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Effective Practices for Teaching Writing to Students with Disabilities in the United States  

April Camping and Steve Graham

Writing is especially challenging for students with disabilities, as 19 out of every 20 of these students experience difficulty learning to write. In order to maximize writing growth, effective instructional practices need to be applied in the general education classroom where many students with special needs are educated. This should minimize special education referrals and maximize the progress of these students as writers. Evidence-based writing practices for the general education classroom include ensuring that students write frequently for varying purposes; creating a pleasant and motivating writing environment; supporting students as they compose; teaching critical skills, processes, and knowledge; and using 21st-century writing tools. It is also important to be sure that practices specifically effective for enhancing the writing growth of students with special needs are applied in both general and special education settings (where some students with disabilities may receive part or all of their writing instruction). This includes methods for preventing writing disabilities, tailoring instruction to meet individual student needs, addressing roadblocks that can impede writing growth, and using specialized writing technology that allows these students to circumvent one or more of their writing challenges.

Article

Dyslexia: Conceptualization, Assessment, and Intervention  

Julian G. Elliott

Scholars, teachers, clinicians, and the general public have puzzled over the nature and consequences of severe reading (decoding) problems for more than a century. With the advances of genetics, neuroscience, and psychology, we know much about the underlying nature of reading disability. However, we still have much to learn, and fierce debate continues about whether there is a subgroup of poor readers who can, or should, be called dyslexic. This issue has become highly contentious, as gaining the label can bring significant benefits in terms of resourcing, various forms of test and classroom accommodation, and more positive and understanding responses from others. Many clinicians argue that special cognitive tests are needed to identify and diagnose those with dyslexia. These may take the form of general tests of IQ, or measures of more specific cognitive or executive functioning. Despite their popularity, the evidence for the utility of such measures is low, and many of the processes examined are often problematic for all poor readers, not merely the subgroup deemed to have dyslexia. A further difficulty concerns intervention. There is no strong scientific support for the notion that intervention programs designed to improve underlying cognitive processes (e.g., memory processes) can successfully improve the reading accuracy of those who struggle to acquire literacy. Similarly, interventions geared to improve visual or motor functioning have not proven successful, despite often vociferous support from adherents. The only approach that has strong scientific support takes the form of an educational program that utilizes systematic, structured phonics teaching as part of a broader literacy curriculum. This finding applies equally to those who have been diagnosed as dyslexic and those poor readers who haven’t. For this reason, it is unclear how a dyslexia diagnosis helps to inform the nature of subsequent intervention. In establishing effective forms of intervention that can cater for any child who struggles with their reading, it would appear most efficacious to utilize what is known as a “response to intervention” approach. This requires early identification of, and intervention with, all those who are making limited progress. Intervention should only utilize those approaches that have strong scientific support. The nature and extent of additional educational support should be determined on the basis of the progress that is made when additional help is given. If insufficient progress has resulted, it may well be necessary to increase and intensify the intervention. Such an approach helps to ensure that all struggling children are helped at an early stage, and no one is missed because of an absence of parental advocacy or a lack of family resource that can cover the cost of diagnostic assessment.

Article

Evidence-Based Practices for Teaching Learners with Multiple Disabilities  

Vera Munde and Peter Zentel

Designing education for learners with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities (PIMD) is a special challenge for both professionals and researchers. Learners with PIMD experience a combination of significant intellectual and other disabilities, such as motor and sensory impairments. Heterogeneity in terms of combination and severity of disabilities is a common characteristic of this group. In the past, learners in this target group were described as not being able to learn due to the complexity of their disabilities. Recent studies do provide evidence that learners with PIMD are in fact able to learn, however, evidence-based practice for designing education for this group of learners is still scarce. One reason could be the difficulties associated with conducting intervention studies such as randomized controlled trials or controlled clinical trials with this target group. Most studies are designed as single-case studies. Hence, only a small number of studies have investigated topics such as communication, assessment, and teaching curricula to generate knowledge about the education of these learners. The most important conclusion of these studies is that all teaching activities need to be designed according to the strengths and needs of each individual learner with PIMD.

