By: Dr. Ifeanyi Ufondu, Ph.D
The school bell may stop ringing, but summer is a great time for all kinds of educational opportunities. Children with learning disabilities particularly profit from learning activities that are part of their summer experience — both the fun they have and the work they do.
Beautiful Minds Inc. found Dr. Ifeanyi Ufondu, Ph.D. has packed this virtual Beach Bag of activities for teachers to help families get ready for summer and to launch students to a fun, enriching summer.
In the virtual Beach Bag you’ll find materials you can download and distribute, but you’ll also find ideas for things that you may want to gather and offer to students and parents and for connections you’ll want to make to help ensure summer learning gain rather than loss.
– Put an article on strategies for summer reading for children with dyslexia in your school or PTA newsletter. Send it home with your students to the parents.
If many of your students go to summer camp, send the parents When the Child with Special Needs goes off to Summer Camp an article by Rick Lavoie which tells parents what to do to support their children during camp.
– Teach them an important skill they can use over the summer. Read Teaching Time Management to Students with Learning Disabilities to learn about task analysis, which families can use to plan summer projects.
– Make sure your students are able to read over the summer — put books into children’s hands. Register with First Book and gain access to award-winning new books for free and to deeply discounted new books and educational materials.
– Tell your parents about Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, which allows their children to listen to books over the summer.
– Encourage writing. Send The Writing Road home to your parents so they can help their children. Give each of your students a stamped, addressed postcard so they can write to you about their summer adventures.
– Get your local public library to sign kids up for summer reading before school is out. Invite or ask your school librarian to coordinate a visit from the children’s librarian at the public library near the end of the school year. Ask them to talk about summer activities, audio books, and resources from the National Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Have them talk about summer activities at the library and distribute summer reading program materials.
– Study reading incentive programs by publishers and booksellers such as Scholastic’s Summer Reading Buzz, HarperCollins Children’s Books Reading Warriors, or the Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program. If you think these programs will motivate your students, let the families know about them. Find ways to make accommodations so they can participate if necessary.
– Offer recommended reading. LD OnLine’s Kidzone lists books that are fun summertime reads. The Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association, offers lists for summer reading. Or ask your school or public librarian for an age-appropriate reading list.
– Encourage your parents to set up a summer listening program which encourages their children to listen to written language. Research shows that some children with learning disabilities profit from reading the text and listening to it at the same time.
– Offer recommendations for active learning experiences. Check with your local department of parks and recreation about camps and other activities. Find out what exhibits, events, or concerts are happening in your town over the summer. Encourage one of your parents to organize families of children with learning disabilities together for learning experiences.
Dr. Ufondu also desires for parents to plan ahead. Work with the teachers a grade level above to develop a short list of what students have to look forward to when they return to school in the fall. Many kids with learning disabilities will want to study over the summer so that they can get a head start.
Ivory A. Toldson, Ph.D.
“Among the nearly 40,000 black male 9th graders currently in honors classes, 2.5% have been told they have a Learning Disability, 3.3% Autism, and 6% ADHD… Black males with and without disabilities can excel in schools that have adequate opportunities for diverse learners and a structure that supports personal and emotional growth and development”;
For the data presented in this report, the author analyzed 17,587 black, Hispanic, and white male and female students (black male N = 1,149) who completed the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (Ingels, et al., 2011). This is a brief report from a larger study completed under the auspices of the National Dropout Prevention Center for Students with Disabilities (NDPC-SD) for the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).
Research suggests that black boys’ transition to and through the ninth grade shapes their future odds of graduating from high school (Cooper & Liou, 2007). Today, approximately 258,047 of the 4.1 million ninth graders in the United States are Black males. Among them, about 23,000 are receiving special education services, more than 37,000 are enrolled in honors classes, and for nearly 46,000, a health care professional or school official has told them that they have at least one disability. If black male ninth graders follow current trends, about half of them will not graduate with their current ninth grade class (Jackson, 2010), and about 20 percent will reach the age of 25 without obtaining a high school diploma or GED (Ruggles, et al., 2009).
Black boys are the most likely to receive special education services and the least likely to be enrolled in honors classes. Across black, white and Hispanic males and females, 6.5 percent are receiving special education services, 9.7 percent have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), and 25 percent are in honors classes. For black boys, 9 percent are receiving special education services, 14.7 percent have an IEP, and 14.5 percent are enrolled in honors classes. Black boys who are in the ninth grade are more likely to be enrolled in honors classes than to receive special education services (SEE Table 1).
Having specific disabilities, including learning disabilities, developmental delays, autism, intellectual disabilities, or ADD/ADHD, increases the odds that any child will receive special education services. Among black male ninth graders who are currently receiving special education services, 84 percent have a disability and 15.5 percent have never been diagnosed. Among those not receiving special education services, 80 percent have never been indicated for a disability, and 20 percent have. Black males are no more likely to be diagnosed with a disability than white and Hispanic males (SEE Table 2).
