Instructional Support

Special-needs children pose a vast range of challenges to educators looking for effective teaching strategies:

  • Working with short attention spans
  • Managing constant change
  • Teaching effectively

This section of the Special Education Support Center addresses all three but with a focus on effective teaching:


Differentiation is a way of teaching (not a program or package of worksheets). It assumes that teachers know their students well so they can provide each one with experiences and tasks that will improve learning. As Carol Ann Tomlinson has said, differentiation means giving students multiple options for taking in information (1999). Differentiating instruction requires observing and understanding the differences and similarities among students and using this information to plan instruction.  Key principles forming the foundation of differentiating instruction include: ongoing, formative assessment; recognition of diversity in learning styles/approaches; group work; problem solving; and choice.

Data-based Decision-making

Data-based decision making can be used in many different ways with individual students or classrooms. Questions about student academic performance and both problematic and appropriate behavior can be answered by collecting information systematically. In addition to student behavior, teachers can collect data on their own behavior as well.

Reading Instruction & Interventions

Educators work tirelessly to meet the academic needs of all students. An important part of instruction for struggling students is the use of the right intervention at the right time. With so many packaged intervention programs out there, it is difficult to keep up with them all.  There are intervention programs for five components of literacy (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, vocabulary).

Math Instruction & Intervention

Response to Intervention (RTI) has become a vehicle for system reform because it provides a framework in which data can be relied on as the basis for making relative judgments (e.g., determining who needs help the most and how much they need) and for distributing instructional resources to promote the greatest good for the greatest number of students.
Much of the writing and research on RTI has occurred in the area of reading, but RTI is not limited to reading. Rather, it is a science of decision making that can be applied to a variety of “problem” behaviors. RTI, properly understood and used, is focused on improving student learning. Ensuring the development of mathematics competence during the primary grades is essential to later learning success. (ref. RTI Action Network)

Behavior Difficulties

Teachers who can draw on a range of responses when dealing with common classroom misbehaviors are more likely to keep those students in the classroom, resulting in fewer disruptions to instruction, enhanced teacher authority, and better learning outcomes for struggling students (Sprick, Borgmeier,  & Nolet, 2002). A good organizing tool for teachers is to create a classroom menu that outlines a range of response options for behavior management and discipline. Teachers are able to assert positive classroom control when they apply such a behavior management menu consistently and flexibly–choosing disciplinary responses that match each student’s presenting concerns (Marzano,  Marzano,  & Pickering, 2003).  (ref. Intervention Central) Intervention Central also provides a Behavior Intervention Planner that enables teachers to develop individual plans.

Standards-based instruction

Standards-based refers to systems of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting that are based on students demonstrating understanding or mastery of the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn as they progress through their education. In a school that uses standards-based approaches to educating students, learning standards—i.e., concise, written descriptions of what students are expected to know and be able to do at a specific stage of their education—determine the goals of a lesson or course, and teachers then determine how and what to teach students so they achieve the learning expectations described in the standards (ref. EdGlossary).

Strategy Instruction

A strategy is a plan of action for achieving a purpose (Harvey & Goudvis, 2007). With respect to classroom learning, purposes for employing strategies include the need to comprehend, compose, problem solve, remember, reason, evaluate, and decode. Students who have been taught strategies for accomplishing these purposes have a distinct advantage over the uninstructed (Pressley, Graham, & Harris, 2006; Torgesen, 2004). Yet, researchers have found that most teachers do not teach the strategies students need to comprehend and learn (Durkin, 1978–1979; Pressley, Wharton-McDonald, Mistretta, & Echevarria, 1998). Neglecting to teach strategies for accomplishing classroom tasks is a serious oversight, especially when people realize that the learners who are most successful are also the ones who are able to, and do, employ many strategies (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Trabasso & Bouchard, 2002). Strategies put students in control of their mental processes (Duffy, 2002); thus, it would be in students’ best interest if teachers in all areas of the curriculum taught strategies (ref.

Intervention Central offers a strategy checklist and planner which enables educators to develop student plans for improving homework, note taking, study skills and time management.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Universal Design for Learning is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs (ref. National UDL Center).