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An Inclusive Curriculum for Transition

by Ellen Fennick, PhD

Transportation training, site visits, interviews, money management, writing (or videotaping) resumes—these are all part of effective transition programs for students with disabilities. The challenge, lately, has involved how to include such training in inclusive programs in high school, with a view to ensuring success in life skills for all students.
  This article describes how coteaching in a general education life skills class became an effective way to provide inclusive instruction—to benefit all of the students, both with and without disabilities. By discussing a specific collaborative effort in some detail, including the students involved, the nature of collaboration, and the transition curriculum with inclusive accommodations, this article shows how coteaching can promote inclusion and meet the needs of all students. The collaborative team unified separate special education and general education transition efforts within a general education transition class.

Inclusive Changes
  The coteachers of the “Survival Skills” class restructured their curriculum in the midst of larger inclusion and restructuring efforts at Ralston High School in Ralston, Nebraska, with an enrollment of about 1,200 students. General education course offerings at Ralston included a full array of college preparatory and basic academic classes, elective courses, and honors classes. Special education services within the building provided a continuum of resource classes, strategy instruction, self-contained subject classes, life skills instruction, community-based instruction, and community job placements with job coaching. Concurrently academic departments reduced the number of basic track classes, and the special education department minimized the use of self-contained classes, while retaining the continuum of special services on a much smaller scale.
  Administrative support contributed extensively to possibilities for coteaching and to an atmosphere of acceptance in the school. All students with disabilities attended homeroom, ate lunch in the cafeteria, and were encouraged to join clubs and attend after-school events. One student with a moderate disability became the student council representative for her homeroom. More students with disabilities enrolled in general education classes than before, necessitating additional adjustments to the academic environment.
  Initially, two coteaching teams of volunteers were established as a pilot program. Administrators scheduled 45 minutes daily of mutual planning time for each team and monitored the placement of students with prioritized needs into the cotaught classes. Mutually scheduled planning time is a feature of successful coteaching (Fennick & Liddy, in press). Coteachers used their scheduled mutual planning time to incorporate information about individual students’ disability needs into curriculum decisions, lesson planning, evaluation of progress, and behavior management. After the first year of coteaching, other teachers volunteered to participate. Some of the special education teachers cotaught with two different teachers daily.

Restructuring Through Coteaching
  During the next year, coteaching became more common at the high school, and the faculty continually identified classes that could become more inclusive. The general education class, “Survival Skills,” seemed to provide an ideal context for general and special education collaboration. In this semester-length class juniors and seniors learned practical adult skills, such as budgeting, job searching, interviewing for a job, and preparing meals. Every semester many students with disabilities enrolled in the class-with nondisabled students; to study the transition to adult life.
  Before the coteaching arrangement, a home economics teacher had used lecture, discussion, worksheets, and a text-book to teach the class. With changes in the curriculum and the teaching formats of “Survival Skills,” students with disabilities could pursue some of their transition needs in a general education class.

What About Coteaching?
Since the 1990 and 1997 reautho-rizations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a major shift in the concept of least restrictive environment has required that students with dis-abilities be included in general education settings to the maxi-mum extent possible (Smith, Polloway, Patton, & Dowdy, 1998). Coteaching, also known as collaborative or cooperative teaching, has been identified as a successful strategy for inclusion (Bauwens, Hourcade, & Friend, 1989; Beirne-Smith & Smith, 1997; Carlson, 1986; Walsh, 1991).
In coteaching, general educa-tion and special education teach-ers work as teams to modify the setting, the curriculum, the mate-rials or the teaching methods of a general education class. The teamed teachers plan together reg-ularly and teach the class together on a daily basis to incorporate inclusive practices (Bauwens et al., 1989). When teachers design accommodations for the class-room environment and incorpo-rate information from individual-ized education programs into their curriculum, students with disabili-ties can be successful in general education classes.

The Coteachers

  A special education teacher who was certified to teach students with mild disabilities and the home economics teacher agreed to redesign “Survival Skills.” The home economics teacher had no previous experience with coteaching, but she wanted to address the needs of students with mild and moderate disabilities who frequently enrolled in her classes. The special education teacher was well informed about coteaching from reading, research, and from her prior coteaching experiences with a social studies teacher and a math teacher. Both teachers were experienced in their respective areas of certification, and both had taught students with a variety of disabilities.
  Together the coteachers restructured the curriculum with community experiences and simulations and modifications for reading, writing, mathematics, and oral language. Some responsibilities were divided by teacher specialty.  