Having a disability is related to other negative consequences, particularly for black males. Aside from special education, students with disabilities are more likely to (1) repeat a grade, (2) be suspended or expelled from school, (3) have the school contact the parent about problem behavior, and (4) have the school contact the parent about poor performance. When creating a scale which included the four risk factors mentioned, plus special education and having an IEP, black boys without disabilities were likely to endorse at least 1 of the 6 risk indicators, and those with disabilities endorsed between 3 and 4. Using these factors as a reliable predictor of not completing school, we find that students of all races and genders are at least three times more likely to drop out of school than their counterparts without disabilities. Among all races and genders, black males without disabilities endorsed more risk factors than others without disabilities, and black males with disabilities endorsed more risk factors than any other group of students (SEE Figure 1).
Nevertheless, the trajectory of black males with disabilities is not uniformly dismal. Among the nearly 40,000 black male ninth graders who are currently enrolled in honors courses, 15 percent have been told they had a disability by a health professional or the school at least once. Three percent of black males in honors courses have been told they have a learning disability, 3 percent autism and 6 percent ADD or ADH
How Black boys with Disabilities End up in Honors Classes
Having a broader understanding of the true nature of disabilities helps us to have a better understanding of how black boys with disabilities end up in honors classes. Importantly, a disability does not have to be debilitating. For instance, a learning disorder may be more aptly described an alternative learning style. For some students, mastering an alternative learning style will give them a competitive edge over students who are average “standard” learners. A visual learner could master the art of using pictures to encode lessons in their memory or use “concept mapping” to invigorate mundane text. Similarly, while some easy-to-bore ADD and ADHD students have an irresistible impulse to create the havoc necessary to stimulate their insatiable nervous system, others may use their urges to energize the lessons. They may interject humor and anecdotes, or push the teachers to create analogies. While they may have difficulty processing large volumes of dense text, they may be the best at taking discrete concepts and applying them creatively to novel situations
Every disability has a negative and positive offprint. Most are aware of the social challenges for children with autism that make it difficult for them to communicate with other students or teachers. However, few take the time to understand the advantages of certain peculiar behaviors. In some instances, children with autism are able to leverage their repetitive behaviors and extraordinary attention to random objects, into the development of mathematic and artistic abilities. Similarly, the scattered attention and hyperactive energy of someone with ADHD helps some children to juggle many task, relate to many people, and excel in student activities and student government. Many studies suggest that beyond school, people with symptoms of ADHD often excel in professional roles
How Black boys without Disabilities End Up in Special Education
Importantly, having or not having a disability is not a rigid category. Most, if not all, people have some characteristics of one or more disability. We all have different attention spans, levels of anxiety, susceptibility to distraction, social acuity, etc., which are controlled by past and present circumstances, as well as our unique biochemical makeup. Many black boys who end up in special education do not have a disability. Rather, they have circumstances that spur behavior patterns that are not compatible with the school environment. Situation specific symptoms will usually remit with basic guidance and structural modifications to the persons’ situation. In school settings, from the standpoint of disabilities, students can be divided into four categories:
A true negative – children who do not have a disability and have never been diagnosed
A true positive – children who have a disability and have been accurately diagnosed
A false negative – children who have a disability but have never been diagnosed
A false positive – children who do not have a disability but have been diagnosed with one; or have a specific disability and diagnosed with the wrong one.
Many problems are associated with false negative and false positive diagnoses. A child with an undiagnosed disability might experience less compassion and no accommodations for learning or behavioral challenges. A child with a genuine learning disorder might be expected to follow the same pace as other students, and be penalized with suspension for opposing an incompatible learning process. False positive children may be relegated to a learning environment that is not stimulating or challenging. There is research evidence that Black males are more likely than other races to have false negative and false positive diagnoses, due to culturally biased assessments, unique styles of expression, and environmental stressors.
What does this all mean?
Black males with and without disabilities can excel in schools that have adequate opportunities for diverse learners and a structure that supports personal and emotional growth and development. Contrarily, schools that view disability and emotional adjustment difficulties as enduring pathologies that need to be permanently segregated from “normal” students, will stunt academic growth and development. The nearly 5,600 black male ninth graders with a history of disability who are currently enrolled in honors classes likely benefitted from patient and diligent parents who instilled a sense of agency within them, and a compassionate school that accommodates a diversity of learners. They are also likely to have some protection from adverse environmental conditions, such as community violence, which can compound disability symptoms.
Importantly, black males are no more likely to be diagnosed with a disability than Hispanic or white males, yet they are more likely than any other race or gender to be suspended, repeat a grade, or be placed in special education. Having a disability increases these dropout risk factors for all students regardless of race and gender; however, the tenuous status of black males in schools nationally appears to be due to issues beyond ability. One important caveat to consider: some studies suggest that come common drop out risk factors do not predict drop out for black males with the precision that it does for white males. For instance, frequency of suspensions has a much stronger association with dropping out (Lee, Cornell, Gregory, & Xitao, 2011) and delinquency (Toldson, 2011) for white males than it does for black males. The larger implication of this finding is very unsettling; while the act of suspending is reserved for the most deviant white male students, suspensions appear to be interwoven into the normal fabric black male’s school experiences.
While we cannot ignore the injustices in many schools, they should not overshadow the hope and promise of the black male students who are enrolled in honors classes. In addition, we should respectfully acknowledge schools and teachers who provide quality special education services designed to remediate specific educational challenges with the goal of helping students to reintegrate and fully participate in mainstream classes. Exploring the question, “how black boys with disabilities end up in honors classes, while others without disabilities end up in special education” may help us to gain a better understanding of an enduring problem, as well as reveal hidden solutions, for optimizing education among school-aged black males.
