Dealing With Varying Student Needs | The Highly Effective Teacher

Dealing With Varying Student Needs

Marie Amaro

Dealing with varying student needs

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Dealing With Students In Your Class With Varying Needs

Do you stay awake at night racking your brain for more effective ways to engage your students, dealing with students with varying needs, make the learning more enjoyable and relevant and help the struggling student?

As teachers we know that our students are individuals with their own strengths, interests and challenges. We work hard to find strategies that support our students, provide differentiated instruction and vary assessment tasks according to the students’ learning styles.

We know that students all come from a variety of backgrounds: socio-economic circumstances, exposure to education, levels of parental support, family situations, dietary habits and living arrangements.

All these variables impact on how a student shows up at school and provide the basis of what they know. They also impact on their social skills, how they get along with others, how they solve problems, what they do when they feel sad or angry.

Most people can quite easily accept that students’ needs vary when it comes to academic learning like reading or maths, but some find it difficult to understand why a student with challenging behaviour requires an individualised approach.

I remember the first time I heard it explained that made sense to me.

No teacher would insist that a student in a wheel chair run the 100m race just because everyone else could. In the same way, it is unreasonable to expect a student with behavioural challenges to interact appropriately in the classroom without support.

When a student acts inappropriately it is because they lack the necessary skills to behave appropriately. Thus they need to learn how to behave in more productive ways by being taught: explicit teaching, cues, reward systems, behaviour contracts, additional small group instruction, working with parents and enlisting peer support. See How to Develop a Behaviour Contract.

Some teachers are concerned about the impact on the rest of the class when a student receives praise or reward for expected classroom behaviour.

They say things like ‘Other students will think they can also get away with that behaviour’ or ‘It isn’t fair if he/she is getting a reward for something the other students do all the time’.

This perspective undervalues the fact that students as young as kindergarten can appreciate that different people have different needs. When the teacher models understanding and acceptance of diversity, students will take their lead and readily adjust.

The experience is more appropriately viewed as a valuable learning opportunity for the class about accepting:

  1. diversity (we all have different needs),
  2. compassion (how can I help?) and
  3. empathy (understanding for someone less fortunate).

These are values we would agree are essential for well-rounded adults.

Think about how you would like a child or young person you care for to be treated if they displayed challenging behaviour. We would all prefer that the dignity of the child or young person was maintained.

Read Richard Curwin’s article Fair isn’t Equal  for an interesting perspective.