STRATEGIES TO IMPROVE WORKING MEMORY AND LONG TERM RETRIEVAL

MemoryWorking memory, also known as short-term memory, is the ability to actively hold information in the mind needed to do complex tasks such as reasoning, comprehension and learning. This type of memory stores items for only around 20–30 seconds. E.g., “Open your science book to chapter 5, page 134, and read me the second sentence.”
Long-term memory is the storage of information indefinitely so that it can be used again and again at a later time. This type of memory can last as little as a few days or as long as decades. E.g., Memorizing your multiplication facts.

Tips for Improving Memory and Learning
1. Give Directions in Multiple Formats: Students benefit from being given directions in both visual (e.g., posted on desk, blackboard) and verbal formats. In addition, their understanding and memorizing of instructions could be checked by encouraging them to repeat and explain the meaning of the directions. Verbal, visual, and tactile examples of what needs to be done are also often helpful for enhancing memory of directions.

2. Multi-step Tasks Broken Down. Students benefit from receiving one part of a large task and completing it before starting the next part of the task. A calendar with the task broken down provides a visual and systematic plan for the student to complete a multi-step or long term project.

3. Teach Students to Over-learn Material: Students should be taught the necessity of “over-learning” new information. Often they practice only until they are able to perform one error-free repetition of the material. However, several error-free repetitions are needed to solidify the information. Information should then be reviewed often to ensure the skill has not been lost over time. E.g., reviewing addition facts once the material has moved on to multiplication.

4. Teach Students to Use Visual Images and Other Memory Strategies: Another memory strategy that makes use of a cue is one called word substitution. The substitute word system can be used for information that is hard to visualize, for example, for the word occipital. These words can be converted into words that sound familiar that can be visualized. The word occipital can be converted to exhibit hall (because it sounds like exhibit hall). The student can then make a visual image of walking into an art museum and seeing a big painting of a brain with big bulging eyes (occipital is the region of the brain that controls vision). With this system, the vocabulary word the student is trying to remember actually becomes the cue for the visual image that then cues the definition of the word.

5. Give Teacher-Prepared Handouts Prior to Class Lectures: Class lectures and series of oral directions should be reinforced by teacher-prepared handouts. The handouts for class lectures could consist of a brief outline or a partially completed graphic organizer that the student would complete during the lecture. Having this information both enables students to identify the salient information that is given during the lectures and to correctly organize the information in their notes. Both of these activities enhance memory of the information as well. The use of Post-Its to jot information down on is helpful for remembering directions.

6. Teach Students to Be Active Readers: To enhance short-term memory registration and/or working memory when reading, students should underline, highlight, or jot key words down in the margin or on sticky notes when reading chapters. They can then go back and read what is underlined, highlighted, or written in the margins. To consolidate this information in long-term memory, they can make outlines or use graphic organizers. Research has shown that the use of graphic organizers increases academic achievement for all students.

7. Write Down Steps in Math Problems: Students who have a weakness in working memory should not rely on mental computations when solving math problems. For example, if they are performing long division problems, they should write down every step, including carrying numbers. When solving word problems, they should always have a scratch piece of paper handy to write down the steps in their calculations. This will help prevent them from losing their place and forgetting what they are doing. The Touch Math system naturally provides visual cues for carrying out all necessary steps of a math problem. In addition, it is often useful for older students to use a calculator for basic facts once they understand the concept in order to complete more complex math problems.

8. Provide Retrieval Practice for Students: Research has shown that long-term memory is enhanced when students engage in retrieval practice. Taking a test is a retrieval practice, i.e., the act of recalling information that has been studied from long-term memory. Thus, it can be very helpful for students to take practice tests. When teachers are reviewing information prior to tests and exams, they could ask the students questions or have the students make up questions for everyone to answer rather than just retelling students the to-be-learned information. Also, if students are required or encouraged to make up their own tests and take them, it will give their parents and/or teachers information about whether they know the most important information or are instead focused on details that are less important.

