TIES Lessons for All: 5-15-45

Inclusive Strategies

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Developing inclusive strategies so all students, including students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, can engage in meaningful learning requires that we reduce barriers in our lessons. In this document, the barriers to learning are organized in terms of student engagement, understanding, and action.

  • Identify the goal of your lesson.
  • Brainstorm barriers that may prevent a student from fully engaging or participating in that part of the lesson.
  • Incorporate a design strategy into the lesson to help reduce that barrier - so all students can be included. Keep in mind that you can include students in the discussion on how to reduce barriers!

Table of contents

Curious about how this was organized?

Spark student engagement

Reduce barriers to ensure all students are engaged in this lesson:

Recruit interest in the content

Offer ways for students to personalize learning so it relates to their own lives.

For example,

  • connect the content to something related to self, the school or the local community.
  • include options to incorporate multiple cultural backgrounds in the materials and resources.
  • connect the content to existing communication boards, cross-curricular units, previous lessons, and experience books (External site) .
  • share a clear purpose for why the content or skill matters in the “real world,” if you do not know, ask students why it might matter.
  • integrate opportunities for students to communicate to family and community members about what they are learning and how it connects to them.
  • use high-interest objects to gain initial interest.

Empower students to make their own learning choices

Invite choice so students have ownership of their learning.

For example,

  • provide choice boards or a menu of options for students to choose and that all support their progress toward the learning goal.
  • discuss and celebrate diverse pathways to achieve the learning goals.
  • provided open-ended choices for students to select books, topics, or ideas they are interested in learning about - where possible.
  • offer choice in working independently, with a partner, in a small group, or with a teacher-facilitated group. Offer opportunities for students to reflect on the learning choices made, such as exit tickets, journaling, experience books (External site) , or one-on-one conversations where students reflect on what helped them learn or make progress toward the goal. Include templates, sentence starters, images, or word banks to support the reflection on their choices.

Support effort and motivation

Incorporate active participation (exploration), collaboration, and experimentation (use of tools & resources) so students remain interested.

For example,

  • use manipulatives or models to explain complex ideas.
  • incorporate stations or centers that align to the learning goals.
  • have a collaboration corner as an option for students to use.
  • provide furniture that can be adjusted for standing or sitting so students can be positioned in ways that best support them.
  • allow for variation in the length of work sessions and availability of active learning, movement, or mindfulness breaks.
  • allow fidgets or sensory gadgets that do not distract others (such as velcro under desks, squeeze toys, pipe cleaners).
  • provide opportunities for students to collaborate.

Have flexibility in the social demands

When the goal is not about collaboration, provide flexible opportunities to collaborate so students can stay engaged in their learning.

For example,

  • offer options for peer collaboration such as, clock buddies, peer checks, reciprocal teaching, think pair share, or ways for students to jigsaw new learning.
  • vary the requirements for public display and evaluation while staying focused on the overall goal.
  • allow students to present or share with others using flexible tools, such as video or audio if preferred.
  • explicitly teach peer collaboration skills, define what “strong group work” means and create scaffolds to support that. Include templates and sentence starters for collaboration.
  • offer desk dividers or headphones for quiet areas for work when collaboration is not the goal.
  • offer opportunities to work independently and to bring together work for discussion.

Help students monitor their own progress

Ensure there are options for frequent, formative feedback and reflection so students can develop metacognition about their learning.

For example,

  • provide feedback that is substantive and informative related to the progress (i.e., rather than comparative or competitive).
  • use visual schedules and visuals to monitor time left.
  • use clear criteria and visual rubrics so students can self-reflect and provide peers with feedback and progress.
  • develop joint classroom norms and explicit behavior expectations, such as what does it look like and sound like.
  • offer prompts, checklists, and time checks.
  • break long step processes or projects into shorter pieces and offer feedback and student self-reflection of progress along the way.
  • ensure all students have access to the vocabulary (through dictionaries, AAC, etc.) to communicate about the topic, ask questions, and comment.

Develop strategies for self-regulation and behavior

Co-construct a menu of options for students to learn personal coping skills so they can self-regulate during their learning.

