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Article

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

Christopher Boyle, George Koutsouris, Anna Salla Mateu, and Joanna Anderson

Understanding how best to support all learners to achieve their goals is a key aspect of education. Ensuring that educators are able to be provided with the best programs and knowledge to do this is perfectly respectable. But what is “evidence” in education, and at what point is it useful and informative in inclusive education? The need exists for a better understanding of what should constitute evidence-based inclusive education. Research with a focus on evidence-based practices in special and inclusive education has been increasing in recent years. Education intervention, by its very definition, should be tailored to suit individuals or groups of learners. However, immediately this is at odds with the gold standard of research intervention, that of randomized control trials; however, there are many advocates for evidence-based practice confirming to the highest form of research methodology. This seems laudable, and who could argue with wanting the best approaches to inform programs and teaching in all facets of education? Nevertheless, the requirements for research rigor mean that it is not practically possible to measure interventions in inclusive education so that they are generalizable across the many students who need support, because the interventions must be specific to individual need and therefore are not generalizable, nor are they intended to be. A narrow approach to what is evidence-based practice in education is unhelpful and does not take into consideration the nuances of inclusive education. Evidence of appropriate practice in inclusive education entails much more than robust scientific methodologies can measure, and this should be remembered. “Good” education is inclusive education that may or may not be recognized as evidence-based practice.

Article

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by levels of inattention or hyperactivity and impulsivity that are developmentally inappropriate. ADHD affects approximately 3–12% of children, with more boys being diagnosed than girls. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies ADHD as (1) combined inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity; (2) predominantly inattention; and (3) predominantly hyperactivity/impulsivity. Conversely, the International Classification of Diseases requires the presence of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity for a diagnosis of hyperkinetic disorder, the European label for ADHD. ADHD is a complex disorder that requires a rigorous diagnostic process that typically begins with a detailed family, developmental, medical, psychiatric, academic, and behavioral history. The next step involves a variety of assessments in areas including but not limited to neurological, intellectual, academic achievement, memory, attention, concentration, executive functioning, response inhibition, and behavior. One of the challenges in diagnosing ADHD is ruling out the nature of any comorbid conditions and ascertaining the primary condition should more than one secondary condition be identified. A variety of treatment and intervention approaches exist for children and youth with ADHD. The most common and most evidence-based approaches include the use of cognitive behavioral interventions, psychostimulant medication, or a combination of the two. In addition, a variety of instructional strategies have been found to be effective, particularly when combined with self-regulatory strategies, executive control, and active learner participation with a teacher or adult mediator. There is continuing debate as to whether learners with ADHD are better served in general classrooms or in more specialized settings. However, the solution is not to use one approach instead of the other. An effective program should meet the needs of learners using the appropriate combination of specialized supports and general classroom practices. Implementing such programs can place a lot of demand on individual teachers. The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach is designed to support teachers in responding to diverse learning needs and to focus on the limitations of the classroom environment rather than on the limitations of the learner has been developed and is demonstrating promise. UDL incorporates differentiated instruction to focus on curricular design techniques that emphasize setting motivational factors pertinent to learning, finding alternative and interesting ways to represent the material to be learned, and enabling alternative ways for learners to express their knowledge. Combined with creating safe and supportive classrooms for all learners, UDL affords a more planful approach, so responding to learning differences is not seen as an add-on but as an integral component of the teaching/learning process that combines various tiers of instruction aimed at meeting a wider range of learner strengths and needs.

