The Value of Inclusive Education for All Students

Special Needs Inclusion
Special Needs Inclusion

 

The Value of Inclusive Education for All Students

Inclusive Education and successful inclusive schools are not just good for some students, it’s practice that’s good for all students. Time and time again we have seen that the same principles that make inclusive education work for students with disabilities, provide other students in the very same classroom with benefit. Being exposed to diverse ways of thinking and diverse learning styles prepares students for life after school. At the very core of school life is the focus on preparing students for life after school. There is no separate class of life after school, therefore, separate classrooms should only be used when absolutely necessary and for an interim period with specific purposes and goals. When a student is in a more restrictive environment the active goal of the school based team should be to provide the student with interventions and skills that allow him or her to return as promptly as possible to their peers and to greater exposure and access to the curriculum.

Universal design in education gives students with disabilities access in a natural and inclusive manner, but also is evidence based in reaching and teaching all students- let’s face it, we all learn differently and hold areas of weakness. Children learn compassion, empathy and go from simply accepting disability to embracing the inclusion of all members of their school. Inclusive Education puts in perspective that there is not a set standard of what intelligence is, that intelligence comes in many different forms and if we can appreciate what someone has to bring to the table and integrate that strength into the classroom, we are all better for it. This way of thinking helps promote healthy self esteem and self concept for all students. The idea is that one must not meet a certain standard or first be like others to be included. This puts things in perspective for other minority groups and makes it easier for students at large to embrace a world of differences from religious, to ethnic to politically diverse views.

Students with disabilities that learn in regular education classrooms often have IEP’s in place that call for collaborative efforts between the general education teacher and the special education teacher, this has been shown to have a benefit for ALL classroom learners, as the SPED teacher will often facilitate differentiated instruction in classroom centers and contributes learning materials and thinking strategies that benefit regular education struggling learners to the gifted learner. Modeling of social skills and coping strategies for emotional regulation that are proactively modeled in the inclusive classroom, are great for typical students to witness and be a part of. If we are honest, we all need mindfulness, positive self talk and better coping strategies for when life gets hard. One to one aides assigned to an IEP student, are often a great help to the class as a whole in facilitating organized small and whole group activities. The regular consultation that special education and regular education teachers partake in to make inclusive classrooms successful, improves learning outcomes for everyone. Numerous studies have shown the benefit of peer modeling/peer tutoring in the regular education classroom and that it’s serves as a beneficial practice for both the student mentor and the mentee. When we teach something to someone, we internalize and expand upon that skill ourselves.

The most intangible and meaningful aspect of inclusive education is the invaluable life lesson it teaches: that we are all counted for, included, and the message that schools have the chance to send all students and teachers- that there are no “others” in our school.

It’s critical to understand that inclusive education is NOT simply about students with and without disabilities sharing the same physical space. Inclusive education must be viewed by school communities as more than just a legal mandate*, but a venture of the heart.

When I attended a school holiday music performance for my daughter, Arielle, I witnessed an “inclusive” but divided stage and truthfully it made me uncomfortable. The self contained class that pushes into music and other special area classes was stationed on one side of the stage with their aide and the rest of the students, including my daughter, were together. I didn’t understand exactly why this practice was in place, other than it was likely always the way that things had be done- an age old practice that carried over. The subliminal message to other students in my daughter’s class was, “they are here, but they really aren’t a part of our class”. I know that adults that carry out these antiquated practices are not doing so to intentionally brainwash children to believe that they are separate and superior to their disabled peers, but yet and still this is the outcome. What I would rather have seen would have been that the six children that pushed into Arielle’s music class were placed next to role model students and that the aide stood back and provided support when needed or modeled for the children that were familiar with her face to the side of the music teacher who was directing from below the podium.

While successful inclusive education takes more upfront effort, planning and creativity from all supporting adults, it is certainly worth the effort for all students.

*The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensure students with disabilities are education in their least restrictive environment. Go to the US Department of Educations website to read about your child’s entitlement to a Free Appropriate Education.

The Coronavirus… Schools Are Shut Down- Now What? 

