- Purpose of this policy
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We argue that rethinking the learning context by introducing instruction models based on interaction benefit children with disabilities and provide high-quality learning and safe and supportive relationships for these students, thereby promoting their educational and social inclusion. Globally, children with disabilities achieve low educational outcomes, show significantly lower rates of completion in elementary education, and face more barriers in the transition to higher levels of education, which in the long term has an impact on social exclusion and poverty in the adulthood World Health Organization, Considering the international movement toward inclusive education, much research has focused on exploring inclusive pedagogies and teachers practice serving students with disabilities in mainstream schools Florian and Black-Hawkins, However, students with special needs are still educated in special schools.
When compared to mainstream schools, special schools fail to provide students with special needs a maximum level of attainment in instrumental learning language and mathematics , which seem to be explained, at least partially, by the different characteristics of both learning environments Kocaj et al.
Purpose of this policy
Indeed, decades of research has provided evidence of the benefits of inclusive versus special education for students with special needs Dunn, ; Calberg and Kavale, ; Madden and Slavin, Focusing not only on the educational placement but also on the quality of the education provided can contribute to enrich the learning opportunities of students that are not yet being educated with their non-disabled peers Lacey and Scull, The role that psychology can have in promoting inclusive education has been claimed, being dialog a key aspect that has been emphasized Kershner, This approach has been developed based on the contributions of the sociocultural theory of learning initiated by Vygotsky, which explain learning and cognitive development as cultural processes that occur in the interaction with others Vygotsky, , ; Rogoff, ; Cole, ; Wenger, Dialog also plays a key role for learning, as it allows sharing knowledge, thoughts, and purposes Rogoff, ; Bruner, and create knowledge together Vygotsky, ; Edwards and Mercer, ; Wells, ; Flecha, The social and intersubjective character of learning applies also for students with disabilities as, according to Vygotsky , the students with disabilities benefit from interactive learning contexts to advance toward higher levels of learning and higher stages of development.
Interactions with peers with higher levels of academic competency has been highlighted as a facilitator of greater contact of students with special needs with the general curriculum and greater learning progress of these students in regular schools Slavin, ; Hanushek et al. Recent research on learning environments that emphasize dialogical interactions and argumentation has found that these learning environments contribute to better instrumental learning outcomes of students with special needs including vocabulary, reading, and writing Hand et al. When interaction in cooperative learning is promoted, benefits are achieved both in terms of learning and social acceptance, as special education students benefit of improved self-esteem, a safer learning environment, and better learning outcomes Jenkins et al.
Students with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities gain peer acceptance, popularity, and frequency of interactions with their peers without disabilities Piercy et al. Specific interventions based on promoting peer support have demonstrated promoting academic engagement and improvement Carter et al. However, scientific literature on the benefits of interactive learning environments for students with special needs are mainly focused on mainstream schools and in relation to students without special needs.
Students with the most severe disabilities, who need extensive support for both access the curriculum content and non-academic skills such as interacting with others, tend to be underrepresented in the literature Browder et al.
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From the perspective of providing an education of the highest quality that ensures the inclusion of all the diversity of students, and capitalizing on the benefits of interaction for learning, previous research has shown the benefits of a particular interactive learning environment, interactive groups IG , to achieve the best levels of school success and group cohesion for all Valls and Kyriakides, ; Aubert et al.
With IG, classes are organized in small heterogeneous groups of students that work together on a learning activity mainly of instrumental content, i. Students complete the activity relying on peer interaction and mutual help, and with the support of an adult volunteer from the community that dynamize interactions. However, we still do not know whether and how IG could be applied in special schools, how this implementation could respond to the challenge of achieving positive outcomes for children with special needs Lindsay, , and how this application could contribute to inclusion from special schools.
In this article, we analyze the process of recreation of IG in a special school, particularly in an elementary classroom with students with disabilities learning mathematics. The aim of the study is twofold: a to examine how IG can be implemented in special schools and b to identify the improvements, if any, that this interactive learning environment has entailed for the participants.