By: Ifeanyi-Allah Ufondu, Marie Tejero Hughes, Sally Watson Moody, and Batya Elbaum
After discussion of each grouping format, implications for practice are highlighted with particular emphasis on instructional practices that promote effective grouping to meet the needs of all students during reading in general education classrooms. In the last 5 years, two issues in education have assumed considerable importance: reading instruction and inclusion. With respect to reading instruction, the issue has been twofold: (a) Too many students are not making adequate progress in reading), and (b) we are not taking advantage of research based practices in the implementation of reading programs. In the popular press the complexities and subtleties of this issue have been reduced to a simple argument between phonics versus whole language, but the reality is that there is considerable concern about the quality and effectiveness of early reading instruction. With respect to the second major issue of inclusion, considerable effort has been expended to restructure special and general education so that the needs of students with disabilities are better met within integrated settings. The result is that more students with disabilities receive education within general education settings than ever before, and increased collaboration is taking place between general and special education.
Both of these issues-reading instruction and inclusion-have been the topics for national agendas (e.g., President Clinton’s announcement in his State of the Union Address in 1996 that every child read by the end of third grade, Regular Education Initiative), state initiatives (e.g., Texas and California Reading Initiatives), and local school districts. The implementation of practices related to both of these issues has immediate and substantive impact on professional development, teaching practices, and materials used by classroom teachers.
Grouping practices for reading instruction play a critical role in facilitating effective implementation of both reading instruction and inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classes. Maheady referred to grouping as one of the alterable instructional factors that “can powerfully influence positively or negatively the levels of individual student engagement and hence academic progress”, as well as a means by which we can address diversity in classrooms. As increased numbers of students with learning disabilities (LD) are receiving education in the general education classroom, teachers will need to consider grouping practices that are effective for meeting these students’ needs. Furthermore, reading instruction is the academic area of greatest need for students with LD; thus, grouping practices that enhance the reading acquisition skills of students with LD need to be identified and implemented.
Until relatively recently, most teachers used homogeneous (same ability) groups for reading instruction. This prevailing practice was criticized based on several factors; ability grouping: (a) lowers self-esteem and reduces motivation among poor readers, (b) restricts friendship choices, and (c) widens the gap between poor readers and good readers. Perhaps the most alarming aspect of ability grouping was the finding that students who were the poorest readers received reading instruction that was inferior to that of higher ability counterparts in terms of instructional time; time reading, discussing, and comprehending text (Allington, 1980); and appropriateness of reading materials. As a result, heterogeneous grouping practices now prevail, and alternative grouping practices such as cooperative learning and peer tutoring have been developed.
As general education classrooms become more heterogeneous, due in part to the integration of students with LD, both special and general education teachers need to have at their disposal a variety of instructional techniques designed to meet the individual needs of their students. In this article, we provide an overview of the recent research on grouping. practices (whole class, small group, pairs, one-on-one) teachers use during reading instruction; furthermore, implications for reading instruction are highlighted after each discussion.
Considerable research has focused on the fact that for much of general education the instructional format is one in which the teacher delivers education to the class as a whole. The practice of whole-class instruction as the dominant approach to instruction has been well documented. For example, in a study that involved 60 elementary, middle, and high school general education classrooms that were observed over an entire year, whole-class instruction was the norm. When teachers were not providing whole-class instruction, they typically circulated around the room monitoring progress and behavior or attended to their own paperwork.
Elementary students have also reported that whole-class instruction is the predominant instructional grouping format. Students noted that teachers most frequently provided reading instruction to the class as a whole or by having students work alone. Students less frequently reported opportunities to work in small groups, and they rarely worked in pairs. Although students preferred to receive reading instruction in mixed-ability groups, they considered same ability grouping for reading important for nonreaders. Students who were identified as better readers revealed that they were sensitive to the needs of lower readers and did not express concerns about the unfairness of having to help them in mixed-ability groups. In particular, students with LD expressed appreciation for mixed-ability groups because they could then readily obtain help in identifying words or understanding what they were reading.
Many professionals have argued that teachers must decentralize some of their instruction if they are going to appropriately meet the needs of the increasing number of students with reading difficulties. However, general education teachers perceive that it is a lot more feasible to provide large-group instruction than small-group instruction for students with LD in the general education classroom. The issue is also true for individualizing instruction or finding time to provide mini lessons for students with LD. Teachers have reported that these are difficult tasks to embed in their instructional routines.
Implications for practice
Numerous routines and instructional practices can contribute to teachers’ effective use of whole-class instruction and implementation of alternative grouping practices.
Teachers can involve all students during whole-class instruction by asking questions and then asking students to partner to discuss the answer. Ask one student from the pair to provide the answer. This keeps all students engaged.
Teachers can use informal member checks to determine whether students agree, disagree, or have a question about a point made. This allows each student to quickly register a vote and requires students to attend to the question asked. Member checks can be used frequently and quickly to maintain engagement and learning for all students.
Teachers can ask students to provide summaries of the main points of a presentation through a discussion or after directions are provided. All students benefit when the material is reviewed, and a student summary allows the teacher to determine whether students understand the critical features.