9. Help Students Develop Cues When Storing Information: According to the memory research, information is easier retrieved when it is stored using a cue and that cue should be present at the time the information is being retrieved. For example, the acronym HOMES can be used to represent the names of the Great Lakes – Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. The acronym is a cue that is used when the information is being learned, and recalling the cue when taking a test will help the student recall the information.

10. Prime the Memory Prior to Teaching/Learning: Cues that prepare students for the task to be presented are helpful. This is often referred to as priming the memory. For instance, when a reading comprehension task is given, students will get an idea of what is expected by discussing the vocabulary and the overall topic beforehand. This will allow them to focus on the salient information and engage in more effective depth of processing. Advance organizers also serve this purpose. For older students, Cliff Notes for pieces of literature are often helpful aids for priming the memory.

11. Review Material Before Going to Sleep: It should be helpful for students to review material a last time right before going to sleep at night. Research has shown that information studied this way is better remembered. Any other task that is performed after reviewing and prior to sleeping (such as getting a snack, brushing teeth, listening to music, playing video games, watching television, texting) interferes with consolidation of information in memory.
Adapted from http://www.cdl.org/resource-library/articles/memory_strategies_May06.php

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Increasing Student Engagement

Student engagement with school and learning has strong ties to dropout and school completion. Evidence          indicates that dropping out of school is a process of disengagement from school and learning that occurs over    many years, often beginning early in elementary school. It is critical that both parents and educators create a      learning climate that promotes student engagement, and reach out to children who are disengaged from schooland consequently unlikely to succeed.

Promoting Student Engagement in the Classroom

Engaging students in learning academic content for seven hours each day can be challenging in our day of fast-paced media and video games, and can be especially difficult during the mid-year lull and following an extendedbreak from school. In spite of these challenges, there are many strategies teachers can use to enhance students’ attention and engagement in learning.

Student Considerations

·         Emotions (How do I feel?) –  Research suggests that when students feel enthusiasm or joy, they are more   likely to engage in new behaviors and tasks. Emotions can be impacted by energy level, teacher’s positive demeanor and student’s perception of acceptance.

·         Interest (Am I Interested?) People like to talk about themselves and those things that interest them.   Capturing students’ interest by projecting enthusiasm, using game-like activities, friendly controversy, unusual information/fun facts, and connecting content to student interests can enhance engagement.

·         Perceived Importance (Is this Important?) – When something is perceived to be important, interest and engagement are enhanced. Connecting content to the real world, having students set and monitor personal goals, and giving students choices can impact perceived importance.

·         Perceptions of Efficacy (Can I Do This?) – Research on self-efficacy supports that people are more likely to engage in activities/tasks which they perceive they can succeed in. Factors such as skill levelversus task level, previous successes/failures, and perceived control over outcome can play into this.

Teaching Strategies

·         Foster Accepting and Supportive Teacher-Student and Peer Relationships

o   Greet each student every day, ask students about their interests

o   Praise effort and increments of improvement; Give specific, positive feedback

o   Establish a positive classroom community with explicit expectations

·         Physical Movement (increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, boosts energy and mood)

o   Stand and stretch, brain gym, integrating movement in between transitions

o   Body representations of content (i.e., both arms out to show diameter; one to show radius) orresponses (i.e., students indicate their response by standing in a specific location)

·         Teacher Enthusiasm / High-Interest

o   Teacher projects his/her reasons for why a topic is meaningful, interesting or important

o   Personal stories, anecdotes and stories not found in the textbook, humor, fun/unusual facts

o   Game-like activities to review content (i.e., Jeopardy!, Name That Category, Classroom Feud)

·         Presentation of Information

o   Explain the purpose/goal of the lesson/homework; what are they to learn and why

o   Well-paced routines/lessons with quick/smooth transitions

o   Mild pressure (i.e., calling on students randomly, 3 second wait-time for student response)

o   Relate academic content to the real world, student interests and future goals/learning

