The words neurodivergent and neurodiversity are relatively new to the classroom but hearing them is becoming increasingly common.
First coined in the 1990s, neurodivergent is a catch-all term that includes those whose brains function differently, such as students with an autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit disorder.
As a teacher, finding the methods to effectively teach is a challenge, but teaching differently-abled students adds another complexity. Luckily, it’s one with a range of approaches to make it a rewarding and enlightening way to improve your practice.
While many students thrive with more traditional methods, it’s possible to forget that not all the students in your class benefit from one approach.
Making learning accessible for all students in your classroom is necessary to your role as a teacher.
Neurodiverse students may end up being left behind by conventional teaching methods, so teachers need to adapt their style to these different learning methods to ensure they are included in the class and are getting a valuable educational experience.
It can take a lot of bravery to put your up hand to answer or ask a question in a classroom. A psychologically safe classroom is one where students don’t need to feel this fear. This is especially important for neurodiverse students to improve their well-being and self-confidence.
Breaking down any perceived barrier to communication is key in any classroom environment and especially when there are neurodivergent children in classrooms.
It’s important to remain patient while students plan and process their responses and not push them into participation. Neurodivergent children can struggle to communicate their thoughts verbally, so it’s important to use your body language to show that you are listening to them.
Teachers can also summarise their points after they have spoken to encourage dialogue and show that they have taken in what’s been said. This experience will make students more likely to engage in classroom discussions in the future.
Different students will respond to teaching methods with varying degrees of reception. Because of this, teachers need to diversify teaching strategies to include students who process information differently.
When planning your lessons, you should be aware of how you can modify them on the fly depending on how students are receiving the lesson. This is also an effective tool in exam preparation as it prepares them for new challenges, developing a growth mindset.
Teachers should take the time to ensure students are following the lesson effectively. This can be done by engaging in a casual and open discussion like asking them the ‘why?’ behind a certain concept for example. This enables the student to discuss the topic and cement it in their brain and also shows you that they are following your teaching.
Speaking broadly, neurodivergent students tend to engage with creative subjects more effectively.
Having said that, autistic students’ affinity for patterns and details will make them able to tackle problems in a very effective manner.
It’s a teacher’s role to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their students and engage with them accordingly.
To do this, teachers must first assess their students. This can be done holistically by gathering information from various sources such as parents, carers, and the student themselves.
With this picture in mind, a plan for teaching them can be laid out that best suits their learning style. After this plan is implemented, teachers need to get feedback from the student to see how successful the plan was and what can be kept or adapted for future implementation
Presenting information in smaller steps is beneficial for all students as it reduces an overload of information but is especially helpful for neurotypical people.
Due to having a lower memory capacity, people with neurodivergent conditions can sometimes take longer to process information.
Therefore, it’s important to present information in classes as a steady stream of smaller chunks. This can take longer, but there are many benefits for you and the students.
Teachers will be able to assess the student’s progress on a quicker, incremental basis while they can absorb the information at a steadier rate. This also makes it easier for them to make connections between the information you are delivering. It can keep tasks manageable while allowing students to gain a solid understanding of each step.
The Pygmalion Effect describes the phenomenon where if we have high expectations of someone, they will perform better. This effect also has an inverse, known as The Golem Effect.
Our expectations of people are reflected in our body language, something that neurotypical people can pick up on well, and this can have a negative outcome on their performance.
For that reason, it’s crucial not to lower expectations of students simply because of their neurodivergence. Neurodivergent people are astute observers of body language and will pick up on cues that may indicate when teachers don’t expect them to succeed in a task.
Teachers must remain optimistic but realistic when working with neurodivergent students as it can play a key role in their academic success.
An interactive whiteboard allows for a huge degree of freedom when teachers are approaching how to teach and engage with students.
An interactive whiteboard projects a computer’s output onto an oversized touchscreen, using digital ink instead of traditional markers.
Interactive whiteboards allow for freer visual teaching, which can be more engaging for autistic students and those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
A more interactive and visually engaging lesson is likely to capture neurodivergent students’ attention. It also gives freedom to teach using different styles that might be better suited to particular students’ needs.
Need some inspiration? Check our interactive whiteboard resources.
Active learning strategies are essentially making the student an active member in the learning process. This puts more responsibility on the student without increasing the pressure, creating a more memorable and interesting learning experience.
When not relying on your students to simply listen to and absorb information, you give them a better capacity to control their learning and equip them with more effective skills for later in life. It can also improve their enthusiasm as they feel like a partner in the learning process and not simply someone who is being spoken at.
This enthusiasm will improve focus as more engagement is required. This will, in turn, bolster the confidence as they become more involved with challenging intellectual topics, learning how to collaborate and work their way around an idea and analyse it with structured active learning techniques.
It’s essential to understand different learning styles whenever you’re putting together a lesson plan.
By introducing new styles of teaching to cater to neurodivergent students, you will simultaneously make classes more interesting for all students.
Including neurodivergent students in the learning process doesn’t mean excluding more typical students and, if anything, you’ll find they will be more engaged by these more inclusive approaches.
Advances in educational technology have been incredibly helpful for neurodiverse students.
For example, an interactive whiteboard allows for greater freedom when selecting how to teach classes. They can add texture to your lessons, creating the space for freedom and creativity by stopping to dissect information in the midst of teaching or by adding interactive elements to your lessons.
Many classrooms use them to add video and audio media and have quick access to online materials, so your lessons remain fresh and exciting. It’s crucial to keep classes varied in style so that neurodivergent students are kept engaged, and interactive displays are a great way to make that approach simple.