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Faculty workshops help prepare students for inclusive classrooms

College of Education and Human Services faculty participated in two workshops in early June to discuss the Response to Intervention (RtI) mandate.

RtI requires K-12 schools across the nation to end the practice of pullout programs for students identified as having learning disabilities.

The workshops provided a forum for faculty to collaboratively explore ways in which they can infuse ideas and teaching strategies for meeting the needs of all learners into their own education courses. Doing so will more strongly prepare the college’s students to meet the RtI mandate in their future classrooms.

Led by Professor Bert Chiang and Assistant Professor Stacey Skoning, the first workshop reviewed the framework of the RtI mandate and its impact on teachers’ approach to classroom instruction. The second workshop, led by Professor Kathy Henn-Reinke and Professor Don Hones, discussed how teachers can address the needs of English language learners within the context of RtI.

“Given its impact on classroom teaching, school districts are looking for our graduates to be well prepared to address RtI,” said Henn-Reinke. Consequently, the faculty is starting to determine how they can start modeling RtI concepts to college’s students.

One of the goals for the workshops was for faculty to develop common vocabulary and knowledge related to RtI. “We are working to establish that common base that will ultimately help students if we all talk about it in the same way,” said Chiang. “It’s only to students’ advantage for the college to prepare them to meet the needs of children who have processing, behavioral or learning problems.”

Collaboration is key
Hones 500.jpgOne way faculty discussed modeling inclusive classrooms for the college’s students is co-teaching. This requires a collaborative effort between two faculty members from different departments to show how educators can work together to meet the needs of all students.

“We want the college’s students to be thinking ‘How can I work with another professional teacher as an equal in a class so that I can meet the learning needs of all students’,” said Hones. “We don’t want an ESL or special education teacher to be relegated to the back of the room, where they end up serving as an aide.”

Co-teaching at the college level can provide students with a different perspective on how to differentiate instruction and meet the needs of all learners in the classroom.

“It hasn’t been the norm for the college, but students know that they will most likely need to co-teach when they graduate,” said Skoning. “It’s good for them to see us start to implement the same model. It gives them a better idea of how it can work in their future classrooms.”

Skoning and curriculum and instruction Professor Judith Hankes have already co-taught a course, Elementary Education 384: Teaching Mathematics PK-8, which was a first for the college.

RtI requires a different way of thinking
Faculty1 500.jpg“The RtI mandate challenges what once was standard thinking, where the problem resides within the child,” said Chiang. “We are now looking much more broadly as to why a student is struggling. We are looking at cultural and language issues as well as students’ learning styles.”

So instead of sending a child identified as having learning disabilities out of class for more intensive instruction, the teacher looks for ways to provide instruction in his or her own classroom using the three-tiered RtI intervention model.

At tier one, universal efforts are established to promote learning for all students, anticipating that most students will respond to these strategies and will not require additional intervention.

At tier two, students who are identified as being at risk of experiencing problems through research-based screening receive supplemental or small-group interventions with close monitoring of his or her progress.

At tier three, an additional layer of intensive support is available to address the needs of a smaller percentage of students who are experiencing problems.

The intensity and nature of intervention at each tier depends on a student’s responsiveness to them. Students who do not show a response to interventions provided in each tier are likely to have biologically-based learning disabilities and may be in need of special education.

Chiang suggests that a good way to think about the tiers of intervention is similar to how doctors treat an illness. When a problem is initially diagnosed, the doctor tries one type of treatment.  If that treatment isn’t successful at resolving the issue, a second tier of more intensive treatment may be prescribed and you work with specialists who can help cure your ailment.

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