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2-4 yrs

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Program Benefits

  • 3 Degree Options to Match Your Career Goals
  • #4 Best Online Master's in Education Programs in Minnesota – 2021 by US News & World Report
  • Learn to Design Individualized Education Plans

"The heart of education is the relationship between the student and the teacher. Everything else depends on how productive and successful that relationship is. If that is not working, then the system is not working. If students are not learning, education is not happening” (p. 71-72)1. The belief of this author is that you have built positive, trusting relationships with students and the focus of this article is on the “education” that you are providing. The focus of your instructional practices is on students and in meeting their needs.

What are the characteristics of a student with a Specific Learning Disability (SLD)? We know that 5% of all school-aged students (6-17) are diagnosed as having a Specific Learning Disability. This represents the largest disability category within Special Education and signifies 35% of all students with disabilities in schools in the United States2. Specific Learning Disability is a broad disorder that limit students ability to understand or use language, spoken or written, manifesting itself in an “imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or do mathematical calculations”3.

Students with a specific learning disability may also include individuals who have conditions such as brain injury, dyslexia, perceptual disabilities, and developmental aphasia. Truly the old adage that “No two students are exactly alike” certainly pertains to a child with a specific learning disability. With that said, how does an educator ensure that their instructional practices, specifically lesson plan creation, meets the wide range of needs that the children diagnosed with a specific learning disability have? Also, what does one need to keep in mind and use when creating these lesson plans? These questions and more will be answered during the course of this article.

Be Intentional

Howard Glasser, the creator of the Nurtured Heart Approach, has a saying when it comes to clarity: “The clearer I get the clearer I get.” This saying can be applied in creating your lesson plans. The clearer you get as it relates to what you want students to learn, the clearer you are in what methods you will use to facilitate students learning. Ensure that your intentions and learning targets are congruent with your purpose. If the students’ needs, and thus the purpose of your service, are to build academic skills in a student through your specific lesson plans make sure your intentions and learning targets align with that purpose. Intentionality in both academic and social emotional teaching will provide a guide for what you will be teaching. Understanding your intentions and thus your purpose will ensure a student focused and purposeful lesson plan.

Having great intentions and a purpose is great but how will I be able to craft a lesson with just those ideas? Three words: Universal Design for Learning (UDL). “Universal design for learning (UDL) is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn”.4 With this framework, you start with the end in mind—what do I want my students to learn at the end of the school year, at the end of the month, or at the end of this lesson? This provides you a more clear target and focus for the lesson plan you create that is focused on students’ needs.

Let Data be Your Guide

The use of data in crafting your lesson plan is essential to your students’ success. Formative assessments, summative assessments, state tests, nationally normed achievement tests, and progress-monitoring data should be gleaned to pinpoint skills your students need to learn and what your lesson plan should focus on in meeting those skill needs of students. Data should be looked at as a whole and you shouldn’t rely on merely one piece of data to drive your instruction. Additionally, using your Professional Learning Community (PLC) to review data and determine your next instructional step is crucial in your instructional practice. Having a group of experts (school psychologist, fellow special educators, principals, etc.) to assist in determining what skills to focus on and to determine next steps instructionally will assist you in crafting lesson plans that are specifically designed to meet the complex needs of your students with specific learning disabilities. One last note regarding data, if you don’t know how to interpret what you are looking at or how to use your data for instructional purposes, ask for help. There are experts in your school (school psychologists, principals, other special education teachers, etc.) and in your district (special education administration, data coordinators, lead school psychologist, etc.) to assist you in reading the data and providing you next steps in your instructional practices and in lesson plans creation that validates students’ needs and the skills to be learned.

Yes, the heart of education is the relationship between you and the students you teach. You have this down and you are really focused on the education that is happening in your classroom. Be purposeful and intentional in crafting your lesson plan—having the end in mind. Use data to guide and inform your instructional practices to ensure that you are pinpointing skills your students need to learn. Use the resources that are available to you. Know that there are colleagues within your school and district who are willing and able to help you understand the data you have gathered and apply the data to your instructional practices. Finally, it is about students and their needs. Focus your lesson on skills that students need and use your data to guide your instruction, tracking progress to celebrate your students’ success and greatness.

For information on earning your M.A. in Special Education degree, contact an enrollment counselor at 877-308-9954.

About the Author

Dr. John Fry is a faculty member at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. He is a passionate educator and leader who is committed to transforming both the academic and social-emotional trajectory of students. He is a licensed K-12 Principal and Director of Special Education. As a teacher, he is licensed in Social Studies, Emotional or Behavior Disabilities (EBD) and Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD). He began his career as a paraprofessional in a Setting IV Separate Public Day School. Click here to read more about Dr. John Fry.


1 Robinson, K. (2015). Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that's Transforming Education. London: Penguin.

2 Hallahan, Daniel P., Kauffman, James M., Pullen, Paige C., (2012). Exceptional Learners. An Introduction to Special Education. New York, NY: Pearson.

3 U.S Department of Education, “Section 1401 (30)”. Accessed May 23, 2019.

4 CAST, “About Universal Design for Learning” Accessed October 15, 2015