The learning process begins from the moment of birth for all children. The beginning of interaction with the physical and social environment sends constant stimuli to the newborn’s body, especially the brain. The influence of the family and the people who interact with the children will be fundamental to stimulate the development of all the psychological functions and processes involved in learning. In this article we will delve into the learning process of students with special educational needs (SEN or SPED).
What is learning?
The definition and conceptualization of learning has been developed by various authors from different areas of human knowledge throughout history. All these definitions have in common the importance of the influence exerted by the educational forces that interrelate with the child from birth. The combination of the organic and functional characteristics of the organism of each individual, and the social stimulation exerted by the socio-familial environment in the development of each child are fundamental forces that determine the progressive development or not of learning mechanisms and styles.
For Lev S. Vygotsky (1896-1934) learning occurs through social interaction, language development, communication and interpersonal relationships. Vygotsky affirms that it is through educational influence and social relations that children acquire and develop new cognitive competencies as a logical process of adaptation and reaction to an essentially social way of life.
The process of learning
Learning involves the participation of basic processes such as the reception and adequate processing of information received from the surrounding environment, the elaboration of adaptive responses that provide effective solutions to the challenges of daily life, the storage and transfer of information transforming it into a system of knowledge and the habits and skills necessary for the development of all the potentialities of the individual.
Learning must be active, interactive, and demand from each individual the establishment of connections between all the systems and processes that are involved in neuropsychological activity. We learn on the basis of experiences in the course of daily life. Psychic activity develops from the variety, quantity and quality of stimuli from the physical, social and cultural environment that surrounds us.
The importance of language
The formation and development of language plays a great role in the learning process. Language is the link and facilitator of the transmission of knowledge and human experience. Language in its social, symbolic, communicative, cognitive, etc., function constitutes a great resource for learning. As Vygotsky pointed out: “Language is the material envelope of human thought“.
We learn from birth to death. The quality of the educational influences received as the driving agents of learning is an important point of analysis in the more particular case of students with special educational needs (SEN).
Students with special educational needs (SEN)
The moment of starting school life is a great challenge for children. Entering school brings great changes in their lives and those of their families. Their system of social relationships expands, new figures emerge with different functions according to the role they play in their interaction with other children.
Behavioral changes brought about by school life
In addition to the expansion and enrichment of interpersonal relationships, schoolchildren must learn to follow the rules and directions of school life. Spending a certain amount of time sitting down, paying attention in a stable and concentrated manner to the teacher’s explanations, participating in an orderly manner during lessons, interacting appropriately with their classmates, showing behavior appropriate to the educational demands of the school, following schedules for the completion of all activities, moving from one school activity to another (changing from one subject to another, going out to the playground for physical education lessons, etc.) without these changes causing alterations in the dynamics of the tasks to be performed.
In addition, the child will have to assume new responsibilities that are very important in their new role as a student. Keeping up with attendance and punctuality, wearing the school uniform or appropriate clothing correctly, performing academic tasks, being responsible for school materials, among others.
Academic difficulties and the search for solutions
Within the school population we find students who for various reasons present greater difficulties in responding to the demands of school life. Teachers and educational personnel in general plan and implement a system of educational intervention strategies that should help these students to overcome their difficulties in a period of time determined by the educators, serving as instructional support to achieve the academic goals proposed by the school grade.
Many of these students respond positively to these interventions and begin to advance academically at the same pace as their classmates. In other cases, these educational interventions are not sufficient to resolve the contradictions that hinder the development of the learning process of these students. In such circumstances, it becomes necessary to seek help from other professionals (pediatricians, neurologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, speech therapists, audiologists, therapists, special education teachers, etc.).
The nature of the special educational needs and school adaptation
Given the need to search for the causes of learning disorders, a multidisciplinary evaluation process is initiated. Over a period of time, various techniques and instruments of medical, psychological and pedagogical research will be applied to discover the nature of these difficulties, arrive at a diagnosis and propose recommendations that contribute to the activation of the psychological processes involved in the learning process, using the appropriate methods, methodologies and didactic procedures to facilitate school adaptation and the achievement of the academic objectives of each grade. This group of students will be taught with the most appropriate accommodations and curricular modifications according to their special educational needs (SEN), by a group of education professionals specialized in the search for educational strategies to solve learning problems.
