Educators study special student need

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    By KEVIN ELZE

    Meeting the needs of all of the students in the classroom is what the professors in the Educational Psychology Department have been focusing on.

    “For some children the educational system just doesn’t fit them,” said Sally Todd, an Associate Professor of educational psychology at BYU.

    Todd and Tina Dyches, a professor of educational psychology at BYU, both have been working on separate but similar projects that help different kinds of students “fit in” to the classroom structure.

    “I’ve been doing research in how to deal with the gifted children relative to stewardship and accountability,” Todd said.

    Todd, a member of the executive board for the national association for gifted children, explained that gifted children are those who are accelerated in one or more areas of life. This is not limited to academics, but includes the artistry, vocation, and other areas where children may transcend the normal expectations for children their age.

    “There are many ways in which a child can excel. And what we are trying to do is come in and, as much as possible, get acquainted with that child and their interests, their strengths, their weaknesses and personal goals, trying to help to facilitate the learning for a given child,” Todd said.

    According to Todd the best way teachers can help the gifted child in the classroom is to individualize for the child’s needs.

    “We talk to teachers about ways to individualize so they zero in on the child’s strengths and weaknesses and help them soar in the areas of their special interests and abilities,” Todd said.

    Todd said they encourage teachers to use these bright students in different ways. She suggests bringing in mentors for these students as well as having them be used as tutors and helpers.

    Another way to better help the gifted children is to give them a way to showcase their work. They need to have real tasks and not just busy work.

    “For example, if they are writing poetry and if it is really good poetry they need to be helped to make it the very best they can. And if it is possible, try to get it published.”

    According to Todd, a really good teacher helps spotlight each child in the classroom and helps each of them shine in their own way.

    Dyches has concentrated her studies at the other end of the spectrum. She has worked with teachers in helping them decide how to better aid the physically and mentally disabled children as well as those with learning difficulties.

    As part of her dissertation, Dyches has developed a guide to provide assistance to teachers in deciding how to help disabled or slow students. The guide is called the Accommodations Planning Guide.

    “In my research I was looking at whether teachers could elect the categories that would be appropriate for a given student. I had four different scenario-students with different disabilities and a panel of experts would evaluate the teachers responses,” Dyches said.

    Dyches looked at the differences between special-education teachers and teachers who teach the general classes. Her findings showed there were generally no differences.

    “It was amazing because so often we think we are so different from each other, however my research said that is not necessarily the case,” Dyches said.

    Special-education teachers and general-education teachers can determine what kinds of services a special-education student needs in the regular-education classroom.

    “An interesting thing in my study is that some of the tools used in the gifted-ed program are the same that work on the other end,” said Todd.

    The only difference between the findings about the gifted and special education students is in the application.

    “We’ve learned a lot from that one-room schoolhouse,” Todd said. She said the most important principle for the students to understand is that all are helping each other and all are growing at their own pace.

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