Saturday, November 21, 2015

Implementing a Disability Studies Approach to Inclusive Education


            The effective inclusive classroom exhibits diversity, creativity, flexibility, and compatibility between students.  Instruction provided by the teacher sparks achievement by all regardless of the students’ diverse current level of academic achievement and functional performance.  The successful “differentiated classroom” (Tomlinson, 1999) includes instructional staff that consistently:
·       Studies the diversity of students for planning purposes
·       Utilizes assessment processes to inform instruction as an ongoing process
·       Caters to multiple areas of intelligence
·       Uses data, whereby student success is measurable: recording where the student began and ended
·       Includes student choice-making to link their interests with instructional relevance
            Teachers need to transmit information to students in clearly stated objectives as efficiently as possible.  To optimize student success in the least restrictive environment (LRE) a disability studies approach to inclusive practices (Valle & Connor, 2011) will be helpful.  To begin, teachers need to effectively incorporate the Nine Principles of Universal Design for Instruction:
1. Equitable Use: Teaching techniques that serve all students of varying abilities.  For example, using Text to Speech software for hard of hearing students.
2. Flexibility of Use: Meeting each student’s preferences and abilities through differentiated teaching design.  For example, providing students with choices that suit their preference in presenting work (verbal presentation or written paper)
3. Simple and Intuitive: Planning the teacher’s presentation to promote understanding regardless of student’s knowledge, experience, language skills, or current concentration level.  For example,   express clear oral or written instructions.  Asking students to read aloud or paraphrase instructions to be sure they understand expectations.  Another example is presenting clearly stated outcomes through teacher-provided rubrics
4. Perceptible Information: Communicating information successfully regardless of the child’s sensory abilities.  For example, allowing students to audiotape the class or providing large print for visually impaired students
5. Tolerance for Error: Planning for different learning paces and skills.  For example, providing one on one tutoring to help students build necessary skills.  Reading Recovery or Reading Rescue are two early intervention programs that emphasize 1:1 interventions.
6. Low Physical Effort: Reducing the need for students following instruction to exert physical effort.  For example, within an environment, desks and chairs should provide enough space for a wheelchair to move with ease and without barriers.
7. Size and Space for Approach and Use: Allowing adequate space for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of the student’s size, mobility, and posture.  For example, varying desk sizes to ensure suitability for taller students or providing smaller chairs and desks for more petite students.
8. A Community of Learners: Encouraging interaction between classmates during instructional activities.  For example, planning for group work, class discussions, and peer teaching.
9. Instructional Climate: Creating an inviting and comfortable classroom environment that optimizes learning and time on task.  For example, expressing respect for diversity with a class motto displayed prominently on the classroom walls
            Teachers seeking to implement a disability studies approach to inclusive practices find it essential to follow a process for teaching grounded in universal design for learning:
·       Identify course goals and content.
·       Become familiar in advance with each student and identify diversity within the group.
·       Apply universal design principles.
·       Implement universal design process.
·       Apply universal design assessments.
·       Monitor student learning through formative feedback, including student participation.
·       Modify instruction based on feedback
            Teachers seeking to implement a disability studies approach to inclusive practices effectively utilize Bloom’s Taxonomy for planning and questioning.  Knowledge of Bloom’s Taxonomy allows educators to plan and ask questions that require students to respond with increasingly higher order thinking skills (HOTS).  Planning for students to think critically when responding to questions and using higher cognitive thinking during activities promotes learning and optimizes success with future problem-solving.  
            Teachers seeking to implement a disability studies approach to inclusive practices accommodate all learning styles.  Teachers must plan and utilize different approaches and strategies to optimize learning for all.  By utilizing brain-based learning strategies (Jensen, 1998), teachers exhibit an acceptance that students have diverse learning preferences.  For example, auditory-learners prefer learning opportunities that allow them to hear, visual-learners prefer learning opportunities that allow them to see demonstrations or read material, and tactile/kinesthetic learners prefer learning that allows them to touch or utilize the environment. 
            Teachers seeking to implement a disability studies approach to inclusive practices respect Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence.  Everyone exhibits strengths and less-developed competencies.  The ideal for respecting diversity in the inclusive classroom is to identify each student’s strengths and planning to utilize these areas to increase motivation, build relevance, and mitigate frustration or anxiety when increasing skills related to less-developed competencies.  “We succeed in enterprises which demand the positive qualities we possess, but excel in those which can also make use of our defects” (de Tocqueville, n.d).  Eight areas of diverse intelligence identified by Gardner (2011) include:
1.     Verbal-Linguistic
2.     Visual-Spatial
3.     Logical-Mathematical
4.     Bodily-Kinesthetic
5.     Musical
6.     Interpersonal
7.     Intrapersonal
8.     Naturalistic
            Teachers seeking to implement a disability studies approach to inclusive practices recognize that students may exhibit a preference for learning environment and conditions.  Knowledge of these preferences help teachers predict, to some degree, which learning environments will be most effective for diverse students.  Effective teachers consider room temperature, desk and seating arrangements, wall design, lighting, sound, and other factors that may impact each students overall comfort.  
            Thoughtful and purposeful planning create conditions for success.  Planning pyramids, curriculum maps, and calendars, allow delivery of instruction throughout the school year that reflective recognize the diversity of students and need to link to relevance.  Planning backward from the destination point to the starting point is a proven strategy (Covey, 1989).
To summarize, each student presents unique strengths, preferences, and needs.  Students will differ in cultural background, performance level, learning pace, learning style, areas of interests, and other flexible variables.  Classrooms designed around the students increase their involvement.  Teachers seeking to implement a disability studies approach to inclusive practices willingly provide different activities that range from simple to complex, thereby addressing each student’s needs.  Careful and purposeful planning of long-term, medium, and short-term outcomes allow teachers to more effectively deliver and assess instruction.
            Since the authorization of PL 94-142 (1975) a student with disabilities has the civil right to be placed within his or her least restrictive environment as appropriate to his or her needs (IDEA, 2004).  General education teachers will increasingly have more diverse children, some with mild or moderate disabilities in their classroom.  Effective inclusive classroom teachers must be prepared for the challenges of diverse students.  Educational planning is a starting point within the teaching process.  Teachers seeking to implement a disability studies approach to inclusive practices adapt strategies to meet the needs of students with disabilities.  For example, planning for alternate modes of communication is one way a teacher accommodate diverse students.  When a child is currently less capable of responding to a writing task, the teacher can elicit his or her response verbally, through speech to text software or through a private conversation.  When a teacher reviews any student's IEP and uses formative data to understand that child’s present level of academic achievement and functional performance, subsequent goals and objectives for all students are more valid, reliable, and realizable.   

UDI Online Project. (2009). Examples of UDI in online and blended courses. Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability, University of Connecticut, Storrs. Retrieved from:

Valle, J., & Connor, D. (2011). Rethinking disability: A disability studies approach to inclusive practices. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

To cite:
Anderson, C.J. (November 22, 2015) Implementing a disability studies approach to inclusive
               education.[Web log post] Retrieved from