Article

The question of how best to teach learners who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) is perhaps the oldest topic in any area of education for children with diverse learning needs. Developments in a number of fields have accounted for more DHH learners achieving educational outcomes commensurate with their hearing-age peers than at any point in that long history. Efforts to further develop and implement effective educational practices with these learners continue, with an abundance of interventions proposed in the literature and in practice. Despite this, evidence for their efficacy remains limited. Such evidence as there is tends to be drawn from observations of professional practice and not always from the outcomes of high-quality research. This is not to say that a lack of research evidence for a particular educational practice means that it is necessarily ineffective or should not be used. Rather, it is to acknowledge the preeminence of quality research outcomes as the cornerstone of an evidence-base for educational practice with DHH learners while recognizing that contributions can come from two other sources: the expertise and experiences of professionals involved in the education of DHH learners in educational settings, and the views and preferences of DHH learners and their families about how the best educational outcomes can be achieved. The vast majority of DHH learners are educated in regular classrooms alongside their hearing peers, including a significant minority whose primary or preferred language is a signed language. Questions of how best to facilitate access to regular classrooms for those DHH learners are inextricably linked to issues in three areas: (a) communication, language, and literacy; (b) classroom access; and (c) pedagogical practices and other educational supports. The first area covers the unique set of challenges that relate to DHH learners acquiring a language (i.e., whether that be spoken or signed) and how best to support their ongoing development and use of their communication, language, and literacy skills in the classroom. The other two sets of issues, relate to the difficulties that are typically encountered by DHH learners in gaining access to the regular classroom curriculum through their preferred language and mode of communication (i.e., how best to access the auditory and visual environment of the classroom on an equitable basis with their hearing peers), and how best to support that access through instructional techniques and/or specialist support services. In all three areas there remains the challenge of assembling an evidence base for practice from quality research evidence.

Article

Timothy J. Lewis, Courtney Jorgenson, Jessica Simpson, and Trisha Guffey

Student problem behavior continues to significantly impact student academic, social, and emotional functional in school and post-school. Positive behavior support (PBS) focuses on identifying and teaching prosocial behavior and providing environmental supports to increase the likelihood that students will fluently use prosocial skills across school environments. Directly teaching prosocial social skills, discrete behaviors that lead to important social outcomes for the student, has been an advocated strategy for decades. Effective social skill instruction follows a direct instruction format and are taught through a “tell-show-practice” format whereby the teacher provides a definition of the skill and under what conditions it should be used (tell), then provides examples and non-examples of the social skill (show), followed by students using the skill in role-play situations based on natural school contexts (practice). Key to success, of course, is providing multiple opportunities to practice across all school settings with multiple adults to build fluency and generalized responding. Social skill instruction is one component of increasing student “social competency.” Social competence is defined as using the appropriate social skill, as defined by the students’ peers, adults, and larger community standards, to get their needs met. Social skill instruction should focus on improving overall student social competence, and not simple discrete skill mastery. Recent work expanding PBS across all school settings (i.e., school-wide) through a continuum of tiered instruction and environmental support strategies has demonstrated improved social competence among all students, including those at risk and with disabilities.

Article

The rising number of students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in schools, and the unique characteristics of these students, has led many educators and parents to question the types of programs and strategies that are most effective in supporting them to achieve within school climates and curriculum of the early 21st century. Moreover, educators and parents must sort through the plethora of information and reports of interventions and treatments claiming to treat or cure autism in order to determine what strategies will best support their children or students. A number of studies have focused on determining the evidence base of specific practices for students on the autism spectrum. However, only a few have investigated the applicability of these strategies in inclusive school environments or specifically employed strategies to address academic needs. This has created a research-to-practice gap for educators working with students on the autism spectrum in inclusive school settings. More promising are studies which have highlighted elements of effective practice in education programs. An analysis of this research reveals four principles of best practice for schools and educators working with students on the autism spectrum: provision of a supportive and structured learning environment for staff and students; consistent provision of child-centered and evidence-based curriculum and instruction; multidisciplinary engagement and collaboration; and meaningful communication and collaboration between families and schools. These principles provide a framework for teachers and parents to work alongside students on the autism spectrum to plan, implement and evaluate strategies that can be embedded and implemented in the class program and are effective in supporting the specific needs of individual students on the autism spectrum.

