Achieving Unprecedented Learning Results for Students With Disabilities in a PLC
I was recently asked how our school had such great success in helping students with special needs learn at high levels and how, as a PLC school, we work collaboratively to achieve unprecedented learning results. The following are some key steps our staff have taken to ensure students who are working below grade level, regardless of disability, become successful learners.
- We find the greatest level of success, with over 90 percent of students with special needs meeting state standards, when we mainstream all students nearly the whole day and for all core subject areas. Any student, including our lowest-performing students with special needs and students who take the alternative state assessment, receive targeted literacy interventions on a daily basis. The structure for those intervention classes is to preteach the core curriculum and align the instruction to the general education language arts essential outcomes. This daily class usually replaces an elective class for our students.
- Many of our students with special needs also receive a daily resource period, which focuses typically on additional literacy intervention or math intervention. We recognize that some of our students who are furthest behind need even more literacy support. Those students are placed in a social studies class that incorporates extensive fluency/comprehension instruction to further accelerate our students. Many students in this class have what we would typically consider low-incidence disabilities, and through these multiple layers of intervention, are very successful on our state assessments.
- Our expectation is that every student who takes the state assessment should take the team and district common assessments with the same accommodations the state assessment allows. Preteaching occurs in both the reading intervention class and the special education resource period. Our students are very successful with this model, in large part due to the high expectations our language arts, reading intervention, and special education teachers have for our students.
- Our students who qualify for the alternative assessment in Illinois (IAA) also take the common formative assessments. At times, we make modifications and shorten the assessment only for the students who were taking an alternative assessment. In Illinois, this assessment is intended mainly for the lowest 1 percent of all students. By supporting our students who qualify for the alternative assessment with these interventions and by precisely focusing on our essential outcomes during all levels of instruction, our alternatively assessed students are highly successful on our common assessments (with some reteaching needed) and on the state alternative assessment. In fact, 100 percent met or exceeded standards on the state alternative assessment.
- We use a guided reading and guided math structure during part of core instruction for all students. When working with students with disabilities who are many grades below grade level, we ask ourselves in a more specific way, "What do our most struggling students really need to know and be able to do?" As all educators working in a PLC know, we ask a similar question for the 99 percent of our students who take main state assessment, "What do we expect all students to know and be able to do?" In this case, we are more specific so we are focused on what really matters for our students with disabilities.
- We find that our IEP (Individualized Education Plan) goals are nearly all reading, writing, and math focused, so we utilize our special education teachers mainly to support our students with special needs in language arts and math. Most co-teach multiple periods in both language arts and math to support our most struggling students. This gives us the greatest leverage in the areas we find build core skills for other content areas. We have instructional assistants (para-pros) who support them in science and social studies or when needed, in specials. By prioritizing to this level and also assigning our special education teachers whenever possible to one grade-level team, they are able to collaborate with both the math and language arts departments, specifically with the grade level they support. This enables our special education teachers to plan with only two content areas in one grade and dynamically support their students. They know which outcomes are most essential, help write the common assessments aligned to grade-level essential outcomes, and know what to focus on during core instruction, resource, and intervention periods.
There certainly are specific schedules, intervention models, and instructional strategies that benefit students with special needs and enable them to achieve unprecedented growth. Through these structures, high expectations, and co-teaching, we see profound growth in our students as they close the achievement gap and perform nearly as well as a subgroup as their non-disabled peers.
For more information about the PLC at Work™ process at Robert Frost Junior High, visit: http://www.allthingsplc.info/evidence/robertfrostjuniorhighschool/index.php
As a special education teacher myself, I am always looking for new ways to reach all of my students. I love the idea of having a resource period for students to receive interventions in the particular subjects in which they struggle. So many times I know that my students have not completely mastered a skills and yet due to pacing guides we move on so quickly. They would benefit greatly from this kind of additional support to assist them in mastering material.
