Including Students With Severe and Multiple Disabilities in Typical Classrooms: Practical Strategies for Teachers

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9781557665195: Including Students With Severe and Multiple Disabilities in Typical Classrooms: Practical Strategies for Teachers

This resource offers ideas and information on including students with sensory impairments and cognitive and physical disabilities in regular classrooms. This second edition covers recent issues and strategies such as alternate assessment and block scheduling, provides separate chapters on inclusion

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About the Author:


June E. Downing, Ph.D., was a national leader in the field of special education who focused her expertise, time, and energy researching best practices and advocating for individuals with severe and multiple disabilities. She was a steadfast promoter of inclusive education, viewing access to the general education program and peers without disabilities as best practice, as well as an issue of social equality and civil rights. Dr. Downing was an exceptionally productive scholar who published numerous articles, chapters, monographs, and textbooks focusing on the education and inclusion of students with severe and multiple disabilities. Her publications are used by many educators and parents to learn how to provide quality education in inclusive classrooms to students with severe and multiple disabilities. Dr. Downing provided numerous professional development trainings in many regions of the world and served as the keynote speaker at several national and international conferences. She was known for her practical, invigorating, and humorous presentations and workshops. Dr. Downing's career in the field of special education began as a teacher of students with visual impairments and multiple disabilities including deafblindness. She was Associate Professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson and Professor at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). She directed or codirected several federally funded personnel preparation, research-to-practice, and technical assistance projects and was committed to preparing exceptional, highly qualified teachers, whose role she saw as change agents for the future. Through Dr. Downing's teaching and hands-on guidance, her students developed a passion for teaching and a strong commitment to supporting quality lives for students with disabilities and their families. While at CSUN, Dr. Downing contributed to the development of the CHIME Institute's Charter School and was instrumental in its high-quality inclusive educational practices. Dr. Downing served on the National TASH Board of Directors for six years and was Past President of Cal-TASH and AZ-TASH (the California and Arizona state chapters of TASH). She also served as an associate editor of Research and Practices for Persons with Severe Disabilities. Dr. Downing retired from CSUN in 2007 and returned to Tucson, where she lived until her death in July 2011. Her indomitable spirit, passion, and determination have been a driving force in our field, and her work continues to inspire and create positive and successful learning outcomes for students.



Joanne Eichinger, Ph.D., teaches graduate and undergraduate courses to students in elementary education and graduate courses to students in school psychology. Prior to obtaining her doctorate at Syracuse University in 1988, she taught learners with disabilities for 8 years. She also worked as the project coordinator and then director of the Northeast Region of The Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps technical assistance project, serving students with dual sensory impairments. Her research interests include promoting positive attitudes toward people with disabilities, examining job stress and satisfaction among special educators, and investigating the efficacy of promising educational practices in inclusive classes.

MaryAnn Demchak, Ph.D., teaches graduate courses in severe disabilities. In addition, as the project director of the Nevada Dual Sensory Impairment Project, Dr. Demchak provides technical assistance to families and service providers of children who are deafblind. Her research interests include inclusion of students with severe disabilities in typical classrooms, meeting the unique educational needs of students with severe disabilities, and positive support for behavior problems.

Dr. Hicks teaches graduate and undergraduate courses to students in elementary education. She supervises student teachers and teaches courses in cultural diversity, elementary school assessment and social studies, and elementary school curriculum. Prior to receiving her doctorate at the University of Arizona in Language, Reading, and Culture in 1993, she taught elementary school in Southern California. Her research interests include standards-based elementary social studies, preservice teachers’ development of cultural competence, and effective use of technology in elementary schools.

Martha E. Snell, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Special Education, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, 405 Emmet Street, Charlottesville Virginia 22904

Dr. Martha Snell is a Professor Emeritus of Special Education at the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia where she directed the teacher preparation program in severe disabilities for 30 years. With others, she has authored a number of books on teaching methods and the definition of intellectual disability and has been an active member of TASH and the American Association for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. She directed both federal and state grants directed toward the preparation of teachers and research with individuals having intellectual disability and autism and their teachers; more recently her research has concerned Head Start classrooms and young children at risk. Her research topics have encompassed the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms, effective teaching strategies, communication intervention, and positive behavior support for problem behavior.


Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Excerpted from Chapter 2 of Including Students with Severe and Multiple Disabilities in Typical Classrooms: Practical Strategies for Teachers, 3rd Edition, by June E. Downing, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2008 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved.

This chapter highlights the changes that have occurred in approaches in general education and special education since 1980 and discusses parallels in these changes. This analysis is followed by a discussion of promising practices in general education for the inclusion of students with severe and multiple disabilities. Each of these discussions has four components, including 1) a description of the practice; 2) the empirical or theoretical base related to that practice, including data for students with disabilities, if these data exist; 3) the rationale for using the practice with students with severe and multiple disabilities; and 4) examples of how this approach would be used with students with severe and multiple disabilities.

