Monday, October 17, 2016

10 Tips for Grading Students with Disabilities in the Inclusive Classroom

An inclusive classroom welcomes students of all ability levels. There may be students with learning disabilities, students who are gifted and/or talented, students who work at grade level, and students who work below grade level in one class. How does a teacher not only provide instruction for such a wide variety of abilities, but also assess student growth and progress?

Accessing Curriculum

Teaching strategies such as Universal Design for Learning give teachers a way to deliver instruction to these various learners. Methods of delivery such as differentiating curriculum, allow teachers to present the subject material in several different ways. The intent is to make concepts and content understandable for students who are auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learners.

Assessing Students Who Work at Grade Level

Students, who work at grade-level, are expected to learn pre-determined concepts and content through the course of the school year. These are generally known as achievement standards. In the U.S., many states use The Common Core for guidance in determining achievement standards at each grade level. 

Some students work at grade level but need support accessing the curriculum. For example, students who have hearing issues will use a hearing aid to listen to the lesson. Other students may require larger print material for vision challenges or even a speech-to-text program if the student has difficulty with written output. 

These accommodations are always outlined in an official document called a 504 Plan. They are provided without any changes to the learning outcomes. Students who work at grade level, regardless of any accommodations, are graded using the same system as other students.

Assessing Students Who Work Below Grade Level

The students who work below grade level in an inclusive classroom are NOT expected to learn and achieve the exact same standards as their peers. Why? 

As we know, inclusive classrooms teach to the level of the student. By teaching to the student’s level, he or she stays in the classroom and has access to the same social, emotional and intellectual experiences as his or her classmates. 

Lesson content and standards of achievement are modified to better suit the student’s needs. Modified goals are recorded in the student’s Individual Education Plan. States such as Wisconsin have gone so far as to create an alternate set of Common Core standards as guidance for students on modified programs.

Fair is not Equal

As mentioned above, teachers assess student progress in an inclusive classroom based on their ability to meet the achievement standards. Therefore, teachers have to adopt fair assessment practices for all students. 

Remember, inclusive classrooms do not operate on the “equal treatment” of students, rather they give every student what he or she needs to succeed. Thus, inclusive classrooms are “fair classrooms”. 

Fair vs Equal

10 Tips for Grading Students with Disabilities

Here are some tips for teachers to help grade students with disabilities in the inclusive class:

1. Stay consistent with school grading policy.

2. Stay consistent with the student’s Individual Education Plan.

3. Collaborate with the special education teacher and other related school staff to develop a grading system. 

4. Ensure that the modified assessment and grading system are recorded in the student's IEP.

5. Plan for grading. Decide who is responsible for grading, reporting periods, and grading methods.

6. Share student progress frequently with parents and not only during report card time.

7. Communicate achievement standards and grading systems with students at the beginning of the school year.

8. Use a variety of ways to get a comprehensive understanding of student progress through the use of:

a) Daily assignments

b) Multiple formats of quizzes/tests such as multiple choice, Yes/No answers, cloze technique, long answer, and long answer responses

Yes/No Sorting Cards

c) Performance assessments based on portfolios, demonstrations, projects and presentations

d) Student self-assessment 

e) Observation of student learning and growth

f) Checklists

g) Rubrics 

Rubric for a Presentation

9. Use grading adaptations when giving traditional assessments to students on modified programs. Dennis Munk, Ph.D. from the University of Kansas provides an extraordinary resource for teachers that describes adapted grading. Below are some of his suggestions for teachers:

a) Prioritize assignments that will cover most of the material 

b) Incorporate progress on IEP objectives

c) Grade on processes used to complete work

d) Grade student effort, changing weights and scales

e) Assess progress made over time

Example of Tool for Grading
Source: Dennis Munk, Ph.D. University of Kansas


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! 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

11 Different Definitions of Inclusion: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Inclusive education is still not widely practiced in schools across the United States. As a result, only the "lucky few" have seen what inclusion really is. Those that haven’t, are generally left to sift through myths, misunderstandings and the occasional truth.

There is quite a bit of confusion as to the real meaning of an inclusive environment. The following is a run-down of the different definitions of inclusion (the good, the bad and the ugly) that I have heard over the years:

The Good:

Let’s start with the good. In other words, let’s begin by stating what inclusion really is. By knowing what it is, then we can easily identify what it is not. These are definitions that tell what a truly, inclusive environment is. They are not conjured up or idealistic views of a theory taken from a book. They are an accurate reflection of what inclusion is about:

Children, regardless of ability, are taught in general education classrooms with same-age peers.

Inclusion allows all students equal access to the curriculum through differentiated, adapted and/or modified lessons.

The majority of learning needs are met in the classroom where support services are brought to the child.

Children, of all abilities, are supported and included in all activities throughout the school, such as class activities, recess, lunchtime, assemblies and field trips.

The Bad:

Now, let’s move on to some definitions of inclusive education that aren’t so good.
If they describe a situation that you know of or are in, be aware that it can be better. Perhaps a resource such as Cheryl Jorgensen’s book, The Inclusion Facilitator’s Guide , or Paula Kluth’s, Don’t We Already Do Inclusion?, will help shed new light on ways in which your school’s activities and/or events can be more inclusive.  These definitions have some elements of what inclusion truly is, but still miss the mark.

Students are included in the general education classroom for only part of the day and then go to a self-contained room for the rest of the day to receive different lessons.

Only mild to moderate students are included in the general education classroom while students with severe needs receive their education in a self-contained special education classroom.

Students with special needs are included in activities that can easily accommodate the child. For example, the child has to fit the activity; the activity does not have to fit the child.

The Ugly:

Finally, here are some definitions of inclusive education that are just plain wrong! The following descriptions are of an environment where students are not naturally included to the best of his or her ability. Instead, these are definitions that describe inclusion as more of a place or program where a concentrated effort is given to including students with special needs. School clubs such as a Lunch Buddy Club (a time when a typically developing student is paired up to eat lunch with a special needs student in a designated lunch area), while have good intentions, only perpetuate the “we need to help them” or “we are doing them a favor” attitude. It does not provide a natural inclusive experience such as a lunchtime would where all the students sit together in the same room.

Inclusion is a program that is delivered by the school and hosted in “inclusion classrooms”.

Inclusion is a place in the school where students with special needs can receive some interaction with their typically developing peers. 

Students with special needs are included in enrichment activities only such as Music, Physical Education and Art.

Students with special needs are considered included when they are “mainstreamed” into classrooms. This means a student with special needs must be able to keep up the with grade-level work of the other students without any extra support.

Use this information and more about inclusive education by checking out so you can easily identify a situation that is authentically inclusive!

(Note: this post was originally written for The Friendship Circle of Michigan is a non-profit organization affiliated with Lubavitch of Michigan. It is their goal to provide every individual with special needs the support friendship and inclusion that they deserve.)