Category Archives: grade seven and eight

Ideas, lessons and units currently available on for Teaching Outside the Box http://teachingideasoutsidethebox.wordpress.com/


6. TEN BOOK REPORTS IN A YEAR: THE PACKAGE

This unit is aimed at getting twelve year olds to read in quantity and quality.  It could be adapted for other grades and might need to be adapted for other marking systems.  The list in number 5 was originally written to go with this unit.

5.         Have You Read?

A list of books aimed at academically talented grade seven and eight students with the intention of broadening their usual tastes in reading and pushing them to try something new or a bit more challenging.

4.  Finding the Poetry

A lesson aimed at teaching the important parts of writing poetry: words and feelings.

3.  Learning to Love Teaching Poetry

It’s tough teaching poetry well.  This is a suggestion for a unit used for grades two, three and four using The Walrus and the Carpenter and The Tyger.

2.  Lessons in Perspective (Art, Empathy, Math, Literature)

A unit that combines lessons in perspective in art, empathy and mathematics.  Can be expanded to include literature and writing. Can be adapted K-12

1. Using the Internet to teach and teaching students how to use the Internet

Ideas on teaching research skills to all grade levels, including appropriate use of Internet, identification of bias, Boolean logic, using indexes, encyclopaedias and other resources.

Acronyms and Abbreviations for Educational Terms


There is more to come, but this is a start.  If you find other terms you would like explained, please let me know.

Education students, a caveat – these are informal and opinionated definitions!

Acronyms and Abbreviations

ADD = attention deficit disorder

ADHD = attention deficit hyperactive disorder

CCAT = Canadian Cognitive Abilities Test

EFI = early French immersion

EFTO = Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario

FI = French immersion

LD = learning disability (disabled)

LST = learning support teacher

IPRC = identification, process and review committee

IQ = intelligence quotient

IEP = individual learning plan

IB = international baccalaureate (programme)

LFI = late French immersion

LST = learning support teacher

MIDI = Musical Instrument Digital Interface

MFI = middle French immersion

OSR = Ontario student record

SES = Socio-Economic Status

TIPS=Targeted Implementation and Planning Supports for Revised Mathematics

WISC = Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children

Neglecting the Education of Children with Learning Disabilities


7th grade geography activity

7th grade geography activity

7th grade geography activity (Photo credit: Kentucky Country D

Who Benefits From the Inclusive Classroom?

Can a Classroom with a Large Majority of Special Needs Children also be an Inclusive Classroom?

Would you want your child to be in a grade seven class of 30 students if 25 are identified as having special needs?  Would you want your child in that class if she is identified as having special needs?  Would you want her there if her first language is not English?  Would you want her there if she is a regular, ordinary student?

A colleague recently observed one intermediate school where the two grade seven regular-English classes were predominantly Special Education students.  By[SDS1] predominantly, I mean roughly 25 out of 28 or 29 in one class and half the students in the other class had been identified or were about to be identified as students with special needs.  By special education students, what I mean is students with learning disabilities or behavioural problems.  Gifted students were not included in those classes.

Melissa visiting the Gifted Education Centre4

Melissa visits the Gifted Education Centre4                                      (Photo credit: nznationalparty)

The students in these two classes receive some support through a Special Education teacher joining their class on a regular basis, usually for Language Arts and math.  This teacher is intended to support more than the grade seven classes, probably both the grade seven and eight classes, so she is not available full-time, half time or even quarter time to support the students with learning difficulties.  For many students, the support time may be sufficient; for others it won’t be.

Do These Classes Serve The Needs of Identified Students?

Consider a class where 25 students need Special Education support.  Yes, with two teachers it is less daunting, but there are 30 students.  The classroom teacher has responsibility for the five regular students as well as the rest.  What would this class would be like.

Remember that each child identified has been identified as having a particular need; this is why they are called special needs children.  In the 25 may be students with students with ADD, ADHD, personality disorders, behavioural problems, physical disabilities as well as gifted students and those with learning disabilities.  Not only does one size not fit all, but each child has an appropriately individualized program the teacher is required to follow.

Now try to imagine what it is like when the subject teacher is alone, trying to teach geography, complete with graphs or history with the need to learn to read non-fiction.  Where will the support be then?  How will students respond?  Will they be able to learn in a class of that size with so many other students competing for help?

The Inclusive Classroom: More Motto than Pedagogy

The school cited states that these children’s need are met following the inclusive model set out by the 2006 Expert Panel report on Special Education, Education for All.  For my comments, summaries and charts derived from Education for All, go to the tag or category marked Education for All on this site.  The point of the document was that by following the concept developed by the architectural community of universal design, almost all students can be taught in an inclusive classroom.

The point of the inclusive classroom was to integrate children with exceptional needs into classrooms of regular children.  Instead, in this example, regular kids are being integrated into classrooms of exceptional children.  Only those students who are gifted are exempted from being integrated with regular students or having regular students integrated with them.

