Making Our Work Visible

The work of teacher educators and higher education faculty has long been quantified by number of published peer-reviewed articles.  That’s really the only metric by which we are evaluated.  And we do that work because it’s our job security and because it’s critical that the evidence base in education, specifically inclusive education, continues to grow.  We have always felt that that work is relatively meaningless, though, if our intentions are to influence teachers and kids’ experiences at school.  Published articles are paywalled, for starters.  Access to the research is costly in both money and time, both precious commodities for teachers.

Enter social media.

In a group text exactly two years ago, in expressing our frustrations about practices that persist despite all the piles of evidence (i.e. clip charts), we began to brainstorm ways of making the evidence visible.  Teachers do not have direct access to the research, to the leading experts, to the conferences, but we do.  So let’s take that privilege and package it so it is accessible.  We built a website, created a Facebook page, and started spreading the word.

We didn’t know what we were doing.

We are not graphic designers, marketers, communications people, influencers in any way.  We are assistant professors, teacher educators, teachers, researchers, writers and we do not have any training at all on building a social media presence.  So, we fumbled a lot.  We learned a lot.  And now, in celebration of two years of Teaching Is Intellectual, I share with you what little I know about making our work visible using social media.

  1.  There is a whole world of #teachergram on Instagram.  This was brand new to me.  There are major teacher influencers there, a robust community with all the inner workings of community, friendships, bullying, leaders, organizing, agendas, movements.  It’s all there.
    1. If you want to get started, set up a new, public Instagram account.  I recommend making it separate from your personal account.
    2. Start with hashtags.  #teachersofinstagram #teachersfollowteachers #teachergram will provide a good introduction.
    3. Follow a ton of accounts and then curate your feed.  Find your people, the ones who speak to you, who resonate with you.  Pay less attention to the number of followers and more attention to the content provided.  Not all big accounts will speak to you.
    4. Listen first.  One mistake I made was jumping in without understanding all the dynamics at work there.  I learned the hard way.  Scroll around and get a feel for the place over time.
    5. Determine how you can contribute, what your expertise and knowledge can bring.  Everyone brings something unique so know your voice is needed!
  2. Instagram and Facebook have very different styles and audiences.  We curate both in different ways but you can select just one platform to get started.  Twitter has a huge teacher community as well!
  3. Captions are everything.  Spend time developing your thoughts so your caption can stand alone.  This took practice for me.
  4. It’s not easy.  I regularly get messages asking me about how to set up a social media presence and as soon as I start talking, people are like whoa whoa whoa that’s a lot.  It is.  It’s a huge commitment and really does require consistent attention.  Followers do not just come, you have to build that community and nurture it.  I can get very bummed about the fact that we “only” have about 3500 followers on Instagram and 1700 on Facebook in two years time. That’s not great.  But then I remind myself that that’s a LOT of people we wouldn’t otherwise get to interact with!
  5. People will come and go.  You cannot live and die by your follower count.
  6. Know what you want to do with your little space on social media.  Stay true to what brought you there.  It can be easy to get distracted but know who you are and what you know.

And, yes, we’re writing about this work for publication in peer-reviewed academic journals.  Because I need tenure and because bridging the “research to practice gap” means researchers need to change too.  We cannot keep doing the same things and wondering why we’re mostly irrelevant to teachers doing the work every day.  We are committed to teachers and kids and families so we want to be where they are, seeking answers to the questions they’re asking, providing access in whatever ways we can.  We haven’t cracked the code, by any means – we are trying, though.  We are learning.  We are visible.

 

 

Reframing Grading

Learning tends to stop when grades are assigned.  Part of learning how to navigate school effectively is to master the art of learning what will be on the test or what the teacher wants from you and then clearing that brain space for the next assessment.  I’ve always been pretty good at that and it’s served me well in the short term.

Yet, I’m hopeless at helping my 9th grader with her math or science homework.

