Curricula designed specifically to cater to individuals with special needs can vary as much as those needs themselves, and as a result there are many types of special education curriculum in use, even within the same school or educational system. In many cases the curriculum is tailored to individual students, or at least to narrower categories of special needs; classes intended for children who are blind, for instance, are much different than those enrolling young adults with behavioral problems or learning disabilities. There are equally many different approaches to implementing these more nuanced and specialized curricular plans. Sometimes a course curriculum is only slightly modified for individual students, and these students are integrated in larger classes and receive special help and guidance, either from the teacher or from dedicated aids. In other situations students following alternative curricula are grouped into their own specific class groups. A lot depends on school politics, as well as the nature of each student’s own subjective situation. Very broadly speaking, though, special education curriculum is designed to help students with special needs achieve the same academic benchmarks and skill foundations as their more typically-abled peers. It’s how these plans are implemented and designed that varies so much.
Understanding Special Education Generally
The term “special education” is somewhat broad and can mean different things in different places. It’s normally used to describe a learning environment that has been specifically designed to help students who suffer from identified challenges to normal schooling. Sometimes these challenges are physical, other times mental. In some places these challenges are called “disabilities,” but not always. The school systems in most parts of the world, including the United States, Canada, and much of Europe, require state-sponsored schools to provide equal educational access to students no matter their individual challenges, and this is where special education curriculum comes in. Its goal is to tweak what’s taught generally to students with different needs so that all can learn equally.
Primary Curricular Goals
The curricular process normally involves planning individual teaching procedures, adapting equipment and materials, and other things designed to help students with disabilities learn and succeed in their schools and communities. The assistance provided is intended to enhance the students' educations and therefore requires that educators in this field gain more credentials than educators who teach general education. In most cases, courses designed for students with special needs are about the same in terms of goals and objectives as those taught within the general education curriculum, and normally include courses in math, reading, writing, social studies, science and other basic subjects. The difference is that special education courses are presented in ways adapted for students with varying special needs.
Special Courses for Specific Needs
Certain types of disabilities are often targeted when drawing up the curriculum. Some of these include learning disabilities, speech impairments, autism, deafness or blindness, emotional disturbance and more. Sometimes these children are given services to help them be more successful in general education for their futures, and other times educators focus more on basic life skills and literacy, depending on how severe a child's disability impairs his or her ability to learn. In any case, educators often develop an individualized education program (IEP) to help every student succeed in achieving the highest level of education possible while in the special education program.
There are different ways that students are separated for children to receive a better education. Some of the most popular models include full immersion, in which students with disabilities learn in general education classrooms with no outside help; partial immersion, in which special education students meet with counselors or language specialists outside of the classroom at designated points but otherwise participate fully; and dual learning, in which students split their time between general education classrooms and special education classrooms. Complete separation can also be a compelling option, and in these cases special needs students have little contact with general education students.
Some techniques that teachers use to teach a special education curriculum are problem solving, small group work and individualized instruction. They also must make special accommodations such as testing regularly and differentiating according to different learning methods. Training for special education teachers usually involves a minimum of a four-year bachelor's degree from a college, university or online degree program and sometimes requires some level of graduate school preparation, often with some kind of specialization. A great deal of the final year of training is spent in observations and supervised teaching. These educators must learn organization, patience, motivation, acceptance and understanding of children with disabilities in order to be successful educators.