Quran Teaching Strategies For SEND Students

Teaching students who have special educational needs, and disabilities (SEND) Qur'ān is something that is greatly overlooked in our communities. Yet this is something that's becoming increasingly prevalent.

I've had messages about resources on how to identify or help with the recognition of delay, dyslexia, and ADHD for teachers. I've had others asking about methods to help neurodiverse children and those with learning difficulties.

There is a lot of work needed in this area what you'll find here are some general fundamentals that are a starting point. Most of this material is from a Quran teacher training course I gave during the summer.

Supporting Students with Individually & Learning Difficulties

I've also personally taught many students with autism, ADHD, or with learning difficulties. It can be challenging, but as long as you know what to do, you can make a lot of progress. The first step in my book is that you need to be mindful and become aware of the strengths of students. Become aware of the learning preferences of students, and their individual needs. Much of modern-day education is based on set practices that favour the group but they ignore the individual. It's factory-like and often not individualised.

These needs comprise different things:

  1. Different learning styles
  2. ADHD, Concentration, Memory, and Impulsivity (acting without thinking)
  3. Autistic Spectrum Disorder
  4. Dyslexia 
  5. Hearing difficulties
  6. Visual difficulties

VARK - Understanding visual, aural, read and write, or kinesthetic learning techniques

While this is a starting point. This is something that applies to all students.

VARK stands for:

  • Visual
  • Aural
  • Read/Write
  • Kinesthetic

Each student might have a preference for one or more of these learning styles. Identifying and catering to these preferences can make your teaching more effective.

Strategies for Each Learning Style:

Visual Learners:
  • Qur’anic Illustrations: Use illustrated Qur’anic stories or maps that depict the journeys of Prophets.
  • Mind Maps: When discussing themes or the context of a Surah, create a visual mind map.
  • Flashcards: Use flashcards with Qur’anic vocabulary or key concepts.
Aural Learners:
  • Recitation: Regularly recite verses and encourage students to listen to various Qari’s.
  • Discussion: Engage students in discussions about the meanings and interpretations.
  • Na’t: Use nasheeds or songs that revolve around Qur’anic stories or teachings.
Read/Write Learners:
  • Reading: Encourage students to read the translation and Tafsir (interpretation) of the Qur’an.
  • Writing: Assign tasks like writing essays or summaries on specific verses or themes.
  • Notes: Ask students to maintain a journal or notebook, noting down their reflections on each Juz' or Surah.
Kinesthetic Learners:
  • Role Play: Enact stories or parables from the Qur’an.
  • Hands-on Activities: Use crafts or projects related to stories or teachings in the Qur’an.
  • Interactive Sessions: Organise group activities where students can move around, discuss, and collaborate.

Blended Teaching

While it's essential to cater to individual learning styles, incorporating a mix of VARK techniques in each lesson ensures a holistic learning experience. For instance, while discussing a particular Surah, you could show a visual depiction, recite it, have students read and write about it, and then engage in a kinesthetic activity. You can have students do a quiz (where it’s possible) to discover their preferences.

ADHD, Concentration, Memory, and Impulsivity (acting without thinking)

Remember, every student is unique. While these strategies can be beneficial, it's essential to adapt and adjust based on individual needs. Building a rapport and understanding with your ADHD students will go a long way in ensuring a positive learning experience for them.

Understanding ADHD

ADHD students face challenges that can be primarily categorised into two:

  • Attention Deficits: These students often struggle with maintaining concentration for extended periods.
  • Hyperactivity Disorders: Here, the students might exhibit impulsivity and disruptive behaviours in the classroom.

Here are some potential signs of ADHD in children, categorised by age group:

Preschool (ages 3-5):

  • Hyperactivity: Constant fidgeting, running, climbing, or difficulty sitting still.
  • Inattention: Difficulty focusing on tasks or activities, frequent daydreaming, easily distracted.
  • Impulsivity: Acting without thinking, blurting out answers, difficulty taking turns.
  • Emotional dysregulation: Frequent temper tantrums, mood swings, difficulty calming down.
  • Difficulty focusing on sounds and letters: They may seem easily distracted during phonics lessons, struggle to identify sounds in words, or have trouble blending sounds together.
  • Impulsivity in reading: They might rush through words, skip lines, or guess at words without sounding them out properly.
  • Hyperactivity during reading time: They may fidget, squirm, or get up and down frequently, making it hard to stay focused on the task.
  • Frustration and resistance to reading: They may avoid reading activities altogether, express dislike for them, or get easily discouraged by challenges.

