Saturday, August 20, 2016

Vote for Our SXSWedu Panel and Learn the Undeniable Truth About Inclusion!

Photo by Virgil McCullough

We Need Your Help!

Every day, thousands of students with special needs are ushered into separate special education classrooms. They are taught differently, treated differently and participate in different school programs. Why is this segregated form of special education still the norm in American schools when there is undeniable truth about the practice of inclusion? 

A unique panel of teachers and parents want to come together at next year's premier education event - the SXSWedu conference. We want to outline the research, provide instructional strategies, demonstrate the application of assistive technology, and give personal accounts of inclusive education. 

Audience members will learn why and how schools can give students with special needs the appropriate education they deserve.

Please Vote!

You can help us raise awareness for inclusive education and vote to have our session become a part of the SXSWedu conference in March, 2017! SXSWedu is an innovative, global event that inspires innovation in learning. Educators and education stakeholders come together to share relevant ideas about education. 

Simply go to SXSW PanelPicker and sign in to vote for our session. Leave a comment, share with friends, post to Twitter - the more conversation, the better!

Thank you!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

5 Easy Ways to Teach Students with Intellectual Disabilities in Your Classroom

My first teaching job was not what I had expected it to be. It was in a small, rural school with a student population of approximately 50. Our teaching staff of 2 included the intermediate teacher and myself. She instructed students who were in fourth to seventh grade while I was assigned to teach 26 students ranging from kindergarten to third grade. We had a handful of support staff and parent volunteers who helped with office tasks, the library, and recess supervision. Our principal and learning assistance teachers were based at another school, which happened to be 75 miles away. When weather permitted, they would visit once a week. Weather rarely permitted.

Including All Learners in the Curriculum
Over several months of trial and error, I eventually found a way to teach the wide range of abilities in the classroom. The premise was the same for every lesson. I would present a concept to the entire class; yet change the learning activities and outcomes depending on student ability levels. For example, a science lesson on a plant’s lifecycle would involve a large group activity such as a story, demonstration and/or presentation. 

Students would work on follow-up activities according to the grade level they were working at. Third and second grade performing students might draw and label a representation of the plant’s lifecycle; while students who were learning at the kindergarten to first grade level would be drawing, tracing and/or labeling a picture of a plant. The goal was to have the students experience varying degrees of the same lesson as well as have the same opportunities to socialize, learn and grow with one another in one classroom.

Including Students with Intellectual Disabilities
Experts and researchers recommend that educators create classrooms that welcome students of all ability levels, respond to individual learning needs and provide equal educational opportunities. Research shows that these inclusive classrooms teach our students to thrive socially, and emotionally in our naturally diverse communities. Meanwhile, the intellectual benefits that inclusion provides also have numerous positive outcomes that have been studied for decades.

Classrooms in America are gradually becoming more inclusive of students with disabilities, thanks in part to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Teachers are becoming more skilled at working with students who have learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, and speech and/or language difficulties. Unfortunately, however, there are still some students who are rarely included and spend most of their day separated and educated away from their peers. Most of these students are those with intellectual disabilities and work significantly below grade level. 

As of 2015, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that only 16% of students with intellectual disabilities are included in the general education classroom. These findings suggest that general education teachers find it challenging to include and teach students who are not working at the same grade level as their peers. As a result, separate special education classrooms take on the responsibility of providing education. This continued reliance on separate education perpetuates an inequality in educational experiences and opportunities.

Framework for an Inclusive Lesson
To facilitate inclusion and improve educational equality for students who work below grade level, teachers can modify class lessons to meet the needs of individual students. The extent to which a lesson is modified depends on the goals of the student’s Individual Education Plan. How the lesson is modified depends on strategies used by the teacher. These modifications can be made directly on the class activity or through an alternate format (i.e. assistive technology). Here are 5 easy strategies that teachers can use to effectively modify class activities for students who work below grade level (Click here for visual examples.):

1. Break down the assignment – complex topics can all be broken down into understandable concepts. Have the student can focus on a big idea related to the lesson. Reading passages can be simplified, math problems can be reduced by level of difficulty, or visual representations can replace written work.

2. Break down the answers – teachers can provide word banks of answers, cloze passages, Yes/No or True/False responses, or pre-written vocabulary to guide student practice with new material.

3. Take the lesson off the page - with this strategy, teachers can have the student draw a corresponding illustration, make a model, or give a presentation. For example, if the class is learning about Pioneers the student can trace a picture of a wagon (and write about it, label it or talk about it).

4. Guided practice - teachers can guide student engagement and response by providing graphic organizers, outlines, and/or a series of steps to solving a problem.

5. Provide an alternate task on the same page - if the class assignment cannot be simplified for the student, have the student complete an alternate task on the same page. For example, if a student is learning to identify numbers the teacher can have the student search for specific numbers on a class assignment that might otherwise have students solving algebra equations.

Want more ideas to teach and include students who work below grade level? Stay tuned for my upcoming book! 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Free Webinar: Strategies You Can Use to Teach and Include Students with Disabilities in Your Classroom

Renay H. Marquez, Shelley Moore, Beth Foraker, and Antonia Hirson come together to provide strategies and solutions for including students with disabilites in the general education classroom. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

16 Inclusive Education Blogs You Need to Know About!

I first wrote this post in 2013. Since then, I have come across many more wonderful blogs about inclusion that are a great resource for teachers and families! So, I'm adding another 6 fantastic blogs to this list!!

With school starting in just a few short weeks, teachers and parents are thinking about the new beginnings that each school year brings. We reflect on our student’s growth over the past year and look forward to what the future holds. For me, the new school year also means finding new resources for the classroom that I can use to spur on creativity, enthusiasm and learning throughout the coming months. I can easily spend hours in bookstores and online searching for information that will help guide my inclusive practice.

Over the past couple of years, there have been many internet sites created to support inclusive education. While I am not going to be in a classroom this year, I have used my time instead, to search for resources for you. In particular, I have searched for blogs (sites run by individuals or small groups)  that have provided information but have also shared personal experiences and opinions about inclusion. The following is a list of my top 10 inclusive education blogs that I feel will be very useful for your upcoming school year (in no specific order as they are all as equally good):

1.  Think Inclusive - Tim Villegas uses his experience as a Special Education Teacher to blog and promote ideas about inclusive education. Posts such as, Things I Wish I Knew My First Year of Teaching Special Education, give readers an insight into the world of special education and encourages us to see one another as all equal.

2.  ParaEducate - this blog is dedicated to providing resources for paraeducators and teachers.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Simple Way to Include Others

I was thinking the other day about all the ways to include others. We can use modified material, assistive technology, paraprofessionals, and adaptive devices. 

Teachers can use Individual Education Plans for guidance, and strategies for instruction. While all useful, and helpful and needed....there is a much simpler way of including.