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How Will Students With Special Needs Learn in 2030?

Monday, October 28, 2013

By Jahmeelah Gamble, Learning 2030 Blog Contributor

Image © WGSI/Brian Emery

At first, I admit, I was unsure just how the Learning 2030 Equinox Communiqué could be applicable to high school students with special needs. As an educator who teaches students with a variety of disabilities, here is how the recommendations resonate with me.

Learning focuses on the development of lifelong learning practices and a sense of self, rather than facts and figures.

Cultivating intrinsic motivation to learn and explore is the number one ingredient to keeping a high school student with special needs engaged, excited, and eager to learn. Sometimes lessons can`t be understood simply because a student isn`t motivated to learn.  

Students learn through cross-disciplinary and often collaborative projects. 

‘Person directed planning’ and co-op came to mind when I was reflecting on this point. I have supported many students who wanted to make their ‘own school’ when curriculum, unfortunately, didn’t suit their individual needs and kept hidden talents locked up.

With person-directed planning, high school students with special needs are able to choose what courses they’d like to take, like co-op for example, and learn on the job training about their particular interest which will in turn motivate them to grow and ultimately succeed.

Students connect with each other in fluid groupings that are dictated by their needs at any given moment.

Two words: inclusive education. Combining neurotypical and special needs students is an amazing learning opportunity for both parties. Depending on the student’s individual needs, they can learn from their peers through modeling, shaping and collaborating.

Teachers and other learning professionals serve as guides or curators of learning. Teachers play a second crucial role in learning: that of a caring, interested mentor and role model.

Working in special education, I wear many hats. Throughout my day, I am a:

  • Speech and Language Therapist
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Physiotherapist
  • Role model
  • Advocate
  • A voice

Without being involved in all of these roles, it would be difficult for some of my students to be able to adapt or fully participate at school.

Without caring for my students’ success and wellbeing, they wouldn’t feel empowered to continue to learn and push themselves.

Image © WGSI/Brian Emery

Schools empower both students and teachers, encouraging them to experiment with new ideas and fail safely, so that they develop the confidence to take risks.

Like Ms. Frizzle from the Magical School Bus always told her students “Take chances, get messy, and make mistakes!” Any teacher can write a lesson plan on a sheet of paper, but it takes a real educator to create a lesson plan with their students input and see where it leads them.

In special education, we are constantly revamping our classrooms and our lessons. But, most importantly we our re-creating ourselves and our style of teaching to make our students hungry for knowledge. 

It is my goal to continue to find innovative ways to learn and teach and I am eager to see what the future holds in 2030.  

Jahmeelah Gamble is a Developmental Services Worker and Education Resource Facilitator for the Peel Region District School Board. She is a disabilities advocate and the host of A Voice For All on RogersTV.