When I look at my college transcripts now, it’s clear to me that the grades recorded do not correlate at all with my own learning, my ownership over the knowledge I demonstrated in exchange for those letter grades.  I did what I had to do to get the A.  But my B in biology doesn’t mean the same thing as yours and that is inherently the problem.  We have no consensus, no way to compare.  We just assume that all Bs are created the same and they absolutely are not.

In my doctoral program, I took a course where the standard was you could do all the coursework for a B and add a book review for an A.  So, an A = willingness or ability to do an additional task.  An A did not = mastery of content.

So, if we agree that traditional grading lacks reliability and validity, what do we do instead?  I’ve been working to reframe grading for myself and my students the last few years and am continuing to grow in the process.  I firmly believe in meaningful feedback, self and peer assessment, and conferencing as the basis for course grades.  (We live in a graded system, we have to assign a grade so we need to determine a mechanism for doing so.) I’ve incorporated more and more self and peer assessment into my courses, in class group work, and then my own assessment of progress toward mastery.  Ideally, at least twice in the semester, we meet individually for conferencing.  This allows for us to share our perceptions of progress toward mastery and what supports or feedback I can offer to support the student’s growth.

Different students need different things to move toward mastery and individualizing my feedback helps me support their processes.  It is a time commitment though and I will admit that this semester, I thought we had one more week in the semester than we did, so our meetings didn’t happen.  I was able to connect individually with the students whose self assessment differed from my assessment so that we could talk it through and come to consensus.

Yes, consensus.  Because I do not give grades, students earn them as a result of engaging in the messiness of learning.  But, for me, they are a requirement, an afterthought, they are not at all important to me and I try to diminish their value for my students in the context of my course.

In my final feedback form this semester, one student noted that taking grades out of the equation allowed them to open their headspace for learning.  Which feels like a win to me.

 

Unlearning Grading

I’m not even sure that title is appropriate.  I never actually learned to grade.  Assess, yes.  I have been taught pretty extensively on assessment in both my masters and doctoral programs but not any formal training or reading or support in learning how to grade.  But, I know how I have been graded.  I have loads of experience being graded with 24 years of formal education under my belt!  That should be enough, right?

When it was my turn to develop assessments, I had a long list of things I did not want to do.  I did not want to answer questions like “do I have to know this?” and “is this what you want?”  I did not want to track student progress by docking arbitrary points (who decides this section is worth 10 points?  Oh, me?  So, I can make it 10,000 points?  I CAN?  Wait, so there are actually no rules to this at all and no one actually knows what they’re doing?  Cool cool.)  I didn’t want to talk about due dates and points and format and page length and font size and all things that distract from what I DO want to talk about which is teaching, learning, strategies for supporting kids with disabilities, the role of teacher bias, the school to prison pipeline, systemic poverty, white supremacy, trauma both in and out of school, so many things other than grades.

So I started pushing back against traditional grading.  I think this journey began for me in my second year in a tenure track faculty position.  I think that was by far my worst year as an instructor, my students hated me, my pedagogy was all over the place, and my confidence was low.  I knew I wanted to forge a new path but I hadn’t found Dr. Blum’s book I Love Learning, I Hate School:  An Anthology of College yet and I hadn’t found Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris on Twitter yet.  So, my first year of ungrading, is a blur of failure but this part of my work has improved steadily since.

What I Know Now

  1.  Students must be involved.  This semester, for the first time, my students helped to co create an assignment description and the rubric for their final Passion Project presentations.  We codeveloped a timeline for the course and determined flexible deadlines together.  I have extended the offer of flexible deadlines for several years but this helped us to organize together.  As a result, we all stayed much more in sync throughout the semester without a huge end of the semester stress.
  2. I must be trustworthy.  This has been difficult.  I know I’m trustworthy but the students don’t.  They’ve learned from all of their years of experience that anything can happen, grading really can be unfair and arbitrary, and they don’t know me at all.  I’m much more transparent now about my approach, the details of how they will be assessed, and how I will engage them in their own assessment as much as my own.
  3. Self and peer assessment must be taught.  I’m still working on this.  Students don’t know how to give constructive, meaningful feedback to their peers and they’re hesitant to evaluate themselves.  This is something I’m going to focus heavily on this spring.  Learning how to be teachers means learning how to give meaningful feedback so I’m going to make this an outcome goal for all my students.

