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Many of our students are challenged by focusing on details in text or their own work. I love to recommend using Focus Tools as a way to provide support, and add some visual and tactile interaction to student work. In my workshops and webinars, I often share the following examples.
This week I received an email from Kirsten, a teacher at Holyoke High School. She had taken my suggestion to heart and created her own twist on the Focus Tool for teaching linear equations. I love that she could apply it to her own work in order to help students. Thanks, Kirsten, for all you do!
My inbox frequently contains questions about co-teaching, sent from teachers or administrators who are trying to become more inclusive. Recently, I received an email that included concerns raised by educators who want the best for the children they teach. With permission, here are the concerns and my responses.
1. IEP goals for students with disabilities are very specific. When these students are placed in the general education class, it is not possible to meet their needs or goals.
If the special education teacher is fully involved in planning and instructing, it is possible to meet student goals in a co-taught classroom. Some of the specially designed instruction (SDI) is built into whole group instruction and some of it is built into small group instruction. Co-teachers should plan for approximately 70% of their class time to be spent in small, teacher-led instructional groups.
It is important for the special education teacher to have the IEP goals readily accessible while planning and teaching, so that they can make the most of unexpected opportunities. They also need to be providing specially designed instruction on a daily basis. At times, I find that the specialist is underutilized in a co-taught classroom, more like a para-educator. Specialists need to self-advocate so that they can use their expertise in both planning and instruction.
2. Problems get worse as students move up through the grades. We see students falling behind, even in the resource room setting. They have a bigger learning gaps that can't be addressed in the general education classroom. Behaviors become a bigger issue, too.
It sure sounds as if self-contained or resource room services are not closing the gap, if the gap is getting bigger as students get older! Most schools do not have test scores that prove that pull-out is effective. Maybe it is time to try something different. The high expectations and curriculum depth that students access in a general education classroom can have a significant impact on their rate of learning. However, it is still crucial for students to receive small group instruction within the context of the co-taught classroom. In my experience, and those of many others, behaviors tend to improve in an effective co-taught class. Students have appropriate role models, there are four eyes instead of two, two bodies for proximity control, and the instruction is usually more engaging and responsive to student needs because of the different talents each teacher brings.
3. Many students are distracted in general education settings, especially students with ADHD. They are less distracted in a resource room setting.
It is true that we have students with attention issues. The role of the special education teacher is to instruct students in ways to self-monitor and manage their attention so that they can participate in society. Once they graduate, they will need to work in environments that include distractions, and they will not have a teacher right by their side. In addition, most students with disabilities do not generalize their learning well - so learning an attention strategy in a resource room is not likely to transfer to a general education setting. Finally, the co-teachers must plan for accommodations. What is the best seating location? Who are the best partners for small group work? Have we taught the class a volume control strategy? Are we using focusing tools such as highlighter tape, work masks, ear buds, etc.? Are we teaching students self-monitoring and self-advocacy skills? Before deciding students "can't" we must be confident that we have provided all the services we can.
Anne M. Beninghof
Anne's mission is to improve instruction through collaboration and the sharing of creative, practical ideas for educators.