Many teaching strategies that assist students with disabilities are also known to benefit students without disabilities. Instruction provided in an array of approaches will reach more students than instruction using one method. Student Disability Services offers the following suggestions to assist instructors in meeting the growing diversity of student needs in the classroom, particularly those with disabilities. SDS welcomes any additional strategies instructors have found helpful. For more information, view answers to frequently asked questions.
Guidelines for Teaching Students with Disabilities
Strategies for Optimizing Learning
The Syllabus and Textbook
Make the class syllabus and list of required texts available by request to students before the start of the semester. This allows time for students to obtain materials in alternative formats and to begin reading assignments. If available and appropriate, select a textbook with an accompanying study guide for optional student use.
Early in the Semester
- Place a statement in your syllabus and make an announcement at the first meeting of the class such as: “If you are a student with a disability or believe you might have a disability that requires accommodations, please contact Student Disability Services at 410-516-4720, email@example.com, or in-person at 385 Garland Hall.” This approach preserves students’ privacy and also indicates your willingness to provide accommodations as needed.
- Because many students with disabilities need additional time to process and complete assignments, convey expectations in the syllabus (e.g., grading, material to be covered, due dates).
- Announce reading assignments and list in the syllabus well in advance for the benefit of students using taped materials or other alternative formats. Recording an entire book takes an average of six weeks; SDS can produce the materials in installments when informed of the sequence in which the materials will be used.
Strategies for Teaching and Presenting
- Begin class with a review of the previous lecture and an overview of topics to be covered that day. At the conclusion of the lecture, summarize key points.
- Highlight major concepts and terminology both orally and visually. Be alert for opportunities to provide information in more than one sensory mode.
- Emphasize main ideas and key concepts during lecture and highlight them on the blackboard or overhead.
- Speak directly to students; use gestures and natural expressions to convey further meaning.
- Diminish or eliminate auditory and visual distractions.
- Present new or technical vocabulary on the blackboard or overhead, or use a handout.
- Use visual aides such as diagrams, charts, and graphs; use color to enhance the message.
- Give assignments both orally and in written form; be available for clarification.
- Provide adequate opportunities for participation, questions and/or discussion.
- Provide timelines for long-range assignments.
- Use sequential steps for long-range assignments; for example, for a lengthy paper:
- Select a topic
- Write an outline
- Submit a rough draft
- Make necessary corrections with approval
- Turn in a final draft.
- Give feedback on early drafts of papers so there is adequate time for clarification, rewrites, and refinements.
- Provide study questions and review sessions to aid in mastering material and preparing for exams.
- Give sample test questions; explain what constitutes a good answer and why.
- To test knowledge of material rather than test-taking savvy, phrase test items clearly. Be concise and avoid double negatives.
- Facilitate the formation of study groups for students who wish to participate.
- Encourage students to seek assistance during your office hours and to use campus support services.
Points to Remember
- When in doubt about how to assist, ask the student directly and check the Instructor Contact letter provided by Student Disability Services. If you still have questions, call the SDS office.
- When students ask for extended deadlines, approved absences, or rescheduled examinations, please have the student discuss these requests with SDS first.
- Confidentiality of all student information is essential. At no time should the class be informed that a student has a disability, unless the student makes a specific request to do so.
- The Student Code of Conduct regarding disruptive behavior applies to all students. Clearly state behavioral expectations for all students; discuss them openly in your classroom, on your syllabus, and with individual students as needed.
- If you require assistance or guidance concerning a student with a disability, please contact the appropriate SDS coordinator.
Accommodations make it possible for a student with a disability to learn the material presented and for an instructor to fairly evaluate the student’s understanding of the material without interference because of the disability. Providing reasonable and necessary accommodations to students with disabilities is an important part of our responsibilities as educators. View a complete list of accommodations and available assistive technology offered through SDS.
Instructors are often the first point of contact for students with disabilities who seek accommodations. You can help students receive the accommodations they may need by doing the following things:
- In your syllabus, include the recommended statement about classroom accommodations for students with disabilities:
“If you are a student with a disability or believe you might have a disability that requires accommodations, please contact Student Disability Services at 410-516-4720, firstname.lastname@example.org, or in-person at 385 Garland Hall.”
- Announce to your students on the first day of class how they can receive accommodations if needed;
- Direct any requests for accommodations to Student Disability Services.
- Provide accommodations only to students who provide you with a letter from the SDS explaining the approved classroom accommodations.
When you receive a letter from the SDS concerning a student with a disability, the letter will explain what accommodations that student requires in the classroom. The most frequently requested accommodations are: extended time on examinations and quizzes; testing in a quiet or private location; and use of student notetakers. Students with hearing impairments may need interpreters in class, or use assistive technology that will require the instructor to wear a microphone when lecturing. Students with low vision may need enlarged print examinations and handouts. At times, SDS may ask the Registrar to change the location of a class to accommodate a student with limited mobility or a student who needs access to internet and telephone connections in the classroom.