Since 1980, numerous changes have occurred in education, fueled partly by the publication of A Nation at Risk (U.S. Department of Education, 1983). Title II of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act of 1994 (PL 103–227)—National Educational Reform Leadership, Standards, and Assessment—called for the development of statewide assessments for all students (Kleinert, Kearns, & Kennedy, 1997). Similarly, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997 (PL 105–17) mandated assessment of academic progress for all students with disabilities. This mandate usually translated into students with mild or moderate disabilities taking the same standardized tests taken by general education students with or without accommodations, whereas for students with severe or multiple disabilities, this involved taking an alternate assessment. Another important mandate of this law was the requirement that individualized education program (IEP) teams consider the need for assistive technology in students' IEPs

The passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (PL 107–110) prompted a dramatic overhaul of the then–current educational system. Increased accountability for all students is one of the main focuses of this law requiring the administration of standardized testing of all students in several grade levels as a means of documenting adequate yearly progress in schools. Test result data are disaggregated by disability and by students whose primary language is not English. The material contained on these tests is drawn from content standards in the respective fields of reading, mathematics, and science. Students with severe disabilities are assessed via alternate assessments that might involve developing a portfolio to document progress.

A major change in the education of students with severe disabilities resulted from the 1997 IDEA amendments and was further strengthened in the 2004 reauthorization (PL 108–446). This legislation stresses the rights of all students with disabilities to participate fully in the general curriculumᾰto have access and demonstrate progress. Furthermore, the legislation mandates that a general education teacher is to be a member of each student's IEP team. Sound rationale exists for all students, including those with the most significant disabilities, to have access to the core curriculum. The core curriculum provides an ageappropriate context within which a variety of skills can be taught, rather than trying to teach these skills in isolation, with little if any context. Students without disabilities provide the impetus for ongoing learning, as they assume primary responsibility for carrying out routine activities of the day, thus providing natural support. Without access to age–level core curriculum, missed learning opportunities can prevail.

Higher expectations for student performance exist when students are in general education classrooms and have access to the core curriculum (Turnbull, Turnbull, & Wehmeyer, 2006). In an inclusive classroom, when all other students are being expected to work on curricular activities, the same expectation is present for the student with significant disabilities (although perhaps in a somewhat different manner and depth). In fact, after reviewing 128 studies on literacy for students with cognitive disabilities, Browder, Wakeman, Spooner, Ahlgrim– Delzell, and Algozzine (2006) suggested that students with significant cognitive disabilities may not have learned to read in the past because they were either not taught to read or were not taught with methods that promote literacy. General and special education teachers working together on the same curriculum would likely avoid such a major concern. Finally, without access to the core curriculum, students with disabilities may miss out on topics of interest. Because educators cannot foretell what is going to motivate a particular student to learn, it is critical that each student, with or without disabilities, be allowed access to the core curriculum with the necessary supports and services. Given the national significance of the educational movement discussed previously and the IDEA amendment mandates, it is imperative that all students with disabilities have access to the core curriculum and be included in standards–based education reform (Boundy, 2000; Browder & Spooner, 2006; Lipsky & Gartner, 1997).

EDUCATIONAL REFORM EFFORTS

In terms of curricular approaches, there has been an increasing emphasis on a more holistic approach to education since the second half of the 20th century (von Glasersfeld, 1995). This approach is a result of the constructivist movement, which emphasizes that learning is individualized, social, and occurs in context. In other words, students construct and build on their own knowledge via interactions with their environments (Reid, Kurkijian, & Carruthers, 1994). Thus, the teacher serves as a facilitator or mediator of learning, as opposed to a disseminator of knowledge. The work of Vygotsky (1978) has been influential in this shift in thinking and practice. The constructivist approach lends itself to inclusion because it emphasizes that learning is a social process, thus stressing peer–to–peer learning and support. It is also compatible with individual student goals and outcomes because acquisition of knowledge is based on students' abilities and interests. Jackson, Reid, and Bunsen asserted that constructivism "Provides a framework for accepting all students as equal members of a community of learners rather than as differentially positioned achievers on a hierarchical skill sequence. This acceptance contrasts markedly with one of the legacies of past interpretations of the reductionist perspective: requiring individuals to 'earn' membership in the school community through the acquisition of externally defined 'functional' or 'appropriate' skills." (1993, pp. 292–293)

Another reform effort, the standards–based curriculum, currently dominates the provision of education at all grade levels. Following years of dissatisfaction with education for the nation's children in general, educational reform has targeted accountability and high expectations for both student and teacher performance. Educational programs are linked to identified standards across three academic areas—reading, math, and science—with large–scale assessments used to determine student progress (Flowers, Browder, Ahlgrim–Delzell, & Spooner, 2006). Such assessments typically occur during Grades 3—10 for all students, except for those determined to be unable to participate. Of critical importance is the alignment among what is taught (standards), how it is taught (instruction), and how it is evaluated (assessment). The challenge is to ensure that all students benefit from this focus on accountability.

