I'm concerned this year because I have a student who has a disability assigned to my classroom and I'm not sure I know how to start teaching her. What should be my first steps and how can I learn more about an individual student's disabilities?

Classroom teachers have effective strategies to quickly get to know all their students and the individual characteristics that make them unique. It is essential that you also get to know your student who has a disability in the same manner and then learn about the student's unique needs because of their disability.

There are also a variety of activities to ensure you will know how to effectively teach a student who has a disability in your class. An effective first step is contacting the student's case manager to get a copy of the student's IEP and discussing the student's needs, goals, and accommodations. Be sure to ask questions so you have a clear understanding of expectations for the student's learning and behavior. Find out who the other team members are and establish ways to communicate, such as preferred contact methods and availability for phone calls and meetings.

Factual Information

First steps may include talking with the student's parents to get their insight into their child's needs from their perspective. Find out about the child's likes and dislikes, what incentives motivate him or her, and who his or her friends are. Ask for relevant information about the child's disability and how it affects the student's learning. Parents can provide insights not available through other sources.

Arrange your classroom to accommodate any specific student needs and plan for other accommodations related to instruction, assignments, tests, materials, equipment, and school activities (for more information, see Essential Question 3 subquestion 1 on classroom arrangement). Collaborate with other team members to get started.

In addition, many organizations have general information about disabilities on their web sites with links to more information about specific disabilities. For example, the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHY) has an alphabetical listing of web resources and specific disability areas.

Classroom Activities

No classroom activities are available at this time.


  • There are many collaborative professional development learning designs that will help you learn more about your student's disability. Consider working with a colleague to explore and research the questions you have regarding your student and his or her disability.
  • Consider participating in job-embedded professional development activities that are individualized to your own "need to know" such as generating a list of questions and forming a learning group with a few colleagues to answer the questions. University colleagues are resources for current research and emerging information about students who have disabilities.

Resources and Links