February 7, 2020

Specially Designed Instruction

Specially Designed Instruction graphic

Entering the world of special education can be a challenging endeavor as a parent. You’ve witnessed your child struggle in a particular area and the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process is full of educational jargon and acronyms. But through that process, our students get to work with amazing special education teachers across the District who specialize in learning disabilities. Alyssa Peiffer, a special education teacher at Meeker Elementary, is one of those amazing teachers and makes what seems impossible for many students and parents possible. 

Peiffer works with students every day who have been identified as needing intensive academic support or students with learning disabilities. For struggling readers, academic growth is always the goal and objective, but Peiffer knows that she can only accomplish that through positive relationships with students. After reading their IEP, she “starts by building a relationship with the student and getting an idea of their likes/dislikes to incorporate into instruction. I don’t believe that much learning occurs when a student is dysregulated or doesn’t have a relationship with you.” 

In her second year of teaching, Peiffer draws from a broad toolbox of instructional approaches to help students and she understands the importance of individualized instruction with students. “I work on a lot of emergent reading skills, such as associating letter names and sounds, blending sounds together to form a word, recognizing sight words in print, and simply building confidence in reading.” With a lot of students, they practice and build upon phonemic awareness skills, such as being able to break apart the word “cat” into the sounds “/c/ /a/ /t/” and put the sounds together. Once a student has mastered the phonemic awareness skills, they can move on to decoding print (reading the word “cat”). For Peiffer, reading and writing go hand in hand so that when students are receiving specially designed instruction in writing, they are also practicing their reading skills and phonemic awareness skills. 

Instruction can have a profound impact on students’ ability to make progress toward their academic goals and Peiffer continually builds capacity in students. While in a session with one student, Peiffer and the student will talk about “trick words,” she’ll ask them to use their “b” and “d” hands when writing, and she’ll ask students to “tap it out” when they encounter a word they may not recognize. The students understand this language because it is woven into their instruction, while it also serves as a mechanism for them to address their disability. 

For many students, confidence is the key to success and Peiffer often builds opportunities for success into each session. “I think it’s important to start with skills that they already know and then challenge them, especially for my students with low confidence in their reading abilities.” She continually reaffirms their work ethic and builds the student up as a whole so that they continue to love school every day.