Beginning Ungrading

Take it slow.  Determine one area or one learning objective (since they should each be measured for mastery, right?) that you will shift from quantitatively assessing to a qualitative measure.  I believe I started by shifting from reading check ins to commitment logs.  Reading check ins at the beginning of class consisted of a few questions about the readings or an open ended free write.  I replaced that with our commitment logs which may have an entrance question but was not assessed for right/wrong.

Get over yourself.  This is a pretty critical component of ungrading.  We have to be willing to participate side by side with our learners, allow them to exceed our understanding or imagination, and relinquish our beliefs that it’s our role to give students knowledge.  We are co creators of knowledge, meaning makers, and in partnering with our students, we allow ourselves to be challenged, to grow, to learn.  Exchange power for trust.  You’ll be surprised.

Involve students.  They know grades are problematic and they have been conditioned to crave them like a drug.  Once they kick that craving, they are able to engage in the work of learning, they can free themselves of all the energy it takes seeking out that grade high to create, think, apply, question, seek, wonder, and more.  Teaching is not black and white.  It’s a mess of beautiful grays that students can explore without fear of noncompliance with a predetermined task that couldn’t have possibly anticipated the questions they would raise.

Have you any interest in ungrading or the ungrading movement?  Tell me about your experiences!

 

 

Ambitious Teaching: A Beginner’s Guide

Are you preparing the next generation of early childhood educators and leaders? How long has it been since you critically examined your syllabi and teaching practices? Did you know you may be widening the research to practice gap by making higher education – a place of evidence-based professional development – a hostile and unwelcoming environment?

Existing literature suggests that power relations and issues of expertise limit the extent to which faculty engage students in the design of their own learning and listen or respond to their needs (e.g. Mihans, Long, & Felton, 2008). In your work, examine and challenge the culture of higher education and the role of student-faculty interactions within and beyond the classroom. These interactions are crucial to the development of higher education students’ self-concept, motivation, and achievement (Komarraju, Musulkin, & Bhattacharya, 2010).

You can engage in critical conversations about the expectations placed upon pre-service practitioners. Through ambitious teaching, taking risks pedagogically and reconceptualizing teaching and learning for teachers and learners, you can facilitate dialogue around the extent to which the traditional “status-quo” of educator preparation truly teaches the behaviors we want to see.

Presume competence, rethink relationships, and trust the students you are preparing for the workforce.

Let’s Get Started

  1.  Evaluate your beliefs.  I’m talking, back to the basics.   What do you believe about your learners themselves?  Do you believe they are generally committed and hard working or do you believe they are aloof, uncaring, lazy?  What do you know and believe about how people learn?  About how learning is assessed?  About how we can make learning visible?  This step takes work and time and reflection!  You can use this to get started.

If attendance and compliance count toward their grade, ask yourself what your grades reflect.  Do they reflect progress toward content mastery?  If students can demonstrate mastery on your assessments without attending class, what does that tell you about your course content, your assessments, your pedagogy?  These are just a few thoughts to get you started in unpacking your pedagogy

2.  Deconstruct your syllabus.  Take a good look at your policies, procedures,expectations, and language.  Does your syllabus invite and welcome learning?  Does it provide choice and flexibility?  What values does it communicate?  We compiled some tired and wired syllabus language for a poster presentation at the Division of Early Childhood conference.  The “wired” language prioritizes feedback and social learning theory.  Ask yourself if the beliefs you identified in Step 1 are reflected in your syllabus and if not, how can they be?  Jesse Stommel (jessestommel.com) has provided so much thought provoking content and syllabi language that helped us get started.  Also, we understand many universities and programs have required syllabus language.  We have both created an “official” syllabus for those purposes while providing a infographic syllabus to guide our work with students.

