Small group, extended time, and oral reading of the test questions; these are the three most common testing accommodations I have experienced teaching over 80 students with disabilities. These testing accommodations are “easy” and “just what we do” for students with IEPs, mostly because they can be fulfilled in group settings. It seems that students who may need to test individually or that have the directions paraphrased cause “problems” or are an inconvenience to administer these same tests to because of the need for additional teacher or paraprofessional support.
Classroom accommodations can take a similar mainstreamed movement within schools or counties. Close proximity to the teacher, repeat directions, and extended time for assignments are over used and can create dependencies on these accommodations when they may have been unnecessary to begin with. Rarely are accommodations like oral response to classroom assignments or differentiated graphic organizers prescribed or used with fidelity for students with disabilities.
The disability simulation (below) inflicted learning struggles often experienced by students with attention, reading, and mathematical exceptionalities. The activity caused me to scrutinize my struggles stemming from the effects of each disability, and assign accommodations that would take the challenges of the exceptionality out of the required task to create a path of least resistance for learning the material. By feeling the student frustrations first hand, I was able to develop appropriate accommodations that would provide meaningful learning experience with the content, and not just remediation opportunities for the skills required to interact with the material.
Expectations are met, rules are followed. This ideology promotes an inclusive and safe environment where all students can share ideas and develop as life-long learners.
When creating classroom expectations for a new course, I have found it best to place non-negotiable expectations on the matrix, then let the student body develop the rest of the expectations that are not critical to safety and school-wide policies. For instance, at dismissal students are safe when they report directly to their next period class. This school-wide expectation of being on time is non-negotiable, however, saying “have a good day or see you tomorrow” is not a critical element for student success or safety. My students developed that expectation and will even hold me accountable to the requirements of a greeting at the beginning or end of a class period.
The following lesson plans are structured around MCC8.SP.1 : Construct and interpret scatter plots for bivariate measurement data to investigate patterns of association between two quantities. Describe patterns such as clustering, outliers, positive or negative association, linear association, and nonlinear association and MCC8.SP.2 Know that straight lines are widely used to model relationships between two quantitative variables. For scatter plots that suggest a linear association, informally fit a straight line, and informally assess the model fit by judging the closeness of the data points to the line.
The lesson plans begin with vocabulary development to link communicative skills and the content. Without a strong understanding of the terms used in mathematics, students struggle to respond to and interact with mathematics content in meaningful and effective ways. The lessons are developed with behavior intervention plans in mind, and students are consistently reminded of expectations throughout the lessons. These lesson plans could be used in a resource setting or an inclusion setting where parallel teaching occurs.
When I teach the standards again, I plan to adjust my lessons to include a student portfolio of the unit. The student work and assessments completed in these lessons would be best used for review and re-teaching in a separate notebook or folder. Based on student feedback and reflection of engagement, a different vocabulary strategy will be incorporated to evidence learning. Students were slow to or failed to finish all the Frayer models for the unit vocabulary. Linking activities (Tier 2 and Tier 3 words), or root analysis would be more appropriate and generalizable methods.
Students are most commonly assessed with selected response type questions, including students with disabilities and struggling learners. The results of these assessments are factored into the students’ grades which can be a determining pass/fail factor for some. This often inaccurate data is not a true reflection of the student’s mastery. Consider a student with ADHD who “zones out” during the boring test and simply circles answers for relief from testing conditions, or the student that struggles to read but can tell you orally everything covered in the pervious unit. There are also situations where students learned the content in a different format than that which is presented on the assessment. The content was mastered, however the assessment did not match the student’s differentiated learning.
The extended response assessment provides more opportunity for students to make sense of the real-world applications of unit rate and its importance in daily living. The student can more freely express their ideas and methods of determining an answer. Most importantly, I can see the student’s work and process. This type of assessment also engages the student more deeply than a pick-the-best-answer type assessment. Most influential, especially in mathematics, is the performance task. When students create products or performances that express connections between the content and real-world applications, the opportunity for generalization is amplified.
For students with learning disabilities, a combination of assessments with appropriate accommodations will illustrate a more accurate picture of content and concept mastery. Reflecting on my own frustrations as a teacher, I am most disturbed by the demands for differentiation in the classroom yet the standardization of even simple unit assessments across classrooms within grade levels within a school.
The lesson plans below demonstrate my ability to integrate accommodations, modifications, and teaching strategies into lesson plans within the resource setting. The plans below are a sample of remediating beginning algebra to students with borderline mild intellectual impairments. Using the concrete-representational-abstract method, I modified the Hands-On Equations system to meet the needs of struggling learners. This unit inspired my Capstone exhibition and will drive my Specialist studies. By combining explicit instruction and the C-R-A method with concrete manipulatives, six out of eight students were able to solve multi-step equations using a pictorial representation with 80% accuracy by the fifth lesson. Future research and teaching will include a more specific sequencing of equations and initial teaching of the self-check method with concrete manipulatives.
Learning stations that broke the small group into partnered pairs enabled 2 on 1 instruction where metacognitive and physical modeling could occur at an individual level. A transition lesson occurs after mastery of manipulating concrete materials where students apply their procedural knowledge to the manipulatives and draw the steps (triangles and squares) in whole group instruction and practice is scaffolded using the “I do- We do- You do” method. A communication skill is also embedded within the unit that focuses on the student’s ability to translate concrete, pictorial, and abstract equations into oral phrases, models, and drawings.
This research proposal stretched my comfort zone within the realm of special education and pushed me into a middle school classroom for students with moderate to severe autism. I was made aware of the standards of the Georgia Alternate Assessment for each child and the importance of life skills learning for these students. I was most intrigued by a student that was non-verbal and not using devices or intelligible sounds like his peers to make requests. I was informed that this particular student had not been in a school setting very long and his exposure to such equipment had been limited or none.
My research proposal would study students at the middle school level that make no verbal attempts at communication and the effects of enhanced milieu teaching (EMT) paired with voice output communication aids (VOCA) on expressive communication. If completed, this study would add to the body of research surrounding VOCA and non-verbal students with autism. While there is sufficient research on young students using VOCA, there is limited information in regards to the initial teaching of such devices to middle school aged children. As special educators, we have an ethical duty to enrich the lives of our students no matter their age or ability.
When assigned a mock Functional Behavioral Assessment within my coursework, a student on my caseload required an analysis to guide his Behavior Intervention Plan. This activity placed me in collaboration with teachers that were culturally bias, had low efficacy in regards to students with disabilities, and that were veterans of the profession. Together, including the student, his mother, general educators, and myself, we were able to identify the causes of the student’s negative behaviors, teach the student alternative behaviors to meet the function, and promote behavior change across all content areas. Modifications to the student’s environment within each classroom, his schedule, and access to incentives were developed with input from all members of the education team.
I was placed in extremely uncomfortable professional situations with teachers during this assignment and I learned that no matter my feelings, I am the advocate for the child. Sometimes, like the case of this student, I was the ONLY advocate for him. Creating classroom environmental change with veteran professionals was the most challenging. Professionally, I gained respect from my colleagues who followed the plan and immediately noticed behavior change. I was honored to hand the child his graduation certificate at the 8th grade graduation ceremony knowing that without the team’s intervention and supports, he may not have had the grades required to walk across the stage.