I am currently a substitute teacher in upstate NY working towards my Masters degree in special ed. I found this article very interesting as it related to my current focus. I connected with the paragraph about focusing on what the "most struggling students" really need to know and be able to do. I currently have a long term sub position as a one on one aide in a self-contained classroom. They struggle greatly when it comes to ELA. Thankfully I believe the head teacher and other aides in the class really grasp the idea that they should focus on "what the most struggling students really need to know and be able to do?" Without having said it, I notice that day to day they always focus on a few main points that are crucial for our students to learn (in all subjects as well as ELA). This is also a life skills class meaning that a portion of their curriculum is designed around simple life tasks such as doing dishes or preparing a meal. These are things that I feel the students with special needs absolutely need to learn in order to maintain the lifestyle many other people sometimes take for granted.
I find your article interesting and inspiring. I also believe that pre teaching certain curriculum topics can be beneficial for students with disabilities. I connect this to my experience as an interpreter for deaf people and I believe that pre teaching concepts can be beneficial for students who have never seen those concepts and to put them into a context before actually using them in the content area. I wonder if that can be done here in Colombia and if it is done there. Mainly, because deaf people struggle with content not because they do not understand what the context says about certain topic but because the lack of knowledge of signs that much those concepts affects their understanding of concepts discussed or presented in class.
Also, identifying what students really need to know and do is essential to provide them with useful and meaningful content that will help them to perform better in what society expect from them. I find this idea of preteaching very interesting and doable as well. Thanks for sharing this.
Dear Mr. Goldberg,
I found your article on students with disabilities in a PLC a very good read. I agree that students with a disability should receive literacy interventions on a daily basis. At my district all of our students with special needs also receive a daily resource period. The resource class is used to make sure students are getting help with their assignments when needed. The resource class is also used for teaching life skills such as how to do a resume for a job. I believe our co-taught classes help out students with disabilities a great deal. I like how you have your special education student’s main streamed with their peers. We do this as much as possible in our district. I am an Emotional Disturbed Special Education Teacher. That being said most of our districts ED students spend most of their day with the Special education teacher. Our hope is that they all make it back full time to a regular education classroom.
I am a special education teacher. I enjoy reading your blog. I envy your special education teachers that are able to work with one grade level and be able to work and plan with them.
As a special education teacher, I truly enjoyed reading your blog. Although I participate in a PLC within my school, this is my first time engaging in a global community.
You provided immense insight on resources, interventions, and instructional strategies that benefit students with special needs and allow them to achieve unprecedented growth; however, you did not include the exact growth your students made.
In my school, regarding student achievement, we follow a plus one year model, meaning that we aim for our students to be making consistent progress. For instance, if a student in in the 7th grade, but is functioning on a 2.5 grade equivalency, we aim for them to reach a 3.5 grade equivalency before the next school year.
I am just wondering, how does you school evaluate your students growth or determine that they are consistently meeting their goals?
I really enjoyed your blog! I am a first year teacher and the support I receive is not enough. I am struggling with balancing my instruction time and an very aggressive student. My paraprofessionals are stressed as well. We currently do not have any PLC's in the special education department. Do you have any suggestions?
I enjoyed reading your blog. I am currently a middle school special education teacher and I co teach all five subjects (Reading, English, Math, Science, and Social Studies). I like the idea of heavily focusing on the Reading and Math in the classroom because that is what they are being tested on and that is the area where they struggle the most. I also like the idea of having paraprofessionals in the classroom too. I often feel that I am stretched thin and that I am not making the gains with my students that I should be. Was it difficult to mainstream all students? Did the regular education teachers adjust well to this new model?
Thank you for summarizing your most effective teaching strategies. I am in my third year of teaching orchestra to students in grades four, five and six. I agree that holding students to high expectations is essential. Every student learns to play the same pieces of music and performs at the same concert. To achieve this goal of a unified concert performance, I often incorporate “re-teaching” to students who will benefit. I find that orchestra enhances student achievement in literacy because students read music in every lesson and rehearsal. Beginning reading skills, such as tracking and learning note names, are emphasized with carry over into English Language Arts classes. I often meet with grade-level math and reading teachers to align our expectations and collaborate on successful strategies.