Why Are There So Many Special Needs Students in 1/3 of the Grade Seven Classes?

This particular school states that it has a “Junior/Intermediate system LD class for students who have been identified with severe learning disabilities.”  This would account for the larger percentage of identified students in the regular classes. In this school  there are six grade seven classes , a normal sort of number for a middle school.  You are probably wondering why there are so many identified students (teacher talk for students with special needs) in the two classes.

A special education teacher assists one of her...

A special education teacher assists one of her students.                                                   (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of the six classes in this grade seven cohort, only two can possibly have students with learning difficulties integrated into their class .  Some of you may doing the math:  If one assumes that each classes has 30 students and there are 25 identified students in one class and half of another class is identified i.e. 15, students, that makes 40 students out of 180 who have learning difficulties of some sort or another.  (Not speaking English does not count as a learning disability although it does disqualify you from being gifted.)

So 40/180 means that 22% of the students in the grade seven of this middle school have been identified as having special needs (if you ignore the gifted – and they are seldom ignored).   Depending on which studies you read, learning disabilities range from roughly 5% to 12% of the population; both those figures are from studies cited by Statistics Canada.  It does seem a bit of a stretch that 22% in one grade in one school would be identified, especially if we were not including the gifted.  You need to remember that this school has a system Junior/Intermediate class for students with severe LD;  it is fair to assume that even these children with severe LDs have been integrated into regular classes.

So why do only two out of the six grade seven classes have identified students integrated with them?

French Immersion, Where Everyone Can Learn But Only The Unidentified May Stay

First there are three French Immersion classes.  Students can’t expect special education support in Ontario’s FI classes; for some of the reasons, please see my post: French Immersion: Is It Accessible to All Students? There are no special education teachers certified to teach in French and therefore there is no support or, more accurately: there is no support provided for FI and therefore there are no special education teachers certified to teach in French.  I am sure the school boards will say there is no money for it.  To find out where the money isn’t going, see my post: Is French Immersion a Money Maker for School Boards?

Students with learning disabilities and their parents are likely to be told by their grade six teachers or principals that these educators will not support the child going into French Immersion.  This is counter to the principle that ANY child can succeed as well in FI as they could in the regular program IF they have the same level of support as they would in the regular program.  As I have pointed out before, in most boards across the country, support for special needs students in French Immersion is not provided.  French Immersion students must succeed, move into the regular program or their parents must pay for tutoring.  Not only is the support not provided, but parents need skill at reading between the lines to appreciate that it is not going to be available.

Gifted Students AKASpecial Needs Students Who Are Exceptions to Inconvenient Rules

The fourth class of the six is the academically gifted class.  Two or three students in the gifted class may have learning disabilities or behavioural problems, but as long as their primary exceptionality is giftedness, they are eligible for the class.  These students traditionally do not get any support outside the class since the assumption is that as the teacher is a specialist in special education, she will undoubtedly know how to handle other exceptionalities.  And she usually does or learns very quickly.

I have pointed out in earlier posts Gifted and “Education for All” and Commentary on “Education for All” that although the inclusive classroom is mandated as the default placement for all special needs students, somehow administrators processing the gifted have missed the memo.  Please see Education for All:The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005

Why?
One or two classes in a school system or a province are not proof of systemic problems.  However, they can be an example of what can happen and has happened when every child’s education is not a priority.  I am not sure what it says about the children, their parents, their community, their school or their teachers.  I do know what I think it says about our school system.  It says that our school system is about appearance, not pedagogy. One has to question the thinking of administrators who allow system classes  if the children are going to be integrated into regular classrooms.  When they do the math, isn’t it obvious that what will happen is essentially reverse integration i.e. the integration of regular students into classrooms of identified students among who are children with “severe” learning disabilities”?
Not an Aberration

This is one example but I doubt it is an exception.  The problem is probably less severe in the primary grades before students are siphoned off into the gifted program and when only some students are segregated in the French Immersion program.  In the primary grades there will be a smaller learning gap between regular students and those lagging developmentally or with learning disabilities.  As the children grow, however, the gap in learning grows until some students will fall as much as two grades or more behind.  A regular grade seven teacher will inevitably be facing a class with some students working at levels as low as grade five.  There may also be English as Second Language students whose math may be at a grade seven level or above but are not yet able to read, write or speak fluently in English.

Last, But Not Least, A Look at The Numbers       IMG_1854

Below is the section of the Ontario Education Act that deals specifically with the maximum number of students who may be in any Special Education Class, including the gifted classes.  The ceiling ranges from six to twenty-five.  The unlucky souls integrated into the inclusive classrooms under the flags of equity and political correctness are in classes exceeding the 25.  In fact, regular intermediate classes have almost always been larger than 25 in spite of the fact that even 20 years ago teachers and administrators knew that these classes were heavily larded with students with special needs, behavioural issues or carrying the extra load of learning English as a second language.

