Classroom modifications for physically challenged students can make the difference

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By Deb Buehler

With deaf students in his agriculture classroom, educator Shane Stevenson of Meridian, Idaho, says having a good cadre of interpreters is essential.

“My wish is for special education students and families to not be treated differently,” Stevenson explained. “The real trick is to make sure that we keep interpreters and staff in the loop about what’s going on. That way, students don’t feel different when they show up.”

Stevenson spoke highly of the importance of resource teachers. As members of the instructional team, they advocate for the students. Resource teachers coach agriculture teachers into providing the right kind of instructional strategies for student success.

“The interpreter gave me suggestions,” Stevenson said of a recent experience. “Because I am aware, it takes the anxiety off the student to ask for help. Resource teachers help predict and prevent situations that are roadblocks to success.”

Janna Dunagan, a teacher of deaf and hard of hearing for Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind, works with Stevenson and others to create successful experiences.

“Lighting in the classroom is important,” Dunagan stated. “Students need access to the interpreter so, if the class is watching a movie, the interpreter needs to be visible.”

Hands-on success
Agriculture education classes have such a strong emphasis on hands-on learning that they are already ahead in terms of meeting the needs of physically challenged students.

Dunagan explained that hands-on activities and projects may need to be modified depending upon the student’s needs. Sometimes projects need to be different depending upon cognitive ability. They can be modified by giving the student more time to complete the activity or by changing an element such as using a different plant or animal.

“Agriculture teachers need to be familiar with their students,” Dunagan said. “Some students are so passionate and can do it while others will require a little creativity to pull off the activity.”

Dunagan suggests that agriculture teachers provide resource experts with the project in advance so that adjustments can be made before students receive the task or assignment. Tackling the modifications in advance means students still receive their assignment at the same time as their peers.

“General education and special education teachers need to have a relationship where they can talk about the vision for the class,” Dunagan added. “This way the special education teacher can prepare in advance.”

Education emphasis
Stevenson said support from his administration has made a lot of things possible. Students have been able to attend out-of-town evens because the school principal has been good at finding interpreters in other communities.

Stevenson also recommends that teachers understand their own state’s policies about special education. In Idaho every student is entitled to receive a fair and equal education – so to Stevenson, if that isn’t happening then teachers aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.

“Find out the required resources and promote those,” Stevenson said. “Collaborate with everyone; the student, family, resource staff and administration – so that you can focus on teaching.”

Stevenson has worked hard to help students become part of the program through the hands-on experiences. He says that the success of his students is because they haven’t been treated as if they aren’t capable. They are only treated differently in terms of what they need. Having special needs students in the classroom has really improved the program for everyone – disabled or not.