School-age (ages 6-12):

  • Academic difficulties: Trouble with reading, writing, or math, difficulty completing assignments, forgetfulness.
  • Difficulties with decoding and fluency: They may struggle to sound out new words, read slowly and choppily, or have difficulty comprehending what they read.
  • Trouble remembering sight words: They may frequently need prompting for familiar words, have trouble recalling them quickly, or mix them up with similar-looking words.
  • Poor reading comprehension: They may struggle to understand the meaning of what they read, answer questions about the text, or retell the story in their own words.
  • Social problems: Difficulty making friends, trouble taking turns, interrupting others, hyperactivity or impulsivity disrupting classroom activities.
  • Organizational challenges: Difficulty keeping track of belongings, messy room, trouble planning and prioritising tasks.
  • Daydreaming: Frequent zoning out, appearing lost in thought, difficulty following instructions.

Teenagers (ages 13-18):

  • Continued inattention and impulsivity: Similar symptoms to younger children, but may become more internalised or subtle.
  • Difficulty with relationships: Problems with friends or family members due to impulsivity, inattention, or emotional dysregulation.
  • Academic struggles: Difficulty focusing in school, poor time management, procrastination, risky behavior.
  • Low self-esteem: Feelings of inadequacy, frustration, or failure due to ADHD symptoms.

It's important to note that:

  • Not all children who exhibit some of these signs will have ADHD.
  • The severity of symptoms can vary greatly from child to child.
  • Other factors, such as anxiety, depression, or learning disabilities, can mimic ADHD symptoms.

If you are concerned about your child's behavior or development, the best course of action is to:

  • Talk to your child's pediatrician or a mental health professional.
  • They can conduct a comprehensive evaluation to determine if your child has ADHD or another underlying condition.
  • If ADHD is diagnosed, they can develop a treatment plan that may include medication, therapy, and educational support.

Tips and advice on how to help children with ADHD

Many things can be done and much of this depends on the individual student, the environment, and the setting you're teaching in. Here are some suggestions:

  • During lessons or discussions, permit ADHD students to have a quiet tactile object. This can be a blue-tac, a rubber band, or a squeeze ball. Such objects can help channel their energy and maintain focus.
  • When giving instructions or discussing, ensure you have the student's eye contact. This helps in reinforcing attention. (Eye contact is important)
  • Use a timer to help the student complete a task in a specified period of time.
  • When giving instructions, be clear and concise. Avoid complex multi-step directions. Ask the student to repeat instructions back to you. Try to ask them to show you what they should be doing, rather than asking them to tell you.
  • Have them learn in small chunks of set tasks
  • Using a mouth model is an excellent tool to use to have them learn pronunciation and letters
  • Create a dedicated reading space that is quiet and free from distractions.
  • Keep reading sessions short and engaging, using games, puzzles, and other activities to make it fun.
  • Provide positive reinforcement and praise your child's efforts, no matter how small.
  • Be patient and understanding, as learning to read takes time and practice.

Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects how individuals communicate, interact, and process information. It's a spectrum, meaning everyone experiences it differently, with varying degrees of difficulty. While some individuals with ASD excel in areas like reading, others might face challenges due to their unique learning styles and sensory sensitivities.

  • ASD affects the brain's development and function, impacting areas like social communication, sensory processing, and repetitive behaviors.
  • Individuals with ASD often have strong visual skills and attention to detail, but they may struggle with social cues, understanding figurative language, and processing auditory information.
  • Difficulties with phonics: Some children with ASD may struggle to decode sounds and blend them into words, making fluency a challenge.
  • Comprehension issues: Understanding the meaning of text can be difficult due to challenges with inferencing, making connections, and following sequential information.
  • Sensory sensitivities: Distractions from sounds, textures, or lighting can make it hard to focus on reading tasks.
  • Motivation and engagement: Some children with ASD may lose interest in reading due to frustration or difficulty, requiring different approaches to keep them engaged.