Because many students with LD are reluctant to ask questions in large groups, teachers can provide cues to encourage and support students in taking risks. For example, teachers can encourage students to ask a “who,” “what,” or “where” question.
At the conclusion of a reading lesson, the teacher can distribute lesson reminder sheets, which all the students complete. These can be used by teachers to determine (a) what students have learned from the lesson, (b) what students liked about what they learned, and (c) what else students know about the topic.
Small-group instruction offers an environment for teachers to provide students extensive opportunities to express what they know and receive feedback from other students and the teacher. Instructional conversations are easier to conduct and support with a small group of students. In a recent meta-analysis of the extent to which variation in effect sizes for reading outcomes for students with disabilities was associated with grouping format for reading instruction, small groups were found to yield the highest effect sizes. It is important to add that the overall number of small-group studies available in the sample was two. However, this finding is bolstered by the results of a meta-analysis of small-group instruction for students without disabilities, which yielded significantly high effect sizes for small-group instruction. The findings from this meta-analysis reveal that students in small groups in the classroom learned significantly more than students who were not instructed in small groups.
In a summary of the literature across academic areas for students with mild to severe disabilities, Polloway, Cronin, and Patton indicated that the research supported the efficacy of small-group instruction. In fact, their synthesis revealed that one-to-one instruction was not superior to small-group instruction. They further identified several benefits of small-group instruction, which include more efficient use of teacher and student time, lower cost, increased instructional time, increased peer interaction, and opportunities for students to improve generalization of skills.
In a descriptive study of the teacher-student ratios in special education classrooms (e.g., 1-1 instruction, 1-3 instruction, and 1-6 instruction), smaller teacher-led groups were associated with qualitatively and quantitatively better instruction. Missing from this study was an examination of student academic performance; thus, the effectiveness of various group sizes in terms of student achievement could not be determined.
A question that requires further attention regarding the effectiveness of small groups is the size of the group needed based on the instructional needs of the student. For example, are reading group sizes of six as effective as groups of three? At what point is the group size so large that the effects are similar to those of whole-class instruction? Do students who are beginning readers or those who have struggled extensively learning to read require much smaller groups, perhaps even one-on-one instruction, to ensure progress?
Although small group instruction is likely a very powerful tool to enhance the reading success of many children with LD, it is unlikely to be sufficient for many students. In addition to the size of the group, issues about the role of the teacher in small-group instruction require further investigation. In our analysis of the effectiveness of grouping practices for reading, each of the two studies represented different roles for the teacher. In one study, the teacher served primarily as the facilitator, while in a second study the teacher’s role was primarily one of providing direct instruction. Although the effect sizes for both studies were quite high (1.61 and .75, respectively), further research is needed to better understand issues related to a teacher’s role and responsibility within the group.
Implications for practice
Many teachers reveal that they have received little or no professional development in how to develop and implement successful instructional groups. Effective use of instructional groups may be enhanced through some of the following practices.
Perhaps the most obvious, but not always the most feasible application of instructional groups, is to implement reading groups that are led by the teacher. Whereas these groups have been demonstrated as effective, many teachers find it difficult to provide effective instruction to other members of the class while they are providing small-group instruction. Some teachers address this problem by providing learning centers, project learning, and shared reading time during small group instruction.
Flexible grouping has also been suggested as a procedure for implementing small-group instruction that addresses the specific needs of students without restricting their engagement to the same group all the time. Flexible grouping is considered an effective practice for enhancing the knowledge and skills of students without the negative social consequences associated with more permanent reading groups. This way teachers can use a variety of grouping formats at different times, determined by such criteria as students’ skills, prior knowledge, or interest. Flexible groups may be particularly valuable for students with LD who require explicit, intensive instruction in reading as well as opportunities for collaborative group work with classmates who are more proficient readers. Flexible grouping may also satisfy students’ preferences for working with a range of classmates rather than with the same students all of the time.
Student-led small groups have become increasingly popular based on the effective implementation of reciprocal teaching. This procedure allows students to take turns assuming the role of the leader and guiding reading instruction through question direction and answer facilitation.
Peer pairing and tutoring
Asking students to work with a peer is an effective procedure for enhancing student learning in reading and is practical to implement because teachers are not responsible for direct contact with students. For students with LD involved in reading activities, the overall effect size for peer pairing based on a meta-analysis was ES = .37. This finding was similar to one reported for students with LD (ES = .36; Mathes & Fuchs, 1994) and for general education students (mean ES = .40).
The Elbaum and colleagues report revealed that the magnitude of the effects for peer pairing differed considerably depending on the role of the student within the pair. For example, when students with disabilities were paired with same-age partners, they derived greater benefit (ES = .43) from being tutored rather than from engagement in reciprocal tutoring (ES = .15). This may be a result that for the most part the tutors were students without disabilities who demonstrated better reading skills and were able to provide more effective instruction. These findings differ, however, when the peer pairing is cross-age rather than same-age. Overall, cross-age peer pairing students with disabilities derived greater benefit when they served in the role of tutor.
Students with LD prefer to work in pairs (with another student) rather than in large groups or by themselves. In fact, many students with LD consider other students to be their favorite teacher. Considering the high motivation students express for working with peers and the moderately high effect sizes that result from peer pairing activities for reading, it is unfortunate that students report very low use of peer pairing as an instructional procedure.