The Cohen Kids

A Parents Guide

By, Allison Cohen- Guest Blogger & My Educational Solutions Parent

If you are anything like me, the thought of school being closed, at least through mid-April, is overwhelming.  There seem to be almost more hours in the day when we feel like we need to fill them. How do we keep our kids from getting too far off track?  Whether especially emotional, special-need or neurotypical, children (and parents) of all ages will have some big feelings through this pandemic shut-down.

Some days will be better than others.  The best we can do is to provide a calm example for our kids to assure them they are safe and secure.  I am hopeful that some extra planning ahead will help to give both parents and their kids a common direction and sense of purpose, which are hard to create even when life is “normal” so I realize this is no easy task.  In this article, I will share some ideas I will use in my own house, and I hope they are helpful to you too.

My most important strategy that will guide me through this unstructured time is to PROVIDE STRUCTURE.  We will not be picking up where the teachers left off, but we can create some expectations for our kids to prevent them from sitting in front of the tv all day in their pajamas, at least on weekdays.  Having a visual schedule to follow will help ease the transition back into school when the time comes, and it will also help us, as parents, to not get overwhelmed at the thought of weeks or months at home.

I have discovered a wealth of resources on the internet to help guide us in creating schedules and managing emotions for our kids.  I have often heard of khanacademy.org, but have never checked it out until now.  It is very academic, and provides free access to courses from grade school through high school, and beyond.  I may incorporate a few lessons, but this will not be my focus. (If your child is hungry for academic stimulation, it might be just right.)  My main reason for mentioning this website, is that they have created a sample schedule for all grade levels of school, from pre-school through senior year of high school, specifically designed for parents during this extended time at home.  I plan to use this as a template and fill it in with activities that are not overly demanding, but challenging or interesting enough to be engaging.

Another resource currently providing free access to material is scholastic.com.  I would call these more “human interest” stories and I think these will be fun to read.  Again, subject matter is provided for a variety of grade levels.

There are several websites and institutions that offer “virtual field trips” and I am excited to add those to our schedule once or twice a week.  This is something that could appeal to multiple ages, which is great for me, since I have a daughter age 16, and a son, age 11. Having common ground for them to connect will only make the hours at home more pleasant.  Look for theeducatorsspinonit.com for 30 options for these virtual trips.  They include everything from museums, to national landmarks, and everything in between, all over the world.

We have been making use of many podcasts recently, and this will be another area I will expand.  They are an excellent free resource, and you can find them on almost every subject. Our favorites include Big Life Kids, Brains On!, WOW in the World, Dream Big and many more.  At night, we like to listen to Peace Out, Smiling Mind, or Honeybee Kids. These guide you through deep breathing and other mindful calming exercises. Do the exercises together and they will benefit you both!

One visit to weareteachers.com will keep you busy all day!  They have suggestions for podcasts, TED talks, free printables, brain breaks, virtual field trips and so much more!

Other sites you may want to check out that include free material, free 30 day trials, and/or paid memberships include the following:

See ixl.com which is also available as an app, K-12 content

Go to funbrain.com and arcademics.com for arcade style educational games, K-6

The site storylineonline.net features well known actors narrating books and if you have a kid who loves space, see storytimefromspace.com where real astronauts read stories about space actually from space!!

Look at reading.ecb.org which will bring you to a site called “Into the Book” for reading comprehension activities in both English and Spanish

Younger kids may like adaptedmind.com which is a cute math and reading activity site with a monster theme, K-8

We always have our old stand-by google.com and pinterest.com, where you can search for any topic of interest and find great new ideas.  You can also do more general searches like “educational netflix shows for kids” or “virtual field trip” and instantly have a list of options at your fingertips.  Pinterest will be a go-to source for other creative artsy type activities as well.

Aside from needing to keep busy, our kids will surely have some very real worries about the Corona Virus.  Children’s reactions will vary, so there is certainly no “one size fits all” advice in this situation. I have found nctsn.org (National Child Traumatic Stress Network) to be very informative.  One especially helpful feature is a chart of coping strategies by age group.  It also includes links to other helpful sites, specifically geared toward coping during this crisis.  Additionally, a google.com search of “kid friendly explanation of corona virus” will bring up many options that may help your individual child understand at their level.

Some of our kids will have reactions in the form of BEHAVIOR, of course.  Providing structure will help, but you may need more behavior management type activities also.  Over the years, we have worked with various behavior therapists and here are some of our more successful strategies.

