I quickly dart out of my classroom and race to the copier before my next class begins. The hallway is clear with the exception of a few students who are reading to each other out in the hall. I stop to greet them and then proceed to the teacher’s room, as I am clearly on a mission. Grabbing my papers, I head down the hall, relieved that I have a few minutes to spare. As I walk toward my classroom, I happen to glance up noticing the words, “We Are Whittier”, stenciled above the entrance to our school. Looking into the classrooms on each side of the hallway, I have the sudden realization of what these words truly mean: “every student getting what they need to be successful”.
At Whittier Middle School we have embraced the mindset of giving every student what they need. For our school this means providing a number of services, programs and accommodations to students that range from least restrictive to most restrictive. Although these terms often apply to students who receive special education services, this is something that we try to seamlessly implement for all of our students. Having been in a number of classrooms in a variety of schools, I know that this is not always the case, particularly for students receiving special education education services. For a number of years, special education classrooms became the only places where students with special needs could receive instruction; however, over the last 20 years, a shift has occurred: now more than ever, students who receive special education services are able to benefit from instruction regardless of whether it is in a mainstream or pull-out setting.
Part of the responsibility of the IEP team is to determine the accommodations that a student receives; however, it can be difficult to determine which ones are appropriate to recommend. Listed below are services and accommodations that I have seen to be beneficial for students with a range of needs. Hopefully, teachers, administrators and parents will find this list useful when making decisions about what students need to be successful.
Special education services range from least restrictive to most restrictive depending on need.
- Consultation: Teachers consult with a related service provider or teacher to discuss how to support the student’s goals.
- Inclusive Support: Although this usually falls under accommodations, inclusive support allows special education staff to support students within a mainstream setting.
- Co-teaching: Special education staff works with teachers in a mainstream setting, providing specially designed instruction.
- Pull-out: Students receive specially designed instruction within a special education classroom. These services can range from minutes per week to fully self-contained.
Classroom accommodations are put into place so that students are able to benefit from instruction within the mainstream setting. Although there are a number of accommodations that teams can recommend, the ones below have proven to be beneficial, particularly for students in the middle grades.
- Structured environment with a consistent routine and clear expectations (visible agenda for the class or checklist of work to be completed).
- Seating close to instruction with limited distractions.
- Visual supports (strategy guides/flipbooks).
- Multi-sensory instruction.
- Real-life application with connection to previous learning.
- Repeated practice.
- Frequent checks for attention and understanding, with questions provided for prompts.
- Clarify directions and break multistep directions into smaller steps.
- Extra processing time.
- Organizational check-ins at the beginning and end of each class (check-in/check-out forms to help student self-assess their progress).
Presentation of Material/Subject:
- Pre-teach vocabulary/material.
- Ensure attention before directions are given.
- Review directions before independent work.
- Have student repeat directions, or show, model or explain the current process in an activity.
- Provide a model and an opportunity to show understanding.
- Real-life application: connect to previous instruction and personal experiences.
- Highlight key components of assignments (operation sign, key words, etc.) to ensure focus.
- Provide alternate texts at student’s instructional level.
General Assignments and Assessments
- Apply accommodations designated for state and district-wide assessments to classroom assessments.
- Modified assignments to match IEP expectations.
- Shortened assignments that target only the core concepts assessed.
- Use of multiple-choice instead of recall.
- Extended time to complete assignments and assessments.
- No penalties for penmanship, grammar or spelling unless they are what is being assessed.
- A guided outline or fill-in notes for assignments that involve writing.
- Option to use laptop/iPad for written work.
- Use of text-reading feature on the student’s laptop or iPad to assist with editing written work.
- Individual or classroom behavior reward/incentive plan.
- Movement breaks.
- Allow student to access a designated space or area when he/she is feeling overwhelmed.
- Behavioral supports including rubrics and staff check-ins.
- Allow for wait time and extra time to talk, particularly when the student is upset.
- Process with a student following an incident (behavior reflection form).
- Use social stories or picture cards to support a student during social situations.