Implications for practice
Because students appreciate and benefit from opportunities to work with peers in reading activities, the following instructional practices may enhance opportunities for teachers to construct effective peer pairing within their classrooms.
Classwide Peer Tutoring (CWPT) is an instructional practice developed at Juniper Gardens to “increase the proportion of instructional time that all students engage in academic behaviors and provide pacing, feedback, immediate error correction, high mastery levels, and content coverage”. CWPT requires 30 minutes of instructional time during which 10 minutes is planned for each student to serve as a tutor, 10 minutes to be tutored, and 5 to 10 minutes to add and post individual and team points. Tutees begin by reading a brief passage from their book to their tutor, who in turns provides immediate error correction as well as points for correctly reading the sentences. When CWPT is used for reading comprehension, the tutee responds to “who, what, when, where, and why” questions provided by the tutor concerning the reading passage. The tutor corrects responses and provides the tutee with feedback.
Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) borrows the basic structure of the original CWPT but expands the procedures to engage students in strategic reading activities. Students are engaged in three strategic reading activities more typically addressed during teacher directed instruction: partner reading with retell, paragraph summary, and prediction relay. PALS provides students with intensive, systematic practice in reading aloud, reviewing and sequencing information read, summarizing, stating main ideas, and predicting.
Think-Pair-Share hare was described by McTighe and Lyman as a procedure for enhancing student engagement and learning by providing students with opportunities to work individually and then to share their thinking or work with a partner. First, students are asked to think individually about a topic for several minutes. Then they are asked to work with a partner to discuss their thinking or ideas and to form a joint response. Pairs of students then share their responses with the class as a whole.
Traditionally, one-on-one instruction in which the student receives explicit instruction by the teacher is considered the most effective practice for enhancing outcomes for students with LD. In fact, the clinical model where the teacher works directly with the student for a designated period of time has a long standing tradition in LD. Most professionals consider one-on-one instruction to be the preferred procedure for enhancing outcomes in reading . Many professionals perceive one-on-one instruction as essential for students who are falling to learn to read: “Instruction in small groups may be effective as a classroom strategy, but it is not sufficient as a preventive or remedial strategy to give students a chance to catch up with their age mates”.
In a review of five programs designed for one-on-one instruction, Wasik and Slavin revealed that all of the programs were highly effective, even though they represented a broad range of methodologies. Though one-on-one instructional procedures are viewed as highly effective, they are actually infrequently implemented with students with LD, and when implemented, it is often for only a few minutes.
In a recent review of research on one-on-one instruction in reading, no published studies were identified that compared one-on-one instruction with other grouping formats (e.g., pairs, small groups, whole class) for elementary students with LD. Thus, though one-on-one instruction is a highly prized instructional procedure for students with LD, very little is known about its effectiveness.
Implications for practice
The implications for practice of one-on-one instruction are in many ways the most difficult to define because although there is universal agreement on its value, very little is known about its effectiveness for students with LD relative to other grouping formats. Furthermore, the instructional implications for practitioners revolve mostly around assisting them in restructuring their classrooms and caseloads so that it is possible for them to implement one-on-one instruction. Over the past 8 years we have worked with numerous special educators who have consistently informed us that the following factors impede their ability to implement one-on-one instruction: (a) case loads that often require them to provide services for as many as 20 students for 2 hours per day, forcing group sizes that exceed what many teachers perceive as effective; (b) increased requirements to work collaboratively with classroom teachers, which reduces their time for providing instruction directly to students; and (c) ongoing and time-consuming paperwork that facilitates documentation of services but impedes implementation of services.
Considering the “reality factors” identified by teachers, it is difficult to imagine how they might provide the one-on-one instruction required by many students with LD in order to make adequate progress in reading. Certainly, it would require restructuring special education so that the number of students receiving services and the amount of time these services are provided by special education teachers is altered.
Research studies have repeatedly shown that reading instruction in many classrooms is not designed to provide students with sufficient engaged reading opportunities to promote reading growth. We have provided a summary of recent research on the effectiveness for students with LD of various grouping practices that can increase engaged reading opportunities, as well as implications of this research for classroom instruction. As classrooms become more diverse, teachers need to vary their grouping practices during reading instruction. There needs to be a balance across grouping practices, not a sweeping abandonment of smaller grouping practices in favor of whole-class instruction. Teachers can meet the needs of all students, including the students with LD, by careful use of a variety of grouping practices, including whole-class instruction, teacher- and peer-led small group instruction, pairing and peer tutoring, and one-on-one instruction.
About the authors
Ifeanyi-Allah Ufondu, PhD, is the Nation’s leading Special Needs advocate and Educational Psychologist. He is also the founder of Beautiful Minds Inc.- Advocacy & Special Needs Solutions. His current interests include best grouping practices for reading instruction and advocacy for At-Risk youth. Marie Tejero Hughes, PhD, is a research assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of Miami. Her research interests include parental involvement and instructional strategies for students with disabilities in inclusive settings. Sally Watson Moody is a senior research associate in the School of Education at the University of Miami. Her research interests include instructional grouping and effective reading instruction for students with learning disabilities. Batya Elbaum, PhD, is an assistant research professor in the School of Education at the University of Miami. Her primary research is on the academic progress and social development of students with learning disabilities.
