Saturday, 13 August 2016

Creating Equitable Special Education Programs in Ontario Classrooms

Last month I had the opportunity of successfully completing the Special Education Part 1 Additional Qualification Course at the University of Toronto.

"Special Education Part 1 provides an overview of special education. This includes an introduction to the various exceptionalities, working with program planning and delivery challenges, awareness of assistive technology, classroom management skills, as well as knowledge of other issues related to teaching students with special needs in a variety of settings. This course will be of greatest interest to those teachers who wish to deepen their knowledge regarding exceptional students noting the Ministry of Education's move to greater inclusion. Participants leave the course with a number of valuable resources to enhance their teaching practice" (University of Toronto, 2016).

I decided to take this course because I wanted to learn more about the different types of disabilities and exceptionalities so that I could better support my current and future students. I also wanted to learn more about accommodations, modifications, and IEP development. This course most definitely allowed me to learn all of those things...and much more! I not only learned about the IEP, I had the opportunity of writing my own based on a case study. I learned about a variety of resources and assistive technology that are available to support our teaching, as well as to support our student's learning.

My Top 10 Key Takeaway Points:
  1. Always create an equitable and inclusive learning environment
  2. Education for ALL- no one gets left out
  3. Accommodations and Modifications do not mean the same thing. "Accommodations change how a student learns the material and Modifications change what a student is taught or expected to learn" ( 
  4. NEVER diagnose a child or tell parents you think their child may have an exceptionality. We are teachers, not doctors or psychologists.
  5. If you suspect a hearing or visual impairment, you may ask the child's parents if they have had a hearing test/vision test and if not then you may suggest them to do so. Often times than not, the concern is diminished after one of those as the child may have just needed glasses or a hearing aid.
  6. Equity is giving each child what they need to be successful (ie. wheelchair, large print, assistive technology, etc.) and Equality is giving all children the same thing (ie. desk, paper, pencils, etc.)
  7. Collaboration is key! Everyone benefits (especially the child) when parents, teachers, support staff, and admin are working together towards a common goal of supporting the child
  8. Children should have input in their learning and they can tell you what they need to help them
  9. Parents and teachers are advocates for their students, especially those who cannot advocate for themselves. It is important to be knowledgable of available resources or at least have an understanding of where to obtain them.
  10. Every child is different, they will have different strengths, needs, interests, and abilities (i.e.. what works for one child with Autism will not work for all).

Top 10 Special Education Resources:

Contains an overview of: policies, funding, resources, roles and responsibilities, and Q&A

Since I work for York Region District School Board I am showcasing this one but each school board has a detailed special education plan. York Region District School Board’s planning, program development and service delivery processes have a strong tradition of including students with special needs as an integral part of our culture. This tradition is based on a belief that every student can learn and succeed with appropriate accommodations and modifications that address individual strengths and needs. Vision for Special Education: "We recognize all learners as our learners and work together to ensure the discovery of potential each and every day"(YRDSB).

The Guidelines provide clarification with respect to the following areas: 

-the principles of accommodation 
-creating a welcoming environment for all students
-the accommodation process 
-Guidelines on accessible education 
-Ontario Human Rights Commission
-the right to confidentiality and the disclosure of information
-appropriate accommodation 
-accommodation planning
-the undue hardship standard
-Roles and responsibilities of those involved in the accommodation process. 

Working together to support exceptional pupils under Ontario's Education Act, every exceptional pupil is entitled to special education programs and services which meet his or her needs. In York Region the Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) plays a vital role in ensuring that exceptional pupils receive appropriate educational services.

This guide is intended to help teachers and others working with students with special needs to develop, implement, and monitor high-quality IEP's. A five-step process is recommended. Suggestions and examples are provided, but IEP's, by their very nature, will be individualized on the basis of the particular requirements of the student.

Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are a critical tool in driving achievement and well-being for students with special education needs. Please find below samples to support educators when developing IEPs. The samples have been developed with and informed by consultations with educators and stakeholders.

These apps were specifically designed for use in Special Education but has also been used by students with diverse learning needs.

This contains tools and strategies that can be used with people who have little or no speech. Both high-tech and low-tech options are available.

Visuals are a great tool for seeing and understanding. They allow children the time they need to process what they are being asked. They allow for identical rehearsal and consistent memory pathways to be created.

I have prepared 4 sets of visual aids for our class already: 
  1. How are you feeling?
  2. Health and Safety
  3. Routines
  4. Reminders

I have also compiled an ABC Chart for our class which was obtained from my Special Education AQ course resources. An ABC chart is an observational tool that allows us to record information about a particular behaviour. The aim of using an ABC chart is to better understand what the behaviour is communicating. 

A= Antecedants (the event that occurred before the behaviour)
B= Behaviours (a clear description of the behaviour that occurred)
C= Consequences (what occurred after the behaviour OR the consequence of the behaviour

The National Autistic Society has the template and samples available for you to download and review. They also contain sample interpretations and strategies so that you can observe how to analyze the findings in the ABC Chart as well as gain an idea of how to create and implement possible strategies. 

Note: Each child is different, they will react differently in various situations, and supports/stragies will look different for each child- This is more than okay! :)

Top Ten Children's Books:

Here are some book suggestions that I have found and ordered to use with my students. You will notice there is more of a focus on Autism, this is only because I have a student who has Autism in my class so there is more of a need for those books at this time. I have also included books about: physical disabilities, special needs as an overall focus, deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impairment, down syndrome, and respect. There are many, many more children's books that I feel are beneficial and that I wish to obtain... but everything in moderation ;) 

1. Accept and Value Each Person by Cheri Meiners

Amazon Description:
The world is becoming more diverse, and so are the daily lives of our children. Accepting and valuing people and groups who are different from oneself and one's immediate family is a critical social skill. This book introduces diversity and related concepts: respecting differences, being inclusive, and appreciating people just the way they are. Includes questions, activities, and games that reinforce the ideas being taught" (Amazon).

