Learning is the process of discovery. We learn through various experiences therefore increasing our knowledge. Students with special education needs, like general education students, are individuals who benefit from diverse learning opportunities. As special education educators, it is our goal to stimulate and facilitate increased student learning and progress, therefore empowering each student to more fully develop and strengthen their own individuality and skills.
It is my personal philosophy that special education students and families deserve educational equity regardless of disability, socio-economic status, or geographic location. Educational equity evens the playing field and provides the opportunity to empower each student to more fully develop and strengthen their own individuality and skills. Effective partnerships between stakeholders should be collaborative, flexible, respectful and focused on student success. Thurlow (2011), “The vast majority of special education students (80–85%) can meet the same achievement standards as other students if they are given specially designed instruction, appropriate access, supports, and accommodations, as required by IDEA” (p. 4).
As special education educators and special education advocates, collaborators share more than resources and ideas — they share energy and a desire to see all students succeed. The one caveat is that successful collaboration takes time. Time is limited yet valuable in education.
The main goals of the educational diagnostician include assessing students to determine the need of special education services, assisting teachers with providing appropriate classroom instruction and ensuring compliance of IDEA rules and regulations. However, too many educational diagnosticians find their time divided between testing and conducting IEP meetings. This focus on evaluations and eligibility has left little time or priority being placed on the collaboration of effective evidence-based interventions (Rueter, 2012). This time constraint dilemma is actually a Catch-22. Jones (2017) states, “The tone of the IEP meeting and the familiarity of parents with the procedures of IEP meetings and the IEP process can also have a tremendous impact on meeting outcomes and the parent-school relationship.”
However, the need for those who are assigned the task of meeting the special education student’s needs in the classroom also benefits from time spent from collaborating with the educational diagnostician, “Educational diagnosticians must constantly collaborate with other school personnel in order to create effective plans for students to be academically successful” (Guerra, 2017).
One important current trend within the realm of special education is the onset of assistive and adaptive technology. Assistive technology (AT) are personalized tools used meant to accommodate an individual’s specific need.
Essentially, AT eliminates barriers and helps students work around their weaknesses while also emphasizing their strengths. AT devices may be low-tech or high-tech, depending upon the student and their disability. “Today, a variety of assistive technologies are used to bring out the cognitive potential of the students, provide them with communication opportunities, enable the curricula to achieve their objectives and empower the students to participate in the education process” (Erdam, 2017). In today’s educational environment assistive technology is creating new alternatives for differentiating instruction and supporting the contributions of special education students.
There is no greater diverse place than today’s classrooms. Differentiating instruction in order to promote individual student success is at the forefront of every educator’s mind when curriculum planning. As educators, we want ALL of our students to be successful, general education and special education. One way educators can promote student success in classroom learning is by using the UDL model.
The current “one size fits all” curriculum presents barriers to students and utilizing UDL meets the challenges of diversity with the use of flexible instructional materials, techniques and collaborative planning. Collaborative planning involves the active anticipation of potential barriers. The UDL model helps shift traditional classroom learning to a focus on a student-learning environment whereas students take ownership of their learning and outcomes. According to NCLD (2009), UDL switches the student deficit approach to the student success approach. It’s like changing the school’s DNA.