Planning for MORE Purposeful Differentiation in Special Education

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

In special education we differentiate in our sleep, right? Wrong.

As a special education administrator, I’ve noticed some of my teachers who are self-contained in a special ed. resource room fall into a bad habit. They think they are using differentiation purely because they asked a student after the fact a question with two choices or they read something aloud. It really depends on what the task is and what the teacher’s intentions were to tell whether or not something was actually differentiated for the different level of students.

As an admin, whenever I pop into a class, I can easily pick up on whether the differentiation completed was intentional or done as an afterthought in a last minute attempt to meet the needs of all learners. 

With this in mind I decided to share with you all easy quick tips that you can do to help make the differentiation that you are doing with your students more purposeful.  

As a starting point, there are three things every teacher should determine before attempting to differentiate instruction.

1.     Know- The teacher should know exactly what it is that they want their students to know.
2.     Understand- The teacher should determine what it is that they want their students to understand after the lesson is complete.
3.     Practice- The teacher should think of how they want the students to put into practice and demonstrate the knowledge they have gained.

In all THREE areas, there is ample opportunity for differentiation. For students you can adjust your expectations for what each student should know.

For an example….
In science your overall lesson starting point could be the following:

Know: The students will know about different types of weather.
Understand- The students will understand that weather follows a pattern and season. They will understand that snow happens in the winter, and not in summer… etc. 
Practice: The student will create a graphic organizer with the types of weather and when they occur.

So we have our basics down. Now how do we differentiate it?  We can differentiate it at every single level.

The middle section is the overall goal for the lesson. For lower students, the concepts and activities have been lowered to be challenging yet attainable. You can always differentiate further if needed depends on your students!

My three is go to activities that allow for built in differentiation are as follows:

Graphic Organizers – These can be used to easily differentiate. Ask some students to write their responses, while others use pictures. You can even easily differentiate the level of knowledge as well. 

In Writing- Ask some students to write their response to a question, others can finish sentence starters, some can draw their response, and others can work with some assistance to complete sentences between multiple choices.

Hit as many learning styles as you can with an activity- I don’t mean that you need to encompass all of them into one, but if you try, I’m sure that you will find, you can hit many of the learning styles with a well rounded lesson!

 When learning a new math concept you can make an anchor chart with visuals and talk about it as a whole group. You can then use manipulatives to practice the math concept and then maybe even sing a song about it!

Differentiation is great when it’s done very thoughtfully and purposefully. I hope you learned something from my little post! Be sure to comment below with your favorite way to differentiate in your classroom!

Post Secondary Transition through Project Search

Friday, June 16, 2017

Hey ALL! Happy (hopefully) summer break to you! Since I’m in administration, I’m working all summer, so I am jealous of all of your who are lounging around by a pool! Any who, I wanted to talk to you guys about Post-Secondary Transition. More specifically a Program that I was able to help start in my county this past year.

If you haven’t heard of Project Search yet, I BEG of you! STOP! STOP what you are doing right now and head on over to their website to check out what the program is.

Project Search is a multi-organizational team approach to Post Secondary Transition for Students with Disabilities. It is truly a unique opportunity that really provides an amazing experience for students with disabilities to prepare them for a long-term job!

In the first year of our local Project Search, we had eight interns. Out of that eight, six of them have received long term jobs making anywhere from minimum wage to $11.00 an hour, which here in Ohio, is a substantial wage for ANY 18-year-old just starting a job. The other two are still searching for employment, but they only finished the program 4 weeks ago!

Whose Apart of the Team?

Like I said, It’s multi-organizational. We had 5 partners in order to make our year a success.
The business site, vocational rehab, department of disabilities, educational service center, and a job trainer through vocational rehab.
Our first year of the program was 2016-2017 school year, but we started planning for our first year in 2015. First, we had to secure a business partner. As a representative of the ESC, we teamed up with our Local Board of Developmental Disabilities. We then needed to find a business to host the Project. We found ours in a local hospital. Once the business was in place, we need to secure funding for the one-time startup fee for support through the ladies that came up with Project Search. They seriously meet with you, train all the staff and business staff, and help trouble shoot through your first year! The startup fee is $10,000. Now many of you may stop reading at that, but I swear, the more people that know about the program, and what you are trying to do… well money just started to come out of every place! We had a local foundation donate money to cover the startup fees, after we applied for a grant through them. The rest of the costs to cover the program come through the organizations that are teamed up. And as transition services go, the program ends up being quite cost effective.

Where’d it Start?
The idea came about in 1996, between a Emergency Department, Erin Riehle, had an idea about hiring people with disabilities to help out at the hospital, since a large part of their patients had disabilities. Erin wondered if it would be possible to train people with developmental disabilities to fill some of the high-turnover, entry level positions in her department, which involved complex and systematic tasks such as stocking supply cabinets. She partnered with Susie Rutkowski, who at the time was the special education director at a nearby school. Project Search started as a one site program and has grown over the last twenty plus years to over 300 sites.

What’s So SPECIAL about the Project Search Model?

While the school, County Board of DD, and Vocational rehab are all big parts of the model, it is actually led by the business. This makes buy in from the employees of the business essential.
We were lucky that when the project was announced at our partner business- A local hospital, had EVERY SINGLE department ask to have an intern in their area. We were blown away, and still are to be honest!

The focus of Project Search is made clear to interns at the very beginning of the year. The collaborative team wants them to get employment at least part time in an area of their interests.

To gain employability skills, the interns are given a 3 week in the classroom learning experience. During this time, the instructor teaches the interns the rules of the business including orientations and general training. After the initial three week training the job trainers work with the instructor to start and slowly train the interns in each part of the internship.

The interns get to experience three – ten week internships over the course of the school year. This challenges them by letting them learn many parts of different jobs. The skills they learn are transferrable to other employment areas with in the community. This means that students learn relevant, marketable skills while immersed in the business and those businesses are active partners in the internship process.

The standards that Project Search sets for students who are referred to as interns, is competitive employment in an integrated setting. Gone are the days of sheltered workshops. We want our interns to get a job in a real work place, that challenges them, and empowers them. We also encourage at least a part time work, that is year-round.

Some Other Basics!

We made the interns go through an application process- just like college or any other internship process. We also interviewed them and asked them to complete a skills assessment (which consisted of us watching them complete simple tasks like putting things in alphabetical order, transferring a patient down the hall in a wheel chair, or putting surgical tools on a tray in correct order). We didn’t expect perfection, but we were looking to see what skills they had or needed. Students had to have not graduated high school, but have met their graduation requirements. They also still had to be under the age of 22. Interns spend 6 hours a day at the business. With 4.5 hours working in the internships.

Towards the end of the school year, the vocational rehab partner comes in to help the interns job search.

Overall, the Project provides a clear path to employment for many youth with disabilities and also encourages collaboration for the partners to the project. It’s truly a team effort.

It’s a huge project, and I’m sure I left some of your questions unanswered. If that is the case, reach out, email me, or comment with your questions below! I will do my best to answer any questions you may have!

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