That these identified students, some with severe learning disabilities, are being taught in classes larger than allowed for the gifted is a disgrace.  It is more than a disgrace.  If you analysed the makeup of race, gender, socio-economic class and religion, you would find it very different from that in French Immersion or Gifted classes at the Intermediate level.  It is discriminatory.  It is laziness and cowardice on the part of administrators who prefer to do the politically expedient thing rather than the pedagogically sound.

Those Parents Have Not Complained

Why is nothing done about it?  As a principal said to me in a similar context:  “Those parents have not complained.”  And that, gentle reader, is the essence of how many if not most educational decisions are made.

IMG_1861

Education Act

R.R.O. 1990, REGULATION 298

Consolidation Period: From May 31, 2009 to the e-Laws currency date.

Last amendment: O. Reg. 206/09.

OPERATION OF SCHOOLS — GENERAL

31. The maximum enrolment in a special education class shall depend upon the extent of the exceptionalities of the pupils in the class and the special education services that are available to the teacher, but in no case shall the enrolment in a self-contained class exceed,

(a) in a class for pupils who are emotionally disturbed or socially maladjusted, for pupils who have severe learning disabilities, or for pupils who are younger than compulsory school age and have impaired hearing, eight pupils;

(b) in a class for pupils who are blind, for pupils who are deaf, for pupils who have developmental disabilities, or for pupils with speech and language disorders, ten pupils;

(c) in a class for pupils who are hard of hearing, for pupils with limited vision, or for pupils with orthopaedic or other physical handicaps, twelve pupils;

(d) in a class for pupils who have mild intellectual disabilities, twelve pupils in the primary division and sixteen pupils in the junior and intermediate divisions;

(e) in an elementary school class for pupils who are gifted,

(i) twenty pupils, if the class consists only of pupils in the primary division,

(ii) twenty-three pupils, if the class includes at least one pupil in the primary division and at least one pupil in the junior division or intermediate division, and

(iii) twenty-five pupils, if the class consists only of pupils in the junior division or intermediate division;

(f) in a class for aphasic or autistic pupils, or for pupils with multiple handicaps for whom no one handicap is dominant, six pupils; and

(g) on and after the 1st day of September, 1982, in a class for exceptional pupils consisting of pupils with different exceptionalities, sixteen pupils. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 298, s. 31; O. Reg. 191/04, s. 10; O. Reg. 29/08, s. 4; O. Reg. 297/08, s. 1.

See also:

Education for All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005


Inclusive Education in Practice


Those Parents Have Not Complained

Would you want your child to be in a grade seven class of thirty if twenty-five of those students had been identified as having special needs.  Would you want your child in that class if she had been identified as having special needs?  Would you want her in it if her first language were not English?  Would you want her in it if she were a regular, ordinary student?  No matter which way you look at it, a class with these demographics isn’t good for any student and yet …

A colleague of mine recently observed that in one intermediate school, the two grade seven regular English classes were predominantly special education students.  By predominantly, I mean that roughly twenty-five out of twenty-eight or twenty-nine in one class and half the students in the other class were identified or about to be identified as students with special needs.  By students with special needs I mean are students with learning disabilities or behavioral problems.  Gifted students are probably not included.

What Kind of Special Needs and What Kind of Support?

The students in these two classes receive some support through a special education teacher joining their class on a regular basis, usually for Language Arts and math.  This teacher provides support to more than the grade seven classes; in fact she probably provides support for all the grade seven and eight classes, so she cannot be available quarter time, much less full time, to support special needs students in any class.  For many students, the time allotted for support may be sufficient, for others it won’t be.

Each child identified has been identified as having a particular need; this is why they are called special needs children.  In the twenty-five may be students with ADD, ADHD, psychological and behavioral problems, physical learning disabilities and gifted students. [for informal definitions see below]  Not only does one size not fit all, but each child has an appropriately individualized program the teacher is required to follow.

Imagine a teacher teaching a class where twenty-five students need special education support.  Yes, when there are two of you (the classroom teacher and the special education support teacher) it isn’t so daunting, but there are thirty students.  The classroom teacher has responsibility for the five regular students as well as the rest.  Try to imagine what this class would be like.

Now try to imagine what it is like when the subject teacher is alone, trying to teach geography, complete with graphs – or history, with the need to read non-fiction.  Where will the support be then?  How will students respond?  Will they be able to learn in a class of that size with so many other students competing for help?

What is the Model for this Style of Class?   Education for All

The school cited states that these children’s needs are met following the inclusive model set out by the 2006 Expert Panel report on Special Education, Education for All.  For my comments, summaries and charts derived from Education for All, go to the tag or category marked Education for All on this site.  The point of the document was that by following the concept developed by the architectural community of universal design, almost all students can be taught in an inclusive classroom.

The point of the inclusive classroom is to integrate children with exceptional needs into classrooms of regular children.  Instead, in this example, regular kids are being integrated into classrooms of exceptional children.  Only those students who are gifted are exempted from being integrated with regular students or having regular students integrated with them.

