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Teaching Students With Disabilities

Q&A With Teachers Track Speaker Al Souma

“Creating an atmosphere of inclusion is a key component to successful student outcomes, and it goes a long way in developing student success,” says Al Souma who will lead "Teaching Students with Disabilities" as part of the Teachers Track at the 2011 National Convention. Souma will be discussing the benefits of implementing the Universal Design teaching strategy that caters to students with various learning styles.

Describe the Universal Design strategy of teaching.

Universal Design is a strategy that respects the assumption that no single method of teaching will work for all students. Traditional methods such as straight lectures and paper-pencil exams often do not reach many students. Therefore, the objective is to develop a teaching style that is flexible in its way of delivering information, assessing progress and assigning outside classroom assignments.

Why do students benefit from the Universal Design strategy?

Students enter our classrooms with a multitude of learning styles. Some may be excellent at listening while others must use a hands-on approach. Still, others use a visual way of learning; they see ideas in pictures to learn new material. In addition, many students bring with them a history of not having their needs met in the classroom--their frustration level as well as feelings of exclusion and failure might be high from the onset. Universal Design takes into account these various learning styles, frustrations and failures and addresses them in the planning stages of curriculum development.

What are some steps that teachers can take to integrate the Universal Design strategy into curriculums or lessons that they may have already developed?

Instructors may want to consider additional strategies for assessing what students know. For example, a teacher may want to put into practice other methods than paper and pencil exams. This may include giving credit for group or individual projects, oral exams and reports, or performance exams. Take home exams or paired-testing is another flexible strategy to employ.

Teachers can develop study guides for students that outline what you want them to take away from the class, as well as provide sample exams. Exams that test student skills other than recall is also an approach that may work in certain situations.

What are some special considerations, in addition to Universal Design, that massage therapy teachers should make when teaching students with disabilities?

It is important that instructors understand that students with disabilities might have had a long history of discrimination. One of the biggest complaints I hear from students with disabilities is that others make assumptions about their capabilities based on the disability. For example, students with invisible disabilities such as learning disabilities or attention deficit disorder report that teachers have accused them of not trying hard enough. In reality, the problem was the manner in which the information was delivered. Instructors who understand that creating an atmosphere of inclusion is a key component to successful student outcomes foster an environment of student success.

What will be some of the key take-always from your session at the National Convention?

Attendees will:

  • Learn concrete examples of inclusion principles.
  • Discover how to communicate clear expectations of course materials
  • Gain alternative methods for their students to demonstrate their knowledge of course materials.

Read more about Al's session "Teaching Students With Disabilities" and what the Teachers Track has to offer you!

Al Souma is a rehabilitation counselor with 20 years experience at Seattle Central Community College in Seattle, Washington. He consults with instructors to find the most effective ways to meet the needs of students with various disabilities in the classroom. Souma has been a national speaker for 15 years at professional conferences. He is the author of several publications and has received recognition at the state and national level for his work.

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