Incentives – token boards, first/then visuals, checklists, rewards, etc.  For example, first we will watch this video, then you can have some free time.  Or, have 5 spaces on a token board (which doesn’t have to be fancy, can be on paper) and take a free time break after all of those 5 tokens are earned for completing activities.

At our house, I usually put a visual schedule on our big whiteboard, with a space to check off each activity.  Depending on what motivates your child, they can earn an items for each check or mark on the board. My son feels a sense of accomplishment when he marks the board for each completed item and sees his progress.  He earns a specified amount of ipad time for each check (homework assignment or activity) completed, but the reward could also be watching an episode of a favorite show, or even a few minutes added to bedtime for each group of checks if you have bedtime struggles.  It’s all about motivation!

Timers – if you have a visual timer, that may help add an ending point to an activity or free time break, so it is clear how much time they have left.  Give warnings at 5, 3 and 1 minute intervals to help smooth the transition to another activity. There are many visual timers available as apps on iTunes.  Or, if your child is like mine, they have certain favorite topics they like to discuss repeatedly. This will need to be managed carefully while they are off from school for so long.  The timer can be used to set a limit for this and help organize their minds for other activities.

Movement – it is well documented that movement can be a tremendous help in managing behavior.  My son’s very favorite website is GoNoodle.com. I encourage you to check it out if your child is in elementary school or even preschool.  It includes a lot of learning activities well-disguised as fun and mindfulness activities to calm our senses.  It also includes a collection of silly characters who “level up” or change features for each group of activities completed.

If your child is a worrier, this may also lead to some undesirable behaviors.  If possible, I suggest you designate certain segments of the day to discuss worries.  You can have your child (or you) write down worries as they come up, and put them into a box.  At “worry time” you can get the notes out and discuss them. I found this thing on amazon.com called a worry eater.  It is basically a plush doll with a zipper mouth to “eat” all of your worries.  They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Ours is a pirate. Often, just the act of writing down the worry is helpful in itself and we don’t need to discuss it again.

One thing I have learned for sure through our journey is that change creates elevated behaviors and push back.  It may get worse before it gets better. The more structure you can provide, the less insecure your child may feel.  It will take time to adjust and settle into a new routine as this is a major upheaval for us all. When you implement a schedule of activities, start with all preferred activities to get them into the habit of following the schedule.  Gradually, you can add more expectations, learning games, and academics if you wish.

I have no doubt that some days I will be at my wit’s end from being home bound for so long.  I realize that the advice I have shared is all “easier said than done” and it is for me too. Our schedule might be tossed now and then in favor of stress eating and binge watching.  Hopefully these days will be occasional, and we can have at least a few hours of focus each day. We are all in this together and I hope some of my ideas will help you and your family.  Thank you, Krista, for the opportunity to share some thoughts with our parent community. I am sure everyone reading this shares my appreciation for you and all that you do for our children.

Compelled By Research- The Push for IEP Teams

Special Needs Advocate

Team members at IEP Meetings that make decisions about where students with disabilities need to receive their services are in many cases ill prepared and ill informed to do so. District trainings should include exposing IEP team members to actual research, including that released by the Department of Education, that looks at the life outcomes for students with disabilities that were educated in self contained versus inclusive settings (I will provide links below to a few articles, research). Trainings should also be provided to educate teachers, administrators and support staff about the best practices of inclusive education, what has been proven to work and what doesn’t.

We don’t have to guess, in the educational world FAPE, inclusive education and universal design are highly researched and studied areas. We ask teachers and administrators to use research based reading programs but we don’t expect them to approach life defining decisions for students with disabilities with a review of research. Without a thorough study of the topic, recommendations are at best subjective. I believe that we need to rely on research, combined with individual students needs and of course unusual circumstances when making educational setting and placement decisions. I am very concerned when I attend meetings where teachers are convinced that a student requires specialized instruction in a separate classroom or separate day school, but they cannot give any reason why their recommendation is based on anything other than the perceived limitations of the student and/or the idea that the disabled student will prevent other students in the general education setting from learning.

I have come to believe that educators largely consider resource room or  a separate day school when they personally don’t feel confident in meeting the needs of the child in question. AS a result, decisions are being made based on lack of training, comfortability, experience of educators and school teams biases concerning where students with certain behaviors or learning deficits should be educated. This is not a way that we should be making setting and placement decisions.