Profile of Grade Seven Section of the School

This particular school states that it has a “Junior/Intermediate system LD class for students who have been identified with severe learning disabilities.”  This would account for the larger percentage of identified students in the regular classes. In this school there are six grade seven classes, a normal sort of number for a middle school.  You are probably wondering why there are so many identified students (teacher talk for students with special needs) in the two classes.

Of the six classes in this grade seven cohort only two  have students with learning difficulties integrated into their class.  Some of you may doing the math:  If one assumes that each class has thirty students and there are twenty-five identified students in one class and half of another class is identified i.e. fifteen, students, that makes forty students out of one hundred and eighty (6 classes X 30 students) who have learning difficulties of some sort or another.  (Not speaking English does not count as a learning disability although it does disqualify you from being gifted.)

Forty students distributed through six classes would thin them out a bit and make for more inclusive classrooms.  There would be about six or seven special needs students in each class.  Obviously they would have to be distributed with regard to their particular needs, the talents and qualifications of the classroom teachers and the profile of each class.   More special needs teachers would be required but it would put an end to the ghettoization of the regular English classes.  But wait a bit … out of the six grade seven classes in this school only two are eligible to receive special needs children.

Why are only Two out of the Six Grade Seven Classes Inclusive?

French Immersion and Special Education Support

First there are three French Immersion classes.  Students can’t expect special education support in Ontario’s FI classes. There are no special education teachers certified to teach in French and therefore there is no support or, more accurately: there is no support provided for FI and therefore there are no special education teachers certified to teach in French.  For other reasons, please see my post: French Immersion: Is It Accessible to All Students? I am sure the school boards will say there is no money for it.  To find out where the money isn’t going, see my post: Is French Immersion a Money Maker for School Boards?

Students with learning disabilities and their parents are likely to be told by their grade six teachers or principals that these educators will not support the child going into French Immersion.  This is counter to the principle that ANY child can succeed as well in FI as they could in the regular program IF they have the same level of support as they would in the regular program.  As I have pointed out before, in most boards across the country, support for special needs students in French Immersion is not provided.  French Immersion students succeed, move into the regular program or their parents pay for tutoring.  If you are a fan of social Darwinism, French Immersion is an excellent place to see it in play.

The Academically Gifted Already Have Special Education Support

(and a class ceiling of 25)

The fourth class of the six is the academically gifted class.  Two or three students in the gifted class may have learning disabilities or behavioral problems, but as long as their primary exceptionality is giftedness, they are eligible for the class.  These students traditionally do not get any support outside the class since the assumption is that as the teacher is a specialist in special education, she will undoubtedly know how to handle other exceptionalities.  She does her own support for any special needs children or learns very quickly.  Did I mention that these classes are capped at twenty-five students?

I have pointed out in earlier posts Gifted and “Education for All” and Commentary on “Education for All” that although the inclusive classroom is mandated as the default placement for all special needs students, somehow administrators processing the gifted have missed the memo.  Please see Education for All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005.

What is Inclusive about the Inclusive Classroom?

So, when we take four classes away from the six enrolled, there are only two left to become inclusive classrooms.  Someone please tell me what or who is being included here?

I am not sure what it says about the children, their parents, their community, their school or their teachers.  What it does say about our school system is that appearance of being politically correct or following the latest educational wave is more important than pedagogy that works. One has to question the thinking of administrators who allow system classes if the children are going to be integrated into regular classrooms.  When they do the math, isn’t it obvious that what will happen is essentially reverse integration i.e. the integration of regular students into classrooms of identified students among whom are children with “severe” learning disabilities”?

Below is the section of the Ontario Education Act that deals specifically with the maximum number of students who may be in any Special Education Class, including the gifted classes.  The ceiling ranges from six to twenty-five.  The unlucky souls integrated into the inclusive classrooms under the flags of equity and political correctness are in classes exceeding the twenty-five.  In fact, regular intermediate classes have almost always been larger than twenty-five in spite of the fact that even twenty years ago teachers and administrators knew that these classes were heavily larded with students with special needs, behavioral issues or carrying the extra load of learning English as a second language.

Those Parents Have Not Complained

That these identified students, some with severe learning disabilities, are being taught in classes larger than allowed for the gifted is a disgrace.  It is more than a disgrace.  If you analysed the makeup of race, gender, socio-economic class and religion, you would find it very different from those in French Immersion or Gifted classes at the Intermediate level.  It is discriminatory.  It is laziness and cowardice on the part of administrators who prefer to do the politically expedient thing rather than the pedagogically sound.

Why is nothing done about it?  As a principal once said to me in a similar context:  “Those parents have not complained.”  And that, gentle reader, is the essence of how many, if not most, educational decisions are made.

