The Importance of Adapted Specials

If a student is having a hard time learning an academic skill, we teach them. If a student is lacking communication skills, we teach them. If a student is struggling with self-regulating, we teach them. So, if a student doesn’t have the skills to be successful in a specials class what should we do? *All together now*, teach them!

Within my elementary school, all students attend the following specials each week: art, computer, library, music, and P.E. Of course, my students attend these specials with their grade level class. However, each day my students attend an “adapted special”. This is an opportunity for the specials teachers to break down the expectations, routines and skills that are needed to be successful within their unique environments. Just because these classes are perceived to be more “fun” than your average science lesson doesn’t mean that any less instruction needs to go into ensuring our students are successful. Read along as I break down some of the key skills that my students benefit from by accessing adapted specials.

1. Establishing Routines


It is no secret that many of our students thrive on structure. It can be difficult to bounce from P.E. on Monday and then Library on Tuesday. What I love about having adapted specials is the way that each specialist ensures that they are clear and consistent with their routines. In art, although the project itself changes class by class, my students always know that they enter the art room, sit at their assigned table, and participate in the same warm up activity as they always do. In library, every class involves listening to a read aloud, doing an activity that correlates with the story, and checking out a book. Establishing these consistent routines during the adapted special allows for a smooth transition and known expectations when they participate in specials with their classmates.

2. Calm (ish) Environment


To the general education teachers who teach 15-25 elementary aged students at one time; you are magical humans. Let’s be real, participating in specials with the entire class can feel chaotic! I love listening to a group of 3rd graders play “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder as much as the next gal, but sometimes it may feel like too much. Having the opportunity to practice instruments during adapted music allows for new skills to be taught and practiced without the sensory overload. Our students can practice waiting and turn taking, but instead of taking turns with 15 students, they’re taking turns with 3. Experiences like these allow for positive moments to be created in these different classrooms, making students excited to go back the next time the visual appears on their schedule.


3. Working Through Behaviors


With new skills is bound to come new challenging behaviors. No matter how fun the computer game is or how speedy a student feels during “cat tag”, there will inevitably be bits and pieces that don’t go as planned. Our kiddos can be unpredictable, but the beauty of having adapted specials is that we can work through any difficult moments without having to do so directly in front of their peers. Following through with directions and expectations in important, especially for our specials teachers who have few and far between encounters with our students. The adapted setting is where the missing pieces are taught, so that our students can become more independent and successful when they are in the “real deal”.

So to any teacher out there that is reading this and wondering if adapted specials is something worth advocating for within your school, the answer is yes! These classes are 30-minutes of bliss. My kiddos get to let their hair down, learn new skills, and be embraced by teachers who are passionate about their specialty. If our students receive specialized instruction in everything else, then why not in these areas too? For even more success, incorporate a few PALS (peer models) to join the adapted special. This way the expected behavior is always being modeled and they can do the prompting. And with that, I send you on your way, hopefully hearing “Hot Cross Buns” for the remainder of your day!

Reagan Strange, MSEd
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