·         Create Opportunities for Active Participation

o   Small, structured discussion groups/group work (i.e., jigsaw)

o   Partner share/work

o   Hands-on activities or projects that illustrate or expand upon instructional content

o   Provide students choices of the ways that they may complete projects or assignments

o   Whole class response (i.e., using individual white boards, chalk boards, piece of paper)

o   Friendly Controversy (i.e., elicit divergent opinions on an issue and then invite students to resolve    their discrepancies through sustained discussion)

o   Friendly Competition (individually or by team; for a prize or satisfaction of winning)

·         Provide Opportunities for Extra Help

o   Lower student-teacher ratios whenever possible (i.e., small group pre- or re-teaching)

o   Create smaller learning communities (i.e., study groups, group work)

o   Before/after school, STAR/homeroom, Homework club, Peer Tutoring, Parent Volunteers, etc.

Guidelines for Parents in Promoting Student Engagement

Parents play a critical role in establishing a child’s attitudes about school and academic achievement, and they influence their child’s engagement in learning by providing both academic and motivational support for learning.

·         Be a good role model

o   Show your interest and enthusiasm for learning.

o   Model the importance of learning, goal-setting, persistence, self-discipline, and hard work.

o   Demonstrate respect for authority. Support teacher assignments and school standards/expectations.

·         Set and enforce high but realistic expectations

o   Clearly state and discuss your expectations for school work and behavior.

o   Emphasize both effort and results. Talking about working hard, not about being smart, is more likelyto encourage persistence when work is challenging.

·         Provide structure and monitoring

o   Establish daily routines for studying and homework, bedtime, and meals.

o   Monitor out-of-school activities, and set limits on TV/computer use.

o   Hold your child accountable for chores, behavior, and school work completion.

o   Be aware of how your child is doing in school – attend conferences, check grades regularly.

·         Know what is going on at school

o   Show interest in your child’s progress at school. Attend school events.

o   Recognize your child’s efforts and progress. Give a high five for a 10-point improvement on a test.

o   Contact your child’s teacher for additional assistance with school work when needed.

·         Make your home a learning environment

o   Make education the family’s top priority by giving preference to school work, reading, and other  educational activities over TV, videogames, sports, and other recreation.

o   Create a quiet place at home to study and do homework with appropriate materials at hand.

o   Spend time discussing current events and school-related topics.

Resources

Marzano, R. J. (2007). The Art and Science of Teaching.

Marzano, R. J., & Pickering, D. J. (2011). The Highly Engaged Classroom.

NASP (2004). School Completion and Student Engagement: Information and Strategies for Educators.

NASP (2004). School Completion and Student Engagement: Information and Strategies for Parents.

Crisis Response

Crisis Response

There is no such thing as a perfect crisis response, but it is important to do something and not wait to respond.”

  “Knowing how to respond quickly and efficiently in a crisis is critical to ensuring the safety of our schools and students. The midst of a crisis is not the time to start figuring out who ought to do what.”

What is a crisis?

How to identify a crisis situation

In ordered to effectively intervene in a crisis situation, we must first be able to identify a potential crisis situation. Crisis situations range in proximity and intensity.  They can have direct and indirect implications.  They can affect only a single student, or the community at large.  While what constitutes a crisis situation varies greatly from one individual to another, a crisis is defined as follows: “An unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending… with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome” (Webster, 1987).  It is important to remember that most crisis situations (if not all) encountered by students occur off school grounds; however, schools are the optimal setting to provide services and facilitate recovery. 

Possible Crisis Situations:

  • Death of a Peer (40% of all school-aged children will experience the loss of a peer)
  • Death of a family member (8-12% of students will experience the loss of a parent or sibling)
  • Death of staff member
  • Natural disasters and severe weather
  • Bus crashes
  • School shootings
  • Bomb threats
  • Medical emergencies
  • Acts of terror or war

Be Prepared!

How to prepare for a crisis

It is difficult to know how to react in a crisis situation, but it is essential to have a plan.  Successful school wide plans involve: support from leadership, a building and district wide team, and community stakeholders.  Here are some things to consider and address when developing a plan:

·         Respond quickly!  When a crisis occurs it is essential to intervene immediately.

·         Prior to experiencing a crisis, identify crisis response teams at the building and district level.

