Teaching Students About Differences in the Classroom


March 27, 2019

Teachers know how difficult it can be to teach a classroom full of students with different abilities. Not only do you work hard to meet teaching standards, cater to various IEPs, complete lesson plans that are fun and exciting, but you must make sure that your classroom is an environment that is comfortable for each student. Creating this welcoming education environment can be extremely difficult, especially in classrooms where there is improper rhetoric regarding the ways to discuss disabilities - both physical and intellectual. That’s why the experts at Jett Publishing have created a guide for teaching students about disabilities - from physical disabilities to an IEP for dyslexia -  in the classroom. Using these helpful ideas, you can take the time to address students with a valuable lesson on acceptance, understanding, and personal strengths.

Work to Establish a Language Around Disabilities

Host a Session on Engaging in Conversation Regarding Disabilities

teacher reading to students in a circle

One of the most important things you can teach your students about disabilities is how to have a respectful, politically-correct conversation about disabilities. Whether you are focusing on learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, or physical disabilities, it’s important to provide students with the tools necessary for respecting the feelings and abilities of others.

There are a variety of things students should know about a respectful conversation about people with disabilities. As a teacher, it is not only your role to teach this to create an accepting environment for all students, but to provide a life lesson that many students will not receive at home. Here are some key talking points when helping students establish a language for talking about disabilities:

  • Person-First Language: Teach students about the use of person-first language. The person-first language quite literally puts the individual ahead of the disability syntactically. For instance, it is natural for children to use terms like “my autistic classmate” or “my dyslexic friend.” This language leads to an understanding that a person IS their disability, rather than a person who HAS a disability. Us
  • ing person-first language such as “my classmate who has autism” or “my friend who has dyslexia” allows the individual to feel less defined by their disability and feels like they are seen as a person outside of their disability.
  • Words to Avoid: Growing up is different households with various beliefs, many students are exposed to a normalized use of offensive language regarding disabilities. Depending on the age of your students, this language may be difficult for them to pinpoint as offensive. Older students, however, typically are knowledgeable about words that are seen as offensive. You as a teacher have the opportunity to teach your students which words are not acceptable to use. By opening this dialogue, you can have your students sign a vow to not use offensive words in your classroom, making it clear that such language will not be acceptable.
  • Equality & Etiquette: There is, however, a balance in teaching children to be polite and politically correct when discussing disabilities while maintaining proper etiquette. It’s easy to move from politically correct to patronizing while attempting to use more respectful language. Teaching students about the etiquette needed when referring to a person with a disability can help create a comfortable environment for everyone and allow for acceptance of the difference of others.

The key here, while outlining the proper language for discussing disabilities, is to emphasize the acceptance of differences. For learning disabilities - which are often ignored in these conversations yet valuable in an academic setting - it’s important to emphasize that each student learns differently regardless of disability. By gearing the conversation towards accepting differences, your classroom will become a more welcoming, collaborative environment.

Teach Students About Common Disabilities

When it comes to Learning About disabilities, Knowledge is Power

teacher working with students at a desk

In addition to explaining the proper language for discussing disabilities, it’s important to provide students with the knowledge necessary to understand disabilities and their roots. Since nearly 1 in 5 people in the US have a disability, it’s important to teach students that these disabilities are not a person’s fault. Additionally, taking the time to teach students about common disabilities allows them to better understand a person’s abilities, breaking down misconceptions about people with disabilities.

While teaching students about common disabilities encountered in schools - ranging from learning disabilities to physical disabilities - be sure to reinforce the person-first language and talk to them about equal opportunities for students with special needs. Explain how some students will have an IEP for dyslexia, ADHD, or another learning disability.  Not only should you focus on the perceived “downsides” of the disability, but should discuss how learning differences can provide benefits to both the individual and a group. Not only do different ways of learning and thinking bring new ideas to the table, but help highlight the talents of everyone in the group.

Once students have a better understanding of disabilities, their new-found knowledge can be a source of power in creating accepting, collaborative environments both inside and outside the classroom.

As a teacher, it’s your goal to create an environment that is best for learning and growing. Creating this type of environment can prove to be difficult if students find that they do not feel welcome. Take the necessary steps in creating an inviting, politically-correct environment for individuals with disabilities by informing students about various disabilities. By taking the time to address disabilities head-on, you can avoid future problems with acceptance in your classroom. Take the next step in leveling the playing field in your classroom by looking into the Secret Codes Curriculum, which is proven to prevent reading failure in classrooms. Whether you’re teaching a student with an IEP for Dyslexia or a student performing well above their age level, rest assured that the Secret Codes is the curriculum that can help every student thrive.