The purpose of an accommodation is to ensure that students with disabilities have access to programs. Accommodations should not change the essential elements, criteria or performance levels of the course. If you have such concerns about a requested accommodation, please contact SDS.
Arranging for accommodations is a cooperative endeavor involving the student, the SDS Office, and the instructor. If you believe that you can provide an accommodation in a manner that is superior to what has been requested, please speak to SDS about it.
Many students with disabilities require 150% or 200% time on examinations. If you have such a student in your classes, please try to make arrangements for the student to take the examination under your supervision. Many departments have seminar rooms and offices that could provide a quiet or private space for the student to take an examination. Johns Hopkins does not have a testing center that can accommodate all of the students who receive extended time on examinations. SDS can only handle a few students at a time. If you cannot arrange for an examination requiring extended time, please contact SDS and we will work with you to see what arrangements can be made. You can also download the PDF Document: form for requesting that SDS proctor the examination (PDF).
SDS is responsible for providing notetakers for students with documented disabilities. Students request notetakers by submitting an online form to email@example.com. SDS recruits and trains the notetakers.
Deaf and hard-of-hearing students may use an interpreter in the classroom, or they may use assistive devices that require the instructor to wear a small microphone that can send signals to either an FM device that amplifies sound for the student or to a telecommunications device that enables a voice caption to convert the sound signal to written text on the student’s laptop computer.
In a seminar setting where there is considerable class discussion and the class is small, the microphone can be replaced by a speakerphone that can pick up speech from all directions.
Many hearing impaired students will be able to communicate in a one-on-one situation by lip reading. But in a few cases, the student may need to bring an interpreter when meeting with a faculty member. If a student does rely on lip reading, remember that you will only be understood if you are facing the student without obstructions or strong back lighting that would obscure the student’s view.
If you are having difficulty communicating with the student, you and the student can write the information that is unclear. Writing down your suggestions is especially helpful with hearing impaired students because lip readers generally pick up less that half of the information that is spoken.
If you use films and videos in your classes, it is important to make the information accessible to hearing impaired students. Please consult with SDS to discuss having your materials captioned.
Some students with visual impairments require large-print written materials. This may mean making enlarged print copies of examinations and handouts. If the student has trouble reading overheads, instructors can make enlarged print copies for the student. Most departments have copying equipment that can enlarge documents.
SDS can also provide students with assistive reading technology, books on tape, and books in Braille.
If you use films and videos in your classes, it is important to make the information accessible to students with visual impairments. Please consult with SDS to discuss your specific situation.
Many students with disabilities are hesitant to let other students know about their disability. In addition, information about disabilities is part of the student’s confidential academic record. Therefore, faculty members need to respect the student’s privacy when providing accommodations. This means that faculty should not discuss disability-related matters with the student when other students are present, unless the student approves. Some accommodations will naturally draw attention to the student with the disability (e.g., using a sign-language interpreter in class) and this cannot be helped.
In addition to accommodations in the classroom, students with disabilities may also require programmatic accommodations and support services. SDS will discuss these matters when the student registers with the SDS. However, faculty may become involved when they advise students with disabilities about their courses.
Here are some suggestions for advisers when working with students who disclose information to you about their disabilities:
- Emphasize the student’s strengths. Students with disabilities often have strengths in specific academic areas. Discuss these strengths with the student and plan a course schedule with these in mind. To discover areas of weakness, ask questions about specific skills like reading comprehension, writing ability, time management, and memory for details.
- Encourage students to take a balanced schedule, with more courses in the stronger areas and fewer in the weaker areas. If the student’s program calls for a course that is likely to be very challenging, suggest taking other courses in the same term that will use the student’s areas of strength. If there are instructors that you know who are top teachers, who keep office hours and welcome students, recommend their courses if the student is interested.
- Some students do better in a shorter MTW course that meets for fifty minutes. Also consider the time of day when the course meets and the number of courses in a day. Students taking medication for ADD/ADHD may prefer morning classes when their medication is at full strength, for example.
- Students who need more time to finish assignments should consider taking 12 credits instead of 15 or more. Some students can make up the other credits in Intersession and summer school. In other cases the student and family may be willing to take more than four years to graduate. The University has helped such students in the past with letters to health insurers and financial aid offices to cover a fifth year.
- Write down your suggestions for the student, even if this takes a few minutes. Students usually say that they understand so they won’t appear “dumb.”
- Remind students of resources (tutoring, time management assistance, and counseling) that may be of help to them. The Academic Advising Office can direct students to these services. Also discuss add/drop deadlines so that students can repair a bad situation, should it arise.