We also analyze the challenges that the school faces in this process to enhance the quality of education and opportunities of inclusion for all students. To carry out this research, we used the case study method, which has focused on a public special school located on the outskirts of a town in the province of Valencia, Spain. This school is distant from the urban center of the town and welcomes students from different municipalities in Valencia. For the case study on the implementation and impact of interactive learning environments, we focused on the Primary Education group, which comprises 36 students from 6 to 14 years old with different disabilities including intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, and autism.
Most of these students had participated in the interactive learning environment for three school years, and others did it for one or two school years; therefore, the number of students participating in the groups varied between school years in a range between 25 and 30 students. Our methodological approach draws on the Communicative Methodology Puigvert et al. Aligned with the transformative paradigm Mertens, , its main objective goes beyond to understand social and educational realities, but to discern between exclusionary and transformative elements that contribute to hinder or to overcome inequalities in the field of study.
Due to the transformative orientation of this methodology, it is particularly useful in the investigation of issues that affect vulnerable groups, such as students with disabilities. One of the researchers involved in the project was in charge of contacting and visiting the school for the data collection process. Based on a previous relationship with the teachers, who had already introduced a research-based approach in the school, the researcher contacted the school principal about participating in the study.
In a subsequent visit, the exploratory focus group with the school teachers was carried out to identify relevant topics on the development of interactive learning environments in the school. Participants agreed to provide researchers access to the relevant data for the purpose of the study. Likewise, it was explained that collected data would be treated with confidentiality and used solely for research purposes.
The topics identified in the exploratory focus group oriented the subsequent data collection to deepen in their understanding. Previous knowledge on the benefits of IG in mainstream schools identified by research was also used to guide the data collection. In the case of the focus groups with students, only the topics a to d were considered, and the focus group was conducted with the assistance of two teachers, who facilitated the communication with the students, as all of them had communication difficulties.
Some of the students use regularly augmentative and alternative communication systems, while others usually communicate orally but in the focus group used pictograms to support their communication. In all cases, the teachers and the principal had beforehand the questions for the focus groups or interviews in order to facilitate a previous reflection to the students on the object of study. Following the communicative orientation, both the interview and the focus groups were based on an intersubjective dialog between the researcher and the participants, aiming to reach an agreement on the interpretation of the reality that was object of study and therefore joint creation of knowledge Gomez et al.
A system of categories was created deductively following the topics identified with the teachers and informed by the literature. The three coders grounded in a content analysis approach conducted and shared their coding and resolved any discrepancies using a consensus-based approach.
The transformative dimensions of this case study do not dismiss the complex challenges and limitations faced by professionals to create better conditions for learning and development in the context analyzed. An account on those challenges is also provided.
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Interactive learning environment for students with disabilities: characteristics and results. In this special school, students from different elementary classrooms share together an hour session per week to work in an interactive learning environment: six small heterogeneous groups are created; each group has a different activity lasting around 15 min each focused on instrumental learning, mostly mathematics, resembling the operation of IG. In each group, four or five students work with the support of an adult, in this case a member of the school staff.
Whereas all students share the characteristic of having a disability, the group of students cannot be considered homogeneous, as diversity among students is huge and difficulties and abilities vary very much. As teachers explain, taking into account these criteria, students are distributed in the groups based on both the difficulties they have and on what they can contribute to the others, and these contributions evolve around two key components of IG: instrumental learning and interaction.
These groups are organized to operate for a whole school year. However, as their functioning is permanently assessed to ensure that learning and interaction are maximized, teachers can agree to redistribute some of the students if they observe that it might benefit the students. So, when we started doing the groups, it was a bit different from what is normally done in the ordinary schools, we had to look for heterogeneity within the diversity that we had.