CHANGES IN EDUCATIONAL APPROACHES FOR STUDENTS WITH SEVERE DISABILITIES

Quite dramatic shifts have occurred in the recommended approaches for educating students with severe disabilities. Until the late 1970s, a developmental curricular approach dominated instruction for these students. This approach was characterized by a belief that in each curricular area (e.g., cognitive, motor), a hierarchical sequence of relatively isolated skills existed, and that students needed to acquire prerequisite skills before moving on to higher–level skills. Assessments based on developmental checklists yielded developmental ages that were used to determine instructional activities, materials, and performance criteria, with little if any attention paid to the students' chronological age or to the demands of the environment. Because instruction occurred in self–contained classes, skills were taught in a decontextualized fashion, and the environment was contrived. For example, a typical classroom for adolescents with severe disabilities often involved students putting pegs in a pegboard, pasting snowmen on a January calendar, and sorting cardboard shapes.

In the late 1970s, a functional curricular model was proposed (Brown et al., 1979). This model suggested that students with severe disabilities be taught the skills they needed to be as independent as possible in school, home, community, and work environments. Instead of teaching individual motor skills, socialization skills, communication skills, and so forth, at a designated time (often out of context) and according to a prescribed hierarchy, these skills would be embedded in skill routines that would be taught within age–appropriate activities at naturally occurring times (e.g., communication skills could be addressed at recess, lunch, and in small–group instruction). This shift toward contextually based instruction appears to parallel the shift toward more holistic concepts that came to dominate general education practices. Yet, because students with disabilities were still being educated mostly in self–contained classes, the classroom context itself was often a departure from general education classrooms insofar as they were characterized by less structure and routine, lower expectations for learning, and less group instruction.

Interestingly, instruction in general education classes follows a developmental model, characterized by scope and sequence charts included in many curriculum guides. The goal of inclusion is to have students with severe disabilities participating in general education classes, while simultaneously addressing the students' IEP objectives, as opposed to having students receive parallel instruction in the general education classroom. For example, if a class is doing a whole–group lesson on the three types of rocks, a student with severe and multiple disabilities should be participating among the other students, identifying rocks from nonrocks and determining their size and shape, for example, instead of sitting in the back of the classroom with a paraeducator working on something completely different, such as identifying colors. Curriculum for students with severe disabilities educated in general education classes, therefore, should be a combination of both the developmental and functional models. The context for learning would be a developmental approach (the general education classroom), while most of the objectives for the lesson would be functional or meaningful because they would be from the students' IEPs.

The challenge for teachers is to individualize instruction by having a student with disabilities participate in lessons in an appropriate (same–age) grade and discern what objectives would be relevant for that student. Teachers also need to add a functional component by identifying what IEP objectives could be practiced within each lesson and how learning opportunities to practice those objectives could be presented. The importance of curricular modifications is obvious under such a model, and considerable information exists on modifying the curriculum (Downing, 2002; Janney & Snell, 2004; Udvari–Solner, Causton–Theoharis, & York–Barr, 2004). Pertinent modifications would include streamlining the curriculum and infusing skill objectives. In a given lesson, the general education teacher would identify the objectives for the class, and the special education teacher with expertise in educating students with severe disabilities would identify which of those objectives the student with disabilities would work on or determine if the objectives would need to be modified. For example, using the lesson on rocks described previously, if the general education teacher is interested in students learning to recognize the different types of rocks and how they were formed, the special education teacher will need to target the IEP objectives for the student with severe disabilities that could be practiced during the lesson (e.g., responding to simple questions asked by the teacher by grabbing a rock from two objects, pushing materials to the side when the lesson is over, determining the number of rocks).

In addition, the shift from a multidisciplinary service delivery model to a transdisciplinary model or an integrated therapy model (a variation of the transdisciplinary model) for students with severe disabilities parallels the shift in service delivery in general education. Within a transdisciplinary model, the child is viewed holistically by all team members, and family members play a key role on the team (Orelove, Sobsey, & Silberman, 2004). Each of the related services providers (e.g., occupational therapist, orientation and mobility specialist, physical therapist) assesses the student and makes recommendations that can be implemented by a number of people, one of whom choreographs the instructional program (typically the special education teacher). These recommendations involve skills to be taught in natural contexts, rather than in isolation. For example, a physical therapist might recommend that a kindergarten student learn to transfer from his wheelchair to a standing position, then use a wheeled walker to go 10 feet from the play center to the snack table with minimal assistance. The therapist would need to show the teaching staff how to have the student do this. Once the teachers were trained, the therapist would provide ongoing consultation to monitor the student's progress, ensure that the training was being implemented correctly and targeted at other appropriate times (e.g., on the way to lunch), and answer any questions the staff might have.

The shift from the specialist–reliant approach to an integrative–related services delivery as an exemplary model supports the practice of educating students with severe and multiple disabilities in general education classes (Cloninger, 2004). The specialist–reliant approach asserts that related services providers have specialized skills, knowledge, and training that others (e.g., parents, teachers) do not, and therefore only these skilled professionals can provide the necessary service. Integrating related services providers' expertise into students' overall progress so that all service providers can adequately support students when needed does not require the students to be removed from general education classes and routines to receive therapeutic support from specialists.

ANALYSIS OF CURRICULAR CHANGES FOR STUDENTS WITH AND WITHOUT DISABILITIES

Several parallel...

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