Article

Teacher Education and Inclusivity  

Sarah L. Alvarado, Sarah M. Salinas, and Alfredo J. Artiles

Inclusive teacher education (ITE) defines the professional training of preservice teachers to work in learning spaces encompassing students from all circumstances, regardless of race, linguistic background, gender, socioeconomic status, and special education needs (SEN). This preparation includes the content, pedagogy, and formative experiences required for teachers to work in inclusive schools. To fully understand ITE, it is necessary to examine what is meant by inclusive education (IE). Indeed, it is essential to explore ITE’s definition since scholars and teacher educators have struggled to agree on what is meant by IE. In addition to disagreements about IE’s definition, support for this idea and its implementation may vary due to the cultural, historical, and political differences specific to local contexts. For these reasons, it is necessary to recognize the inclusive policies, practices, and processes that often shape definitions and concepts related to ITE. Notwithstanding the ambitious meanings of ITE across the globe, researchers, professionals, and policymakers tend to emphasize a vision of teacher preparation for working with students with disabilities (SWD) or SEN. Also, there is no consensus about which particular aspects matter in teacher education programs, primarily based on ideological differences about the core goals of IE. These differences in views and beliefs have resulted in limited understandings and applications of ITE. For instance, a student with an SEN may also come from a family living in poverty, with no access to books in the home, or speak multiple languages, including languages that are not a part of their first (formal) educational experiences. In such circumstances, there is no agreement about whether ITE programs should focus on students’ linguistic, socioeconomic, learning differences, or multiple factors. We review the research on ITE in various national contexts. We also discuss how scholars have conceptualized the preparation of future teachers and the implications for greater clarity on how teacher preparation can improve IE in an increasingly diverse society.

Article

Evidence-Based Practices for Teaching Learners With Mild to Moderate Disabilities  

Rebekka J. Jez

With the rise in inclusive practices, information on evidence-based practices for teaching learners with mild to moderate disabilities is an important topic. Many professional and government organizations are working to disseminate this information to educators; however, the process can be thwarted by time, resources, training, and implementation of practices. By using multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) such as response to intervention (RtI) or positive behavior interventions and support (PBIS), schools can assess for, identify, and implement supports for all learners. If a learner continues to encounter challenges, even with high-quality teaching and strategies, then a more intensive intervention may be needed. One schoolwide change would be to use universal design for learning (UDL) to ensure strategies and supports are provided to all learners. Additionally, students may benefit from assistive technology. Teachers can learn about free and commercial evidence-based educational practices to create a safe environment, implement positive behavioral supports, and provide systematic, explicit instruction in academic areas of reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social sciences.

Article

Bringing a Humanistic Approach to Special Education Curriculum  

Michelle Parker-Katz and Joseph Passi

Special education curriculum is often viewed as an effort to provide ways for students with disabilities to meet specific academic and socio-/behavioral goals and is also heavily influenced by compliance with multiple legislative policies. Critical paths forward are needed to reshape a special education curriculum by using a humanizing approach in which students’ lived experiences and relatedness to self and others is at the core of study. Intentional study of how students and their families draw upon, develop, and help shape local supports and services that are provided through schools, along with community and governmental agencies and organizations, would become a major part of the new curricular narrative. However, the field of special education has been in large part derived from an epistemology rooted in science, positivism, and the medical model. The dominance of these coalescing epistemologies in educational systems has produced a myriad of structures and processes that implicitly dictate the ways special educators instruct, gather data, and practice. Core among those is a view that disability is synonymous with deficit and abnormality. What emerges is an entrenched and often implicit view that the person with disabilities must be fixed. In adopting a humanistic approach in which we value relationships, the funds of knowledge families have helped develop in their children and the identities individuals shape, and the linkages of persons with multiple community networks, the groundwork could be laid for a new curricular narrative to form. In so doing, the field could get closer to the grounding principle of helping all students with disabilities to thrive. For it is in communities that people can thrive and choose to participate in numerous life opportunities. In such a way curriculum is integral to lived experience, to the fullness and richness of lived experiences—lived experiences that include the study of academic subject matter along with the development of social and emotional learning.