3.  Be transparent.  When I began on my journey toward a more ambitious and authentic pedagogy, I failed to include my students in my process.  Because I wasn’t as transparent with them about the how and the why of my approach, it was an unnecessarily difficult code switch for them.  I now introduce my expectations for participating in your own learning, for engaging in self and peer reflection, in revision and resubmission, etc on the first day of class.  We talk about it every course meeting.  I acknowledge it can be very uncomfortable as they’ve become so accustomed to working for points and providing work directly aligned with rubrics.  This kind of engagement requires trust and transparency.

4.  Trust your students.  Which leads us back to number 1.  We have to trust our students.  We have to encourage them to trust themselves.  They often feel so insecure in their own learning and their own knowledge, asking “is this what you want?”  We must consistently remind them that their work, their learning, isn’t for us, it’s for them!  And we trust them to learn it, know it, own it.

5.  Find your people.  This work is isolating, pushed back on, and quite honestly, harder.  Meaningful, intentional feedback, coming up with an individualized response including behavior and academic specific praise and constructive critique is exhausting.  So, find your people.  The ones that let you say, “I tried this new thing, here’s how it made me/my students feel, help me process this” and “I’m trying this and I’m getting this push back.”  It’s such deeply vulnerable work and we don’t know if it’s the right or best way.  But we do know that the traditional approaches do not work for us so we have to trust our gut and start here.  We have to talk about it, keep tabs on the evidence of what is effective, contribute to the research, and grow our practice.  That takes everyone working on it together.

This is a pedagogical journey.  We are on this journey together.  Each semester, we learn from our students and from each other.  We get just a little bit better, a little bit clearer, a little bit more trustworthy, a little bit more confident that what we’re doing is creating a community of lifelong learners, nurturing curiosity, and valuing knowing.

 

Mental Health Awareness

We are consistently advocating for the mental health needs of our students.  We attempt to be as supportive as possible to the complex lived experiences of our students and to acknowledge that they have full lives outside of our course/program.  That’s not to diminish the value of the learning experiences we are providing but to develop self care skills in our learners now that they can carry with them into their work as educators.

We’re also often met with resistance.  “You can’t just call in sick over a break up when you’re an employed teacher.”  But, the thing is, you can.  And you should if that’s what you need to get yourself together.  This burnout culture is unhealthy and we all perpetuate it in one way or another.  Glorifying busy.  Shaming absence.  Self care isn’t always convenient or well scheduled.  Sometimes it must be addressed regardless of other obligations.

Which leads me to question why or how we came to dismiss the traumas invoked or perpetuated at school.  Why do we persist the myth that “middle school is the worst” instead of implementing the many evidence-based practices (intentional social skills curriculum, active preventative teaching, for example) with consistency and fidelity.  Middle school does not HAVE to be “the worst” – we allow it to be.

Tropes like “mean girls” persist because we allow them to persist.  Intervene.  Teach.  Relentlessly.  Kids need our guidance in learning how to navigate the world – socially, online, in all spaces.  We must take responsibility for teaching.

If kids are experiencing trauma at school or their trauma is exacerbated at school, that is on us. If we believe in self care for ourselves, we must model it and teach it to our learners.  Self care is for everyone.

Ambitious Teaching

Dr. Chelsea T. Morris and I presented a (what we thought was) cool poster at the Council for Exceptional Children’s Division of Early Childhood’s annual conference.

The first panel asked the participants to indicate how they evaluate student learning, if participation should be included for a grade, if attendance should be included in a grade, if and which social media accounts they use in their teaching, and how they handle late work.  Overwhelmingly, participants indicated they do include “participation” in grades.  There was more variability in if the participants include attendance in student grades although the majority indicated that yes they do include attendance for a grade.

There was interesting conversation around the “How do you evaluate student learning” boxes as many said they’re required to use letter grades but they incorporate a lot of ongoing, formative feedback.

