Trends in Special Education

By Hillary Smith, Guest Blogger

It’s no secret that education is a constantly evolving process. From Piaget to Vygotsky and Reggio Emilia to Montessori Schools, change is a given in the world of learning. Each year there are new studies and expert recommendations to guide educators in their quest to teach and help students become lifelong learners. As teachers sift through journals and data, it can be overwhelming to stay current on new trends emerging in the classroom.

One area currently undergoing a surge of new ideas and methodology is special education (and we aren’t talking about the constant rotation of individualized education plans and lessons). With a fresh year and new start, we have compiled a list of seven noteworthy trends emerging in special education.

Listed below are special education trends to keep an eye out for in 2016:

Utilizing writing apps to help struggling students. Taking advantage of the myriad of writing assistive technology tools can allow struggling writers bypass the physical task of putting words on paper. Popular apps focus a child’s attention to spelling, grammar, organization, and their thoughts instead of the mechanics of penmanship. With access to tablets and laptops, these apps can be a lifesaver for students and teachers.

Taking advantage of current research to aid dyslexic or struggling readers. There are new fonts and color backgrounds that are believed to improve reading skills. These techniques can be adapted for small groups or inclusion in the classroom for emergent readers. In addition, there are a variety of apps geared toward this student demographic.

Using physical movement to enhance learning. The importance of recess is beginning to make waves in the education community. We have known for years that play was important for learning, but it seems that exercise is making a comeback due to the mental boost it provides. Look for more yoga balls, free play, foam stretchers, stretch bands, and the reemergence of recess in the schools to provide outlets for extra energy.

Crafting the ultimate learning zone with colors and scents. Educators have long known how colors can impact moods, but many special educators are taking this to the next level. They are covering the walls in calming colors, dimming harsh lights, and mixing soothing essential oil combinations to create the ideal environment for children who are easily overstimulated.

Developing multi-tiered groups to work one-on-one with students. After identifying different levels of learners, many instructors are utilizing small groups or individualized instruction to meet all high and low learners’ needs. Instruction time will be spread out among many teachers and paras while allowing individuals to learn at their own pace and with specialized lessons to maximize learning.

Introducing coding and programming in all levels of instruction. In a world that is increasingly digital, a deep understanding of computer science will be a critical life skill for all students to possess. Research has found that students with special needs are motivated and engaged at higher levels when technology is used in the classroom. To drive this point home, consider that 16 percent of college students who are placed on the Autism Spectrum have chosen computer science for majors. This is amazing when only 7 percent of the general population declare the same major. Special education teachers are beginning to foster technology skills like coding and QR codes in their lessons to enrich the learning process.

Harnessing online reward programs for encouraging positive behaviors. Sites like Do2Learn, are great resources for educators to help develop strategies for behavior problems. Other apps, like Class Dojo, provide wonderful tools to manage behavior charts for students and parents. It allows feedback and keeps everyone on the same page when it comes to behavior plans.

Looking Ahead

Special education has steadily progressed in the last couple of decades and will continue to be progressive into the future. Perhaps you have already implemented or seen these trends in your school, but we can count on educators to put students first and look for ways to promote learning in all our “kids.” 

Want more Hillary? Check out her post about parenting and teaching in the social age.