[DEFINITIONS (education students, a caveat – these are informal definitions!):

ADD = attention deficit disorder: a learning difficulty where a child or adult is unable to select one thing to pay attention to.  One parent calls it shiny object syndrome, in that the child may really want to focus on homework but is distracted by his own thoughts “I wonder if Fred is going to be away tomorrow”, objects such as a blunt pencil he decides needs sharpening or people he wants to watch or speak to.  These are all shiny i.e. distracting objects.

ADHD = attention deficit hyperactive disorder: a similar learning difficulty as ADD with the added complication of a need to move frequently, sometimes constantly.  Now the child is not only a distraction to himself but to others.

Diagnosis of both disorders is through checklists completed by people who see the child the most.  There is some controversy about giving drugs such as Ritalin to these children.  My own observation is that children who really suffer from these disorders are greatly relieved by the effect of the drugs.  Many specialists in special education feel that the new focus provided by a drug should be used to teach strategies to deal with ADD or ADHD so there is a chance of the child being able to cope without the drugs.

Depending on the expert these difficulties may be classed as behavioral or learning disorders; it really doesn’t matter so long as the problem is identified accurately and treated properly.  With consistent help these children can learn ways to deal with their disorder and improve their behavior if it has created behavioral problems.  They do not have to be out of control but they do need sympathetic help to learn appropriate techniques.

Whatever strategy is used, a psychologist and pediatrician must be consulted to discuss the pros and cons of the approaches.  In Ontario, the approach to using drugs is conservative and carefully tested.  No teacher should suggest using drugs but they are within their purview to advise that a parent should consider discussing the possibility of ADD or ADHD with a specialist such as an educational psychologist.  Teachers see hundreds of children in the course of their careers and often become good informal diagnosticians based on their experience.  Their suggestion to pursue certain concerns is usually well founded.

Psychological and behavioral problems can vary from diagnosed and treated illnesses to students regularly misbehaving in class to the point of disrupting lessons or work. What falls under the mandate of the health system and what is the concern of the school system varies depending on budgets and governments.  In the best of possible worlds schools and mental health workers co-ordinate their efforts in the interests of the children but for the moment, the schools seem to be taking responsibility for sicker children than twenty years ago.

Children with physical disabilities who need physical help usually have an educational assistant to help with things like lifting, toileting and physiotherapy.  For the most part, they fit into regular school life with little difficulty once the necessary architectural adaptations have been made.

Students with learning disabilities, by definition, are of average or above average intelligence.  They may have difficulties such as dyslexia (difficulty with reading), dysgraphia (difficulty writing by hand) or dyspraxia (poor motor skills)]

[More Comments

This example is not unique in demonstrating system indifference to regular intermediate students; see my post, “Education for All” and the Myth of Universal Design where I refer to an intermediate classroom of 34 students in another school in another year.  Again it was a class of regular students studying in English.  In that case I don’t know how many were special needs students or how many students were learning English as second language.

One or two classes in a school system or a province are not proof of systemic problems. However, they are an example of what can happen and has happened when every child’s education is not a priority.

The problem is probably less severe in the primary grades before students are siphoned off into the gifted program and when only some students are segregated in the French Immersion program.  In the primary grades there will be a smaller learning gap between regular students and those lagging developmentally or with learning disabilities.  As the children grow, however, the gap in learning grows until some students will fall as much as two grades or more behind.  A regular grade seven teacher will inevitably be facing a class with some students working at levels as low as grade five or even lower.  There may also be English as Second Language students whose math may be at a grade seven level or above but are not yet able to read, write or speak fluently in English].

Education Act

R.R.O. 1990, REGULATION 298

Consolidation Period: From May 31, 2009 to the e-Laws currency date.

Last amendment: O. Reg. 206/09.

OPERATION OF SCHOOLS — GENERAL

31. The maximum enrolment in a special education class shall depend upon the extent of the exceptionalities of the pupils in the class and the special education services that are available to the teacher, but in no case shall the enrolment in a self-contained class exceed,

(a) in a class for pupils who are emotionally disturbed or socially maladjusted, for pupils who have severe learning disabilities, or for pupils who are younger than compulsory school age and have impaired hearing, eight pupils;

(b) in a class for pupils who are blind, for pupils who are deaf, for pupils who have developmental disabilities, or for pupils with speech and language disorders, ten pupils;

(c) in a class for pupils who are hard of hearing, for pupils with limited vision, or for pupils with orthopaedic or other physical handicaps, twelve pupils;

(d) in a class for pupils who have mild intellectual disabilities, twelve pupils in the primary division and sixteen pupils in the junior and intermediate divisions;

(e) in an elementary school class for pupils who are gifted,

(i) twenty pupils, if the class consists only of pupils in the primary division,

(ii) twenty-three pupils, if the class includes at least one pupil in the primary division and at least one pupil in the junior division or intermediate division, and

(iii) twenty-five pupils, if the class consists only of pupils in the junior division or intermediate division;

(f) in a class for aphasic or autistic pupils, or for pupils with multiple handicaps for whom no one handicap is dominant, six pupils; and

(g) on and after the 1st day of September, 1982, in a class for exceptional pupils consisting of pupils with different exceptionalities, sixteen pupils. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 298, s. 31; O. Reg. 191/04, s. 10; O. Reg. 29/08, s. 4; O. Reg. 297/08, s. 1.

