Break It Down!
Simplifying Instruction is a Critical Teaching Strategy for Students with Intellectual Disabilities
When I earned my Masters Degree in Special Education with a dual emphasis in Emotional Disabilities and Intellectual Disabilities, I felt relatively confident that my education had given me the skills I’d need to be a good teacher. I hoped that my dedication and enthusiasm would eventually lead me to being even better than good.
My first week as a new teacher in a self-contained classroom for students with moderate intellectual disabilities, showed me that I had a lot to learn as I made my first big teaching blunder that took months to undo.
Several of my students had coin identification as a math goal on their IEP’s. Full of confidence, armed with visuals, coins and a dozen different lesson plans, I felt like I was hitting the ground running. All I really did was hit the ground! What was the mistake? I introduced all four coins AT THE SAME TIME! For all you experienced teachers out there, you are probably wondering how I could have made this fundamental mistake. Well, I’m not sure, but that’s what I did. For all you new teachers—don’t do that! One of the first rules of teaching students with intellectual disabilities? Break it down!
Weeks into teaching coin identification, I would show a student a penny and they would call it a quarter, or nickel. Or maybe they would correctly identify it as a penny the first time, and but then a dime the next. Somehow they managed to learn all the names of the coins, but were unable to connect the name of a coin with the coin itself. Frustrated, I went to my mentor for help, and explained to her how my students just couldn’t seem to learn the coins despite my best efforts. After I explained all the techniques I had used, she asked me the critical question…”Which coin did you start with?” Oooops!
So that was my big mistake, and a lesson I never forgot. To help students with intellectual disabilities gain new information, it is critical that you break it down into its simplest components. If it’s coins, one coin at a time, only adding the next coin after the first one is mastered, and then reviewing the previous coin with the new one and so on. If it’s the parts of a book, one part at a time! How to wash your hands? One step at a time.
Breaking it down may seem tedious, time consuming, or even at times unnecessary, but believe me, trying to un-teach information is much worse!
Have you had an “Ooops!” teaching experience? Share it here, and let’s learn from each others mistakes!
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