Universal Design: Inclusion Learning Expands Opportunities

Posted by: District 1 year, 2 months ago

Universal Design: Inclusion Learning Expands Opportunities

Have you ever used a sidewalk ramp? You know, the area at the corner of the street where the edge of the sidewalk dips down to meet the street. This was created for individuals in wheelchairs, yet parents with strollers, bicyclists, and travelers with luggage flock to these areas as a seamless way to get onto the sidewalk.

What about bubble wrap? Odds are you didn’t use it as wallpaper, which was the initial intention. When the market for textured wallpaper didn’t pan out, the designer turned the product into packaging material. Today, it’s a standard shipping practice around the world.

There are countless examples of products or services that were created for small groups, yet benefit countless others in different ways. Thank goodness the bubble wrap makers pivoted. Can you imagine? 

You might be wondering what this has to do with education.

While these ideas all may seem far-fetched for educational purposes, they actually highlight a core principle behind both multi-tiered support systems and inclusion. In teaching, when we design lesson plans to cater to different learning styles or needs, we benefit all students.

Learning apps initially designed for Autistic students can help a variety of learners with organizational skills. Cloud services were initially created for businesses, yet we enjoy the easier access and ability to reduce paper in the schools. Understanding this, we realize that by deploying tools initially designed for a small subset of students in the classroom, we can actually benefit a large majority of students.

 

Adopting a Multi-Tiered System of Supports 

At CUSD we are encouraging instructors to adopt a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). This means that a teacher will design lesson plans for a variety of learning styles and different familiarities with the material. Regardless of a student’s learning style or where they are with a specific topic, this system works with every student. 

In our May Framework presented to the board, we highlighted how this model ensures “that all students are challenged and achieve high academic, behavior, and social-emotional standards. The District describes MTSS as a coherent continuum of evidence-based, system-wide practices to support a rapid response to academic, behavioral, and social-emotional needs, with frequent data-based monitoring for instructional decision-making to empower each student to achieve to high standards.”

Even though the formal description is quite daunting, the application is really fascinating and incredible to see played out. For example, take a teacher with twenty students learning multiplication. The lesson will start out with the teacher at the board explaining the lesson. The teacher will request that the students as a group repeat back some of the information and possibly invite students to the board to practice. Then the class will break into small groups to work on the material with the teacher checking in with groups. Students also have the ability to ask each other questions.  

To break it down, your auditory learners thrived when the teacher was at the board, your process learners had the ability to work with the material in small groups, and those who were struggling got small group instruction. This is only a small example. Many teachers bring in visual components and other styles, sometimes reaching as many as 20 different “layers” in their instruction.

Most importantly, it gives our students a plethora of different ways to approach each and every subject. It also challenges them at times to work in ways that might not be their strength, mirroring real life experiences.

 

Co-Teaching  

Recently we’ve expanded our inclusion efforts, which means that many of our classes include students with disabilities. These classrooms thrive in partnership with the multi-tiered support systems that create layered learning. We’re also finding that many typically developing students are benefiting from the presentation styles brought in by our special needs teachers. 

In many ways, students are getting much better instruction and support.  

Each class is designed to include small clusters of students with disabilities with their typically developing peers. The cluster sizes can represent from 1/4 to 1/3 of the class size. To make sure the needs of all students are met, a general teacher and special education teacher work together to deliver the lessons in a co-teaching model. Now the classroom has two highly qualified instructors, which benefits all students.

Depending on the teachers, co-teaching can take as many as six different forms. For example, you can have one teacher lead the lesson while one focuses on support. Another class could have the teachers team up before class to prepare joint presentations. The most important pieces are that the classes are designed to cater to the teacher’s unique strengths, and the students benefit from double the instruction.

 

Benefits 

In short, it’s too early in the process to have data describing the benefits, such as test scores. Those will come in time as the program continues and we collect data. 

That being said, we have teachers, parents, and students describing their tremendous support and belief in the programs. From the administrative level, the intangibles are obvious. We are seeing more tolerance and empathy for students with different learning styles and abilities. This is extending beyond just the classroom and creating a culture of tolerance, which is one of our main goals as educators.