See also:

Education for All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005

Next Posts:

Why this is Everyone’s Problem

Other Models, Better but Not Necessarily the Best

What’s in “Education for All” Besides the Concept of Universal Design?


Part 3 of “Education for All”

Education for All was written by a collection of administrators and professors lightly seasoned with a teacher.  It is a collection of good ideas for clarifying the strengths and needs of students and working out ways to teach them well.  Making the best use of it will require taking time to read it carefully and make note of the most useful ideas.  Some teachers may find the ideas too time consuming.  Not every idea is practical in every classroom, especially if there is only one teacher, but in principle, the ideas are promising.  Here is a brief guide.

As I noted in a previous post, the writers failed to make their point about Universal Design but they did a nice job of demonstrating differentiation in the second chapter.  They go on to make lots of useful suggestions for basic approaches to teaching.  Unfortunately, as you will find throughout the book, the suggestions are general; to get something specific and especially concrete that can go from book to classroom, you will have to turn to other books.  Some are mentioned in the bibliography, but they are not distinguished from the purely academic.  This may seem a trivial point but for a teacher hoarding every minute, the time involved in sieving a bibliography for nuggets of usefulness can be too much.

The writers do refer to a great teaching method, but one I wouldn’t normally recommend for K to 6 students.  The Expert Panel calls it Problem Based Approach (p. 17).  They haven’t quite grasped the concept of Ill-Structured-Problem-Based Solving they are actually trying to describe.  It is effective but needs careful design, firmness and support in order to work.  There is a reason it started with Harvard and the innovative McMaster medical school and not in someone’s grade 4 class.

The chapter on Assessment and Evaluation of students with Special Education Needs is useful for both the new teacher who is unfamiliar with the steps required in getting help outside the classroom for students and any teacher who has been confused by the red tape involved.  I have tried to create some charts to help teachers track steps and required information, but referring to this section would also prove useful.  For the charts, please see the post EDUCATION FOR ALL:  Stuff to Help Teachers in the next post.

Developing Learning Profiles: Know your Students

There are lots more charts in the next chapter to help teachers develop learning profiles of their students and the classroom.  I have adapted them somewhat to make them easier to download and use.  In the next post I will explain and offer the charts.  The one thing the ministry does not provide but strongly suggests is questionnaires for parents and children.  These are things teachers have not been trained to create.  I am working on some and will make them available but I strongly suggest teachers sit down with their own divisions and create their own.  My designs might be useful as a starting or discussion point.  The parent questionnaires might stay the same for all grades but student questionnaires will need modification for most grades.  Students may need some explanations about the questionnaires; doing it as part of a unit on data gathering as an authentic activity to demonstrate real life applications might be an effective way of killing two birds with one stone..

And Then We Get to the Part about Teaching in the Inclusive Classroom

Education for All spends three chapters outlining potential challenges for students in acquiring literacy and numeracy skills and ways of anticipating those difficulties.  This is probably the most useful part of the book.    A chart identifies these challenges and strategies for meeting the challenges.  The suggestions are excellent but abstract; busy teachers need concrete suggestions that can be applied immediately.  On the other hand, it is a good starting point for thinking about meeting these challenges.

Teachers would undoubtedly have been grateful for a list of books which had concrete methods, blackline masters and even lesson plans relevant to specific grades and subjects which met Education for All’s criteria.  For example, I have found the following three books invaluable: When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do: A Guide for Teachers 6-12 by Kylene Beers; I Read It, But I Don’t Get It by Cris Tovani and Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom by Susan Winebrenner. In today’s inclusive classroom, I would add Teaching Kids with Learning Difficulties in the Regular Classroom, also by Susan Winebrenner.  I don’t know what books I would add for numeracy, but the teachers guides to many recent textbooks do offer excellent suggestions for accommodations.  These books, however, are favourites of this intermediate elementary teacher.  Primary teachers would have others.

Accommodations and Modifications: What’s the Difference?

A good explanation of the differences between accommodations and modifications and a detailed chart of many accommodations a teacher might make is provided in Chapter Nine.  A teacher might find it worthwhile to photocopy the chart and put it with the materials used to create lesson plans; it is a good general source of ideas.  A word of caution to teachers: if you are accommodating four students and modifying lessons for three more in addition to being a good (not a walk on water) teacher you may find yourself putting in extra hours every day.

You Say Syllabus, I Say Curriculum; Either Way There is a Lot of Work to Do!

For each subject, Ontario’s Ministry of Education sets out in broad strokes an outline of expected knowledge and skills outcomes.  They do not provide a detailed syllabus (or curriculum, depending on which side of the Atlantic you reside) with texts to use in order to reach those goals.  As a result, teachers end up reinventing the wheel.  In the primary and junior grades there are usually math texts with good to excellent teacher guides that the inexperienced teacher can follow.