Our second panel was the first one layered over the next one with the doors cut open to show the examples of “tired” and “wired” syllabus language underneath.  The literature provided in the middle provides some evidence for instructors moving toward learner-centered syllabi and more humanized course design.  Many participants reflected on the “tired” syllabus language as similar to the language in their own syllabus and noted that they had not really considered what their syllabi were communicating to their learners.  Which makes sense!  We also heard from many faculty and instructors who said their syllabi are inflexible due to requirements by their department, college, and university.  We, of course, considered a syllabus with all the required components (aligned professional preparations standards, state standards, university policies, etc) posted to the learning management system and then a learner-centered and/or co-created learning plan to direct the specific content for the course itself.  It also raises questions of academic freedom – particularly for tenured faculty but that’s for another post.

 The final panel invited participants to make note of what Ambitious Teaching means to them.  The words on the left say:

Dear faculty,

Are you preparing the next generation of early childhood educators and leaders? How long has it been since you critically examined your syllabi and teaching practices? Did you know, in contradiction to DEC leadership recommendations (L1, L4, L6, L8, L11), you may be widening the research to practice gap by making higher education – a place of evidence-based professional development – a hostile and unwelcoming environment?

Existing literature suggests that power relations and issues of expertise limit the extent to which faculty engage students in the design of their own learning and listen or respond to their needs (e.g. Mihans, Long, & Felton, 2008). In your work, examine and challenge the culture of higher education and the role of student-faculty interactions within and beyond the classroom. These interactions are crucial to the development of higher education students’ self-concept, motivation, and achievement (Komarraju, Musulkin, & Bhattacharya, 2010).

You can engage in critical conversations about the expectations placed upon pre-service practitioners. Through ambitious teaching, taking risks pedagogically and reconceptualizing teaching and learning for teachers and learners, you can facilitate dialogue around the extent to which the traditional “status-quo” of educator preparation truly teaches the behaviors we want to see.

Presume competence, rethink relationships, and trust the students you are preparing for the workforce.

Constructing a Learner-Centered Syllabus: One Professor’s Journey

Can a Learner-Centered Syllabus Change Students’ Perceptions of Student–Professor Rapport and Master Teacher Behaviors?

How are making your teaching ambitious?  We want Teaching Is Intellectual to be a space for ambitious teacher education.  For rethinking, reimagining, and redoing traditional (and largely ineffective) teaching and learning paradigms.  Tell us.  Let’s revolutionize teacher education together.

Fonts

A quick browse Teachers Pay Teachers is all the evidence you need that fonts are very popular.  In doing a little digging into the literature on the use of fonts and literacy learning and accessibility, I found some interesting facts.  I’ll post some resources here.

Retrieval-induced forgetting: evidence for a recall-specific mechanism

 

Simultaneous Renewal: An Inclusive Approach to Collaboration and Teaming

We have a new article out today.  I hope you’ll check it out!

Abstract:  Collaboration goes beyond direct service provision. It is critical for effective personnel preparation and professional development as well as high-quality program implementation to close the gap between research and practice in early childhood contexts. Simultaneous renewal provides a framework for continuity from teacher preparation, inclusive teaching practices, and professional development to engage all stakeholders in teaming processes that promote child outcomes and improve teacher practice simultaneously.

Individualized Education Programs

We’re kicking off a new series on IEPs!

Starting with the basics to ensure we have a mutual understanding of what IEPs are and are not.

The IEP is a legal document and every component of special education (beginning with the fact that it exists at all) comes through litigation and advocacy. We are accountable for the things we agree to and despite the fact that oversight and accountability is severely lacking, we, as professionals, must enter into IEPs with integrity and good faith.

IEPs are specific to the child. The tendency is to write goals (more on goal writing later) that are specific to the person responsible for the goal. So we have a “speech goal,” two “OT goals,” and two “academic goals.” We get it . . . BUT is that functional? Does speech operate in isolation from academics? Does OT matter if it isn’t applied to a skill of independence or context? The objective would be for us to build collaborative, functional, shared goals supporting the child’s access to the general curriculum.

