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The four key teaching techniques that SEN teachers apply


‘Special Education Needs’ (SEN) is a term applied to a child or young person who presents learning difficulties. Depending on the student, the difficulty could be physical, developmental, behavioural/emotional or sensory impaired, all of which make up the four types of special needs. Special education provisions must therefore be made for each SEN student.

While a one size fits all approach is not suitable within SEN teaching, there are certain teaching methods that facilitate the development of SEN students while considering their individual needs. This factors in the understanding that the classroom isn’t just a place to teach students the curriculum. It’s a place where teachers should address each child’s social and emotional development and prepare them for the future.

Here are four key teaching techniques that SEN teachers can apply - both in a mainstream school or special school - to empower their students with the skills they’ll need in later life:

SEN teacher sitting in classroom with pupils in a circle

Group work

Disruptive and withdrawn behaviour are a barrier for learning for some SEN pupils and though not every student will exhibit these behaviours, it will most likely be displayed in an SEN classroom. Group work is a key teaching technique used by SEN teachers to engage the class and it encourages social participation. Social skills are essential as they’re required beyond a student’s years, when they are required to integrate with their community and play an inclusive role.

When it comes to group work, there are two options: mixed ability and ability grouping. However, student must be exposed to a range of learning contexts, including whole-class work and individual work, which will prevent them from becoming passive learners.

Developing individuality

It’s important that SEN teachers create a supportive environment to help pupils cope with stress and anxiety. It also helps students in mainstream schools visualise their pathway to GCSEs and A-levels, and prepares students in special schools for life outside of education. A person-centred approach involves them in the discussion about their learning, supporting them to be independent and in control of their future.

Because ‘special education needs’ is a term that encompasses a broad group of students - each with unique difficulties or disabilities - adopting a differentiated approach is the best way to ensure that they get the most benefits from their education.

Thematic learning

Some teaching styles are more effective in an SEN classroom, one being the thematic approach. This teaching techniques takes a central theme, combining the basic disciplines – reading, maths, science and so on - and creates a framework that allows students to build on the knowledge they already have of the topic.

For example, a central theme could be, ‘The mighty and powerful oceans’, and each subject would relate to this topic. In English, students would study Gulliver’s Travels and in art, they’d draw the rolling waves and biology teachers would explain the wonderful diversity within sea life, with history lessons exploring the journey of pirates. Topics like these are relevant to the students because they are real-world examples they can easily relate to. A thematic approach puts the learning into context and makes it more meaningful for pupils, stirring their curiosity and desire to learn.

Praising positive behaviour

SEN teachers create a classroom environment that is encouraging and rewards positive behaviour. Praise is one of the top behaviour management strategies and there are three key forms: personal, effort-based and behaviour specific. Imagine a scenario where a teacher is addressing their students but one is looking around the classroom and is close to distracting other students. This will be a familiar situation for SEN teachers and by using signals to praise students they can ensure they don’t disrupt the flow of the lesson. For example, a teacher catches the pupil’s eye as they bring their attention back and the teacher praises them with a simple thumbs up or a smile. This behaviour-specific praise enforces the correct behaviour without any other students being distracted.

Though effective praise is one of the most powerful ways to enforce positive behaviour, merit systems and reward nomination systems are helpful tactics to teach SEN students what is acceptable both inside the classroom and outside.

Find an SEN teaching job with Teaching Personnel

These four key teaching techniques can be applied by SEN teachers both in a mainstream school or special school and if you’re ready to put them in practice we’ve got a range of SEN teaching positions for you to browse. Whether you’re looking for your next teaching role in a primary school, secondary school, as part of the National Tuition Programme or as a learning support assistant, our dedicated SEN branches and consultants can help. We live by the philosophy that we recruit for the role, deliver for the child.

View our special needs teacher jobs and explore the specialist roles we are looking to fill. If you can’t find the right position, get in touch and we’ll find it for you.

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