The ministry is also creating Targeted Implementation and Planning Supports for Revised Mathematics (TIPS) that is available to grades 7 to 10 teacher at the moment. It is worth taking the time to figure out. The grade 7 and 8 teachers whose contracts are negotiated by the Elementary Teachers Federation will have to look under the Secondary section of the Education web site.  Nothing similar has been done for the elementary grades.

Aside from math, textbooks are rare in the primary and junior grades.  English textbooks don’t exist in grade 7 or 8.  It used to be that curriculum consultants created a model curriculum that reflected the goals of the ministry.  I still treasure my history binder from the board that I have interleaved with my notes, overheads and photocopied pictures.  However, budget cuts have put an end to curriculum consultants who have the time to do more than workshops on changes to the curriculum.

That being the case, the Ontario teacher is now expected to create the course that will result in the proposed outcomes, and the accommodations and modifications. At the same time she is dealing with more duties and has less help because there are fewer specialists such as teacher librarians.  Teachers in schools where there is another teacher with the same grade would be smart to team up with each other.  With careful co-operation, teachers may reduce their workload to half the planning, half the returning items to the literacy and numeracy resource room, half the time spent photocopying and a better chance of getting home in time for a game of Ultimate Frisbee or to chill with a good book.

Who Does the Work?

The principal is listed under people who will share responsibility with the teacher for inclusive education.  While a teacher may hope for the ideal principal on page 113, the reality is more likely to be a politician who has to watch her back; with tact and diplomacy teachers may get the facilitation needed to implement inclusive education. Principals who come close to that supportive, collegial ideal should be cherished. Teachers such as the Special Education teachers (the name changes regularly) who provide support in the classroom are not likely to be there for times other than language skills or math.  Classroom teachers might consider switching subjects (such as history, geography and science) which make use of literacy or numeracy skills occasionally with language arts or math time slots.  It would be an effective way to support these skills across the curriculum.

Notice that the principal shares responsibility and the special education teacher will provide support but the burden of work and responsibility rests on the shoulders of the classroom teacher.

Computer Assisted Technology

The document addresses computer assisted technology.  While it has useful things to say about it, the most important things are not said.  First, a child will frequently have to wait until the next school year to receive any technology he or she needs.   In the meantime it will be the parents and teacher who will be improvising and trying to keep the child’s spirits up.

Secondly, all technology requires a learning period; initially the student will learn quickly but then start to slow.  Although this is normal, it is discouraging; a student will get frustrated and want to quit.  The teacher should check to make sure everything is working properly and then work with the parents to encourage the student to keep going.  The assistive technology won’t prove really useful until it becomes a tool to do something else, not an end in itself. If you have read Outliers, you will know that mastery of any skill takes many hours of conscious practice.  Parents and teachers will have to resist pressure from the student to let them give up the new aid.  Things Take Time.

Tools for Implementing Inclusive Classrooms

It is fashionable in the educational world to talk about Professional Learning Communities and this document is not any different.  When I picked myself off the floor where I was rolling around laughing at the concept of having the time for a professional learning community, I indulged myself with the fantasy.  I think that the only thing better for a teacher than a professional learning community is personal time.  One of the difficulties (besides time) is that a professional community involving a principal who will eventually assess a teacher might inhibit frank discussions.  That being said, teachers who do have the time and opportunity for a real PLC should go for it.

The writers take five pages to suggest that Professional Development is a Good Thing.  All levels of education, including universities, should be involved and teachers should have plenty of opportunity to learn the skills needed for the inclusive classroom.  Unfortunately, they didn’t mention where the money is coming from.

Finally, the writers make 12 recommendations that should be read and considered by those who have the power to make them happen.  Parents should read them and trustees should read them and administrators should read them.  If inclusive education has any hope of working, these recommendations, practical professional development and, yes, professional learning communities need to happen.  Successful change does not happen by saying, “make it so”.

For More Information:

Education for All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005

NEXT POST: Giftedness & Education for All August 21

FINAL POST: Help for Teachers: Charts taken from, modified and created from Education for All August 26

“Education for All” and the Myth of Universal Design


Part 2 of Education for All

Universal Design in Architecture

Universal design is a concept that has come to us from architecture.  Architects noticed that as the handicapped were increasingly accommodated not only by retrofitting buildings, but by designing buildings from scratch to meet the needs of the handicapped, a curious thing was happening: the general public was also benefiting from the designs.

The wheelchair ramps worked well for cyclists and parents with children in strollers.  The lower wash basins and levered handles made life easier for small children.  Even the subtitles on television have proven a boon in places such as noisy hospital waiting rooms.  And who hasn’t hit the big blue button with their elbow or their foot when trying to wrangle too many packages through a heavy door?  In fact, the accommodations that many of us thought would be expensive extras for the few have proven to be welcome improvements in the lives of many.

