Effective instruction is effective because it addresses the key elements of how the brain processes information. I want to share an analogy to help adults (parents and educators) fully appreciate this.
Below is a model of information processing first introduced to me in a master’s course at UCONN.
Here is a summary of what is shown in the model.
Here is the analogy. You are driving down the street, like the one shown below.
There is a lot of visual stimuli. The priority is for you to pay attention to the arrows for the lanes, the red light and the cars in front of you. You have to process your intended direction and choose the lane.
There is other stimuli that you filter out because it is not pertinent to your task: a car parked off to the right, the herbie curbies (trash bins), the little white arrows at the bottom of the photo. There is extraneous info you may allow to pass through your filter because it catches your eye: the ladder on the right or the cloud formation in the middle.
Maybe you are anxious because you are running late or had a bad experience that you are mulling over. This is using up band width in your working memory. Maybe you are a relatively new driver and simple driving tasks eat up the bandwidth as well.
For students with a disability that impacts processing or attention, the task demands described above are even more challenging. A student with ADHD has a filter that is less effective. A student with autism (a rule follower type) may not understand social settings such as a driver that will run a red light that just turned red. A student with visual processing issues may struggle with picking out the turn arrows.
Effective instruction would address these challenges proactively. Here is a video regarding learning disabilities (LD) that summarizes the need in general for teachers to be highly responsive to student needs. Here is a great video that helps makes sense of what autism in terms of how stimuli can be received by those with autism (look for the street scene). Here is a video of a researcher explaining how ADHD responds to sensory input (he gets to a scenario that effectively encapsulates ADHD).
To address these challenges:
Ironically, this is likely a lot of information for your brain to process…
Often we view disabilities in the context of the individual as a student, or a child or adolescent. The long term effects may be had to understand or extrapolate based on what we see at the younger ages.
There was teacher candidate whom I trained who had ADHD and struggled in the program in which we worked. He shared his struggles to keep up with the programming, organization, and in general, keeping up with the demands placed upon him.
I asked him to write a statement explaining his challenges that I could share with others. The statement is shared below. I hope this can help parent and educators make a more refined connection between the setting at an earlier age with the settings and outcomes the individual will face later in life. I explain to sped teacher candidates whom I train that we have an awesome responsibility and opportunity in how we can impact young lives…when they are no longer young.
There are numerous hidden tasks that we undertake while at the grocery store. We process them so quickly or subconsciously that we are not aware of these steps.
As a result, we may overlook these steps while educating students on life skills such as grocery shopping. Subsequently, these steps may not be part of the programming or teaching at school and therefore generalization is left for another day. Yet, the purpose of IDEA is, in essence, preparing students for life, including “independent living.”
To address this, we can take a task analysis approach in which we break down the act of shopping at a grocery store into a sequence of discrete steps or tasks (see excerpt of the task analysis document below).
Step 1 is to administer a baseline pretest during which we start with no prompting to determine if the student performs each task and how well each is performed. As necessary, prompting is provided and respective documentation is entered into the table (to indicate prompting as opposed to independent completion). For example, I worked with a client who understood the meaning of the shopping list but started off for the first item without a basket or cart. I engaged him with a discussion about how he would carry the items. At one point I had him hold 7 grapefruits and it became apparent to him that he needed a cart. (I documented this in the document.)
Other issues that arose were parking the cart in the middle of the aisle, finding the appropriate section of the store but struggling to navigate the section for the item (e.g. at one point I prompted him to read the signs over the freezer doors), and mishandling the money when prompted to pay by the cashier announcing the total amount to pay.
Step 2 is to identify a task or sequence of tasks to practice in isolation based on the results of the pretest. For example, this could involve walking to a section of the store and prompting the student to find an item. Data collection would involve several trials of simply finding the item without addressing any other steps of the task analysis.
Step 3 would be to chain multiple steps together, but not the entire task analysis yet. For example, having the student find the appropriate section and then finding the item in the section.
Eventually, a post-test can be administered to assess the entire sequence to identify progress and areas needing more attention.
To ensure the IEP team is on the same page as to what mastery of an objective looks like, the person writing the objective can take two steps:
The graph below is not data. A graph is a representation of summary statistics. This summarizes the data.
The chart below does not show the actual prompts, e.g. what number was shown to Kate, but it does show the individual trials. This is data, with a summary statistics at the end of each row. Here is a link to more discussion about data, with an example of a data sheet I use.
The data shown below addresses the student’s effort to solve an equation. Problem 21 is checked as correct and the error in problem 22 is identified. I can use this data to identify where the student is struggling and how to help. NOTE: the math objective would use the same verb as the problem: solve the linear equation.
The excerpt of a data sheet, shown below shows trials in a student’s effort to compare numbers.
Data below shows a student’s effort to evaluate integer expressions.
This applies to all areas beyond math. The chart above or the data sheet I linked above show data sheets that indicate the prompt and the results, with notes. For example, if I am asking my son to put on his shoes, each row of the data sheet is a trial with the outcome and notes.
Perhaps the vast majority of students with disabilities need support with math. Their challenges with math can be directly related to their disability or can be the result the effects of an ongoing struggle with math. The later results in what is termed secondary characteristics.
When I work with students with a disability, I first seek out background information about the student to identify what interests them, what reinforcers (rewards) can be used to enhance their performance, and what challenges and behaviors need to be addressed. Upon gather this information, I often decide to use a token sheet that is personalized for each student.
Below is an image of such a token sheet. At the start of our work together I felt the student in question needed immediate reinforcement for work completed to get him into a groove. I was also targeting a behavior in which he would draw dots on each digit he wrote, which slowed him down considerably. He would earn a Scooby (I would circle it) in the middle column for completing his work and an extra Scooby in the right column if he wrote digits appropriately (no dots). After 2 sessions, his dot writing dropped significantly to the point that I was able to remove the column on the right. As you can see at the bottom, 5 Scoobies resulted in iPad time.
This can be particularly effective for students who have more severe math anxiety, a fear of failure, or have ADHD. Such a token sheet can be included in the accommodations page of the IEP.
Here is a topic multiple educators and parents ask about:
I don’t want my child to be stuck in a room. He needs to be around other students.
Often we view situations in a dichotomous perspective. Inclusion in special education is much more nuanced.
In math if a student cannot access the general curriculum or if learning in the general ed math classroom is overly challenging then the student likely will not experience full inclusion (below) but integration (proximity).
For example, I had an algebra 1 part 1 class that included a student with autism. He was capable of higher level algebra skills but he would sit in the classroom away from the other students with a para assisting him. Below is a math problem the students were tasked with completing. Below that is a revised version of the problem that I, as the math teacher created, extemporaneously for this student because the original types of math problems were not accessible to him (he would not attend to them).
I certainly believe in providing students access to “non-disabled peers” but for students who are more severely impacted I believe this must be implemented strategically and thoughtfully. Math class does not lend itself to social interaction as well as other classes. If the goal is to provide social interaction perhaps the student is provided math in a pull-out setting and provided push-in services in other classes, e.g. music or art.
Here are the details of example of a push-in model I witnessed that had mixed effectiveness. A 1st grader with autism needed opportunities for social interaction as her social skills were a major issue. She was brought into the general ed classroom during math time and sat with a peer model to play a math game with a para providing support. The game format, as is true with most games, involved turn-taking and social interaction. The idea is excellent but the para over prompted which took away the student initiative. After the game the general ed teacher reviewed the day’s math lesson with a 5-8 minute verbal discussion. The student with autism was clearly not engaged as she stared off at something else.
Inclusion is not proximity.