Why We Need Inclusion

Tuesday, December 20, 2016 1 comment

10 Tips for Grading Students with Disabilities in the Inclusive Classroom

Monday, October 17, 2016 1 comment

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
Source: www.sparklebox.co.uk

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
Source: www.educatorstechnology.com

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


Alternate Achievement Standards for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

Thursday, October 6, 2016 No comments

Students with cognitive disabilities deserve the same quality education as their peers. In an inclusive classroom, students with intellectual disabilities are not required to meet the grade-level standards. Instead, students with ID have their own set of achievable goals created for his or her specific needs (and indicated in the student's IEP).

The state of Wisconsin has created a set of alternate achievement standards for students with intellectual disabilities that are aligned with the achievement standards for the Common Core curriculum. These corresponding standards provide opportunities for the students with ID to work with the same material as his or her peers yet reach ability-level goals. 

The English Language Arts alternate achievement standards can be found here. The Math alternate achievement standards can be found here. There are also alternate standards available for Science here

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

Saturday, August 13, 2016 1 comment

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? 

Check out, Inclusion in Action: Practical Strategies to Modify Your Curriculum. It has:

  • 40 teacher-tested strategies that will modify general education curriculum while encouraging deeper thinking
  • suggested interventions and extensions for learning
  • practical tips for including students with ID in the general education classroom
  • key information and latest research on inclusive education
  • true stories of inclusion
  • resources for inclusive education
  • printables, checklists, and more!!

16 Inclusive Education Blogs You Need to Know About!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016 7 comments

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 10 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. Renay H. Marquez expertly provide practical tips that can be used in the general or special education classroom, like this series on the beginning of the school year.

3.  Lisa Jo Rudy on Authentic Inclusion - Lisa devotes time to this blog by writing about ways adults and kids with various learning abilities can build on strengths. She has had the opportunity to view authentic inclusion in a wide variety of settings and shares her experiences in posts such as, Inclusion Through Simplifying or Dumbing Down?
4.  Removing the Stumbling Block - educator and blogger, Lisa Friedman, has helped build a synagogue special needs program from "the ground up".  She believes that everyone should feel connected to his/her heritage and offers ways to live inclusively in posts like, Each One of Us Counts.

5.  Beyond the Crayon - Educator Renee Laporte challenges readers to see others as equal and break down existing barriers. Looking through her blog posts, you will find other articles that explore our understanding of inclusion. Inclusion in High School Biology is a post that tells how inclusion can be done in the older grades. 

6.  Climbing Every Mountain - Mary Ulrich describes her blog as a base camp for parents and caregivers of people with disabilities. From her own experiences as a mother and educator, Mary has many unique stories of inclusion such as Supportive Living: What an Inclusive Day Looks Like.  She also writes about other topics like advocacy and disability awareness.

7.  Eliminating the Box - author, Monica Braat, is a Mom and Inclusion Facilitator to children with complex needs. In her blog, she writes about numerous issues related to educating students with special needs. By looking at ways to include kids, Monica writes posts such as, Shame as a Barrier to Learning.

8.  In-kloo-zhuhn - Brenda Giourmetakis, now a Supervisor of Inclusive Learning for a large school district, was a principal to an inclusive school.  Brenda wrote posts like Empathy Needed... to share her school's journey with inclusion. She believes that all children have a right to attend their community school. 

9.  Friendship Circle Blog - this extensive blog includes resources and information on a wide variety of disability-related topics, many of which provide valuable tips like, 23 Ways to Communicate with a Non-Verbal Child.  The Friendship Circle of Michigan, a non-profit organization, oversees this site.

10. Differentiation Daily - the contributor to this blog is Paula Kluth, as well-known expert on inclusive education. Packed full of tips and strategies by subject area, Differentiation Daily has posts like, Science and Stories.

11. Carolyn Coil focuses on a variety of ways to reach and teach all learners. For example, check out Curriculum Mapping and Differentiation: How They Work Together. You will also find book suggestions, videos and links to her various workshops.

12ollibean - a site dedicated to disability-centric news and editorial pieces, however through their blog, ollibean posts articles about the world of inclusion. Self-advocates and change-makers explore and discuss a world where everyone is equal.

13. National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion is full of research and information about inclusive education. Stories, prayers and inspriational quotes give families and teachers the encouragement needed to seek inclusive schooling for their children. 

14. Brookes Inclusion Lab - this site is stock full of information, articles and excerpts from inclusion authors and advocates! You will spend hours exploring resources such as printable charts and calendars, checking out available books and enjoying the beautiful graphics. 

15. AZ is Amazing - this blogspot is written by AZ Chapman who gives us first-hand insight into the value of inclusive education. AZ's video depicts her journey from elementary school to college, where she earned her Bachelor's degree. Moments, ideas, reflections and photos fill this very helpful blog. 