All parents at one point or another have experienced a level of worry or concern when they know that their child is being left out, excluded, etc. Even something as simple as a few clicky girls not wanting to play with my daughter on the playground makes me feel uneasy. Imagine how a parent of a child with a disability feels when year after year they are told, “it isn’t time yet for your child to be included” OR that their child simply isn’t ready to be in a regular classroom yet. Instead of other children leaving children out, now the adults are the ones facilitating the exclusion…Not with bad intentions, of course. BUT really because the professionals don’t know how to successfully include children with levels of academic, behavioral, communicative or physical needs that are outside of what they have been trained to support or the experiences they have had thus far. When a teacher or other support personnel knows how to and is confident they will be successful with a student, I believe that they will promote the inclusion of students with disabilities to the maximum extent possible, as the law requires (IDEA 2004) . I don’t think teachers wake up in the morning with a vendetta against students on the basis of their disability. When a team member believes that they aren’t able to reach and teach a child under the current circumstances, the solution seems to be to move them with the notion that once they are moved they will get what they need. I am urging teams to take proactive steps and seek consult before deciding that’s what needs to be done. In the majority of the cases I review where behavior is an issue, for example, the student either doesn’t have a BIP (Behavior Intervention Plan), the BIP is outdated or the BIP isn’t scientific in nature. The BIP, in the case of students with behavioral challenges, is one example of something that should be implemented with fidelity checks far prior to a more restrictive environment being considered.

I am here to help parents and schools determine if moving a child to another setting is necessary for them to access a meaningful education or if there are supports and aides that we should exhaust in the regular classroom before having that conversation. In 9 out of 10 instances we can make inclusion work successfully with effective team collaboration and exercising best practices. Please reach out to me should you need any help and if you are interested in learning more about Inclusion in Florida and beyond, please search Florida Alliance for Inclusive Education on facebook and request to join the page. Thank you!

If you have any further questions about the content presented in this article, please contact [email protected] or Krista Barth directly at krista[email protected]. Blog posts are intended to provide general information on a topic. For more individualized information please fill out our contact us form and/or book a consultation. Please feel free to leave a blog comment at the bottom of the page.

Krista Barth, Special Needs Advocate

[email protected]

305-510-6739

 

Resources:

 

https://iod.unh.edu/sites/default/files/media/InclusiveEd/researchsupport-final.pdf

 

https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/earlylearning/inclusion/index.html

 

Research(on(Inclusive(EducationApril 10,(2009)- type into google and download the pdf

 

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/07419325060270060501

 

http://www.mcie.org/usermedia/application/11/inclusion-works-(2010).pdf

The IEP Is In Effect- Now What?

pointing-out-the-obvious

The IEP Is In Effect- Now What?

You have worked so hard to prepare for your child’s IEP Meeting, it came and went, and now there’s a comprehensive plan in effect that you are hopeful will make a difference. I know that you left the meeting feeling a sense of relief, but for many parents that sense of relief is short lived and is followed by the critical questions of…

  • How will I know that everything in the IEP is being implemented as it states?
  • How will I know if the plan we put together is working or not? Do I have to wait another year to find out?
  • Is there any other way, other than relying on what my child tells me or doesn’t tell me, to know what impact the IEP we wrote has on his/her academic performance and school life?

Some of these questions are of particular concern to parents of students with communication deficits. It’s a helpless feeling. Parents have seen time and time again report cards that don’t reflect the true academic performance of their child, either inflated grades or F’s that are due to behaviors versus knowledge. The good news is that there are better ways to evaluate if the plan in place is working or if it needs to be revised.

Although you won’t be able to know one hundred percent of what your child’s school day entails, there are ways to monitor your son’s or daughter’s progress once the IEP is in place and to set up a system with the school of ongoing data sharing. There are also ways to get a good idea if the services are happening with the frequency, setting and time allotment that the IEP team agreed to at the meeting.

