5 Tips for Classroom Teachers in Supporting Students with Learning Challenges
We recently had the honor of sitting down with the exceptional, Heather O’Donnell for a conversation about shifting from the classroom to private practice and how we can support parents and classroom teachers.
Heather O’Donnell MS.Ed and Ed.M began her career as a classroom teacher. Working in both special and general education classroom settings, she left the classroom in 2018 to open New Paltz Multisensory, an online and in-person tutoring practice in New Paltz, NY. After identifying a need for private multisensory reading instruction in her community, the practice has grown to include a team of 13 tutors providing online and in-person multisensory reading, writing, and math instruction to students in over 10 states.
Heather uses the Orton-Gillingham approach to diagnostically provide explicit instruction so kids learn to love learning again!
During our conversation with Heather, she shared with us the advice she would offer to parents and classroom teachers who are working with students with learning challenges. Today, we want to share that advice with you!
Here are 5 Tips for Classroom Teachers in Supporting Students with Learning Challenges:
1. Consider what you can reasonably do as a classroom teacher.
Take a close look at what you are able to do in your classroom with the curriculum and resources you have. As a classroom teacher, you can incorporate structured literacy into your teaching even if you are given a balanced literacy curriculum.
Remember that even small changes can have a HUGE impact.
2. Start the evaluation process.
Think about what you can set in place for the future as this student moves through school. A great starting point for this is to initiate an evaluation. This is the first step in determining if a child’s needs can be met in a classroom or if they will need small group intervention or something more.
As a classroom teacher, you may only have the student for one year, so it is helpful to consider the long-term plan for the student and what will benefit them during their journey through the school system.
3. Continue learning the Science of Reading.
Awareness is growing and that is great! There is research out there and it should inform classroom instruction. Find resources that you trust from educators with the proper training and certifications.
These are some of the specific resources Heather suggests:
- Emily Hanford’s articles for APM Reports
- Sold a Story - Podcast
- Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz M.D.
- The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America's Broken Education System--and How to Fix it by Natalie Wexler
- The Knowledge Matters Podcast
4. Advocate for change in your district.
If your school district is using a balanced literacy approach, arm yourself with the research and advocate for change. Even small changes over time can have a big impact. With the right people in place at the district level, change will start to come.
And, even if your district is providing a structured literacy curriculum that’s rooted in the science of reading, continue to advocate for ongoing support and training. That support and training is critical for you as a classroom teacher!
When teachers are given the proper training and feel like they are being supported and heard, it will improve teacher buy-in.
5. Focus on the positive.
Accentuate the areas where a student excels. Often, parents of students with learning challenges don’t hear enough about what they are good at. So, shout out all the wonderful strengths your students have. Let families know all of the things their child can do while still being honest about the areas where they need support.
When we focus on the strengths and share those with the parents, it shifts the conversation and helps parents to feel that their child is really being seen and understood. And, that leads to the parents trusting that their child is in good hands.
For our full conversation with Heather O’Donnell, check out our latest episode of the Together in Literacy podcast. If you like what you hear, don’t forget to rate, leave a positive review, and subscribe!
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