The 3 Principles to Supporting Special Educational Needs Students


Research in the field of special educational needs and inclusion has equipped the educational community with evidence-based practices and ideas to support classroom diversity. How come that students’ progress remains sluggish, and why do teachers often report feeling depleted?

Supporting special educational needs students can be a daunting and draining experience, especially if loosely organised or accidentally approached. A methodological framework is necessitated for addressing and monitoring issues related to planning, delivering, and assessing both teaching and learning. 


By Tyna Constantopoulou


The following principles set the ground for developing a solid support system for special educational needs students.

Principle 1: Successful Profiling

There are misconceptions concerning the value of diagnostic documents in making decisions on special educational needs students’ learning. A diagnosis is neither an accurate indicator of students’ educational needs, nor a manual defining how the student will respond to specific instructional practices. Acknowledging that a diagnosis is a medical document identifying and measuring specific neurodevelopmental impairments is essential. Consider two students sharing the same diagnostic label but having completely different classroom representations, or even two students with different diagnostic labels benefitting from the same supports.

While detailed diagnosis reviewing is optative and may indeed prove useful, further student profiling sources shall be sought. Design questionnaires focusing on preferences, strengths, weaknesses, studying habits and other precious student-related information, and conduct interviews with special educational needs students and their guardians. Then, consult the rest of teachers and external professionals meeting with the students welcoming their input. You may also engage in additional screening and data gathering through informal assessment. Cross-referencing students’ needs is fundamental for reaching a conclusive student profile and eventually making suitable provision choices.

Principle 2: Suitable Provision

Developing provision options viz. the practical solutions aligned with the students’ needs and expected to support the student through consistent implementation is one of the greatest challenges facing educators, and a process sadly underestimated and often bypassed.

Example 1

Brief Student Profile

Student A is a very energetic child who enjoys participating in team activities. His guardians reported that he sometimes finds it hard to concentrate and complete his homework. His schoolteacher added that he has difficulty staying seated, while the occupational therapist suggested using sensory activities, and avoiding extensive writing.


Specialised Provision

1. Student A will be taking part in at least one team activity per session.

2. Student A will be working with sensory elements at least once per session.

3. Student A will be allowed to change seating twice per session depending on the context of the activity performed (seating arrangements: stools, carpet, couch, yoga ball, etc.)

4. Lessons will include at least one kinesthetic break per session.

5. Student A will be given the chance to complete alternative homework (recording responses, answering in bullets, creating powerpoints, etc.)


Example 2

Brief Student Profile

Student B is a shy child with low self-esteem who enjoys painting. Her guardians reported that she has trouble making friends at school. Her special education teacher pointed out difficulties in orthographic patterns and reading fluency in L1.


Specialised Provision

1. Student B will be attending an intensive one-to-one phonics training program for 2 months.

2. Student B will be given the chance to use assistive technology (summarising tools, highlight key-points tools etc.) which do not alter text-level, but make perceiving longer texts attainable.

3. Student B may as well use dictionaries and word prediction assistive technology while writing.

4. Lesson content will be enriched with images, animations, recordings, and videos to promote understanding.

5. Student B will be prompted to complete pair and group work at least once per session.


Having specialised provision for each student in place, you shall notify students and guardians about the proactive measures you will be taking to promote students’ inclusion and growth. Some measures may prove ineffective, and you may have to reconsider the options or highly effective, and you may decide to withdraw the support. Either way, continuous reflection on practices, classroom observations, and working collaboratively with guardians and external professionals will produce palpable results.

Principle 3: Quality Teaching

Quality teaching is highly associated with curricular, instructional, classroom management, and assessment choices maximising opportunities for special educational needs students to actively participate in the learning process, work collaboratively with their peers, and demonstrate skills development.

When designing or choosing lesson content, always consider relevance, age-appropriacy, and level-appropriacy. Lesson content should not discourage students. It should be wisely and proportionally wrapped around the elements of familiarisation and surprise. Simply put, students shall feel confident engaging with the content, yet be encouraged by new information or intriguing tasks to further explore it.

When deciding on delivery methods, always consider differentiation and intervention. Choose multimodal learning pathways (sensory/kinetic activities, VAR, peer-teaching, etc.) catering to diverse learning styles, and promote the use of assistive technology (speech-to-text, text-to-speech, word predictor, etc) for facilitation and achievement. It is a woefully wrong habit to neglect skills practice and language enrichment where the student is weaker. Ensure your teaching targets, nurtures, and fosters improvement in areas of difficulty.

When addressing classroom management, consider community building, multiple grouping options, and flexible seating arrangements. Students shall develop mutual respect, accountability, and self-regulation. Motivate special educational needs students to work on pair, group, and whole group level. You may have students collaborate on a project from scratch or upon completing their own part come together for the final output. Lastly, offer some movement and fidgeting freedom with flexible seating provided that it is not counterproductive, and the students’ performance is favoured.

When making assessment choices, consider purposeful correction, and tailored feedback. Error correction must be aligned with corresponding objectives and must evaluate already modelled skills. Special educational needs students should take the opportunity to revise taught items and recapitulate knowledge. On the opposite end, feedback shall be used to affirm student success and activate plans and provision for advancement.


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