We must begin with some foundational understandings about the ways in which your child’s progress will be assessed…

Schools use three primary means to evaluate a student’s rate of progress

  1. School wide measures, class wide and state-wide measures which are assessments that every student in the school takes unless excused AND
  2. individual ongoing progress monitoring, which is data collected through differentiated instruction, interventions and to monitor IEP goals
  3. Formal psychological evaluations which are typically done every three years and administered by a school psychologist and potentially other members of the team such as a school social worker, counselor/teacher collecting data that is used in the report

Collective measures and components of a formal evaluation such as intelligence and academic norm referenced testing will allow you to compare your child’s performance with that of his or her peers. You will have an idea of where your child falls as compared with the norm for the class, school and state. Even if your child is scoring very low in collective measures, it doesn’t mean that he or she is not progressing and that the IEP is inappropriate. You have to analyze where your child started off and how he or she has progressed since the interventions/IEP was put into place. That is why in the case of most students with disabilities, looking at the individual progress monitoring is a more significant indicator of whether or not the IEP is making a difference.

Now that you are clear on the variety of ways progress is measured, here are some tips to stay informed along the way…

  1. Set up a system where the school shares individualized progress data with you on a monthly basis. Define what will be shared. You want to make sure that the information being sent to you is comparative month to month so that you are looking at apples to apples. A good example of this is analyzing the progress towards measurable goals looking at occurrences of success on five assignments over the course of a four week period. In this case you are tracking a specific skill (i.e. adding fractions) over time and the percent that is being calculated is only valid if the student was given the same number of opportunities each time assessed (ie. 8/10 correct answers, keeping the /10 consistent). In South Florida (Broward, Dade and Palm Beach County) a program called IREADY is utilized to track individual student progress in both reading and math. Counties throughout the country use different skill-based programs, both on and off the computer. You want to request that the school pull a monthly report that shows how your child is progressing in each skill area identified. In addition to the data being collected through interventions, request a monthly update on progress towards measurable goals. Keeping on top of these two sources of information will help you to avoid letting too much time go by and risking long periods of stagnant progress or worse regression. This will help you to be more involved along the way versus reactive.
  2. Get a handle on how your child is doing in school by asking questions and taking a “knowledge inventory” at home through homework checks and learning based activities. You might not have an educator’s degree, but you know your child best. If the school is saying that your son is able to represent equivalent fractions, informally assess if this is the case through a fun baking project together. I’m certainly not asking you to sit down and give your child a test on top of all of the testing that’s already being done at school. There are ways to assess naturally, such as the baking example, that avoid formalities.
  3. Another way to get a better idea of what is going on at the school level is to become a parent volunteer. Obviously, not all working parents are able to break away to do so and I realize that! This suggestion is a luxury for most families. But I would be remise to not include it. Being a parent volunteer will give you special insight into the schools inner workings, scheduling, the most experienced teachers and other resources. It’s kinda like an in road. On the other side, don’t set your expectations so high. You’ll set yourself up for disappointment if you believe volunteering will automatically lead to a “YES” to all you ask the school to provide. I say this because I have advocated many times for parents that are employed by the school district. It didn’t seem to work in their advantage anymore than any other parent
  4. Talk regularly with your child’s teachers and not only the main teacher, but all the professionals that you come in contact with that spend time with your child. You’ll find out a lot just by asking questions and listening. For example, one of my clients had a “check in” conversation with the general education teacher who told Mom that the speech language pathologist (SLP) only pulls her daughter out for sessions “once in a blue moon”. The IEP mandates three sessions per week. When services are rendered they are supposed to be documented in a log, in fact some districts throughout the nation are now using online systems where the service provider virtually checks in and out at the start and finish of each session. If you believe that services in the IEP are not being implemented correctly, ask the school directly how often sessions are taking place. If your child is communicative, ask him each day if he was pulled for services. Ask the teacher daily. Start to keep record in a log. Definitely do not hesitate to reach out to the school ESE Coordinator for guidance. Consider filing a district complaint if the school is unresponsive. I really recommend consulting with an advocate or educational consultant in the early stages of the school’s noncompliance. Based on individual circumstances, an expert can advise you each step of the way and help you determine which conflict resolution option is the best route of action.

 

We hope this article has helped.

If you have any further questions about the content presented in this article, please contact [email protected] or Krista Barth directly at [email protected]. Blog posts are intended to provide general information on a topic. For more individualized information please fill out our contact us form and/or book a consultation. Please feel free to leave a blog comment at the bottom of the page.

Krista Barth, Special Needs Advocate

[email protected]

305-510-6739