·         Have clearly defined roles among team members.

·         Identify community stakeholders before a crisis occurs (mental health providers, churches, etc.).

·         Develop accountability and release procedures for the safety of all students.

·         Establish systems to share information with students and community members.

·         Have a system in place to identify those at-risk.

·         Have a plan for continued care for those at-risk.

·         De-briefing for staff is an essential part of a crisis response plan.

Crisis response

How to respond to a crisis situation

In a crisis situation, students look to adults to gain information and guidance on how to react.  School staff facilitate coping by establishing a sense of trust, safety, and security.  Here are some things to consider while responding to a crisis:

·         Refer to the building/district crisis response team.

·         Manage the information shared with students:

o   Sharing information in small groups is best (classroom sizes or smaller). 

o   Tell the truth while keeping the information shared developmentally appropriate for the students you are    working with. 

o   Stick to the facts.  Try not to embellish or speculate.

·         Model calm and controlled behavior.  Emotional reactions from staff are appropriate and healthy, however avoid appearing anxious or frightened.

·         Reassure students that they are safe and trusted individuals are in control.

·         Acknowledge emotional reactions and try to normalize them.

·         Lead group discussions and activities that facilitate coping and connectedness.

Grief and Crisis

Common vs. atypical reactions to grief in youths

Grief is the most commonly experienced emotion in times of crisis.  It is important to know typical and atypical responses to grief:

Typical: (temporary responses)

*Atypical: (intense and/or prolonged)

Feelings: sadness, despair, shock, denial, resentment

Anger, depression, guilt, anxiety.

Feelings: excessive guilt, prolonged depression, sense of hopelessness, feelings of detachment

Behavioral: acting out, somatic complaints,     

Recklessness, changes in eating/sleeping habits, 

regressive behavior (in young children), decrease in

academics or attendance.

Behavioral: extreme agitation/hostility, preoccupation with death/tragedy, persistent personality changes, suicidal/homicidal ideation, severe regression (older students)

Social behaviors: temporary withdrawal/isolation, wanting to connect and belong. 

 

Social behaviors: extreme withdrawal and isolation, inability to identify with the group, extreme/prolonged detachment

 *Note: When a student is exhibiting signs of complicated grief, complete a risk assessment to ensure the safety and well-being of the student.  Never release a student you fear is in danger of harming him/herself or others.

Important Resources

·   National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

·   After Suicide Tool Kit for Schools

·  Practical Information on Crisis Planning

Resources

Adapted from “Best Practices for School Crisis Intervention (2013). Dr. Scott Poland

NASP (2002). Coping With Crisis: Tips for Parents and Educators

NASP (2002). Managing Strong Emotional Reactions to Traumatic Events: Tips for Parents and Teachers.

Behavior Management in the Classroom

Education

Proactive Measures

Most of what happens in a classroom must be closely controlled by a caring, trustworthy adult. Order, limit setting, and structure are essential in a classroom setting. Teachers should take every possible proactive measure using the following steps:

  • Arrange desks/classroom furniture to meet social/emotional needs as well as instructional and organizational needs.
  • Adjust schedules to provide a balance between highly structured periods and more stimulating activities.
  • Establish a group behavior management plan that incorporates individual needs.
  • Provide direct instruction, programmed learning, and precision teaching lessons. These will build students’ self-confidence while establishing a knowledge base from which to expand problem-solving and higher-level thinking skills, as students demonstrate readiness for learning experiences that require less external structure.
  • Initially, keep student-to-student interactions to a minimum. This is especially important during times when adult monitoring would be difficult. Trust and safety cannot be established if individuals within the group continually undermine each other or the adults, with problems created in secret.
  • Provide group-building opportunities that move students from an “I” to a “We” orientation without overstimulating or threatening them. These activities and opportunities are most effective when integrated into the affective, academic, and recreational arenas.
  • Select a group peer leader. The group will select a leader whether the teacher assists with this process or not. Qualities of leadership include being perceived as similar to other group members and being reinforced for modeled behavior.
  • Be aware of how individual needs affect group dynamics. Group members typically assume roles early in the establishment of the group dynamics.
  • Show empathy and unconditional regard at all times, but especially when students are in the midst of a crisis.
  • Attend with extreme care to students’ physiological as well as psychological needs.
  • Much of acting-out behavior reflects a need for power or attention; therefore, attempt to give as little emotional response as possible to inappropriate behavior while making responses to appropriate behavior obviously animated and positive.

