The purpose of independent classrooms is to provide special interventions and supports for students with disabilities. Classes are sometimes smaller than general education classes and are supported by a lead teacher and several assistants.
Well-appointed classrooms are considered the most unique learning environments in schools, where special education teachers can accommodate individual students who often face the greatest learning challenges due to significant cognitive, emotional, and/or physical delays.
While well-appointed classrooms offer features such as smaller class sizes and a high student-teacher ratio, students often appreciate the convenience of a close-knit learning community. In our co-taught, self-sufficient high school classroom, we succeed by embracing a culture that allows students to share, reflect, and develop collective success. We promote that students should demonstrate initiative and pride in being part of the community and taking responsibility.
We focus on real-world applications and strive to equip students with learning disabilities with the skills they need in life after high school.
It takes a lot of effort to plan and implement an independent classroom, but with the right mindset, such a classroom can be a place for growth at all levels.
4 Tips for a Successful Self-Contained Classroom
1. Create a sense of community:
Building and maintaining strong relationships with students, parents, and colleagues goes a long way. We are fortunate to work with very dedicated support staff who are willing to be trained to live up to expectations, which is critical. Working together for shared expectations is invaluable.
We begin by understanding students’ interests, strengths, and needs—not only from the IEP, but also through interest surveys and interviews with students, parents, and former teachers. We also reach out to families early and consistently throughout the year to seek and welcome parental feedback. We share our students’ successes, not just their challenges or concerns.
We collaborate with other faculty across disciplines to make our curriculum more inclusive. For example, we work with English, history, and science teachers to connect ideas such as sequences of events such as geological events. We connect it to the sequence of events in the story and use the timeline like in history class. We also work with art classes to have students create a model of a stellar life sequence or rock formation as they learn these concepts.
We also strive to connect our students with their fellow students through our peer mentoring program, where students can earn credit for serving our students. Peer tutors are assigned to a different class, assist students with classroom activities, accompany them on community field trips, have lunch with them, and lead extracurricular activities such as dances, game nights, and other activities, all of which promote a sense of belonging and sense of community.
2. Establish routine but encourage flexibility:
By teaching students the importance of routine and how to be flexible in certain situations, they will be better prepared for life after school.
We divide our lessons into study blocks. This enables structured movement while opening up the idea of making learning materials flexible in different ways. We also encourage flexibility by providing students with choice and differentiation in their studies.
We start every day with a check-in. This routine helps us better understand each student in the room and allows us to assess students’ energy levels, concentration, and willingness to learn. We end the course with an exit ticket. It’s not necessarily about what they’ve learned – sometimes it’s a simple statement of how each student feels after a lesson or activity.
It’s important to give students options – allowing them to demonstrate their understanding of concepts by creating games, drawing pictures, completing worksheets, or discussing in small groups helps increase their engagement with the content. We also access and practice important content and skills daily; strengthening skills in subjects such as mathematics helps students build working memory.
3. Use different teaching methods:
Different teaching methods in the classroom provide opportunities for students to learn in different ways and help maintain engagement.
We often incorporate learning stations to encourage physical movement, opportunities for differentiation, and exploration of concepts through different mediums. We also want to provide opportunities for students to teach and create – as they try to convey concepts, they understand the material better.
Changing classroom materials is another way to increase engagement, and we often alternate between hands-on activities, computer applications, and lab and data collection activities. We also try to make learning fun by setting up games and fun activities with tools like Kahoot and Quizlet to build skills while having fun.
4. Integrate Community-Based Instruction (CBI):
When students are immersed in a specific environment, they usually learn more. An example of this is bringing students into the community to develop useful skills. This allows them to see the real situation they will encounter after school.
We offer students the opportunity to help with local fundraising efforts, institutions, and community support systems through our connections with nonprofits, libraries, and United Way, among others. This helps foster a sense of belonging and encourages them to be active members of society. Some examples include helping at local agencies, learning about community gardens, working in food banks, performing at senior centers, and doing crafts with seniors.
We also enlist community support to provide after-school activities such as sports teams and clubs that include students with and without intellectual disabilities – for example, our cheerleaders who want to learn how to cheer at halftime at a uniform basketball game and acting students.
About the article
The purpose of independent classrooms is to provide special interventions and supports for students with disabilities.
Classes are sometimes smaller than general education classes and are supported by a lead teacher and several assistants. In this article, we’ve discussed the 4 Tips for a Successful Self-Contained Classroom.