16. Blogsomemoore, written by inclusive educator, author and presenter Shelley Moore, is compiled of information about inclusive education. Shelley uses stories to illustrate her insight and experiences with inclusion. In her latest blog post, Shelley writes about the recent publication of her book, One Without the Other.

Can you name any other blogs about inclusion that will be a helpful resource?

A Simple Way to Include Others

Saturday, July 16, 2016 No comments

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.  

How about we begin with a simple invite? An invitation, when you think about it, is a powerful gesture. It can make someone feel welcome or excluded. It gives the choice to say "yes" or "no", because remember, not everyone wants to be included all the time. An invitation provides opportunity for new experiences. It can facilitate new friendships. 

An invitation can open doors we never knew existed.

12 Resources that Teachers Need to Know About for the Inclusive Classroom: A Professional Development Guide

Wednesday, June 8, 2016 1 comment

Anyone who is or knows a teacher also knows that summer vacation is a time for professional development. Whether it is attending workshops, reading about the latest teaching trends or finding new lesson ideas on Pinterest, teachers are using their summer vacation time to plan for the school year ahead. Here is a list of helpful resources that teachers can read and use in the inclusive classroom:

Authors, Jennifer Kurth and Megan Gross, provide a comprehensive resource for inclusive education in this essential resource! Full of research-based strategies, tools, and practical advice on inclusive education. The Inclusion Tool Box will expertly guide any teacher through the development, implementation, and expansion of an inclusive classroom. Topics include collaboration techniques, lesson planning for inclusion, grading, and ideas for behavior management. Checklists, templates and examples of schedules round-out this must-have book.

Paula Kluth and Sheila Danaher put together 100 more ways that teachers can differentiate instruction in their follow-up book to From Tutor Scripts to Talking Sticks. This illustrated guided gives teachers time-effective ways in which they can tailor curriuclum to meet the different needs of students. Inclusive or not, K-12 classrooms will benefit from the creative ideas in this book that must be on every teacher's shelf. Topics include strategies for differentiating mathematics, language arts, assessment and behavior management. 

Here is a handy resource guide for paraeducators and teachers written by paraeducators!
Authors, Megan Gross and Renay H. Marquez, have written the "ultimate guide to working in special education." Easily adapted to the inclusive classroom, ParaEducate, outlines ways in which paraprofessionals can support student learning, behavior, communication and  social skills. Special education terms, tools and stories give readers a deeper understanding of how to educate all kinds of learners. 

This award-winning teacher's guide by Dr. Michele Borba is a timeless classic for every teacher's resource shelf. Dr. Borba provides a skill-building approach to developing student self-esteem and improving class, as well as, school climate. Teachers can quickly and easily use the practical ideas that Dr. Borba suggests, resulting in greater student motivation and social/personal responsiblity. The book includes strategies for monthly themes, school-wide activities, staff and student assessment, as well as cooperative activities. 

June E. Downing, a pioneer in the world of inclusive education, writes a resource book for teachers who have students with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities in their classrooms. Suggestions for determining student needs, adapting curriculum, and assesing students help teachers fully include students who work below grade level. 

This website needs to be bookmarked by teachers in every kind of classroom. It provides the most comprehensive information on Universal Design for Learning on the web! UDL is a set of principles for curriculum development that allows all types of students access to the curriuclum. Ideal for inclusive classrooms, UDL is a proven, research-based, approach to delivering content. In addition, resources such as a UDL lesson planning page, is an invaluable tool for curriclum planning. 

Students make progress in a variety of ways and letter grades are not the only way to report growth. Student-centered, summative as well as formative assessment, are key features of an inclusive classroom. Enter Quio. Quio is an innovative, online platform that teachers can use to track and assess authentic student learning. Teachers can plan meaningful instruction and evaluation by matching curriculum perfomance descriptors. Evidence of student growth (such as photos, documents, audio clips and video clips) can be safely stored on line and shared with students and/or families. This transparent form of communication allows students to develop self-directed learning skills and parents to support learning outcomes. Quio is suitable for all grade-levels and types of classrooms.

Full disclosure here! This online professional development course for K-12 educators was co-developed by The Inclusive Class and Kids Included Together. It pulls together accurate and recent research, in addition to a wealth of real-life experience, to create a comprehensive overview of inclusion in the classroom. Delivered in a user-friendly, interactive format, this online course can be used towards CEUs. Topics include the history of inclusive education, the purpose, what inclusion looks like and what the research says about it. 

This is one of my favorite go-to sites for all-things assistive technology! Creator, Glenda Hampton Anderson, combines her extended experience as a teacher and service provider to bring the latest information on supporting students using assistive technology. She covers dozens of topics including helpful software, strategies for skill development, and technology implementation. You'll spend hours combing through the valuable and helpful information Glenda gives!

