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Problems of Practice

How do I strategically instruct students with learning disabilities​​ in a personalized learning classroom?

Key Takeaways

  • Understand that IEPs and Learner Plans need to be strategically integrated to best support students with learning disabilities.
  • Learn how team teaching and multi-age classrooms afford students with learning disabilities more opportunities for peer interaction, collective impact, and educator support.
  • Explore and utilize resources to support a whole class inclusion approach through specific school strategies and integrating the UDL guidelines.

NOTE: We would like to extend a big thank you to the experts at the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) for their feedback, input, and expertise on this "Problems of Practice" series!

Teacher talks to student at desk, pointing at paper

What is the problem?

Students with learning disabilities (those qualifying for special education services/IEPs) are entering blended and/or personalized learning classrooms and although many of the current models in place will support these students, educators still need to be more strategic when designing and implementing instruction. There needs to be specific attention paid to ensure that students with learning disabilities are not only being supported but that their specific needs, mapped out in their IEPs, are being met in meaningful and tangible ways.

In order to address this challenge and ensure students with learning disabilities can reach their highest potential within innovative classrooms, schools have identified a few key ways to support strategic instruction for students with learning disabilities on the classroom and school levels:

  1. Connecting IEPs to Learner Plans
  2. Team Teaching & the Multi-age Classroom Approach
  3. Integrations of UDL: Whole-Class Inclusion

Why is it important?

By connecting IEPs to Learner Plans, teachers and students can work together to set personal and academic goals that are future-focused and driven by the student. Bringing together students who are working on similar academic content, in an inclusive classroom, creates richer classroom discourse and stronger teacher-student relationships, and increases students’ sense of belonging by reducing stigma. In addition, while it can be time-consuming, integrating UDL in a whole-class inclusion process can boost student confidence and engagement and give them ownership over their learning.

The research says...

How: Solution

When designing lesson plans for an innovative model and/or classroom instruction within a blended/personalized learning classroom, we often think if it is personalized, it will also “hit” all students’ needs. This is not the case! Explore these three approaches to see additional ways to support students with learning disabilities so they receive every opportunity to reach their highest potential within your classroom.


Connecting IEPs to Learner Plans

When thinking about how to connect IEPs to individual learner plans or pathways, it is first important to understand the distinction between IEPs and Learner Plans themselves. They are two very separate pieces of the puzzle that have different purposes and ways to support the learner that should be integrated to work effectively.

  • IEPs are legal documents used to safeguard students rights.
  • Individual Learner Plans map out a student’s approach to the curriculum/content mastery.

For these two pieces to work together and support students effectively, the IEP should guide the creation of the Learner Plan by helping teachers identify key accommodations and modifications as well as priority content/skills for the learner to master. It is also important within a blended/personalized learning environment to have greater focus on agency, voice, and choice within students’ integrated plans so that there are explicit supports around developing students’ self-advocacy and self-management abilities, in addition to content mastery.

Example in Action:

Locust Grove Middle School in Henry County Georgia has done a lot of work to support the 16% of its student population who are students with learning disabilities. In order to address some of those challenges and more strategically build instruction to support all of their students’ needs, Locust Grove has implemented student learner pathways across the whole school, while also developing specific ways to integrate IEPs and student learner pathways for each student with a learning disabilities. Here are some strategies that helped Locust Grove start this implementation:

Explore these strategies to get additional ideas on ways to integrate and apply individual students' IEPs and specific needs into their current learner plan/approach.


Team Teaching & the Multi-age Classroom Approach

There are a number of benefits both for the teachers and students when diving into team teaching, whichever model you choose. By utilizing multiple educators in a room, teachers are given the opportunity to learn more about each student through a smaller student/teacher ratio, set up real-time interventions and 1:1 conferences, and learn from other educators through collaborative data discussions. This is further amplified in a multi-age classroom where students are truly able to move at their own pace without having to be pulled out into a “lower” group since multiple levels are being supported within one space. Other specific benefits were mapped out in a case study conducted by NCLD on a multi-age inclusion approach at Lake Wylie Elementary:

  • Reduced Stigma
  • Greater Educator Flexibility and Support
  • Social Interaction EffectsLakeWylieSS.jpg#asset:5589

Here are some strategies on current ways schools address team teaching and multi-age classrooms to better support ALL learners. When exploring these resources, ask yourself:

  • Could these approaches work in my class/school? Why or why not?
  • What structures did they use to roll out these models?
  • How can I use these examples to build more team teaching and/or collaboration between my educators and/or peers?

Integrations of UDL: Whole-Class Inclusion

Similar to Multi-age Classrooms, Whole-Class Inclusion allows students the opportunity to work with their peers in a differentiated environment. By adding additional supports and systems that support students with learning disabilities, you are ideally designing a classroom environment that is inclusive for all students so that each student is afforded the opportunity to succeed, as well. Some ways to start revisiting your whole-class approach is by reviewing the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines that highlight three main areas of focus when designing for all learners:

For concrete examples of how different schools have utilized whole-class inclusion, check out these strategies and this case study from NCLD, and then ask yourself how you could apply some of these approaches along with UDL strategies to revisit your whole-class model.

Take it further

For students with unique or intensive needs, it can be hard to determine how to adequately meet those needs in a general or multi-age classroom. The National Center on Intensive Intervention contains a wealth of research-based resources for doing so. Many of these resources are designed for implementation in a data-rich, least restrictive, inclusive, and/or differentiated environment, so can be used by general or special educators in settings like the ones described above.

Additional Resources: