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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Chapter 7: Teaching Exceptional Children

April 19, 2005


By Ochan Kusuma-Powell & William Powell,
with contributions from Nancy Robinson & Barbara Keogh

There is another lesson I learned over the years and this one can be regarded as depressing or as exciting. It is this: Education will not have permanent solutions to its problems, we will have no "breakthroughs," no enduring discoveries that will work forever. We are "stuck" with temporary resolutions rather than with permanent solutions. What works here may not work there. What works now may not work then. We are not trying to invent radar or measure the rate of free fall in a vacuum. Our tasks are impacted by context, riddled with unpredictable contingencies, responsive to local conditions, and shaped by those we teach and not only by those who teach. Those who want something easier to do for a career should go into medicine.

Elliot W. Eisner, The Kind of Schools We Need

There is no magic script for teaching exceptional children, although we have often wished for one. With the busy pace of our teaching lives, it would be comforting to know that if we followed steps A, B, and C, Johnny would learn to read, write or organize himself for school. Such is not the case, as "the classroom is too uncertain a place for recipes (Eisner, 1998, p. 172)." But while we cannot offer a "cookbook" of fail-safe recipes, we can provide some overarching principles for helping exceptional students achieve success in inclusive settings, and also provide strategies or suggestions for specific teaching situations.

We have traditionally viewed learning problems as belonging to the child, and as a result, have focused much of our interventions on helping special needs students develop the coping mechanisms necessary to succeed in class. While all students need to develop strategies that will help them achieve academically, our primary focus on the learning problem as "the child's problem" has diverted our attention from other factors that may also contribute to poor learning. What is frequently overlooked in our service delivery plans is the classroom environment and its effects on the student, the many interactions that take place within the class setting, and the transactions with teachers and other peers (Keogh, 1998).

Research on teacher attitudes towards students with mild disabilities (Vaughn & Schumm, 1994) and towards inclusion (deBettencourt, 1999) suggests that general educators may not feel entirely positively about exceptional students or self-confident about accommodating for them in their classes. However, evidence suggests that as teachers become more knowledgeable about appropriate and effective accommodations for special needs children, they become more willing to adapt instruction for them (Englert & Tarrant, 1995).

We believe that there are overarching principles, or critical dimensions for teaching in an inclusive setting. These focus on the role of the teacher in developing a positive class climate, in gathering and understanding student-specific knowledge, in developing critical thinking through the use of mediative questioning patterns, and in ensuring relevance and rigor in the academic program. In this chapter, we examine first (Part A) these critical dimensions for successful inclusive classrooms and offer suggestions to bring these dimensions into practice. In the second part (Part B) of the chapter, we also present specific strategies or adaptations for teaching the highly capable, children with learning disabilities, and students who speak English as a second language.

Chapter Index

A.  Developing Inclusive Classrooms: Critical Dimensions

             i.  A Positive Classroom Climate/Environment for Learning

            ii.  Student-Specific Knowledge

           iii.  Critical Thinking and Questioning Patterns

            iv.  Relevance and Academic Rigor of Content

 B.  Strategies for Teaching Exceptional Children 

              i.    Highly Capable  

             ii.    Learning Disabilities 
                               Working with ADHD Children
                               To Be Gifted and Learning Disabled

            iii.   English as a Second Language  


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