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Building better classrooms for students with learning disabilities and SEN

This week it’s Learning Disability Week in the UK. Learning disabilities take many forms, students with them have a wide range of abilities and also face unique challenges particularly in school. As a result, it is important to create classrooms that are as inclusive and accommodating as possible.

Mencap defines a ‘learning disability’ as “a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities – for example household tasks, socialising or managing money – which affects someone for their whole life”. Learning or doing new things becomes harder. For teachers and schools then, it’s vital to shape education so that it’s still accessible and useful for students with learning disabilities. So they feel just as welcome as anyone else and can still learn and thrive. Although they are not always the same, there is a lot of overlap between those who have learning disabilities and those with special educational needs (SEN); both can benefit from education that is made more accessible to those who for whatever reason face learning challenges.

SEN-friendly learning

For example, what’s the classroom space like – is it conducive to learning? There are several factors to consider when building classrooms for students with learning disabilities. These include:

  • Consider the physical environment. The classroom should be well-lit and have plenty of space for movement. There should also be designated areas for quiet work, group work, and individual instruction.

  • Provide extra support. Some students may need extra support in order to succeed in the classroom. This support can come in a variety of forms, such as one-on-one tutoring, small group instruction, or specialised interventions.

  • Differentiate instruction. Differentiating instruction means adapting the teaching methods to meet the needs of individual students. This can involve adjusting the pace of instruction, providing different levels of support, or using different learning materials.

  • Promote social interaction. Social interaction is important for all students, but it can be especially challenging for students with learning disabilities. There are a number of things that can be done to promote social interaction in the classroom, such as creating opportunities for peer tutoring, using cooperative learning activities, and providing social skills training.

There are also more specific strategies that can be used to make classrooms more inclusive for students with learning disabilities. Such as:

  • Using visual aids: Visual aids can be helpful for students with a range of SEN, including those with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and visual impairments. Visual aids can help students to understand the material being taught, follow instructions, and stay on task. Graphic organisers or ‘knowledge maps’ can also help with visualising and processing information for those who struggle with reading.

  • Using mnemonic devices. Mnemonic devices are memory aids that can help students to remember information. This can be helpful for students with learning disabilities who have difficulty with memory.

  • Using technology. Technology can be a great tool for students with learning disabilities. There are a number of assistive technologies that can help students with reading, writing, maths, and other skills.

By following these strategies, schools can create classrooms that are more inclusive and accommodating, ensuring that all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Planning a new learning space?

If you’re thinking about future buildings and what you might need to consider for disability and SEN inclusion, here are some additional tips:

  • Involve the students in the planning process. Ask students about their needs and preferences, and let them help to design the classroom. This will help to ensure that the classroom is a comfortable and inviting space for everyone. Think about where/how they sit, what they see, and how they get in and out of the classroom.

  • Be flexible and adaptable. The needs of students may change over time, so it is important to be flexible and adaptable in the classroom. This may mean making changes to the physical environment, the learning materials, or the teaching methods.

  • Collaborate with other professionals. There are a number of professionals who can offer support to schools in creating inclusive classrooms. These professionals include special education teachers, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists.

At Vertis, we specialise in building classrooms that teachers and students love, with accessibility always in mind. You can see our previous builds and read what schools have said about working with us here. If you’re interested in talking about a new building for your school, we’d love to talk.