Potential signs may include:

  • Delayed speech or language development: This might include speaking later than expected, using limited vocabulary, or having difficulty with grammar and sentence structure.
  • Difficulties with social interaction: Children with ASD may show less interest in playing with others, struggle with eye contact, or have trouble understanding social cues.
  • Repetitive behaviors or interests: This could involve lining up toys, fixating on specific topics, or engaging in repetitive movements.
  • Sensory sensitivities: Some children may be overly sensitive to sounds, textures, or lights, making reading in certain environments difficult.

Tips and advice on how to help children with autism

  • Seat the student in an area free from distractions.
  • Arrange to allow them to move to a calm-down area, whenever required.
  • Become visually centric with visual aids, colours, symbols, and demonstrations.
  • Reinforce positive social interactions and responses. Speak to them and make them feel welcome all the time.

Students with Dyslexia

Dyslexia affects up to 1 in 5 people, but the experience of dyslexia isn't always the same. Dyslexia is arguably the most common type of SEND. It is currently estimated that approximately 10% to 15% of students have dyslexia. This means that most Qur'ān teachers usually have at least one pupil with dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a common learning disorder that affects the way the brain processes written language. They may struggle with reading, writing, and spelling due to difficulties with phonemic awareness (the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in words) and decoding (the process of translating written symbols into sounds).

They will have:

  • Difficulty learning letter names and sounds
  • Trouble blending sounds together to form words
  • Reversing letters or words when pronouncing them
  • Omitting or adding letters to words
  • Slow and choppy reading
  • Difficulty comprehending what they read
  • Trouble remembering sight words
  • Poor spelling
  • Avoidance of reading activities

Not all children who exhibit some of these signs will have dyslexia. The severity of symptoms can vary greatly from child to child. Other factors, such as vision problems or hearing loss, can mimic dyslexia symptoms.

Strategies for supporting Dyslexic tendencies

  • Using something other than a book, like cards, a smartboard, or whiteboard to present letters, or words
  • Use a pastel coloured background on your smartboard and blue, green and red pens (rather than black) on your whiteboard to reduce stark contrasts and aid visual processing
  • Use font-types that resemble the handwritten alphabet as closely as possible - for example, Courier New for older students and Comic Sans for younger students. Also, use size 14 fonts and l.5 line spacing.
  • Encourage the student to ‘line track’ with a ruler.

Strategies for Hearing and Visual Impairments

For hearing impairments:

  • Identify which side, if they have one, is the students strongest and then seat appropriately.
  • Provide as much opportunity for the students to lip-read, read body language, see hand gestures etc.
  • Speak clearly, naturally, and at a normal rate – shouting or exaggerated ‘mouthing’ distorts normal lip patterns.
  • Ensure when someone is speaking that the light is on their face and not behind. i.e. make sure the whiteboard and window are not directly behind you.
  • When speaking, extend natural pauses to provide the student with a short break as lip-reading increases the time and energy required to process information and can be tiring for the student.
  • Try to use a range of ways of recording and assessing
  • When in conversation with the student, if they mishear something, patiently repeat again – a frustration reported by many students with hearing impairment is being told “it doesn’t matter” when they ask for clarification.

For any visual impairment:

  • Use tactile indicators- blue-tack, rulers, paper clips, folded out post-sticks etc. to help student find information, locate where they need to be on page, keep track of which question they are on in a series.
  • Ensure student uses aids supplied – such as hand held and portable video magnifiers, book stands, raised slopes etc.
  • Use larger-lined paper, columns or boxes to place numbers in, squared paper. Have student use dark pen instead of pencil.
  • Use kinaesthetic experience to replace/supplement auditory and visual input (make them do rather than hear or watch). This will benefit all students.

I will return to this from time to time and update it, in shā' Allāh with more specific resources, techniques, and information. Anyone that wants to contribute, please get in touch.

Allāh grant blessing!

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