A Change of Approach versus A Change In Placement
The number one reason that students with disabilities are moved to more restrictive environments is due to BEHAVIORS that are interfering with their learning or the learning of others in the classroom. Interestingly enough, what has been shown to be most impactful in changing the behavior of students with disabilities during instructional time doesn’t require a separate space to achieve. It’s some of the most simple things that can be done in any classroom. Finding a different instructional approach can negate the need to find a different instructional setting.
Instructional strategies are discrete teaching behaviors that can be used across instructional activities and formats and they do not require a specific setting to be successfully implemented. When a student with a disability is having a hard time progressing in a general education classroom, most IEP teams determine that the next course of action should be a more restrictive environment. I would beg to differ. I think that we need to exhaust the supports available in a general education setting before even considering a more restrictive environment. Some simple changes can make a difference in students who would otherwise be moved to another environment.
The following instructional strategies when done purposefully and with consistency, have been shown to increase academic participation and decrease disruptive classroom behaviors of students with disabilities…
1. Opportunities to Respond (OTR): Numerous studies have shown that low performing students are given less OTR than their higher performing peers. As a result, students with the most needs are given less opportunities for practice and feedback. With less curriculum-based teacher engagement, it is easier for SWD and lower performing students to remain off task and thus increase the problem behaviors. It’s only natural for a struggling student to think to themselves, “if I can’t participate meaningfully, what else can I do?” And thus the cycle of difficult behavior continues.
2. Praise: Lower performing students are less likely to receive praise as compared with their on level and above level peers. Teacher praise has a long history of being recognized as an effective teaching strategy. The more that students are praised, the more that they are engaged. The more OTR, the more chances to be praised.
3. Active Instruction: Active Instruction includes the presentation of academic material via lectures, discussion, demonstration, elaboration on student ideas (Stichter et.al.,2009). The more academic instruction provided, the higher student academic progress. Active instruction is most effectively achieved with students with behavioral/academic difficulties in a small group setting where there are more opportunities to respond than in a whole group setting, which is one of the major arguments for self contained settings. With that being said, we don’t need to move students to another space to achieve a small group setting. Small group settings can be achieved in regular education classrooms through support facilitation, paraprofessional support and increasing active instruction in teacher led centers.
(Good, 1970; Greenwood, Delquardri & Hall, 1984)
Here are some other considerations:
1. Ensure that a student who has behavioral difficulties has a recent Functional Assessment of Behavior and subsequent Behavior Intervention Plan. The parent can request a FBA as a part of a comprehensive evaluation. If there is a BIP in place and it’s not working, the team should reconvene to revise what they are doing. Just like the IEP, the BIP is a workable document. It’s not enough to create a BIP, say it’s not working and then move a child directly to a more restrictive environment.
2. Make sure that accommodations and modifications (as appropriate) are being made to allow access to the curriculum. If a student cannot read the text, it is likely they will misbehave. Increasing meaningful participation decreases unnecessary disruptions. In the example of not being able to read the text, providing the student with the text on tape could be a simple solution.
3. Consider Assistive Technology. Don’t just check a box that says it’s been considered and isn’t necessary. If a student is struggling, there is a good chance that an AT evaluation will reveal technology that could be helpful to increase meaningful participation. Don’t assume nothing will help, you aren’t an AT Specialist! Please be especially proactive in requesting an AT Evaluation with students who have limited communication/language and students who demonstrate difficulty writing or copying from the board. I am learning about new technology everyday and I have been to over 200 IEP Meetings.
4. Universal Design is setting up the classroom in a way that naturally accommodates and gives access to all students. “At its core, UDL encompasses three principles—that instructors should provide students with multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement. In lay terms, this means that, to the extent possible, instructors should (a) provide content or materials in multiple formats, (b) give learners multiple ways to show what they know, and (c) use multiple methods of motivating learners. The concept of UDL originated in 1984, when the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) first focused on how computer technology could enhance learning for students with learning disabilities.” (Kelly, 2014, Association of Colleges and Universities)
In summation, as educators and supporters of inclusive education, we can choose to be creative and think outside of the box in order to keep students with disabilities in their least restrictive environment and to the maximum extent possible learning alongside their non-disabled peers. We need to move away from an all or nothing approach to inclusion and reject this idea that either the student sinks or swims. This is not fair. By being cognizant of the frequency with which we are implementing proven teaching strategies, we can make a difference. No, not every case is so simple as paying attention to how often we are facilitating the above, and yes there are some cases that require a more tailored and multifaceted approach. BUT truly we underestimate how a change in approach and awareness in our practices can be the difference in individuals students lives and ultimately shift the perception that they require another setting to meet their needs.
We hope this article has helped.
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Krista Barth, Special Needs Advocate