Now it sometimes happens that the lessons or ideas of one discipline cross over successfully to another.  A well-made woodworking tool becomes a surgical instrument and leads to an unexpected partnership between the toolmaker and the surgeon.   The sciences of psychology and neurology, the art of religion and the discipline of philosophy discover that more and more often they are saying similar things until a psychiatrist finds himself writing a guide to meditation, a neurologist writes a book on Zen and the Brain and another neurologist explores the importance of emotions and the meaning of consciousness.  The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education is offering collaborative graduate work in areas such as neuroscience.  These developments come from a willingness to explore an unordinary take on things using a combination of imagination, openness to new ideas and critical thinking.

Universal Design and Education

At first blush, the Ontario Ministry of Education’s embrace of universal design might seem to be one of these happy crossovers.  Their idea is that if the curriculum is taught in a way that students with learning disabilities can learn it, then the same method will work for all the students in the class.  The corollary is that with rare exceptions all students should be in the same class because they all can be taught well at the same time.

A Brief Review of Learning Disabilities

To clarify (and those of you who know all about LD should skip the next couple of paragraphs): by definition, a student with a learning disability has average intelligence or above and has a deficit in one or more areas that affect learning.  The student may have difficulty reading but no difficulty with mathematical concepts or may have problems using a pen or pencil to write neatly at a reasonable speed but can write wonderful stories using a computer.   Each person who has a learning disability is different from any other one; the only thing they all have in common is they are all at least as smart as the normal person.

Many students with learning disabilities (or as one student I know puts it: learning differences) only need some simple accommodations to be very successful.  One student may need to have someone else’s notes photocopied for him (because he can’t write fast enough and, at the same time, pay attention to the material being taught), more time on tests, to take fewer courses and have textbooks recorded (because he can’t read fast enough even though his comprehension is excellent).  Another student might need to use a laptop in class and answer some questions in note form.  A third might use a non-programmable calculator for a math test because she can do mathematics but not arithmetic.

As an aside, I must note that these so-called disabilities would hardly have been noticed in another time and place.  In a society where minimal literacy and numeracy was needed, what counted would have been how hard people worked, how well they did their jobs and character.  Few people a hundred years ago would have been expected to do much in school after grade eight and many would not have gone even that far.  I think we should remember that an LD is a very subtle insult to the brain and in the larger scheme of things should not have an impact on our view of the student as a whole.

To return to universal design and education, it would be a great savings in time and money if universal design worked in the classroom.  However, for most LD students it is helpful to have highly structured assignments whereas the intellectually talented profit from open-ended assignments.  Combining high structure and open-endedness in an assignment can be done and I have created assignments that worked for everyone, however they generally took a considerable amount of planning and the most successful one took three teachers to deliver it.  The teacher librarian and the computer teacher participated in the delivery of the project.

While teachers of primary students are guaranteed a maximum of 23 students in their classrooms, teachers of grade seven and eight may have 34 students in theirs.  By the intermediate years, the gap in learning has grown considerably between the weak students and the strong students.  Throw in students who are learning disabled and some who have behavioural problems and a teacher will have her hands full trying to successfully meet everyone’s needs.  Should she try to teach using a single design the equivalent of an architectural ramp or lowered sink, she will find herself with a large group of bored, restless students.

An Example of Universal Design or Differentiation?

The example of Universal Design (P. 12) in Education for All is more like the architectural equivalent of a sign saying UP! at the base of a ramp, ladder, elevator and escalator; a health professional beside the sign would choose the most appropriate way for each individual to ascend and still get their heart rate to an aerobic level.  However, it is a wonderful example of differentiation in teaching a lesson in literature; what it does not explain clearly is how a teacher might handle the differentiation in a class of thirty if some of the students will need the teacher’s guidance for periods of time.  It especially does not address how to deal with students with behavioural challenges in this kind of situation; many of them need direct supervision.

The lay person reading this may assume that an educational assistant would be available but EAs are becoming more and more restricted to students with physical handicaps and are rarely assigned to classrooms anymore.  Administrators might point out that special education teachers are now coming into the classroom to support the regular classroom teachers.  This is true, but they are not available full time to any class so they focus on the three Rs, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.

I have a sneaking suspicion that as time goes by, money for special education teachers will be cut until only the very severely affected students will receive support.  The argument will be that since many teachers are now receiving the equivalent of the old Special Education Certificate Part 1 as part of their B. Ed., they will soon be equipped to deal with behavioural, LD and other special education needs.  What the Ministry, administrators, academics and the public will forget is that this kind of teaching not only requires knowledge but also experience and time.

For More Information:

Education for All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005

NEXT POST:  EDUCATION FOR ALL: an analysis of the content.  August 14th

FOURTH POST:  Giftedness and EDUCATION FOR ALL: August 21st

FIFTH POST: Charts for Teachers derived from EDUCATION FOR ALL:  August 26st