by Ishmael Brown
Owner, InfiNeXt Educational Solutions, Blythewood, SC
National Tutoring Association, National Training Director
For most tutors, our students are general education students who are struggling in a subject discipline. We hear statements such as, “I have always hated math (or some other subject). When tutors work with these students, they have a cadre of skills to call to service, but what about the student who has been diagnosed with a learning disability? What about the student who needs special accommodations to be academically successful? Is tutoring those students important? Do we as tutors have a responsibility to know what strategies are vital to not only tutor this individual, but help him emotionally? Bearing in mind that tutors are not therapists, my short answer is a RESOUNDING YES!!
Addressing the needs of the students requires background knowledge of what is meant by special education. Special education (as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004) is “specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability.” Specially designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction. Students who have been diagnosed as special education under the IDEA receive an Individual Education Plan (IEP). An IEP indicates the disability, whether it is emotional, developmental, or physical, and what accommodations that requires in order to facilitate academic success. These accommodations can range from preferential seating, mandatory front row seating, to teacher-provided notes and use of notes during assessments.
Another important aspect of the special education system is called a 504 plan, which falls under the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The IEP and 504 plans are alike in that the students covered under each plan will receive accommodations, but the major difference between an IEP and 504 is two words: special instruction. Students who have 504 plans do not receive special instruction. Most of these students are mainstreamed into the classroom and received the same instruction (content, methodology, etc.) as all other students.
At the other end of the special education rainbow lives the gifted and talented student. What makes his student special? The words “special instruction”. In the classroom setting, the gifted and talented student is taught by teachers who have had specialized training that usually accompanies a versatile style of instruction. Tutors that have gifted and talented students should be aware that the classroom instruction is “catered” and so tutorial instruction should dove-tail with creative and innovative strategies. Why is background knowledge of a special education student important to the tutor? The tutor has a responsibility to use instruction that is comfortable for the student. The same way a tutor is prepared for a general education student, he must be prepared for the special education student, including knowledge of how a student is taught in classroom
setting and how the student is assessed. In conjunction with permission from the student (if he is an adult), the parent/guardian (if the student is under 18), a copy of the IEP should be shared to the tutor. For example, if a student needs the notes written out for him, the tutor would be doing the student a disservice if he asks the student to take his own notes. Such action discounts the IEP and doesn’t allow the student to be successful in congruence with how he learns.
Tutors working with special education students should also be knowledgeable of the laws that govern special education as well. The IDEA, ADA (America Disabilities Act), and Rehabilitation Act of 1977 extensively detail how students with disabilities are to be educated in the public sector. These policies also mention the prohibitions as it pertains to education and special education students. The National Tutoring Association includes “Tutoring and the Law” as a part of the Basic Level Tutor Certification.
25 Tips For Working with Special Needs Students
Ftrez, C. (1998). LD/ADD Tutoring Handbook. Office of Students with Disabilities. West Chester, PA: West Chester U.
Sousa, D.A. (2007). How the special needs brain learns. 2e. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.