For example,

  • provide tips to get started.
  • model and make explicit problem solving, thinking and daily routines.
  • use charts, calendars, schedules, visible timers, cues, etc. that can increase the predictability of daily activities and transitions.
  • create ways to alert and preview activities, schedules, and novel events so students can personalize schedules
  • ensure that all students can easily access scheduled information and communications.
  • develop an “I need help” signal or way for students to communicate about their needs or frustrations during their learning.
  • teach and model strategies for what to do when a task feels overwhelming or you are getting frustrated.

Invite ownership over the learning process

Provide opportunity for students to set their own learning goals and learning pathway so they become more autonomous in their learning.

For example,

  • empower students to set their own academic and behavioral goals. This can include making a plan, checking progress, and checking their plan, such as using the Self-determined learning model of instruction (External site) (SDLMI).
  • work with students to understand rubrics and to help develop their own assessment criteria for success.
  • communicate high expectations and provide flexible resources to support students in their pursuit of the learning goals.
  • develop a resource area where necessary supplies are available that students can rely on being available.
  • ensure necessary materials are physically accessible or that there are options if one tool is inaccessible.
  • offer choice boards or celebrate different pathways to achieve success.

Hold high expectations for all students

Integrate the least dangerous assumption (External site) so students know there are consistent, high expectations for all in the classroom.

For example,

  • have meaningful, challenging learning goals for all students.
  • offer feedback that expresses confidence that students can achieve the steps to reach the goal.
  • encourage students to develop habits of mind to think like scientists, historians, musicians, mathematicians, writers, and other disciplinary experts.
  • make adaptations only as needed so it is clear all students are working on the same topic/overarching goal.
  • include all students in the lesson and activities.
  • model positive responses to mistakes as learning experiences and new concepts as something that needs to be practiced.
  • treat all students with respect when talking to or about them.

Spark student understanding

Reduce barriers to ensure all students gain access and understanding in a lesson.

Offer multiple ways for students to see or hear the information

Present information in more than one format so all students can access the content.

For example,

  • offer flexible formats for the size and contrast of text, images, graphs, tables, or other visual content.
  • offer alternatives to text such as objects, partial objects, tactual representations.
  • model AAC using students’ specific AAC mode provide options for students to adjust the volume, rate of speech or sound
  • use captions or automated speech-to-text or text-to-speech software.
  • follow accessibility standards (External site) (NIMAS, DAISY, etc.) when creating digital text.

Support relevant vocabulary

Pre-teach and contextualize vocabulary and concepts in ways that students can relate and connect to.

For example,

  • introduce information through a virtual field trip, video, picture walk, experience books with objects or tactual representations.
  • use examples and non-examples.
  • have students interact and use the language, such as constructing word walls or having vocabulary journals.
  • make key vocabulary available on students’ preferred communication system, such as Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) (External site), picture symbols, or Boardmaker.
  • incorporate vocabulary into daily conversations and use real-world examples.
  • provide examples using kinesthetic, visual, auditory, tactile, or multi-media.
  • teach and use language categories.

Activate background knowledge or experience.

Build from students’ foundational understandings to develop complex concepts and skills.

For example,

  • use students' personal experiences to make connections to the content.
  • use peer interviews or KWL charts (External site) .
  • bridge concepts with relevant analogies and metaphors.
  • use bulleted summaries or concept maps of key ideas.
  • use mnemonics or rhyme to make complex material manageable.
  • annotate readings or provide key questions to look for in an article or video.
  • use objects and multimedia to enrich understanding.
  • provide model examples and step-by-step answers.
  • use story webs, outlining tools, or concept mapping tools.

Encourage transfer of learning to novel contexts.

Make explicit connections to different situations so students can see how their learning applies to new contexts.

For example,

  • use concept maps, mind maps, outlines, Venn diagrams or T charts to organize information or to show commonalities and differences.
  • offer “real world” problems.
  • make cross-curricular connections (e.g., as number identification in social studies, teaching literacy strategies in the social studies classroom)
  • practice skills and concepts in different contexts.
  • model and use self-talk to demonstrate how situations are similar or different.

Provide scaffolds to use the tools or technology supports.

Show how to use tools and make those options consistently available to all students so they can each learn how and when to use them.

