Building STEM skills into structured homework for students with special needs

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Carmen Watts Clayton

Carmen Watts Clayton

by Carmen Watts Clayton
cwattsclayton@gmail.com

Students of all abilities learn well when “doing” is “understanding”. Project-based learning is not a new theory in the classroom, but sometimes seems difficult to apply to the special needs classroom. But project-based learning assignments can bring heart and soul to making homework assignments more interesting and more likely to get done. Students with different abilities are not an exception.
When giving project-based home assignments, it may be important to do some intervening, planning, and collaboration.

Here are some tips for success:

  • Write an authentic task. One based firmly within the student’s interests and prior knowledge from school lessons. One where the student is likely to demonstrate their proficiencies.
  • Listen to your learners. Analyze their present level of independence. Design a project with enough support in coaching, materials, tools, and support to meet the student’s real needs.
  • Collaborate with parents, other students, and community resources to help build the student’s confidence and likeliness of completion.
  • Design tasks that are easily accessible to the student, if possible with no barriers to the project being student-centered.
  • Stress the scientific observation process, collection of information, measurement, recording data, analyzing, and predicting future events. The process is more important than the products in most cases. By practicing a “process” independently we master skills more fully.

Allowing students to tie their interests from outside the classroom more effectively to the processes of the classroom will grow interest and enthusiasm for other lessons. Involving family members and caregivers to join the process will strengthen family ties to the learning process at school. Make it a fun and self-directed task for the student to the greatest degree possible. Give the collaborators clear directions about the process and ways to ask you for help during the process of completing a project at home. And don’t forget to provide time in class for the student to share what they have done and show peers and other members of the school campus what they have been learning!

Some assignment products could include

  • An idea or prediction about what might happen in the future
  • An argument for or against the results of their project
  • A new policy or direction
  • A presentation in a familiar medium: visual, Prezi, PowerPoint, audio
  • Some written product or data set turned into a graph or table
  • A poster showing their process and/or results.

Make sure your student receives abundant praise and recognition for completing a homework project. Both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards and recognition play an important role in building self-esteem and independence in the learner.

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