Article

Evelyn S. Johnson

Response to intervention (RTI) is a framework that can help ensure the academic strengths and needs of students are met effectively and efficiently. Patterned on a public health model of prevention, the focus of RTI is on preventing and intervening for academic challenges through a system of increasingly intensive supports, where the least intensive but most effective option is the most desirable. RTI models consist of the key essential components of effective inclusive instruction, universal screening, progress monitoring, data-based instructional decision-making, tiered levels of evidence-based and culturally responsive interventions, and fidelity of implementation. When the RTI framework is well implemented, most students are successful in the general education environment. In the general education classroom, teachers provide quality core, or Tier 1, instruction for all students. Even with high-quality instruction, however, not all students will be successful. Between 10 and 15% of the student population will likely need more intensive academic support at some point during their schooling, typically referred to as Tier 2 intervention. Tier 2 provides a system of evidence-based intervention, designed to meet the needs of most students at risk for poor academic outcomes. Tier 2 interventions are meant to be short in duration, focused on improving skill deficits that interfere with students’ success, and comprised of systematic approaches to providing student support. For some students whose needs cannot be met through Tier 1 or 2 instruction, an even more intensive level of intervention will be required. Tier 3 consists of specially designed interventions to support the needs of students who require a more individualized, intensive instructional program. Through this multi-leveled prevention system, the RTI framework provides supports to students that are appropriate to their needs within an environment of equity, efficiency, and accountability. With a well-structured, rigorous implementation of RTI, schooling becomes much more fluid and responsive to meet student needs.

Article

George W. Noblit

Meta-ethnography is a very popular method for the synthesis of qualitative research. It was designed for the field of education but has been exceedingly popular in the health sciences. In education, slow growth has given way to almost furious development. Meta-ethnography is a method for synthesizing qualitative studies. Studies are identified as related to a phenomenon of interest and these are reviewed and read repeatedly, leading to both a reduction in the number of relevant studies and further specification of the phenomenon of interest. The synthesis is a translation of the complete interpretive storylines of each study into the others. There are three types of translation: reciprocal (the storylines are commensurate and reinforce each other), refutational (the storylines critique each other), and line of argument. Each study contributes something distinct to a new storyline that characterizes all the studies taken together. Effecting these translations remains a challenge for most who conduct meta-ethnographies. The work in the 21st century in education has established meta-ethnography as an interpretive and critical endeavor, moving well beyond the original proposal.

Article

Mike McLinden, Graeme Douglas, Rachel Hewett, Paul Lynch, and Jane Thistlethwaite

Vision impairment is a broad term that captures a wide range of reduction in visual function and includes ocular and cerebral conditions. Learners with vision impairment are a heterogeneous population within which there is a wide spectrum of characteristics, ability, and needs. The profile of these characteristics, including the nature and cause of the vision impairment, varies between countries: in high-income countries it is common for childhood vision impairment to coexist with other disabilities, including learning disabilities; in many low-income countries, higher numbers of children with vision impairment (where known) have either conditions associated with poverty and poor public health or refractive errors that could be corrected with corrective lenses. These differences have an important bearing upon the appropriate educational, social and/or health intervention. Childhood vision impairment is associated with particular developmental and educational needs which are primarily linked to reduced access to learning opportunities, such as limited opportunities to explore their environment, learn through incidental experiences, and develop motor skills by observing and copying others. Key educational responses to these access needs suggest that educational input tends to be in two complementary forms: (a) access to learning emphasizes environment adjustment and accessible/universal approaches to teaching; (b) learning to access emphasizes targeted teaching provision supporting the child or young person to learn independence skills and develop personal agency to facilitate independent learning and social inclusion (and this includes specialist interventions such as mobility training, access technology, and low vison training). It is recognized that practitioners involved in supporting this educational access must pay particular attention to balancing these approaches. Therefore, they must seek to target longer-term educational outcomes (associated with learning to access) as well as immediate access needs (associated with access to learning). Equitable teaching approaches for learners with vision impairment should explicitly focus on promoting a “balanced curriculum” throughout a given educational timeline to ensure that learners can participate within education as well as have opportunities to develop educational outcomes needed to succeed later in life. Specialist practitioners have a central role in overseeing such development, facilitating the progressive nature of curriculum access with an increased emphasis on promoting learning to access. A bioecological systems perspective provides a powerful lens through which to analyze the various influences on achieving such a balance within different national and societal contexts. This perspective provides opportunities to consider implications within, and between, contexts and settings to ensure all learners with vision impairment have equitable opportunities to education through a holistic and lifelong learning perspective and are therefore suitably prepared for life within and outside school.