Characteristics of Effective Behavior Managers

 Effective behavior managers:

  • Respect their own strengths and weaknesses as seriously as those of their students.
  • Understand that social-emotional growth is a never-ending process.
  • Clearly communicate rules, goals, and expectations.
  • Respond to behaviors consistently and predictably.
  • Discriminate between issues of responsibility and problem ownership.
  • Exhibit high degrees of empathy and self-efficacy.

Behaviors teachers exhibit that contribute to successful classroom management include:

  • having materials organized
  • using a pleasant tone of voice
  • being aware of multiple elements of group functioning simultaneously
  • being able to anticipate possible problems and react quickly to avoid them.

Behavior Problems

What steps can be followed to resolve a child’s constant misbehavior?

·       If possible, meet with the child and describe in exact terms the behavior you find unacceptable in the classroom

  • During the discussion, explain the reason(s) why you find the behavior unacceptable.
  • Be sure the child understands that it is not he/she who is unacceptable, but rather the behavior.
  • Let the student know exactly what will happen if the problem continues.
  • If the misbehavior occurs again, follow through with the previously planned disciplinary action.
  • Throughout the process, keep the parents and the principal informed of the progress or lack of progress.
  • If the child continues to misbehave and you feel that you have utilized all of your options and resources, send the child to the principal’s office. Explain to the child that he/she is welcome to return when he/she is ready to follow the classroom rules.

Resources:

You Can Handle Them All!

http://www.disciplinehelp.com/teacher

Dr. Mac’s Behavior Management Site

http://www.behavioradvisor.com/

National Technical Assistance Center for Positive Behavioral Support

http://www.pbis.org/main.htm

NASP Fact Sheet on Positive Behavioral  Supports

http://www.nasponline.org/resources/factsheets/pbs_fs.aspx

Accommodations vs. Modifications

Accommodations

What are they?

  • Accommodations  are supports and services that student receive in order to be successful      within the general content area classroom
  • The student is expected to master all of the course objectives

Who can have accommodations?

  • All students may have accommodations
  • Students  with special education services will have specific accommodation listed in      their Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
  • General education students may be granted accommodations if it is      determined that such supports will benefit the student
  • Accommodations to general education students are considered on an individual basis as      needed
  • Teachers, parents and the student should reach an agreement about accommodations

How long can accommodations be used?

  • They can be implemented for the duration of an annual IEP for students with special education services
  • For a general education student, they may be used as long as it is deemed appropriate
  • Accommodations are not reflected on a transcript

Examples of Accommodations:

  • Extended time for assignments/tests
  • Class note taker
  • Test read orally
  • Break tasks into smaller sub tasks
  • Access to Word Processor
  • Alternative setting for testing

Modifications

What are they?

  • Modifications are significant changes made to course outcomes
  • The curriculum is altered
  • Modifications should be used for extreme cases

Who can have modifications?

  • Students with special education services have an IEP which grants them the right to modifications, if needed
  • Students without special education services with an academic plan may have modifications for a particular course with the agreement of the teacher, parent, student, counselor, and administrator

What is the process of implementing modifications

  • Special education or general education teachers may initiate modifications for students with an IEP
  • There is a signed agreement regarding how the content will be modified
  • For a special education student, the general education teacher, parent, special education teacher, student, and administrator should all sign the agreement
  • For a general education student, the general education teacher, parent, counselor, and administrator should all sign the agreement

How long can modifications be used?

  • Modifications can be used for the length of a course
  • Recommended practice is that modifications be implemented by the end of the first card marking
  • Modifications are reflected on the report card and transcript of the student and may result in a certificate of  completion rather than a diploma

Examples of Modifications:

  • Grading Scale altered
  • Elimination of selected course material
  • Significantly reduce course objectives

Behavior Basics

What is Behavior?

