesses.
- The local and national media can focus more human-interest stories on opportunities for diverse learners, as this tactic would educate more businesses about these opportunities and encourage them to host events for business and press opportunities.
- Education resource periodicals can expand to educators who teach diverse learners so these teachers can learn what is available to diverse learners and can pass the information along to their students’ parents.
To better integrate diverse learners with the rest of society, we all need to be aware of opportunities and spread the word. Here are a few examples of organizations and resources that teachers can use to begin this integration process.
- Autism Speaks posts opportunities for diverse learners. Recently, they shared information about a vacation spot that provides accommodations and activities for the diverse learner population and their families, which is a great opportunity to restore normalcy while on vacation.
- A frozen yogurt shop recently held an event that welcomed diverse learners. They specifically hosted this event so parents and children could be comfortable and feel welcome regardless of their diversities. They wanted to help everyone feel welcome and bring a sense of community and awareness to the neighborhood.
- LDonline.org is a learning disabilities website that provides updated information on diverse learners and their ever-changing world.
- EducatingDiverseLearners.org is a great resource for teachers, as it provides development opportunities and technical assistance to diverse learning teachers as they try to incorporate a sense of normalcy in the classroom and beyond.