By: Dr. Ifeanyi A. Ufondu, Founder
Along with new smiling faces, a new school year brings special education teachers new IEPs, new co-teaching arrangements, new assessments to give, and more. In order to help you be as effective as you can with your new students, we’ve put together our top 10 list of back-to-school tips that we hope will make managing your special education program a little easier.
1. Organize all that paperwork
Special educators handle lots of paperwork and documentation throughout the year. Try to set up two separate folders or binders for each child on your case load: one for keeping track of student work and assessment data and the other for keeping track of all other special education documentation.
2. Start a communication log
Keeping track of all phone calls, e-mails, notes home, meetings, and conferences is important. Create a “communication log” for yourself in a notebook that is easily accessible. Be sure to note the dates, times, and nature of the communications you have.
3. Review your students’ IEPs
The IEP is the cornerstone of every child’s educational program, so it’s important that you have a clear understanding of each IEP you’re responsible for. Make sure all IEPs are in compliance (e.g., all signatures are there and dates are aligned). Note any upcoming IEP meetings, reevaluations, or other key dates, and mark your calendar now. Most importantly, get a feel for where your students are and what they need by carefully reviewing the present levels of performance, services, and modifications in the IEP.
4. Establish a daily schedule for you and your students
Whether you’re a resource teacher or self-contained teacher, it’s important to establish your daily schedule. Be sure to consider the service hours required for each of your students, any related services, and co-teaching. Check your schedule against the IEPs to make sure that all services are met. And keep in mind that this schedule will most likely change during the year!
5. Call your students’ families
Take the time to introduce yourself with a brief phone call before school starts. You’ll be working with these students and their families for at least the next school year, and a simple “hello” from their future teacher can ease some of the back-to-school jitters!
6. Touch base with related service providers
It’s important to contact the related service providers — occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech/language therapists, or counselors — in your school as soon as possible to establish a schedule of times for your students who need these services. The earlier you touch base, the more likely you’ll be able to find times that work for everyone.
7. Meet with your general education co-teachers
Communicating with your general education co-teachers will be important throughout the year, so get a head start on establishing this important relationship now! Share all of the information you can about schedules, students, and IEP services so that you’re ready to start the year.
8. Keep everyone informed
All additional school staff such as assistants and specialists who will be working with your students need to be aware of their needs and their IEPs before school starts. Organize a way to keep track of who has read through the IEPs, and be sure to update your colleagues if the IEPs change during the school year.
9. Plan your B.O.Y. assessments
As soon as school starts, teachers start conducting their beginning of the year (B.O.Y.) assessments. Assessment data is used to update IEPs — and to shape your instruction — so it’s important to keep track of which students need which assessments. Get started by making a checklist of student names, required assessments, and a space for scores. This will help you stay organized and keep track of data once testing begins.
10. Start and stay positive
As a special educator, you’ll have lots of responsibilities this year, and it may seem overwhelming at times. If your focus is on the needs of your students and their success, you’ll stay motivated and find ways to make everything happen. Being positive, flexible, and organized from the start will help you and your students have a successful year.
For more information about starting the year off right, please visit our FAQ section
Families of a child(ren) with special needs will do anything they can to make sure their child is happy and in a supportive environment. When it comes to discussing your child’s education with his or her teachers and the school’s administration many parents feel they can handle it on their own. Dr. Ifeanyi Ufondu, owner and founder of Beautiful Minds Inc.- Advocacy and Special Needs Solutions of Beverly Hills, CA is the nation’s leading Special Needs advocate gives his top 10 reasons why families need an advocate.
Here are Dr. Ufondu’s top ten reasons why you should consider hiring an advocate or attorney to help get everything you want for your child.
1. Level the Playing Field
Have you ever been to a Committee on Special Education (CSE) meeting for your child and been told by the school district “we cannot do that?” Did you ever wonder whether what they were saying were true? When you work with a special education attorney or qualified special education advocate such as Beautiful Minds Inc., you will understand your rights and the school district’s obligations. This will level the playing field for you.
2. Alphabet Soup
FAPE, LRE, IDEA, 504, NCLB, IEP, IFSP, CSE, CPSE, EI etc. etc etc. In order to effectively advocate for your child you must know the lingo. Terms may be used at a CSE or IEP meeting that you do not understand. This immediately puts you at a disadvantage. A special education attorney or qualified advocate can help you understand how these terms apply to your child.
3. Understanding Testing
School psychologists, special education teachers, and other related services professionals have gone to school for many years to understand how to test and interpret results. Most parents are not trained in the language that is used to report data.
A special education attorney or qualified special education advocate can review your evaluations, progress reports, and other data and explain to you what they mean, how they apply to your child, and what services your child may or may not be entitled to based on those results.
4. Did the District Forget Anything?
Do you think your child would benefit from Assistive Technology? Is it time to discuss transition? Has your child been having behaviors in school that impact his or her learning and you believe that the district has not tried everything they could? A special education attorney or qualified advocate can assist you in ensuring you have gotten all appropriate services for your child.