Article

Sociocultural Perspectives on Curriculum, Pedagogy, and Assessment to Support Inclusive Education  

Missy Morton and Annie Guerin

Sociocultural perspectives on curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment support teachers in developing and implementing inclusive pedagogies. Sociocultural assessment approaches disregard impairment as an identity in itself, privileging the strengths and knowledge evident in observed interactions. A sociocultural approach to assessment recognizes the dynamic interaction between teaching, learning, and assessment, spread across people, places, and time. Where traditional forms of curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment focus on a decontextualized individual, a sociocultural perspective pays close attention to contexts. Teachers’ practices, expectations, and understandings of learning and diversity form a key part of the contexts. In culturally responsive paradigms, learning is recognized as sociocultural—being informed through interactions with others. All students are recognized and valued as people who gain experiences and knowledge across many contexts. Multiple perspectives are valued as shared understandings and constructions of learning are developed in response to observations and interactions in a community of learners—where students and teachers learn with and from each other. Teachers who recognize themselves as capable of teaching everyone in the class are more likely to recognize everyone as a learner, to think critically about their positioning and understanding of disability, and to plan teaching, learning, and assessment in inclusive ways of working.

Article

Forgotten but Crucial Aspects of Transition Planning for Inclusion  

Iva Strnadová

Transition planning can increase positive post-school outcomes and inclusion for students with intellectual disabilities. Kohler’s Taxonomy for Transition Programming 2.0 is a useful tool for all stakeholders engaged in transition planning for this population. Grounded in research, the Taxonomy highlights five key practices: (a) student-focused planning; (b) student development; (c) interagency collaboration; (d) family involvement; and (e) program structures and attributes. Student-focused planning, and especially the student’s active involvement in transition planning, tend to be forgotten when it comes to students with intellectual disabilities. While transition planning is oriented toward positive post-school outcomes in areas such as employment, independent living, and education, there are still two areas that remain largely ignored for students with intellectual disabilities—self-advocacy and sexuality education. Teachers, parents, and other relevant stakeholders need to provide more opportunities for development of self-advocacy skills, and for sexuality education. Kohler’s Taxonomy for Transition Programming 2.0 can serve as a useful tool when planning on how to integrate these two areas into transition-focused education.

Article

Students with Special Needs Who Are Gifted and Talented (Twice Exceptional)  

Nina Yssel, Kristie Speirs Neumeister, and Virginia Burney

Twice-exceptional (2e) students demonstrate both high ability and a disability. With their unique combination of advanced abilities and academic challenges, 2e learners do not fit neatly into a single category and often tend to get lost in the system. In spite of the fact that 2e students have been estimated to make up 2–9% of students with disabilities, they often remain unidentified due to the masking effect, in which one exceptionality masks the other, as well as their remarkable ability to compensate for areas of weakness. Once identified, programming presents challenges; for example, remediation may become the focus and the learner’s strengths ignored. In addition to providing enrichment and remediation, teachers have to consider the social-emotional needs of 2e students and how they learn. Problems with time management, organizational, and study skills not only result in frustration for students, parents, and teachers but also have a direct effect on 2e students’ academic performance. These students are characterized by a pattern of strengths and weaknesses, and programming should include support in their areas of need and validation of their strengths. When both exceptionalities are addressed successfully, 2e learners can reach their full potential.

Article

Effective Practices for Teaching All Learners in Secondary Classrooms  

Kate de Bruin

It is important to consider inclusive and effective teacher practices in secondary classrooms as distinct from other schooling levels and settings. Many years of inclusive education reforms have brought about increases in the numbers of students with disabilities who are educated in the regular school system. However, progress has been slower for secondary school students with disabilities, who remain more likely to be segregated from their peers and to receive a poorer-quality education, when compared to their primary school counterparts. This is because many barriers to student inclusion remain entrenched in the structure and organization of secondary schooling systems. These barriers often arise from seeing difficulties in learning and participating through a medical model and thus requiring diagnostic verification and specialist support, instead of seeing student difficulties in learning as arising from a social model of disability, in which student participation and progress are hampered by poor design or inflexibility in teaching practices and a lack of access to support. A large body of research exists to support the case for using a range of school-wide organization as well as classroom-based practices that effectively overcome these barriers, and provide high-quality and equitable academic and social supports to all students in the secondary school classroom. Those that foster collaboration and effective relationships between professionals and students, and that provide access to support on the basis of need rather than diagnosis, have been found to produce supportive environments in which diversity is valued, equity is maximized for all students, and social and academic outcomes are improved for all students.

