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When providing students
with disabilities an education, it is important to follow laws and regulations that
help to ensure the students are provided with proper planned supports and
interventions. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 1977) and
the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004) were
created to ensure that all students with disabilities are fully entitled to a
free public education to meet his/her needs in the general curriculum classroom
(this included the students with sever cognitive disabilities). Both acts also
allow students with such disabilities to further his/her education, employment,
and independent living.   

In order to
successfully incorporate planned supports and interventions for a special needs
student, an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) must first be created. An IEP
is a legal document that is created by a special education team consisting of the
student’s parents, special education teacher(s), general education teacher(s)
and administrators. The IEP team identifies the student’s learning needs, the
different types of services the school must provide, and how the student’s
progress will be measured throughout the academic school year. Supplementary
aids and/or modifications that the student may need must be determined within
the IEP. Such services may include the student being taught with different
material, being graded and/or assessed using a different standard that his/her
classmates, or being excused from particular projects.

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According to the
article, Instructional Strategies and Curriculum
Access, a four-step process that enables students to have access to the general
curriculum has been found most helpful in assisting teachers to align their
instruction to the content standards for all students while also ensuring that
students with disabilities have matching standards to achieve their yearly IEP
objectives. This four-step process includes:

1)      Identify
or Link to the Appropriate Standard-

a.       Learning
how standards, curriculum, and instructions are linked can be challenging.
However, it is important for all members of the IEP team to identify the
standard(s) each lesson plan addresses. Once the standard(s) and specific grade
level content standard(s) have been identified, it must then be determined what
the most basic concept of that specific standard(s) defines. This in depth
planning can be helpful when providing students with severe disabilities with
the correct content.  Breaking down
individual standards is referred to as “critical function,” according to Instructional Strategies and Curriculum
Access. Linking grade level content standards for students with  disabilities can be beneficial in different
forms such as setting high expectations, providing the same content standards
as the students in the general education classroom, improving function skills
and/or naturally occurring routines, and building friendships/relationships
with his/her fellow peers.

However,
there are students that have significant cognitive disabilities that may
require more “functional” or life-skill needs. The IDEA regulations allow such
individuals to be taught the context of the general education curriculum.
Providing these students with the general curriculum will allow for a variety
of standards to be taught as well as a wide range of learning opportunities,
key concepts, grade level content, and life-skill needs to be achieved.

 

2)      Define
the Outcome of Instruction for All Students-

a.       In
this step, the specific instructional unit and the learning outcomes of the
unit being taught are considered. Precise instructions that follow along with
the unit objects will help to assist the IEP team in determining the unit outcome
for the students with disabilities. It is often recommended to reduce the complexity
of what is being required of the students with cognitive disabilities if the
unit objectives are too complex and/or lengthy. Examples of reducing the
complexity of a required task may include reducing the amount of questions/problems
the student must complete, having a short story read aloud to him/her, or
simply administering assessments in a different location. While considering the
needs of the student, the IEP team must also provide time for the student to
participate in the instructional activities, but should focus the instruction
and monitoring on the selected skills and/or concepts (Instructional Strategies and Curriculum Access, p. 22). It is essential that students with
cognitive disabilities are also given the opportunity to participate in general
education classes as well as school activities. Once the supports within the
IEP and the desired learning outcomes have been identified, the step of
identifying the approximate individualized supports for the planned
instructional activities will become achievable.

 

3)      Identify
the Instructional Activities-

a.       When
planning for instruction, it is crucial to include an in depth description and
analysis of the instructional activities developed to teach the special needs
students grade level content standards. Doing so will help to ensure that these
special needs students have access to instruction and curriculum that is also
being provided to other students within the general education classroom. As
stated in the Instructional Strategies
and Curriculum Access article (pg. 22), typical instructional activities
may include lecture and note taking, learning groups, research, homework and/or
practice activities, and culminating projects. It is in this step that active
participation of a student(s) with significant cognitive disabilities should
result in achievement of the prioritized outcomes that is based off of the
grade level content areas instead of just “participating.”

 

4)      Target
Specific Objectives From the IEP for Instruction Within the Unit-

a.       Since
the identifying of standards, goals, and objectives have already been complete
in step one (mentioned earlier), the team must now be able to develop a “standards-based
IEP.” This entails the IEP team allowing for opportunities to instruct, learn,
and practice these IEP skills/requirements. The team must also keep in mind
that the focus is not to determine which instructional activities the student
will participate in, but how they will participate. Students with significant
cognitive disabilities often need guided instruction with basic communication,
fine motor skills, along with social skills. For example, if a student lacks in
social skills, the IEP team must collaborate and conclude what exactly the
student needs to learn and be able to do within a designated time period. By
helping increase this student’s social skills, it will also benefit him/her to
access the general curriculum and to function more independently while encountering
basic life routines. By incorporating the basic of social skills within the
general education assignments, the teacher is providing this student with
access to the curriculum that is required by the IDEA while also providing
him/her with ongoing instruction of the essential basic skills of
communicating. 

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