We are all special beings in general, since we have different personalities, we are unique and unrepeatable, and we also have diverse and varied talents. The population with special educational needs requires didactic resources and special methodologies adapted to their individual characteristics in order to achieve learning success. In these cases, an educational teaching process is proposed and developed according to the principle of individual and differentiated approach to teaching, which responds to the individual needs of each student and the particularities of their medical conditions, if any.
Characteristics of the population with special educational needs
Among the characteristics of the population of students with special educational needs we can mention the following:
- Students with special educational needs (SEN) differ in ability levels, ages, learning styles, learning pace, etc.
- Those who receive special education services qualify for programs based on their individual learning needs.
- Students with special educational needs must be evaluated by a multidisciplinary committee that drafts an individualized education plan. It should detail and specify the educational needs they have, as well as the recommended methodologies for their teaching and education, the type of classroom they should attend, the educational personnel qualified to work with them, the presence or absence of medical conditions, and current or past medication treatments, in addition to accommodations and curricular modifications to meet the academic objectives of each school level.
- They need therapy services in addition to the educational services planned and detailed in the individual education plan. Sometimes they need to be evaluated and diagnosed by speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, behavioral therapists or mental health psychologists. Depending on the degree of disability they will need accommodations and resources, as they may require much more complex adaptations and accommodations such as medical devices to correct and/or compensate for sensory impairments (blindness, visual impairment, deafness, hearing loss), wheelchairs, lifts, oxygenation equipment, presence of health care personnel, etc.
- It is very common to find a difference between their chronological age and individual characteristics in their academic performance. On many occasions they repeat grades because they are not evaluated at the very moment when they begin to show difficulties in the learning process.
Educational intervention for students with special educational needs
Educational intervention is the set of methods, methodologies and didactic procedures selected to conduct the learning of students with special educational needs (SEN) taking into account their individual particularities, their talents and potential to learn, as well as the areas that need greater stimulation and activation to achieve success in the learning process.
Methodological recommendations to stimulate learning in people with special educational needs
The following are some methodological recommendations to stimulate interest in the study activity and activate the psychological processes involved in learning.
Study, analysis and follow-up
The study and analysis of all medical and pedagogical documentation of students with special educational needs (SEN) is a very important premise to start the process of selecting and planning the educational strategies to be implemented as part of the intervention plan. In addition to the individual educational plan, interviews should be conducted with the student and his or her family members, diagnostic academic tests should be applied and observations should be made during school hours. Educators should agree on the frequency with which they will meet to monitor progress and the effectiveness of the intervention strategies applied, in order to keep a record of the most effective methodologies and procedures for the learning of each student with special educational needs.
Planning and preparation
Lesson planning and preparation should be aimed at stimulating the motivation and interest of the students in the proposed activities. Lessons should be enjoyable, interactive and have a variety of pedagogical resources. Attractive teaching aids, manipulative materials (blocks, geometric figures, etc.), or technological resources (smart boards, tablets, etc.) contribute to the cause.
The teacher must create a pleasant atmosphere, where his students feel safe, confident, responsible and where there is a harmonious relationship with their peers. Positive feedback (positive reinforcement) is vital to develop social skills and raise the self-esteem of children, who given their individual characteristics need a set of accommodations and curricular modifications to develop their cognitive competencies.
Lessons should stimulate cognitive processes: sensory perception, representations, memory, thinking, imagination, as well as special processes: attention and language. Likewise, activities aimed at activation and development of affective competences, emotional intelligence, social skills, interpersonal relations, communication and development of higher feelings and civic values should be developed.
Tasks should be proposed that have an appropriate balance and adjustment between two very important indicators when performing educational work based on the individual and differentiated approach to teaching for students with special educational needs (SEN), the volume of the proposed academic tasks (amount of exercises during the lesson) and the complexity of the didactic content that is worked on during each class (knowledge, skills, abilities, skills, competencies and attitudes that students should acquire during the teaching-learning process).
The planning of educational interventions by teachers working with students with special educational needs (SEN) is an effective methodological way to stimulate the learning process and achieve the academic and educational objectives proposed at each stage of their school development.