  • Behavior is COMMUNICATION
  • Behavior serves a FUNCTION
  • The behavior has worked in the past (or is currently working) to achieve a result that is agreeable in some way to the student.

What are the possible Functions?

  • Attention
  • Escape
  • Power (or control)
  • Self-Stimulation

How do I determine the Function?

When you see a behavior that you would not like to see again, you must quickly identify which of the four functions the student is trying to obtain.  The way that you can analyze the intent of a behavior is by quickly asking yourself three questions:

  • What exactly was the behavior (measurable and observable) I did not like (behavior)?
  • What was happening in the environment just before the behavior (antecedent)?
  • What changed in the environment directly after the behavior (consequence)?

Antecedent  ►  Behavior  ►  Consequence

Once you have asked yourself the three questions and made a decision on the possible function of  the behavior, it should give you an idea of things you can try to do to affect the behavior in positive ways.  However, the only way to know if you have a good plan is to put it into practice and  take data to see if the behavior is happening less.  If it is, your plan is probably effective and should be continued.  However, if after a reasonable amount of time the behavior is continuing or increasing, you need to stop the plan, rethink the possible purposes, and try a  different tactic.

Not receiving attention ► Taps pencil repeatedly ► Obtains teacher attention

Attention- If the behavior was used to get adult attention then you should not give any attention the next time the behavior is repeated.   Instead, you should plan to give lots of attention when the student is displaying appropriate behavior (e.g., completing assignment quietly).

_________________________________________________________________________

Given math worksheet  ►  Throws worksheet on floor ► Asked to leave the room

Escape- When the purpose of the behavior is escape, you need to not reinforce that behavior by allowing the student to escape.  Instead you should find out why the student is escaping the task (e.g., too difficult).  In this case, accommodate or modify the math assignment and have the student complete it.

_________________________________________________________________________

Transition from recess to classroom ► Drops to the floor ► Doesn’t allow for transition

Power (Control) – Sometimes students are looking to gain power and control by using a behavior.   When this is the case, you need to not allow the inappropriate behavior to be successful in pushing your buttons or making you angry. Instead, you should look for or develop opportunities for the child to request independence appropriately and then reinforce them. For example, giving choices as much as possible.  However, the sooner the student is able to cope with the fact that the teacher is ultimately the decision maker at school, the sooner the student will be able to follow teacher directions.

_________________________________________________________________________

Restless ► Gets out of seat continuously Stimulated

Self Stimulation- Behaviors that a child will engage in whether they are with you or when alone are caused by self-stimulation. These behaviors are reinforced naturally and may be difficult to change, as you are not the one who is reinforcing them.  In this case, you can find a way to take away the natural reinforcement (e.g., give student consequence for getting out of seat) and find a way that the student can obtain the reinforcement in an acceptable way (e.g., scheduled break, run teacher errands).

What is a Disability?

Many times, school psychologists are asked the following questions: What is a disability? How is our view of disability changing? How do we prevent disability? How do we identify a disability? What do we do when we find a disability? This newsletter discusses some of these issues and serves as a starting point for further conversations with your school psychologist.

 

A Traditional View of Disability

Traditionally, learning disabilities have been defined by severe underachievement, typically defined by the discrepancy between IQ and achievement scores. A student with a high IQ in relation to their achievement scores could be considered disabled if their achievement scores were low enough. Far too many educators, parents, and students have been frustrated by this definition when it has failed to provide help for slow learners, struggling students whose IQ-achievement discrepancies were not large enough to be considered a severe or significant problem. Perhaps even more frustrating, the discrepancy model has led to an unwarranted focus on the presence or absence of disabilities rather than a useful description of the student’s achievement problems and a prescription for improvement.