Article

Arts and Disability  

Anna Hickey-Moody

Art is a significant source of expression for people with a disability and it also represents them in important ways. The work of artists with a disability can augment viewer’s feelings about them, or, to put this another way, the work of artists with a disability can create social change. Not all of the artwork made by artists with a disability is “about” disability, and this separation between being an artist with a disability who makes art, and making artwork examining disability, is often a crucial distinction to make for those involved in the development of disability arts as a social movement. In light of this distinction, art of all kinds can provide us with powerful knowledge about disability, while also facilitating an important professional career trajectory. When art is made by an artist with a disability, and is about disability-related issues, the work created is usually called disability arts. When the work is made by someone with a disability but is not about disability, it may not necessarily be considered disability arts. This collection of work that is less concerned with identity politics is important, and is also worthy of independent consideration.

Article

Evidence-Based Practices in Special Schooling  

David Mitchell

Increasingly, around the world, educators are being expected to draw upon research-based evidence in planning, implementing, and evaluating their activities. Evidence-based strategies comprise clearly specified teaching methods and school-level factors that have been shown in controlled research to be effective in bringing about desired outcomes in a specified population of learners and under what conditions, in this case those with special educational needs/disabilities taught in special schooling, whether it be in separate schools or classrooms or in inclusive classrooms. Educators could, and should, be drawing upon the best available evidence as they plan, implement, and evaluate their teaching of such learners. Since around 2010 there has been a growing commitment to evidence-based education. This has been reflected in: 1. legislation: for example, the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act in the United States, which encourages the use of specific programs and practices that have been rigorously evaluated and defines strong, moderate, and promising levels of evidence for programs and practices; 2. the creation of centers specializing in gathering and disseminating evidence-based education policies and practices, brokering connections between policy-makers, practitioners, and researchers; and 3. a growing body of research into effective strategies, both in general and with respect to learners with special educational needs. Even so, in most countries there is a significant gap between what researchers have found and the educational policies and practices implemented by professionals. Moreover, some scholars criticize the emphasis on evidence-based education, particularly what they perceive to be the prominence given to quantitative or positivist research in general and to randomized controlled trials in particular. In putting evidence-based strategies into action, a five-step model could be employed. This involves identifying local needs, selecting relevant interventions, planning for implementation, implementing, and examining and reflecting on the interventions.

Article

Differentiated Instruction and Inclusive Schooling  

Diana Lawrence-Brown

Differentiated instruction encompasses a wide range of responsive pedagogies, including individualized types and levels of curricula, teaching methods, materials, and assessment strategies. It has at its roots the impetus for effective inclusive schooling, providing supports directly within general education classrooms for students with the full range of exceptionalities (both significant disabilities and giftedness) and other diverse educational characteristics such as cultural and linguistic background and socioeconomic status. To effectively include students with higher levels of need, comparable levels of supports follow the student from the special education setting to the general education classroom. This enriched level of support in the general education classroom benefits not only students with disabilities, but the class as a whole. The legal and ethical bases for inclusive schooling are connected with various civil rights movements (including race, disability, culture and language, gender); it can be viewed as a response to segregated schooling (and denial of schooling altogether). Schools frequently remove students when traditional educational programs fail, adding on separate programs rather than rectifying the existing system. Such special programs have been routinely promulgated without substantial evidence of their effectiveness over supportive general education classrooms (either for segregated students or for their unlabeled general education peers). Important aspects of differentiated instruction and inclusive schooling include multilevel instruction; authentic and culturally responsive curricula, methods, and assessment; universal design for learning; assistive and instructional technologies; positive behavioral supports; and a collaborative team approach to instructional decision-making and delivery. Differentiated instruction and effective inclusive schooling are vital for equitable access to educational opportunities, bringing more responsive curricula, methods, and perspectives to increasingly diverse classrooms and schools.