This image from a fellow advocate, made me think of my most frequent request for help… I keep getting calls because my kid is a hot mess (or some variation of this conversation). Also, many parents and caregivers are embarrassed because internally, we (yeah I said we…cause I’ve been there) feel like it is a reflection of how good we are as a parent.  Or even worse, everyone around you keeps whispering that child just needs DISCIPLINE.  Well, I’m here to tell you that if we could just discipline the behaviors away… I would have the most well behaved boys on the planet.

But I digress,  I  don’t want to not talk about why (like in this image) the behaviors are happening but the number one reason that students with disabilities are moved to more restrictive environments are BEHAVIORS.  Behaviors that either interfere with their learning or the disruption of the classroom. Interestingly enough, the most impactful in changing the behavior of students with disabilities during instructional time doesn’t require an EBD (Emotional & Behavioral Disorder) classroom to achieve. It’s some of the most simple things that can be done in any classroom. Finding a different instructional approach can negate the need for a different instructional setting.

Think about instructional strategies are discrete teaching behaviors that can be used across instructional activities and formats, and they do not require a specific setting to be successfully implemented. When a student with a disability struggles to progress in a general education classroom, most IEP teams determine that the next course of action should be a more restrictive environment. I don’t believe this is true. I think that we need to think outside the “typical” and exhaust all supports available in a general education setting before even considering a restrictive environment. Some simple changes can make a difference in students who would otherwise be moved to another environment.

Here is a list of instructional strategies that I found helpful when done purposefully and consistently. They have been shown to increase academic participation and decrease classroom behaviors…

1. Opportunities to Respond (OTR):   Studies have shown that low-performing students are given less OTR than their higher-performing peers. Meaning students with the most needs are given fewer opportunities for practice and to provide feedback. When the teacher provides less curriculum-based engagement, it is easier for this population to remain off task; off task usually equals problem behaviors. It’s only natural for struggling students to think, “if I can’t participate, what else can I do?” Leading to more difficult behavior. 

2. Praise: Lower-performing students are less likely to receive praise than their on- and above-level peers. Teacher praise has a long history of being recognized as an effective teaching strategy. The more that students are praised, the more that they are engaged. The more OTR, the more chances to be praised.

3. Active Instruction: Active Instruction includes presenting academic material via lectures, discussion, demonstration, and elaboration on student ideas (Stichter,2009). The more academic instruction provided, the higher student’s academic progress. Active instruction is most effectively achieved with students with behavioral/academic difficulties in a small group setting with more opportunities to respond than in a whole group setting, which is one of the major arguments for self-contained settings. Instead of moving students to another space to achieve a small group setting, why not achieve small group instruction in regular education classrooms through support facilitation, paraprofessional support, and increasing active instruction in teacher-led centers?

(Good, 1970; Greenwood, Delquardri & Hall, 1984)

Here are some other considerations:

1. Ensure that a student with behavioral difficulties has a recent Functional Assessment of Behavior and subsequent Behavior Intervention Plan that asks the child why they did that if able (I have a story about an FBA/BIP) for another blog. The parent can request a FBA as a part of a comprehensive evaluation. If there is a BIP in place and it’s not working, the team should reconvene to revise what they are doing. Just like the IEP, the BIP is a living document. It’s not enough to create a BIP, say it’s not working and then move a child directly to a more restrictive environment.

2. Make sure that accommodations and modifications are appropriate enough to allow “true” access to the curriculum. If a student cannot read the text, they will likely misbehave. Increasing meaningful participation decreases disruptions. In the example of being unable to read the text, providing the student with the text on tape could be a simple solution.

3. Consider Assistive Technology. Don’t just check a box that says it’s been considered and isn’t necessary. If a student is struggling, there is a good chance that an AT evaluation will reveal technology that could help increase meaningful participation. Don’t assume nothing will help. You aren’t an AT Specialist! Please be especially proactive in requesting an AT Evaluation with students with limited (not pre-verbal, there is a difference) communication/language and who demonstrate difficulty writing or copying from the board. I am learning about new technology daily and have attended over 100 IEP Meetings.

4. Universal Design is setting up the classroom in a way that naturally accommodates and gives access to all students. “At its core, UDL encompasses three principles—that instructors should provide students with multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement. In lay terms, this means that, to the extent possible, instructors should (a) provide content or materials in multiple formats, (b) give learners multiple ways to show what they know, and (c) use multiple methods of motivating learners. The concept of UDL originated in 1984, when the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) first focused on how computer technology could enhance learning for students with learning disabilities.” (Kelly, 2014, Association of Colleges and Universities)

As parents,  advocates, educators, and supporters of inclusive education, we MUST be creative and think outside of the box to keep students with disabilities in their least restrictive environment and, to the maximum extent possible, learn alongside their non-disabled peers.  There is no all-or-nothing approach to inclusion, nor is education a place where the student sinks or swims. THIS IS NOT FAIR, NOR IS IT IN THE SPIRIT OF IDEA. We can make a difference by being cognizant of the frequency with which we implement proven teaching strategies. No, this approach does not apply to every student, and YES, some cases require a more tailored approach. However, I do know that we underestimate how a change in approach and awareness can make a difference in individual students’ lives and ultimately shift the perception that they require another setting to meet their needs.

Our solutions must be beyond anything we have ever considered. We should not be afraid to try bold ne approaches.  ~Mary Landrieu~



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