 

An Evolving View of Disability

Under the discrepancy model, ability is viewed as a fixed entity that cannot be changed. A student is described as either disabled or not disabled. This idea of ability as a fixed entity is closely related to the practice of defining ability as an IQ score, which tends to, but does not always, stabilize after age 5. The ability equals IQ score view of disability does little to help us organize achievable academic skills into a progression from simple to more complex skills, and it is often highly demotivating for students and educators. As an alternative to this view, by almost every other conceivable definition of ability, it is apparent that ability changes as we develop and learn. Further, the best learning occurs when more complex skills are broken down into simpler skills and mastered in steps from simplest to most complex. For students with learning problems, some skills have to be broken down into simpler steps and mastered at a slower pace compared to that of typical students. For example, whole language instruction is a viable teaching method for many students (research suggest up to about 70%); however, for students with difficulty mastering written language, it is necessary to break down written language into more elemental parts such as phonological awareness (sound awareness) and phonics (letter-sound combinations). This breakdown of skills is the essence of the need for differentiated instruction, and ultimately, the existence of special education. Indeed, research has shown that when given proper differentiated instruction, students with reading disabilities can improve reading skill and the underlying brain functioning.

General vs Special Education: Why the division?

Far too often, the discrepancy model has split special and general education into two camps, us vs them. We feel this distinction is becoming a particularly large problem given the ever-expanding curriculum that moves too fast for adequate skill mastery for a large percentage of students. For example, how wise is it to provide undifferentiated reading instruction knowing that we can reasonably expect 30% of students to need specific, intensive instruction in reading fundamentals such as phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension? Even if we provide specialized reading instruction for up to about 12% of our students (the traditional percentage of all special education students nationwide), we are still left with a large percentage of students who do not receive adequate reading instruction. This inadequate instruction is neither a problem of having poor teaching methods nor incapable students; it is a problem of matching the proper methods to individual needs. Given the wide variation in student strengths and weaknesses across all areas of the curriculum, matching appropriate methods to individual needs is not just a problem for the special education staff, it is a problem for all educators.

 

Turning Toward a Solution

Matching methods to needs is best established at the first sign of a problem. Therefore, we advocate universal baseline testing, differentiated early intervention, and continual progress monitoring. Establishing these practices may change the way students are identified for special education, but it is neither a short-cut nor a lengthy drawn out process. Early intervention with progress monitoring ensures that we are taking steps to provide adequate help as early as possible, even before a student is determined eligible for special education. Do not be surprised if this changes the appearance of how students are identified for special education. We are still actively trying to identify which students have the greatest needs and require specialized instruction that cannot provided in the general curriculum.

 

Eligibility decisions are made by a Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MET) consisting of teachers, parents, ancillary staff, and possibly other educators.  Students need to meet three basic criteria to be eligible for special education services: 1) The student must have an identified disability; 2) The disability must impact learning; 3) The student must require specialized instruction to learn adequately.

 

To evaluate the criteria, the MET focuses on these issues:

1) An identified disability: When considering the presence of a disability, the MET considers a number of factors that come together to suggest a learning disability. These factors include a history of a learning problem, multiple indicators of low achievement, evidence of cognitive processing problems, a lack of response to intervention, and a lack of evidence that suggests an educational, cultural, social, or economic explanation for the low achievement.

 

2) The disability impacts learning: The MET considers evidence such as grades, standardized test scores, behavioral and social-emotional measures, and curriculum based measures of learning that indicate a learning problem.

 

3) The student requires specialized instruction to learn adequately: After determining a student’s needs, the possible ways of meeting those needs are considered. If the needs require instructional methods that cannot reasonably be provided by general education, specialized education is required.

 

After Identification: The IEP

After a student is identified as eligible for special education, current best practices require an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) with tightly integrated measures of current functioning and academic needs, instructional goals and objectives, and programs and services. Once these key elements of the IEP are established, further IEPs and re-evaluations should focus on these areas. New areas of need should be considered following a similar process to the initial identification of the original disability.

 

A Process in Progress

As we move toward new and improved methods of identifying and treating learning problems, we acknowledge that we are all members of a work in progress, vital parts of a thriving learning community. Hopefully, with certain key elements emphasized, we are working toward establishing a process of continual improvement for all students.