Remember, an IEP is not a curriculum. It’s a plan for the services and supports the child needs to be success accessing the general curriculum. Yes, we offer adapted curriculum to some kids but an IEP in and of itself is not an adapted curriculum.

It’s also not a behavior plan.

When I teach IEPs, I have the students work through writing one on themselves. On their present levels, current needs, what supports and services would help them be successful. It helps to personalize the language we use, to focus on strengths, to shut down the deficit framing, because when it’s time to write one on a child, we need to see ourselves and the IEP as a support, not a fixer.

What questions do you have about IEPs?

We can’t get into goal writing without working on our PLAAFP/PLOP/PLP writing. All good goals start as clearly written PLAAFPs.

The words “functional performance” are important here. Working together as a team (WITH families) to ensure we’re addressing functional needs rather than isolated skills is truly the heart of the IEP.

I get lots of messages about how, yes, that’s ideal but not practical or what happens in practice. And I know. However, when we know better, we can do better and advocate for best practices. Here’s to the ones shaking it up out there!!

Lots of requests for goal writing strategies so we are working on some resources for that but in the meantime, what are IEP goals? Are they written for specific academic skills based on assessment data and deficits? Or are they written for providing the missing foundational skills the individual child needs to gain access to the curriculum? This is exactly why general ed teachers need to know about goals, IEP specific data collection, and accommodations and modifications. Supporting learners is all of our work!

This gives the IDEA charge for goals. The words here are important.

IDEA has four purposes. 1) equality of opportunity 2) full participation 3) independent living, 4) economic self sufficiency

It helps to keep the big picture in mind when writing goals.

More on this to come but for now, what have you found helpful in writing meaningful goals?

 

IDEA Disability Categories

Remember, we talked about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the 6 principles of IDEA.  Now, we’re going to add the legal definitions of each of the 13 disability categories with a little info for each.

 

 

 

Autism is considered a clinical diagnosis. It is determined by a team of qualified professionals generally including a developmental pediatrician, psychologists, and/or neurologists.

If learners present with communication impairments, difficulties in making and sustaining relationships, sensory sensitivities, repetitive or nonproductive motor movements, they may meet the eligibility criteria for autism.

Using terms like low functioning and high functioning communicate more about how the learner’s autism impacts those around them rather than how the learner with autism experiences their autism. Changing our language to reflect the amount of support learners need in specific areas is more beneficial in meeting the learner’s unique needs.

Some states/districts allow school assessment teams to make eligibility determinations of autism without a medical/clinical team assessment.

The needs of a learner with autism are unique to the child themselves. Presuming competence, using the child’s interests to provoke engagement, and putting the child’s strengths in the forefront are critical components of supporting and teaching kids with autism.

Deaf-blindness is considered a low incidence disability as about .03% of those served in special education are eligible under this category.

Approximately half of those .03% have Usher Syndrome. Each child has their own unique combination of hearing and vision loss. It’s not necessary to experience total vision and/or total hearing loss to be eligible in this category.

Strategies will utilize touch cues, assistive technology, Braille, screen readers, TDD with Braille, and more!

The American Association of the Deaf-Blind is an excellent resource!

Deafness is it’s own IDEA category – separate from hearing impairment because the strengths, needs, values, culture, interventions, and decisions of Deaf children are unique. Families engage in complex decision making when raising (D)deaf children and professionals must partner with families and honor their decisions and priorities in terms of language, medical interventions, and educational goals. 

 

Let’s take a look at this category carefully, shall we?

I know it’s wordy! It’s important to see the words included in the law’s definition – and those NOT included.

Emotional disturbance (ED) is an umbrella term. Many many medical and psychological diagnoses qualify for services and supports in this category. Anxiety disorders (🙋🏽‍♀️), eating disorders, depression, mood disorders such as bipolar disorder, conduct disorders such as oppositional defiance disorder, and the rare childhood onset psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.