For example, 

  • teach how to use text-to-speech or speech-to-text.
  • teach spelling and grammar checks.
  • practice having the computer read your writing back to you to listen for any errors.
  • use switches, eye gaze options, or other assistive technology daily.
  • teach, have videos, or have guides for how to access assistive technologies (such as keyboard switches, headphones, etc.)
  • provide opportunities for peers to model and share technology.
  • create video models students can use independently.
  • embed foundational skills and tools across content areas.

Empower Student Action

Reduce barriers to ensure all students can show what they know in a lesson

Encourage flexible forms of communication

Provide flexibility in how students can express their learning so each student can best show what they know.

For example,

  • include flexible media, such as writing, speaking, drawing, using animation, making comics, storyboards, video, music, or incorporating movement.
  • use scribing resources, text-to-speech software (voice recognition), human dictation, or recording devices.
  • integrate options to share or participate via social media or interactive web tools (e.g., discussion forums or chats).
  • ensure consistent access to communication systems (such as communication boards or Augmentative and Alternative Communication)
  • provide spell and grammar checkers, word prediction software.
  • provide manipulatives or tactual options.
  • offer sentence stems, templates, or model examples.

Provide options for physical manipulation.

Have physical manipulatives available so students can show what they know.

For example,

  • offer flexible options for sitting, positioning, and body stability (such as furniture or tools).
  • facilitate keyboard adaptation or modified equipment.
  • use options to use slant boards, pencil grips, accessibility options on keyboards (such as turning off sticky keys).
  • provide access to materials in easy to reach places and formats (such tabs on papers to turn pages, larger writing utensils or manipulatives).
  • provide options for materials that meet the same need but are responsive to sensory differences or fine and gross motor needs (such as hard and soft pencil grips, larger pencils, paper with raised lines).

Support goal-setting strategies and developing plans to reach it.

Encourage students to set challenging and meaningful goals and develop a plan to reach that goal so they become more independent and self-motivated in their learning.

For example,

  • chunk long term goals and projects into smaller, manageable sub-goals.
  • work with students to develop a clear path to the goal and regular check-ins on that path.
  • offer graphic organizers or schedule tools.
  • provide checklists.
  • scaffold goal-setting, such as SMART goals or self-determination learning models (SDLMI).
  • support ways to communicate about how the goal and plan and if it needs to be adjusted.
  • make the expectations clear, so students know what they need to achieve

Reduce demands on working memory

Provide strategies for students to hold new information in mind so they can focus on new learning.

For example,

  • provide calculators, graphing calculators, geometric sketchpads, or pre-formatted graph paper.
  • provide templates, sentence starters, or sentence strips.
  • post anchor boards to remind students of formulas, routine steps, and models.
  • use Google doc templates students can add to and collaborate to build.
  • use objects in experience books, schedules, routines and calendars to reduce cognitive load.
  • provide options for reducing or stimulating sensory input.
  • show examples of problem-solving strategies and provide answer keys along the way to check progress.
  • use word banks or answer banks.
  • use task analysis to break down processes or routines.

Help students reduce distractions.

Offer flexible ways students can reduce perceived distractions from the learning environment.

For example,

  • simplify graphics or handouts so they focus only on necessary information.
  • use acoustic or visual highlighting to emphasize key concepts.
  • include ways for students to share anonymously how they are feeling valued, safe, and included in the learning community, or if there are ways these need to be adjusted.
  • provide high contrast backgrounds and boards when visual demands are high.
  • remove unnecessary items on the walls, board, physical space to have a lower signal to noise ratio.
  • create a quiet space in the room for when students need a break.
  • teach students how to organize their work space for productive work.
  • offer headphones or study carrolls for students to use to limit sensory overload.

Curious how this was organized?

The list of inclusive strategies was organized intentionally to support the design of flexible learning environments to reduce (construct-irrelevant) barriers. The list was organized:

  • to frame barriers as being in the design of the curricular goals, methods, materials, assessments (not by labeling student ability or disability).
  • to spark ideas, not to suggest one solution.
  • to generate discussion among peer collaborators and with students and parents.
  • to broadly align with the UDL Guidelines (External site) , which organizes learning by three broad neural networks (affective, recognition, strategic) that every student has.
  • to include high or low tech options.