Then, when we started working with these groups we decided that in each group there had to be at least one student or two that contributed knowledge to the rest, Then, the groups are composed like this. And it may be that also within the group, as we have many children with behavioral problems, we do not put several students with behavior problems in the same group but they are each in a group Teacher, Focus group. Reaching a challenging learning situation for all and avoiding that those with higher levels work below their possibilities entailed organizing the groups according to the principle of high expectations and setting the learning objectives at the highest level.
Consequently, some students might be in a situation far beyond their learning possibilities at that moment; however, these cognitively challenging situations are relevant for them because those are mediated by interactions and stimulation from others that foster their learning, even if they would not achieve the highest objective set:.
There is always one thing that is clear: that there are no children in the groups wasting their time, that is, something they already know to be repeating it, because if they already know it they have already learned it. Instead we look for maximum learning. But, those students are the ones that they benefit to come and to receive interactions. Furthermore, the interactive environment scaffolds the students to follow their individual plans and to reach their individual goals:.
So, the intention is that what is [taught] in the groups is part of his individual plan as an objective Teacher, Focus group. The adults facilitating the groups have the role to promote supportive learning interactions among student. Two adults participate in each group instead of one which is the usual in IG; their role is the same: to promote peer interactions around the learning activity. In addition, when there are students with behavior disorders, an additional adult is part of the group and takes care of behavioral problems eventually.
Another professional supervises the different groups to ensure they are working effectively and provides additional support if necessary. These professionals can be the teacher, educators, or speech therapists. When the session starts, students first need to know and understand the task they need to solve and then do it relying on the mutual support among students and adults. When students are not familiar with the activity, most of the time is spent in understanding what they have to do, and leave little time to work effectively.
For this reason, teachers prepare the students in advance to get familiar with the task and activating the learning process, in order to make the most of the interactive situation. By observing the students, teachers realized the group experienced difficulties to perform the task when the students had not practiced the activity beforehand.
It seemed crucial for the children succeed to know and to understand the task previously. So, they decided to anticipate the learning as explained:. It was an activity that was not trained. Here the school kids need to repeat the activity many times to know Then, if they had not understood how they had to do it The problem is that they did not know what to do, the problem was not that they did not know how to count from 1 to Teacher, Focus group. Having practiced the activity and having clearer its objective, students do not have to spend time in understanding what they have to do but directly to solve the activity interactively, and adults do not have to focus on explaining the activity but on promoting learning interactions.
What has that provoked? It has created moments in which if I know how to do it and how to solve it I am able to help you, okay? Teachers meet regularly to coordinate their work, including the decisions on the contents they are going to teach or practice in the groups, the activities they will propose to the students, and the most adequate materials for their students.
Previously, the proposed activities are prepared by different groups of teachers that focus each on a particular block of contents numbers, basic concepts, calculation, shape, series, etc. The different proposals are shared and discussed in these coordination meetings, that result in a detailed planning of the sessions.
In terms of preparing the activity, adapting the material, and all the work previous to the groups, everything is established in meetings with all the staff, where the content blocks are specified: basic concepts, numbering, operations There, the kind of activities and the specific objective are already specified: numbering from 1 to 10, numbering from 1 to In this way, the professionals develop these activities by teams, then they share them, all together, with an example of how to carry out this activity For example, teachers who work on number and quantity, the whole year will be working on number and quantity, Activity adaptation is one important task of the teachers when planning the sessions.
When implemented in mainstream schools, IG also contemplate the adaptation of activities and materials to allow the participation of students with special needs; the activity is the same for all the group members — otherwise interaction on the activity would be blocked — but students can accede in different ways.
However, in special schools, adaptations become especially important because the diversity among students is much greater than in ordinary schools and difficulties and abilities vary very much. For this reason, activities are usually done with manipulative materials to avoid the lack of literacy skills in many students being a barrier for the learning of mathematics. The diversity of skills also includes students that are not able to speak, and others that can write but with means alternative to a pen, for instance.
This diversity is considered when activities and materials are prepared. Within the group you can find children who write, who do not write, who use a Dymo labeler to write, or maybe they do know the numbers but as they do not write they have a Velcro adaptation Then, at each table, the children are placed and there is a sign in the table that indicates what each child can do, because not all of us know all the students.
