You write that your book Inclusion & CCSS Supports for Students & Staff provides the missing link between inclusion and Common Core State Standards. How so?
I’ve created a model for teachers to work with called ADMIRE. The steps are assess and activate, then decide and delineate, model and monitor, instruct and involve, reflect and revise, and engage and enrich. Each step is covered in detail in my book. I hope these steps help delete the panic a teacher can feel in an inclusive classroom and replace it with powerful strategies.
Why did you choose the particular strategies in the ADMIRE model?
The strategies are evidence-based practices that say, “There are things to do that are effective.” For example, we know that students learn better in cooperative learning situations. Why not set up a classroom that has that? Another important one is self-regulation. The awareness a student has of where he is in the learning process is crucial, and a lot of modeling and monitoring (the “M” in ADMIRE) comes straight from the Common Core. These are chosen to relate to the people who are going to be involved in the student’s learning process―the specialists, the students, and the family. It is also vital not to sacrifice one group for the other in an inclusive classroom, honoring all students, including those who may need enrichment, reinforcement, and/or more instruction.
When teachers have an inclusive classroom with individualized education programs, what happens to the overachieving or high-achieving students? How does a teacher ensure they are challenged academically?
That is where a universal design for learning (UDL) approach is essential. Delete the learning surprises and replace them with CCSS preparation. Anchor and sponge activities allow for advancement opportunities to play with the learning. As an example, a student might be saying, “I’m finished; what do I do now?” If teachers say, “Turn to the next page,” that may not be appropriate as the class has not gotten to that work yet. So have sponge activities set up that are enriching for higher learners. You could do something like set up a classroom newspaper and ask the higher achieving students to write an article about what they learned in social studies that day. This newspaper can be printed every month for the classroom and/or school. We need to make it fun yet have purposeful literacy connections that allow students of all levels to shine. The Common Core isn’t going to work if it’s presented through skill and drill. However, offering challenges does not have to be overwhelming for either staff or students.
You mention that teachers may see a cultural difference as a disability. How so? And what is your response?
When a student from another culture isn’t keeping up in class, educators need to assess if the student doesn’t understand the concept, vocabulary, and/or assignment requirements due to a differing background and prior knowledge. It’s important not to immediately believe a disability of some sort is present. A teacher could have a student in her class who is migrant, so that child is moving from state to state, school district to school district, following parents who are going wherever they find work. Children in this situation don’t get continuity in school, so they fall behind. For some students, maybe they aren’t migrant, but their school in their country is set up differently. What a nine-year-old studies in his or her own country doesn’t correlate with fourth grade in the United States, so the student has learned different material in his or her country than is being taught here. And for some students, it’s simply a language issue or inappropriate assessment, not a disability.
You write, “Staff must ensure that evidence-based practices are present and capitalized on to help learners with both higher- and lower-ability levels achieve the Common Core standards.” What are some examples of evidence-based practices?
Some of the evidence-based practices that I emphasize in the book have to do with differentiation of instruction―universal design for learning (UDL) and understanding by design (UbD). UbD asks teachers to think about what they want students to achieve before designing instruction. Evidence-based practices also include domains such as cooperative learning and problem/project-based learning. We know children learn a lot in peer environments. Evidence-based instruction takes into consideration that someone with dyscalculia can’t learn in an abstract way so he or she needs a more concrete kind of presentation with a program like Touch Math. For that student, feeling the numbers will have more meaning. A student with dyslexia would benefit from the Orton Gillingham approach, which is evidence-based. Research shows that students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more visual learners, but they can’t have sensory overload, so a teacher finds a way to teach to that child’s strengths, honoring the experts in the field who present their evidence-based ASD findings in journals
Why do you advise teachers to review the standards from the previous, current, and upcoming years in a side-by-side view?
A teacher can look at the standards and see what a student previously struggled with. If the student is still having trouble in that area, the teacher can devise a way to keep the situation from spiraling. If the student’s performance is the same, the teacher can still look for creative ways to enrich what the student is already learning. A teacher can also look at a student’s successes and build on them in preparation for the upcoming year’s goals. Looking at prior or subsequent standards allows teachers to be proactive in devising standards-based learning strategies.
You write that “teachers are facilitators of knowledge, not exclusive disseminators” and that it is “vital to monitor student progress and fade support.” Why is this important?
Simply put, the person who does most of the work is the person who learns the most. Teachers are the ones who set up the lessons and goals, review the journals, and monitor progress, but in certain ways they need to be more like facilitators. They need to set things up so students do the work. If we keep spoon-feeding students, we’re not allowing them to mess up, which is how they are going to learn and make the adjustments. Teachers should motivate and help students achieve independence. Students may need a little bit of monitoring, but it’s important that they are accountable for their learning. Adaptations are helpful, but so is a plan to fade support. Plan, guide, instruct, and monitor, but then allow the students to own their learning.
You also mention that “inclusion allows students to achieve learning and behavioral strides alongside peers, who will one day be their coworkers.” You’ve discussed the benefits of inclusion strategies for special needs students, but what are the advantages for their peers?
There are enormous benefits to peers, and research supports this. Students who learn alongside children with disabilities are more accepting during school years and in adulthood. They don’t view a difference as a deficit if they’ve been in a classroom atmosphere where everyone is embraced. It’s the idea of neurodiversity—different is not bad. Brains are simply wired differently.
You say that keeping a positive attitude toward instructing students with disabilities is nonnegotiable. How does a teacher’s attitude affect student achievement?
A teacher’s attitude can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I believe in September that a child will not keep up, I guarantee you by June that child will fail. It’s just going to happen because I already believe she won’t make it. However, if I go in thinking, It’s going to be a great year for my student with autism. How can I make that happen and who can help me make that happen?, I can find a lot of ways to make it work and many people who would be willing to collaborate with me―especially the student.
Can a child push past a teacher’s negativity to achievement?
It depends on what support and messages the student is getting at home. Some kids who get a message that they’re okay at home may have the strength to overcome a teacher’s negativity. But if the message at home matches the one at school and it’s negative, then the student is going to have a hard time rising above that.
And finally, what would you consider the major takeaway from your book for teachers and school leaders?
It’s important that we use evidence-based practices with the students and that we give them meaningful participation opportunities in general education classes. We don’t say that a student cannot achieve the Common Core. We say, “As a team, how are we going to engage that student with the curriculum, and how are we going to have high expectations of the student?” We need to meet the needs of every learner because every learner deserves postsecondary options with vigorous academic preparation.