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In this lesson, we will explore how to educate students with special needs. We will specifically address how the educational needs of these students are best served if they are in a mainstream classroom being taught alongside their peers.

Educating Students with Special Needs

Imagine you are a first-year teacher on your first day of class.

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You have your class roster with all of your students’ names on it, but you don’t know which one of your students has a learning disability. How are you going to teach your students? Well, in this lesson we will discuss educating students with special needs.

Learning Disability

How an individual becomes learning disabled is still a mystery. However, it is theorized that learning disabilities are caused by a glitch in the nervous system.Theses glitches affect each person differently. For example, some individuals have difficulty concentrating while others have difficulty with motor skills.

There are many different types of learning disabilities, and as such, the term learning disability should be thought of as an umbrella term used to describe a student who doesn’t learn in the mainstream way.

The human nervous system
Image of the Nervous System

Specifically, a learning disability is defined as an impairment that interferes with the student’s academic performance. The key point here is that the disability is explicit towards a particular area of learning. For example, a student may be able to read but not be able to write.

Least Restrictive Environment

Students with special needs were not always allowed in the mainstream classroom.

In fact, just a few decades ago, students with learning disabilities were routinely segregated away from their classmates.However, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that all students with learning disabilities be taught in the least restrictive environment. The essence of this requirement is to ensure that students are not unnecessarily removed from the mainstream classroom or isolated away from their peers.


If a student in your class has a learning disability, they may find it difficult to stay on task. There are two fundamental ways in which the classroom assignments can be focused to help students with special needs stay on task.

Conditions that fit under the umbrella term of learning disability
Learning Disability Definition

The first way is through accommodations. Accommodations provide an alternate way of learning the curriculum. Accommodations do not change the curriculum but make changes in how the information is presented. For example, a fifth-grade student is learning about the rock cycle, and they are given a graphic organizer to help them visualize the information.


The second way is through modifications. Modifications make changes to the curriculum. Modifications are not synonymous with accommodations, as the student is assigned a different curriculum than the rest of the class. For example, a modification of the spelling curriculum is one in which the student will use the spelling words from the second-grade text, rather than from the sixth-grade speller.

Lesson Summary

In this lesson, we discussed educating students with special needs. The educational needs of these students are best served if they are in the mainstream classroom being taught alongside of their peers.However, since these students have learning disabilities, the curriculum might have to be tailored to meet their individual needs; this is what is known as making modifications for the student. Another way in which special needs students are taught in the mainstream classroom is through accommodations, or supplementing the curriculum with extra materials. An example of an accommodation would be providing notes for the student or graphic organizers to help them visualize the information.

Learning Outcomes

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define learning disability
  • Understand what is meant by least restrictive environment
  • Differentiate accommodation from modification and give examples of each

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