Then I come to a group and I say, look, Marcos, I know he can write, he can speak, but he cannot count or whatever. And then this gives you clues to work in the groups so that they can help each other, or to make the adaptations of material, that in many cases has to be adapted to Velcro type … , because they know the numbers but they cannot write them, then you give them the option to solve it by taking a Velcro and placing, right?
Teachers explain that these adaptations are crucial because the success of the activity depends partly on it. Therefore, they are not decided individually by a teacher, but debated and decided through agreement among the teaching team, with the ultimate objective that all students can participate and have access to the learning contents through diverse means.
Teachers also conduct systematic evaluations after each session, in which the functioning of the session and the activity are assessed. In these evaluations teachers analyze, on the one hand, that the basic principles of IG are followed e. The teachers take notes during the sessions about the aspects that need to be improved to allow an enhancement of the interaction and learning opportunities for all students. There is always an evaluation after the group. That is, the improvement of the interaction, the objective that children have to learn, that children have to carry out the activity.
We never lose sight of that. That is the goal, then all our dialogs are aimed at the improvement of that. Teachers observations and evaluation of this interactive learning environment reported a positive impact on increasing supportive and caring interactions that fostered behavioral and learning improvements among students. Creating an interactive learning environment in the classroom shifted the pattern of interaction students had engaged, so far. As teachers reported, their students had a trajectory of very individual learning, but this interactive environment facilitated the opportunities to help each other and learn together.
They help each other. I have seen this, I have seen a child being able to hold the hand of a classmate and help him point, and trying to explain it to him, with his words, very basic, but Teacher 1: the students themselves are already helping each other, right? Teachers, Focus group. Furthermore, the students in the focus group talk about mutual help, and they explain it when they are asked about what they like the most of working in these groups. In the conversation with the researcher and the teachers they increase awareness about the added value of these supportive interactions.
Students have learnt to help each other despite their limitations and tend to use their skills to help the others. Experiencing caring and supportive interactions in the groups helped students to move from a deficit thinking mindset toward an asset-based mindset, focusing in their strengths and opportunities rather on their problems:. Helping each other was one of the things that I saw the most difficult, because everyone has their own limitations and their own difficulties.
School principal, Interview. In this regard, according to the teachers, having the opportunity to help others has meant a change for many of them, who until that moment had only been the recipients of help. It has changed their self-concept and their beliefs about their capabilities, has empowered them, and, in some cases, it has brought changes also in their behavior, individually and as a group. I think it has also raised their self-esteem, feeling able to help others Fatima was a student with And I think that there has been a lot of improvement in caring relationships and classroom climate, how they talk to each other, how they respect each other, right?
And the way they treat each other, with respect, the attitude, teach us a lot. The generalization of help, care and friendship to diverse situations and moments has been identified as especially important for the children with the most severe disabilities that have very limited possibilities of interaction and in the school are recipients of basal stimulation. As a result of participating in interactive learning environments in the classroom, the number and quality of interactions that these students receive from their peers has increased:.
So, the tutors thought that for them it could be a moment of interactions, and since these groups have been created there are many more interactions both in the groups and in the playground moments, the students are much closer,. Some students take the lead to interact with these children and encourage other peers to follow their example, thus promoting the social inclusion of these more handicapped children within the peer group:. And then The students themselves report they listen more to each other, help each other, pay more attention to others and talk more among them.
These interactions resulted in new friendships and caring relationships beyond the classroom. For instance, some students spontaneously spent their free time to play together instead of individually. The playground and the lunch time are other spaces and times in which children have been observed to help each other and build their friendship.
Episodes like these show that learning interactions and mutual help have been assumed by the students as part of their everyday relationships. In the playground … I think they have improved the coexistence School principal, Interview. On the one hand, the students with the most disruptive behavior, have reduced their behavioral problems, to the point that by the end of the school year there were no teacher intervention to address behavioral issues.