Your child’s goals are one of the most important, yet also one of the most overlooked, components of the Individualized Education Program (IEP). Goals need to be meaningful, should not be the same from year to year, and should be individualized. Additionally, goals should be developed with parental input. A special education attorney or qualified advocate can assist you in developing individualized and meaningful goals for your child.
6. The IEP Document
Did you ever receive your child’s IEP and it did not accurately reflect what occurred at your meeting? Your IEP is your “contract” with your school district. If something does not appear in the IEP then it does not have to happen whether it was discussed at the CSE meeting or not. A special education attorney or qualified special education advocate can help you review your IEP and make sure that all necessary information and services are contained in it.
7. You have So Many Roles
As a parent of a child with special needs you have many roles at the CSE meeting; these include being the parent, the listener, the questioner, the active team member, the creative thinker and an advocate. It is virtually impossible to do all these roles well. You also may not be comfortable with one or more of these roles. Bringing a qualified special education advocate, and in certain circumstances, a special education attorney, to your CSE meeting takes the burden off of you in having to serve in all of these necessary, yet different, capacities.
8. Take the Emotions out of It
Let’s face it; we get emotional when speaking about our children. Even though I have been a special education attorney for many years, being a parent of a special needs child myself, I have been known to cry at my own son’s CSE meeting and am not always able to get my point across when I am emotional. I cannot stress enough that this is a business meeting and parents need to keep emotions out if it.
Having a qualified special education advocate, and in certain circumstances, a special education attorney, at your CSE meeting will allow you to participate taking the emotions out of it.
9. Your Child is Not Making Meaningful Progress
As a parent you know your child better than anyone else. You may feel that your child is not making progress in their current program. If this is the case, it is important that you speak with a special education attorney or qualified special education advocate to do an analysis of your child’s progress, or lack thereof, and assist you in obtaining the program and/or services your child requires to make meaningful progress.
10. You Do Not Agree
In a perfect world we would all come out of a CSE meeting with everything our children are entitled to. Many parents wrongly walk away without needed services when they are initially denied by the CSE. If you feel that your child is not receiving all of the appropriate services from your school district, it is extremely important to speak to a special education attorney to know whether you have a right to a particular service or accommodation for your child and what your next steps should be.
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Parenthood is a rich journey. When you add special needs into the mix, the parenting experience is amplified, adding poignancy and humor. Here are a few observations from my tenure in special needs parenting.
1. Showers are a double-edged sword. You never know when the kids will bust into the bathroom to show you the new color they painted the dog. Or sometimes they actually leave you alone and you take your time savoring the peace, knowing that you’re gambling between finding all well or discovering that they have managed to get past the lock, deadbolt, chain and alarm on the outside door, and you’ll find them marching down the street in their PJs with several neighbors following them in their cars in an impromptu parade.
2. Somehow the child whose occupational therapist reports low finger strength and coordination can manage to unlock every device known to humankind and elope out the front door.
3. A hearing-impaired child can somehow hear you open your secret chocolate stash from three rooms away.
4. You are well acquainted with the strange blend of pride and chagrin that occurs when your child with cognitive impairment outsmarts you.
5. Social media isn’t just an outlet, it’s a lifeline. Some of your closest confidants and dearest friends live in your computer. When you see them in real life you can pick right up on conversations even if it’s been three years since the last time, but there are plenty you have never met. They are scattered across the country and world, but you share a sacred connection, and they are like family.
6. A good night’s sleep is your Holy Grail. You have heard that such a thing exists, and the notion is intoxicating. You pursue it as your life’s mission only to find it always elusive. Though many still claim it exists, you’re beginning to believe it’s merely a myth.
7. You wish there was a way to Teflon-coat feelings. Whether it’s the sting of a stranger’s look or comment, the frustration of unsolicited advice, or the observation of a professional that hits too close to home, a magical elixir that would wash away the bite of the world would be heavenly.
8. You have more wisdom, depth and strength than you ever imagined possible. Your parenting experience has stretched and challenged you, and you have risen to the occasion on behalf of the child who stole your heart.
9. Your typical child(ren) have richness of compassion and empathy and value all people for who the are.
Dr. Ifeanyi Ufondu is Founder and Owner of Beautiful Minds Inc.- Advocacy & Special Needs Solutions. He is America’s leading Special Needs Advocate and is currently based in Dallas, TX.
By Dr. Ifeanyi Ufondu August, 22. 2016
Due to their unpredictable nature, transitions in general, can be very difficult for our children with special needs. The new school year creates a whole host of transitions that made me want to devote this month’s column to tips for helping your child make a smooth entrance into school.
About 3-5 day prior to the beginning of the new school year, make a social story with your child that will create a visual map as to what he/she can expect in the upcoming days. The story does not have to be long and should include the basic morning routine (getting dressed, taking the bus, etc.), what the child can expect during the course of the school day (class activities, snack/lunch breaks, recess) and then the schedule for the afternoon/evening (bus ride back, additional therapies, dinner, etc). You may want to laminate the covers so that you can reuse and don’t forget to add a place for your child to check off the activity once the event has occurred.
Additionally, I encourage you to write your own specific narrations to the story, for example, letting the child know that the noise and activity levels during certain parts of the day are different and what he/she can do about it to reduce their own stress levels.