2. Autism is...? by Ymkje Wideman

Amazon Description:
Logan overhears his grandma tell her friend he has autism, and he asks her, ”Autism is...?” She explains it to him in this beautifully illustrated story. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a disability that, according to new statistics released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on March 29, 2014, affects an estimated 1 out of 68 children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) in the US alone. It is a spectrum disorder because its impact on development can range from mild to severe. The areas of development most affected are social interaction and communication skills, difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication, and leisure play. Someone wisely said, “If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.” The characteristics are different with each unique individual, and so are the ways to interact, teach, and care for them. You may or may not wish to explain the term autism to your child at a young age, but if you do, I hope this book can help make it easier for you, as it did for me when explaining autism to Logan. His inquisitive mind wanted to know, and once he read this story, even before it was illustrated, he was satisfied with the answer.

3. I See Things Differently: A First Look at Autism by Pat Thomas

Amazon Description:
Psychotherapist and counselor Pat Thomas puts her gentle, yet straightforward approach to work in this new addition to Barron's highly acclaimed A First Look At...Series. This book will help children understand what autism is and how it affects someone who has it. A wonderful catalyst for discussion that will help children to better understand and support autistic classmates or siblings. The story line is simple and easily accessible to younger children, who will learn that exploring the personal feelings around social issues is a first step in dealing with them. Full-color illustrations on every page.

Amazon Description:
The Autism Acceptance Book is an interactive, educational, and character-building book that introduces children to the challenges faced by people with autism while also supporting their personal journey toward appreciating and respecting people's differences.

Amazon Description:
The Special Needs Acceptance Book is an interactive, educational, and character-building book that introduces children to the challenges faced by people with special needs while also supporting their personal journey toward appreciating and respecting people's differences. This book offers educational information, conversation-starters, and engaging exercises that invite children to "walk in someone else's shoes" as they learn to treat others the same ways they would like to be treated themselves. The book covers a range of disabilities including autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, learning disabilities like dyslexia, ADHD, blindness and deafness.

6. Don't Call Me Special by Pat Thomas

Amazon Description:
This delightful picture book explores questions and concerns about physical disabilities in a simple and reassuring way. Younger children can find out about individual disabilities, special equipment that is available to help the disabled, and how people of all ages can deal with disabilities and live happy and full lives. Titles in this series for younger children explore emotional issues that boys and girls encounter as part of the growing-up process. Books are focused to appeal to kids of preschool through early school age. Written by psychotherapist and counselor Pat Thomas, A First Look At books promote positive interaction among children, parents, and teachers, and encourage kids to ask questions and confront social and emotional questions that sometimes present problems. Books feature appealing full-color illustrations on every page plus a page of advice to parents and teachers.

7. Julia's Words by Judith L. Roth

Amazon Description:
Christina, who can hear, meets Julia, a deaf girl, at a coastal campground. As she spends time with Julia, Christina gets a glimpse of what it might be like to be deaf. She also finds out there's more than one way to communicate, and that friendship is deeper than sound. For children ages 6-10 and their families. Teachers and others who work with deaf children will find this book educational.

8. Close Your Eyes by Michelle Friedman

Amazon Description:
One little girl who plays, learns, and has fun is just the same as all her friends-except that she cannot see. As she invites her friends and readers to close their eyes and see what she sees, the girl builds blocks, makes puppets with her socks, climbs a tree, rides a bike, and plays tag. She is having so much fun growing up. She teaches everyone around her that even though she is blind, she still has abilities, hopes, and dreams-even if she may have to do things in a different way. Close Your Eyes shares delightful rhymes and engaging illustrations to foster an understanding of what is possible for disabled children while encouraging acceptance of differences. "It is a hard concept for a young child to grasp that another child can't see, but your focus on the humanness and similarity between children keeps a balance." -Audra Kaplan, PsyD, clinical psychologist.

9. My Friend Has Down Syndrome by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos

Amazon Description:
The sensitively written Let’s Talk About It Books encourage preschool-age and early-grades children to explore their feelings, deal with problems that trouble them, and understand others who have problems of their own. Each title speaks to a particular concern that children might encounter in the course of growing up. All books in this series have appealing color illustrations on every page, and are available in both English and Spanish language editions. A short section at the back of each book offers related advice to parents. My Friend Has Down Syndrome explores this common chromosomal condition from a child’s perspective. Younger children may be confused and have many questions when they encounter kids who have Down syndrome. Here, in this reassuring story, two children, one with Down syndrome and one without, learn that they are both good at different things and that by helping each other overcome their fears and difficulties they can accomplish a great deal together.

Amazon Description:
Children learn that having respect means treating everyone fairly. But there are some types of respect that each person must earn for themselves--by keeping promises, by being honest in what they say and do, and being polite and respectful to others. Most important of all, boys and girls learn that people who are different deserve just as much respect as close friends. This new title in Barron's growing series of A First Look at . . . books is written especially for preschool and early-grades children. Books in this series feature sensitively written stories that encourage boys and girls to explore their feelings, face new challenges in their lives, and talk to trusted elders about how to deal with things that bother them. The books feature child-friendly color illustrations on every page. An advice to parents section appears at the end of each book.

This course offered a wealth of knowledge and many more key takeaways and resources. I can only mention a few here but there really is SO much more and I highly reccommend this course to ALL teachers!

Respect, kindness, and inclusivity is EVERYTHING! Your students won't remember everything you taught them...but they will remember how you made them feel.