This has been partly achieved thanks to the peer group influence, where other peers can act as role models in this interactive learning environment. The improved behavior has in turn had an impact on an increased possibility for these students to participate in the learning activity in their group and improve their instrumental learning.
I see children with many behavioral problems that paralyze them to learn anything. The child we are talking about, for example, … , he was not able to be in a group, if you are taking off your shoes, you are getting up, you are dancing, that is It is now more obvious to me that what we [teachers] say to them does not have the same influence as a classmate. Aggressive behaviors have also been reduced.
There are children whose aggressive behavior has reduced in the groups sessions, while in the regular classroom activities these behaviors persist, which demonstrates the connection between the interactive learning environment and the behavioral change of these children.
Again, sharing the learning activities with peers has had an impact on this change, as well as the role of adults focusing on monitoring negative behaviors. Manuel, for example, is a student who is in the class and has behavior problems continuously, hitting And in the groups … he is in a group where there is an adult with a support role behind him, right? I think that the groups have been important and it [behavior] has been a key objective for him, to be reduced, because in class there is still misconduct and in the groups has decreased, that is, maybe you can find that he gives you a slap once, but for an entire hour that has changed a lot in Manuel Teacher, Focus group.
The improvement of both disruptive and aggressive behavior were important learning objectives that were achieved with these children. Beyond these cases, in general, students learnt to work cooperatively, which allowed teachers to focus less on the rules to follow and more on the contents to learn. They arrived and suddenly they were all sitting, waiting With an attitude totally Therefore, through sustained implementation of this interactive learning environment behavioral improvements were observed and reported — leading to a learning environment free of violence, free of distractions, quiet, and focused on the activity — that are a precondition for learning.
All students participating in the case study present communicative problems derived from their disability, although these difficulties vary between the students. Being communication a means for both learning and social relationship, having the possibility of communicating and interacting during more time and with more people, promoted an important change: from previous individualized one-to-one attention with the professionals to a multiple group interaction.
Enhanced possibilities of using communication has allowed students to perform better and to be able to complete the learning tasks. We also develop projects that analyze and synthesize information related to policy initiatives in special education and early intervention and conduct cutting-edge research on emerging, high-priority topics related to special education. On October 26, the American Institutes for Research hosted a presentation and discussion on the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms, a cornerstone of special education policy in the United States and many countries.
The trend continues as enrollment in educator preparation programs has dropped by more than 70 percent in the last decade. This pocket guide from AIR helps policymakers and practitioners adapt federal program funds to improve teaching and learning for all students. It is the third in a series on implementing ESEA flexibility plans. This user-friendly guidebook and toolkit was developed by special education experts to support charter school leaders and special education managers as they build special education programs to serve students with disabilities. In this blog post, David Osher, AIR vice president and international expert on school climate, social emotional learning, and student support, shares an interesting perspective about making a difference through school climate.
A new report by experts at AIR offers descriptive information on the inclusion of students with disabilities in school accountability systems under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This report found that absences, course failures, course credits and GPA all can be used to accurately predict whether ninth-graders with disabilities will graduate from high school. Identifying these early warning indicators is especially crucial for students with disabilities, who drop out of high school at alarming rates. This report provides the technical details of an alternate assessment design that has resulted from a long-term research and development effort at AIR.
The National Center on RTI published this tools chart to assist educators and families in becoming informed consumers who can select reading screening tools that best meet their individual needs. Millions of high school students—particularly those with disabilities, with limited proficiency in English, or from low-income backgrounds—need additional support in order to succeed. To address this challenge, the National High School Center promotes the use of research-supported approaches that help all students learn and become adequately prepared for college, work, and life.
Response to intervention RTI can be both a system for providing early interventions to struggling students and a special education diagnostic tool for evaluating and identifying students with specific learning disabilities.