This category is often overapplied in particular to black and brown children and to children living in poverty. The characteristics of children with ED (hoping this category is renamed very soon!) are characteristics exhibited by most children at points along the developmental continuum – the difference for learners with ED is the persistence over a long period of time.

We are challenged with considering the WHY before rushing to an ED determination. Highly qualified child psychologists and mental health experts are necessary partners in determining ED as a primary category.

This is an example of when educators wield great power over the lives of young children. We must be sure we are using that power for the good of the child focused on services and supports for the child’s success.

Why is hearing impairment its own category? Because hearing is COMPLEX!

There are a variety of ways in which hearing can be impaired – conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, mixed, and central hearing disorders are all types of hearing loss.

And the extent to which a child’s education is impacted by their loss is complex and unique to the child!

Sound is measured by loudness (decibels) and frequency (hertz). Hearing impairment can occur in just one or both as well as in one or both ears. Do you know we have two ears to allow us to locate sound in space? Loss in one ear makes it very difficult to tell where sound is coming from!

Loss is described as slight, mild, moderate, severe, or profound based on how well a person can hear and differentiate sounds at intensities most common in speech.

Services and supports vary so never assume that one child with a hearing impairment who used an FM system means the next child with a hearing impairment will!

About 7% of kids receive services and supports under the category of intellectual disability. This (like all?!) category is also complicated because there are some genetic disorders, issues during pregnancy, birth complications, and health conditions that result in intellectual disabilities. Background information coupled with multiple means of assessment in cognitive and adaptive development provide the data necessary for eligibility in this category.

Developmental delay (or significant developmental delay in some states) provides an eligibility category to serve and support young kids before age 8-9. This gives time for loads of evidence based intervention before determination of an intellectual disability.

Due to the highly biased and problematic nature of intelligence testing (IQ tests), we have the responsibility to be aware of how kids may be underperforming on assessments for reasons unrelated to their cognitive abilities. Multiple means of assessment in a variety of modes and environments are critical. If we fail to provide a child with a highly qualified teacher and an evidence based curriculum, we cannot make a determination of ID.

Kids with intellectual disabilities can and want to contribute to and be a part of your classroom and school community. Meaningful inclusion is critical. Learn as much as you can about ID and about the individual learners in your classroom and school. Chunking, task analysis, and extended time for learning and engagement are just a few of the many strategies teachers use effectively with kids with ID. Partner with special educators to meaningfully support and include kids with intellectual disabilities in your classrooms and community. Everyone benefits when we do.

 When it’s not possible or reasonable to determine a primary eligibility criteria, IDEA gives us the “multiple disabilities” category. The key to this category is that the combination of two or more eligibility categories are causing the student to have significant educational needs.

Every single kid in this category is unique. This is an eligibility determination only. Now it’s time to learn about all the strengths and needs your learner has!

**story time**
When I was a first semester/first year faculty member in my very first tenure track position out of my doc program, I was teaching in an inclusive early childhood program. A colleague asked me to come in to her course and present on how to include “kids in wheelchairs and whatever.”

This is an extremely low incidence category for PK-12 because remember a couple of things. 1) the child’s education must be adversely affected by the disability. 2) we have ADA and Section 504 of the Rehab Act to cover environmental access issues and limitations 3) wheelchairs and walkers and standers and all the amazing accommodations we have available to give kids access to the curriculum, to their friends, and to their environment.
Less than 1% of kids receive services and supports under IDEA in this category. It is more frequently a concomitant category in the multiple disabilities category.

I asked the class how they would welcome and include a child who uses a wheelchair to access their world. They said the right things – ensure tables are the right height, adequate space between tables, accessible supplies, books, etc. Then I said physical inclusion is not meaningful inclusion and that disabilities that affect a child’s educational opportunities are rarely ones we can see. Ensuring every kid has access to their educational environment is only one of three critical components of inclusion (the other two are participation and supports).