Article

In light of the need to prepare reflective and effective teachers who can differentiate their instruction to support the learning of all students in inclusive classrooms, this article describes the collaborative process faculty have used to incorporate universal design for learning (UDL) and evidence-based practice (EBP) into an inclusive teacher education program’s curriculum and practicum experiences. Initially, faculty mapped the curriculum by agreeing upon a common definition of UDL and EBP, reviewing the research to create EBP documentation charts, which were used to constructing self-assessment tools known as innovation configurations (IC). Faculty used the IC to identify and address the strengths and gaps within the program’s courses and clinical experiences and align courses with online interactive instructional resources related to UDL and EBP. To bridge the gap between research and practice and guide educators in making evidence-informed decisions, faculty developed a 10-step practice-based evidence assessment and instructional model to collect and analyze classroom-based data about the efficacy, acceptability, and fidelity of one’s instructional practices and use of UDL and EBP. Faculty revised and field-tested a lesson plan template that prompted educators to personalize their instruction and make it more explicit by addressing such factors as student diversity and collaboration, and employing UDL, EBP, instructional and assistive technology and formative and summative assessment. Faculty also redesigned the program’s lesson observation form used to better evaluate preservice teachers working in inclusive classrooms and provide them with feedback related to their effective use of EBP, UDL, instructional and assistive technology, and assessment and classroom management strategies. The lesson observation form also was revised to make it more reflective of the program’s curriculum reform efforts related to the use of UDL and EBP, and to align it with the national teacher education accreditation standards, national and statewide teacher evaluation, curriculum and teacher education certification standards.

Article

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

Communication is about working together to create shared meaning. It usually requires at least two people (one acting as the sender, and one or more acting as the receiver), uses a particular code (which may involve either conventional or unconventional signals), may take linguistic or nonlinguistic forms, and may occur through speech or other modes. In the classroom context, spoken language is typically the preferred mode of communication and the primary medium through which teaching and learning takes place. For learners with speech and langue disabilities, this is problematic. Communication does not develop in a vacuum. Cognitive and social routes are both important and therefore evidence-based practices (EBP) that impact on both need to be considered. In an attempt to delineate evidence-based strategies from assumptions or commonly accepted practices that have become “teaching folklore,” three aspects should be considered: (a) the best available research evidence that should be integrated with (b) professional expertise (using for example observation, tests, peer assessment, and practical performance) as well as (c) the learner’s and his/her family’s values. EBP thus recognizes that teaching and learning is individualized and ever-changing and therefore will involve uncertainties. Being aware of EBP enriches service delivery (in this case teaching practice) and enables teachers to support their learners to achieve high-quality educational outcomes. Research has shown that high expectations from teachers have a significant influence on the development of academic skills for children with speech and language disability. Teachers should therefore be empowered to understand how they can set up the environment in such a way that responsive, enjoyable interaction opportunities can be created that will enable learners to develop a sense power and control which are important building block for learning. They also need to understand the important role that they play in shaping behavior through the provision of consistent feedback on all communication behaviors and that communication entails both input (comprehension) and output (expression). Four teaching approaches that have some evidence base for learners with significant speech and language disabilities include: a) communication passports: this is a means through which idiosyncratic communication attempts can be captured and shared enabling everyone in the learner’s environment to provide consistent feedback on all communication attempts; b) visual schedules: a variety of symbols (ranging from objects symbols to graphic symbols) can be used to represent people, activities, or events to support communication. Visual schedules signal what is about to happen next and assists learners to predict the sequence of events, to make choices, and to manage challenging behavior; c) partner training: as communication involves more than one person, communication partner (in this case teachers) training is required in order to ensure responsivity; d) aided language stimulation: this classroom-based strategy attempts to provide a strong language comprehension foundation by combining spoken language with pointing to symbols, thereby providing learners with visual supplementation.