Teacher Collaboration and Achievement of Students with LDs: A Review of the Research
This tool is used to assist a State Leadership Team to develop and implement procedures to: scale-up the adoption and use of a targeted evidence-based practice or program and evaluate the extent to which implementation of the practice or program has occurred over time. The National Center for Technology Innovation NCTI advances learning opportunities for all students, with a special focus on individuals with disabilities. The purpose of the Access Center was to improve access to the general education curriculum for students with disabilities at the elementary and middle school levels.
The District has a long history of difficulties in regard to special education that have been well-documented. Through this study, AIR has compiled and analyzed data, visited schools, and conducted interviews and focus groups to learn as much as possible about the current state of special education in the District. This report, authored by Helen Duffy of the National High School Center, provides an in-depth look at the implementation and structural issues, as well as the needed support required to successfully institute Response to Intervention RTI at the secondary school level.
This Issue Brief reports the timing of entry into special education and the number of grades in which students receive special education across the primary grades. This study focuses on two primary research questions: What analytical techniques exist for estimating the cost of an adequate education for special education students? How might these techniques be applied to estimate the cost of an adequate education for special education students in California, and how do these cost estimates compare to what is currently spent on special education students?
Common Core of Data CCD surveys for the school year and the fiscal year , includes data about students enrolled in public education, including the number of students by grade and the number receiving special education, migrant, or English language learner services. An extensive compilation of the questions asked at the National Center on Student Progress Monitoring's first Summer Institute about Curriculum Based Measurement, as well as others that may be helpful.
Special Education | American Institutes for Research
Skip to main content. You are here Home Our Topics Education. Special Education. Our Work AIR conducts federal, state, and local projects designed to improve outcomes for students with disabilities and their families. Our areas of expertise include intensive intervention National Center on Intensive Intervention ; supporting large-scale improvements for students with disabilities National Center for Systemic Improvement ; instructional and assistive technology Center on Technology and Disability ; teacher preparation Center for Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability, and Reform ; and federal special education fiscal requirements Center for IDEA Fiscal Reporting.
Latest Work 24 Jun Spotlight on Personalized Learning. AIR believes that personalized learning efforts must have critical foundational elements, build in the relevant essential hallmarks, and opportunities to amplify learning with technology. Our approach to personalized learning draws upon our rigorous research base and strong field experience in facilitating educational system change efforts across the nation and globe.
Inclusive Technology in a 21st Century Learning System. Technology is a part of nearly every aspect of our daily lives—including the public education system. AIR, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and more than 10 other organizations collaborated on the development of publications to ensure educational technology conception, design, procurement, use, and evaluation close rather than widen opportunity gaps between students with and without disabilities.
The Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools model is a whole-school intervention that aims to promote social inclusion of students with intellectual disabilities in their schools through inclusive activities that occur within the normative contexts of the school. Key inclusive strategies include unified sports, inclusive youth leadership, and whole-school awareness and engagement.
AIR is studying the impact of the model on schoolwide academic performance, measured by overall school performance on graduation rates and dropout rates. Special Olympics Global Evaluation. The Special Olympics Unified Schools program creates opportunities for the social inclusion of youth with intellectual disabilities through Unified Sports, Inclusive Youth Leadership development, and Whole School Engagement activities; however, little is known about whether this program has similar effects outside the United States.
To support Special Olympics in increasing its evaluation efforts of Unified Schools programs internationally, AIR partnered with Special Olympics International to develop an evaluation framework that will serve as a guide for future international evaluations. The Ten Series. Educators have an unprecedented opportunity to rethink how their technology initiatives reach all learners, including those with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency.
How should they approach this opportunity? What is most important to consider? This edition of The 10 Series answers those questions and more.
This report is the result of a working meeting of special education experts and stakeholders held to consider the challenges and opportunities for strengthening special education services and improving student outcomes. Serving students with an individualized education program, which entitles them to special education services, can be a challenge for charter and traditional schools.
This study is an exploratory analysis of special education enrollment rates in charter schools and traditional schools, as well as of factors associated with variations in classification and enrollment rates of students with an individualized education program across school types in the four educational regions of Louisiana that have three or more charter schools.