It’s another umbrella term for a number of medical concerns and needs. This one is tricky because the diagnosis of one of the named disabilities or disorders does NOT ensure services and supports under IDEA (remember – it has to adversely affect the child’s education) AND a diagnosis other than the ones named within the law COULD result in services and supports under IDEA. Totally clear, right?

Let’s use ADHD as an example since we’re probably all familiar with it. Child is diagnosed with ADHD. Child is achieving as expected in school, on assessments, and showing adequate growth over time. Does the child qualify for services and supports under IDEA?

It’s usually not that easy but in this clean example, no. If the child needs more breaks, some environmental supports built in, a 504 plan is a better option. This child’s education is not adversely affected.

There are also medical diagnoses not stated that may fit under this category – mood disorders such as bipolar disorder. How do we determine if a mood disorder like bipolar disorder should be categorized under OHI or ED?

OHI allows us to serve and support kids who are experiencing a variety of health and medical needs. It does not mean we HAVE to qualify them under IDEA. Remember – adversely affects the child’s educational performance.

Say it again – adversely affects the child’s educational performance.

Speaking of umbrella terms . . .

First, specific learning disability does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of intellectual disability, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

That last one is important.

There’s so much to say on SLD, more than we can say here, but know that the discrepancy model (significant difference between achievement and ability) is no longer used and that kids no longer need to fail in order to get support. Eligibility determination can be made through the RTI/MTSS process.

The lack of an appropriate evidence based curriculum or highly qualified teacher cannot be a determining factor in determining if a child has a SLD. Nor is learning English as a second language.

The word SPECIFIC is important too. When we say, “she has a learning disability” we are failing to communicate specific needs we can support. SLD is broad and encompassing category but kids served in this category have SPECIFIC learning and intervention needs.

Speech language impairment is the second most prevalent category under IDEA! (Do you know which is THE most prevalent?)

Communication is critical! No matter how kids do it – words, pictures, gestures, signs, apps, assistive technology, a mixture of all, communication is everything. Make your SLP your best friend and learn with them!

There is no right way to communicate. Whatever works for the child to get across their wants and needs, use it! Keep it always and readily available if it’s a device or a picture book. Not just for direct instruction or teaching time but always! Keep kids voices at their fingertips.

“Traumatic brain injury applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas, such as cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgment; problem-solving; sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities; psychosocial behavior; physical functions; information processing; and speech. Traumatic brain injury does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma” (Sec 300.8(c)(12)

The key here is ACQUIRED. This category is specifically for kids who acquire brain injuries after birth. TBI range from mild to severe and the effects of the injury are unique to the individual.

Concussions are traumatic brain injuries.

Keep in mind that the emotional trauma of such an injury is also affecting the child. We can’t just focus on academic and behavioral supports but also emotional supports for navigating the world post-injury.

EVEN WITH CORRECTION

Kids served in this category account for less than 0.5% of kids receiving special education services and supports. It’s referred to as a “low incidence” disability because of how infrequently it occurs. This is important because if you are a teacher educator asking students to create modifications and/or accommodations for kids with specific disabilities and you use visual impairment, TBI, and a child who uses a wheelchair as your target children, you’re doing it wrong.

Kids with visual impairments, including blindness, have unique mobility and orientation needs and skills. Use your resources! Learn from mobility and orientation experts on how to set up your classroom routines in ways that include and support independence for your learner.

Additionally, visual impairments are widely variable – people experience vision in a variety of ways. So, again, teacher educators, stop using blindfold simulations and sighted guide simulations as that is ineffective and inaccurate in representing the experience of impaired vision.

Learn from the child and family! Ask! Ask more! Use color and shade and all the cool adaptations the mobility and orientation experts have available!

This is our 13th and final IDEA category. I know it hasn’t been super exciting but it’s critical we get this right. It’s the work of ALL educators to support and include kids with disabilities in our schools and communities.

What should we talk about next?

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