I found this to be very insightful. I teach an intervention math class for middle school. I have several special needs students without any additional support. For the most part things run smoothly but I feel that I should have support to best meet the needs of all students. We have had a PD on co-teaching but I dont think we are really ready to implement it within our school...meaning we would need to find time to co plan with an already hectic schedule. I know you have to MAKE time but with all the other things we are implementing right now, I think co-teaching will be in the very near future.
The students also have another math class (their regular, grade level math course). So for some students, having two math classes is just dreadful. Do your students seem to be pretty motivated when it comes to learning and doing math? I know that this is on aspect I am working on.
I am an intervention specialist and I work in an inclusion setting for 60% of my day. I have spent years building a relationship with the classroom teachers that I work with. My first suggestion for you is to go slowly. I have learned that it takes time for teachers to allow others to come into their classroom and to let go of some of the control but the rewards are worth it.
You need to begin by offering the teacher if you could teach a class or two to help them and to also build a relationship with the students. The classroom teacher needs time, but if you sell yourself and the situation, they can see that you being a part of the classroom is a win/win for all involved. All of the students in the classroom, even those that are not identified, can benefit from your expertise and support in the classroom. The classroom teacher will also benefit as you begin to share some of the direct teaching responsibilities and management of the students. The biggest gain I found is that all of the students looked at me as just another teacher in the classroom. This was a huge social gain for students on IEP's because it took some of the negative stigma away from them. The regular education students were eager to work with me in small groups and I would work with heterogeneous groups which helped to allow my students see models of work for them to work towards.
I want to encourage you to not get discouraged. I have been doing this for 13 years and although some teachers are more receptive than others, in the end, everyone wins. Begin by trying to build a relationship with the classroom teacher and let them know that you are there to support them and help in the classroom where you are needed. Do not let yourself just become an aide to assist only IEP students. You are an educator and sometimes that means that you need to educate the adults in the room as well as the children!
I am new to teaching. I enjoyed reading this blog. The school districts that I substitute teach use inclusion. I wish that they would try out the method and strategies that Paul Goldberg taugh his school. I know that the Yakima Valley would imrove in their test scores.
I am pleased to be a part of or share in the PLC blog. This article is particularly interesting to me. I have a passion for helping the students in my class who are learning disabled. There are many constraint but the information that I have gathered of late is quite helpful, in that i am motivated to succeed at my venture to help students with disabilites. The article above is very insightful and I find the strategies used to help students with LD very useful. Co-teaching is an idea that I like but I am not sure how I can implement it since I am the only math teacher for the entire high school where I teach. Any advice would help. Thank you.
It is great to hear that your PLC’s have helped increase student achievement. I am a general education teacher that co-teaches in an inclusive fourth grade classroom. I like the idea of extra practice periods for students who struggle with literacy and math. I also love the pre-teaching idea. Do the co-teachers have common planning time in order to plan for all of their instruction together? Thank you so much for sharing these ideas!
I was impressed with the data for you special needs students. My school uses many of the ideas that you discussed in your article. My school also mainstreams all special needs students, but unfortunately we do not have the same resources that you mention. Our special needs students meet with a special education teacher for only one period a day. I am interested in your co-teaching model, that seems like something that would benefit special needs students more effectively at my school.
I am very impressed with the collaborative model that you have in place. I feel that it is critical for all teachers to have a since that these are our students not those students are someone else problem. I have been teaching special education for 7 years now and feel completely isolated from my regular education counterparts. And I know that my students feel the same way. I applaud you for having such inclusive practices at your school and it looks to truly be paying off.
I am curious about who teaches your intervention and pre-teaching periods? Is it a special education teacher or a regular ed teacher? What do you do in the pre-teaching class when you run into a student who is so far behind that the pre-teaching is over their head? Do these teachers who pre-teach plan with the teacher that is teaching the on-level class? How big are your pre-teaching/intervention classes? I would like to know because I am the classroom teacher for the inclusion class at my school and am having trouble getting my students up to grade level. Pre-teaching sounds like a good option to try but I have problems just trying to catch students up that are 2-3 years below grade level.