If possible, allow your child an opportunity to visit his/her new classroom, 1-2 days ahead of the opening of school. Typically, arrangements can be made either directly with the teacher or with the school administrator to allow your child the opportunity to spend a few minutes getting the ‘lay of the land’. You may even want to encourage your child to add a small gesture (special sticker) to the classroom set up so that come the first day of school, his/her efforts are acknowledged by the teacher for the creation of an especially warm welcome.
For middle and high school students; special arrangements can often be made in advance of the first day of school to help your child learn how to navigate the hallways as they go from class to class and how to get to and open their lockers in a timely fashion.
Children with special needs are often plagued with auditory processing disturbances. While not traditionally impacting actual hearing, this can nonetheless make the auditory instructions by the teacher often difficult to understand. I suggest supplementing the verbal messages with a visual schedule that can be placed on the board and/or on the child’s desk to help him/her know exactly what is going on in the classroom and what the upcoming expectations are. Teachers can also encourage their special needs student s to be their ‘helpers’. This gesture asks the child to explain to the class what is going on, or help support a fellow student in class. What this typically accomplishes is twofold; the teacher can check to see if the student fully understands the lesson while elevating the status of the child with challenges by making him/her ‘the special helper’.
Finally, I encourage the establishment of an alliance with your child’s teacher. That early bond will be crucial to your working together as a team throughout the school year. BEAUTIFUL MINDS INC.
At Beautiful Minds Inc. we understand that strengthening skills through play is a proven strategy to help kids learn. For kids with special needs, video games can offer opportunities to practice everything from communication skills to organization — even social interactions — in a comfortable environment where players set the pace. While games designed specifically for kids with special needs can address certain issues, many mainstream titles can support your kid’s learning. Dr. Ifeanyi Ufondu, founder and psychologist at Beautiful Minds Inc. -Advocacy & Special Needs Solutions states, “Mainstream games can boost a sense of independence and confidence in kids with special needs, provide the ability to ask for help, and let them challenge themselves.” Try these games to help kids with special needs in these five areas:
Games that promote visual storytelling, social modeling, and language patterns can help kids with speaking, listening, and communicating. Learn more about communication challenges.
Cool School: Where Peace Rules, Mac, Windows
This free game helps kids practice conflict resolution.
Using “living ink” technology, kids’ drawings are animated and incorporated into this unique learn-to-read game.
Storybook Workshop, Nintendo Wii
Players take turns reading fairy tales aloud, and the game changes your voice to fit the scene.
Apps for kids on the autism spectrum
Games that encourage movement — from dancing to sports to drawing to handwriting — strengthen muscle memory and put a name to an action. Learn more about motor skill challenges.
Active Life: Magical Carnival, Nintendo Wii
Using both the standard Wii remote and a special floor mat that tracks players’ foot movements, this collection of fantasy-themed mini-games gets kids moving as it tests their short-term memory, their ability to follow instructions quickly, and their skill at matching colors, shapes, and patterns.
Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved, Microsoft Xbox 360, Xbox One
By moving like a conductor in time with specific sounds, this innovative rhythm game teaches kids about music and provides plenty of physical exercise. Kids will feel as though they’re actually manipulating and creating music while getting a modest physical workout.
LetterSchool, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch
LetterSchool does a great job of teaching letter writing with a three-step process: Learn the starting points for each stroke, trace the letter, and write the letter without hints. Once you draw the letter, it animates, which is a sweet reward.
Developing new routines, transitioning activities, and managing time are challenges for kids who struggle with executive functioning. Games that emphasize visual scheduling and break big jobs into smaller tasks can help. Learn more about organizational challenges.
Disaster Hero, Mac, Windows
This free Web game visually demonstrates what to do in case of emergency. Upon completion, players gain a sense of empowerment, as they will know the recommended steps for planning for, anticipating, and responding to a natural disaster.
Engineering.com Games, Mac, Windows
With about 100 engineering, physics, aerospace, and logic games, kids can find a wealth of opportunities to practice skills such as decision-making, deduction, and prediction that help build understanding of sequential directions.
Super Mario Maker, Nintendo Wii U
Kids learn step-by-step processes as they use the Wii U GamePad’s stylus to design, create, and share their very own Super Mario adventures.
READING & WRITING
Games that give both verbal and written instructions, break down directions into small steps, and focus on the player’s strengths can help boost reading and writing skills. Learn more about reading and writing challenges.
Elegy for a Dead World, Mac, Windows
It sounds creepy, but Elegy for a Dead World is a free-form storytelling game that gives kids the freedom to write whatever they want using prompts or their own imaginations.
Mia Reading: The Bugaboo Bugs, Mac, Windows
With 12 learning activities and four levels of difficulty, Mia Reading takes kids on a super-engaging learning adventure that covers a wide range of literacy basics, including associating words with images, phonics, spelling, sentence structure, and more.
Scribblenauts Unlimited, Nintendo Wii U
Kids can learn about puzzle solving while exercising their vocabularies and stretching their imaginations in this highly creative puzzle adventure. When the game prompts them to help a character, kids write a word using the Wii U’s stylus, and voila — the item appears on-screen!
So let’s get out there and get gaming! Beautiful Minds Inc.
Dr. Ifeanyi Ufondu