This is one of THE BEST sites on the internet for learning and understanding medical and disability issues within the school context. Created by the province of Alberta, educators and families can research ways to support and teach students with various disabilities. In addition to medical information about moderate to severe needs, there are strategies for teaching and communicating with students. Just as important, it is presented in a quick and easy-to-read format.

Eduplace.com houses a number of free graphic organizers that can be printed off and used for any class. These graphic organizers can help all students better understand concepts as well as demonstrate learning. A must-have resource for your classroom!

Wanting to promote inclusion and acceptance early on? Here are some books (for mostly primary grade classes) on valuing one another that you can use to stock up your library. From the site, A Day in Our Shoes, each book has a description and link to Amazon. Definitely a resource to use when planning for social and emotional learning opportunities.

Do you have any more must-have resources to add to this list? Comment below with the name and link to the resource! Thanks!

7 Things NOT to say to Someone with a Learning Disability

Monday, May 30, 2016 1 comment

The Inclusive Class is so pleased to post this article submitted by Lachrista Greco. Lachrista was a guest on The Inclusive Class Podcast several years ago, sharing her experience growing up as a student in special education. Today, we welcome her back with this very insightful blog about learning disabilites!

As someone with two learning disabilities, I have experienced firsthand some pretty ridiculous questions and statements regarding my disabilities. In third grade, after much testing, I was diagnosed with Dyscalculia (the math version of Dyslexia), and Language-Processing Disorder (a disability which makes it difficult for me to process information I receive and to then regurgitate this information either on paper or verbally. It also makes it difficult for me
to retain information).

Learning Disabilities are commonly misunderstood, even though 4.6 million Americans report having one. This type of disability is treated as “less than” physical disabilities. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, “seven out of ten parents, educators, and members of the general public incorrectly link learning disabilities with intellectual disability” (NCLD, 2014). Because learning disabilities are invisible, those of us with them are treated poorly, and often not believed.

Without further ado, I give you 7 Things Not to Say to Someone With a Learning Disability:

1. “You don’t look like you have a disability.”
I have legit been told this before. Yes, much of this is ignorance, but please refrain from saying this to someone. There are many types of disabilities, and not all disabilities are visible ones.

2. “What happened?”
Most of us are born with them. For whatever reason, our brains are wired differently. It doesn’t mean we experienced some form of trauma in the womb or as young children.

3. “I would never think YOU had a learning disability!”
Newsflash: all types of people have learning disabilities. These disabilities don’t discriminate based on age, race, gender, etc. This is rude, because it’s incredibly judgmental. It really shows a person’s ignorance. Saying this to someone with a learning disability can really invalidate our experience and our diagnosis.

4. “Oh, do you have Dyslexia? I’ve heard of that.”
We don’t all have Dyslexia. There are many different types of learning disabilities. Please don’t assume that we all have the same one.

5. “Are you sure you’re not just using this as a crutch?”
One of my middle school science teachers asked me this. It was extremely hurtful, but I didn’t have the language at the time to articulate why. Saying this to someone with a learning disability is completely inappropriate. Asking this assumes we are lying about our disability and our need for accommodations. I’m not using it as a “crutch.” It’s all I know.

6. “Why are you allowed extra time on a test/project/etc? That’s unfair!”
Actually, it’s not unfair. All through school, part of my IEP (Individualized Education Plan) was to be given extra time for tests. Because tests are created in a one-size-fits-all way, giving a person with a learning disability extra time allows for somewhat of a level playing field. It takes many of us longer to process information, and then to show that information in the form of a test, so the extra time is necessary. Having extra time on a test never gave me a leg up--trust me--I did poorly on several tests even WITH extra time.

7. “I can help you overcome this!”
No. You can’t. This statement assumes a) you think you know what we’re dealing with, and b) that we must obviously want to be “fixed.” Learning disabilities don’t get better with time. Those of us with them just learn how to work with them more, and not against them. There is no “overcoming” our disability. And honestly, I wouldn’t want to. It’s a part of my identity. It’s a part of who I am, and how I think.

Lachrista Greco is a writer, speaker, activist, and Trauma-Informed/Adaptive yoga instructor. She is also the founder and CEO of Guerrilla Feminism, a global feminist resource network for activists. Lachrista has spoken at colleges, universities, and nonprofits about digital activism, learning disabilities, ItalianitĂ , domestic and sexual violence, and yoga. She has published two books. Lachrista lives in Madison, Wisconsin (with pieces of her heart in Rome), and plays BeyoncĂ© songs on her ukulele. Follow her on Twitter or check out her  website @ lachristagreco.com.