It is wonderful that you are a part of an enlightened team that values the amount of time invested in students with special needs. Though I am in Florida, we share the same spirit in that all students can become successful learners. I am in a “center” facility this school year, and I have found there to be a much stronger sense of community and cooperation in promoting student learning. My previous experience was in inclusion and self-contained programs; neither of which had the kind of support you offer your students. Perhaps your school’s success will serve as a model for involving special educators in meaningful PLC’s and valuing the abilities of all students.
I am very interested in your experience with PLCs and how they increased student achievement for students with special needs. I am a 7th grade, special education teacher and I am wondering about the logistics of the placement of students. The idea of having all students mainstreamed as much as possible is excellent. However, I am wondering what happens to students who cannot keep up with the pace of the general education setting or cannot perform due to behavioral issues. Also, as an inclusion teacher in the general education classroom, I am wondering if the students who are only given in class support in math and language arts the struggle to maintain a good grade in those other areas. I co-teach in all subject areas right now and I think the students would have trouble since the paraprofessional would typically not be providing whole group instuction. How did the students perform in the other subject areas? I did really like the idea of the students having another elective period of literacy or math instruction when needed. I think that many students would benefit. Thank you for sharing your experiences and I am just wondering about the success in all classes with this class design.
Truly impressive. How do you find time to pre-teach? I live in Jamaica and our special needs students are failing at a high rate. What is troubling is that most of these students go undiagnosed for years and they are often not recognized until they sit their first government exams at grade four. What you have done seems very detailed and calculated. How did you get to this point? What were some of your growing pains? Our special education team has been trying to change the approach that we use, which is a full-time pull out program, but we have received great opposition from the individuals who can effect the changes. I would love to write another proposal to try to get them to rethink what we are doing because we have been unable to meet the needs of most of the students. There are currently four special education teachers to forty-eight students. The school operates on a shift and services 1,800 students.
I really enjoyed reading your blog. I work in a district in NY that employs a lot of the strategies you discussed and we really find that it works well for the students and the teachers. Our teachers co-teach in the core classes for several groups of students. The teachers also teach 2 resource periods a day where they focus on literacy and provide additional teaching and support for what was taught in the core classes. Being in the classrooms with the general education teachers and hearing the way things are being taught for the students really helps to reinforce the learning in the resource classes. Also, the help that is provided in the core classes in the moment could not be provided in any better way. I am very interested in the aspect of pre-teaching that is done at your school. This must mean that the special education and general education teachers are involved in weekly planning as a team. Are they provided with time on a weekly basis to plan for the pre-teaching? Also, I am very fond of the literacy class idea. We often do not have enough time at our school to support the students during the resource period with both literacy intervention as well as help with their core classes, which forces us to choose one or another sometimes. Thanks so much for sharing this information, I plan to share this with my district!
I'm extremely interested in how you achieved such amazing results with your students with disabilities. I am a middle school special education teacher who co-teaches all day long in four content areas. I find that there is not enough of me to go around in order to help my students be successful. Our school was cited by the State Department of Education a few years ago for having too many students with too high of an FTE in special education resource room programs, thus my job as a co-teacher within the general education classes. I particularly like how your school has students taking intervention classes as well as a support type of hour to work on their areas of weaknesses. As a special educator, I would love to be able to focus on math and language arts with my students and I really like the idea of having paraprofessionals support students in other core classes so that your special educators can really focus their time.
Do your teachers work in PLC groups? If so, what kind of time do they devote to these groups? In our building, we only have one core teacher per grade level and have struggled with how to best structure PLC groups to make them most effective.
I enjoyed reading your blog. Many school districts have difficulty providing the most effective practices for students with disabilities to reach their full potential. Since some of your students with disabilities qualify for alternate assessment, they get the appropriate instruction for this test. I like the idea of a separate tutoring class for these students who struggle with math and reading. I also think the social students course to enhance comprehension and reading skills is a great idea. I am a special education teacher who worked in a full inclusion classroom for three years. I think that inclusion and mainstreaming is beneficial for all students and I think it is a good idea for your special education teachers to go to them in their regular classrooms. As much as I am for inclusion, I also think that students need individual, more structured classes and that is what I read in your blog.