Teaching Chinese Students with special needs: How can we help?
Here I discuss my first hand experience teaching Chinese students with special needs. All names have been disguised.
During morning exercise, within a crowd of 300 students, Stanly puts minimal effort into his motions. Much of the time stopping at count “wu” (five) to stand and gaze off into the distance.
Walk into a classroom to find Sherry seated with a mess of books on her desk, seemingly in her own world, while the rest of the class stands to participate in following the teacher’s directions.
A peer encourages Sherry to participate, but she doesn’t pay any attention.
Visit the classroom next door to find the students reading at their desk, led by the teacher. Spot Philip run to a peer’s desk to hit another student. He sits down, stands back up, and sits down, back up, down, up, down.
Do any of these behaviors ring a bell? If so, the student that popped into your mind could have some sort of special need. Students with special needs can be defined as a student who encounters various difficulties which require them to receive additional support within the classroom.
Many of these students are misunderstood. If their need is severe, they are sent to a special school. I have found that not all students with needs are appropriately identified and are expected to succeed within the public school system with little to no help.
No matter how obvious it is that a child has a disability, if the need is there, then it must be addressed to provide the student with a fair opportunity.
Coming to China with a special education background, I was unsure what kind of role, if any, I could play in the school system.
My biggest question was how do students with special needs survive in such a massive and competitive environment? I am lucky enough to be at a school that recognizes this struggle. They asked me to use my background to conduct case studies on their students with the most severe behavioral issues and provide their teachers with help.
This means I spent a few hours a week observing the student’s behavior and the settings in which they learned in. I analyzed my observations and made suggestions on how to help improve the students’ experiences. The observations lasted within a span of two months. It became a learning experience for not only the teachers and students but for me also.
Immediately within my observations, I noticed a common theme running throughout each classroom; these students were ignored. There are positives and negatives to this strategy. The teachers and students were patient with the struggling student, but the student was not learning that their behaviors needed to be changed.
Ultimately, this strategy was used because they just did not know how to handle the behaviors. This is where I came in, to share the knowledge I had gained in New York with them. This was easily done, as these students did not behave in any way that I was unfamiliar with. What was not so easy was executing the strategies I had come up with. The reality of the classrooms here in China is that the teacher has only so much attention that she or he can provide for 50 students at one time.
So yeah, keeping a behavior log for a student would keep them motivated but if you cannot find the time to complete the log with the student, the log becomes unimportant, and its positive effect is lost. And that’s just it. Students with disabilities need the extra attention, which is really hard to do within the Chinese school system.
What has worked? It wasn’t something I came up with… the school has asked family members of the students to come in and guide the child throughout the day. Although the students still struggle with the daily routine, it’s not as noticeable or as distracting as before. May not be a fix, but a definite improvement.
You may be wondering, what can I do to help these students? How may I play a role in their improvement? It’s actually pretty simple, and you don’t need any special training. You also may know part of the answer: there’s not much you can do. What you can do is provide these students with just a little bit more of your attention.
Contradictory to what was discussed before, I know, it’s hard with 50 students. What isn’t hard to do is to make it a point to give these students some sort of attention at least once a day.
Honestly, I suggest at least three times, but we all have different schedules, and our attention is split differently. So commit to as many times as you know you can, and keep it consistent. This attention could be a simple pat on the back as you walk by their seat. It all depends on what the child can handle.
Leave yourself a reminder on a sticky note because this will be easy to start but hard to continue as the semester goes on. This little bit of extra attention will motivate them. That motivation will only build up over time, at the student’s own pace. Eventually, you will see improvement. When you see their improvement, recognize them for it! It’s as simple as that. You will have a fantastic time teaching Chinese Students. Good Luck.
By Christine Snell ESL Teacher