Can We Talk?

To make collaboration work, talk to your coteacher about the fol-lowing topics. Discuss them regularly and plan together proactively. 
•    Learn responsibilities of each coteacher: Learn each other’s expertise. Discuss roles. Learn the special needs of students with disabilities.  Develop instruction.
–   What are the general educa-tion teacher’s usual goals for the class?
–   What instructional formats does the general education teacher normally use?
–   Which of those formats are often difficult for students with disabilities?
–   Plan changes in instructional formats, but keep the goals of the lessons and curriculum.
-    Make best use of mutual plan-ning time.
-    Evaluate progress, grades.
-    Develop class rules and behav-ior management.
-    Communicate with other per-sonnel.
-    Provide administrative sup-port.
-    Organize and plan use of the learning space.

  The general education teacher select-ed most curriculum topics and mate-rials, and the special education teacher introduced ideas for modifications, based on the disabilities of students likely to enroll in the class.
  The special education coteacher communicated with resource teachers to obtain information from students’ individualized education programs (IEPs), to inform resource teachers of progress or concerns, to arrange sup-port for assignments outside of class, and to arrange consultation services for students with hearing impairments or cognitive disabilities.
  The coteachers shared many responsibilities: lesson planning, phone inquiries, field trip arrangements, grading papers, obtaining guest presenters, and writing for a corporate mini-grant.
  Grant funds provided coteachers with release time for additional planning, expenses for class field trips, and materials, such as video equipment and lunch ingredients.
  The home economics teacher used the same inclusive curriculum and activities with students in an additional section of “Survival Skills” with no coteaching.

Students with Disabilities
  Of 25 students in the cotaught “Survival Skills” class, 33% were students with learning disabilities, speech/language impairments, mild and moderate mental retardation, autism, hearing impairments, visual impairments, orthopedic impairments, and behavior disorders. Most students expected to graduate with their class, but a few students with moderate cognitive disabilities planned to stay in school until they reached age 21 or until they completed the requir-ments in their transition IEPs.Throughout the course, most students with disabilities needed more help with written-language tasks than did other students. In addition, a few students worked on alternate assignments, according to their IEPs.

Planning Ongoing Accommodations
  Accommodations were embedded in the lesson plans. By examining difficulties that students have in common, coteachers designed many accommodations to meet similar needs of students with different disabilities in the same classroom. Students with reading difficulties could have information read aloud to them by teachers during class time or by teachers and paraeducators in resource rooms. All students had the right to use calculators for mathematical tasks. For written assignments, the coteachers gave all students written models of resumes, inquiry letters, and thank you letters with proper page layouts, font size, spacing, and clear instructions. One-on-one assistance, such as dictating assignments or proofreading, was available during class and during resource periods.
  The special education teacher planned additional accommodations for students’ categorical disability needs. For example, a sign language interpreter signed information for students with hearing impairments. Most students with disabilities completed the same assignments as other students, but students with moderate cognitive disabilities sometimes completed alternative assignments at appropriate instructional levels. To accommodate nonverbal students with moderate cognitive disabil-ties, the teachers filmed video resumes in place of written resumes. Students with learning disabilities or language disorders used individualized assistance with reading or editing, as did some students with mild cognitive disabilities. 

The Curriculum

  Teaching job-seeking skills became the first step in a sequence, with opportunities for each student to experience components of a successful job search, including a practice interview. In addition, many students studied money management, based on their own projected adult salaries for individualized budget decisions.
1. Research Career Possibilities
  Each student obtained printouts of three job descriptions from the high school career center. Some students started the process by completing interest inventories as a basis for choosing a career. Students visited the career center during scheduled class periods and by appointment to use the brochures, books, and databases of interest inventories, career possibilities, schools and colleges, scholarships, and military training. Information on specific job titles described duties, education and training requirements, licensing, salary, benefits, availability of positions, and opportunities for advancement.
  The coteachers and the career center counselor discussed possibilities with students and helped them to obtain additional information. Then students each chose a career from among the three research possibilities as a focus for job portfolio assignments.
Using accommodations, students compiled the career information. Students with reading difficulties conveyed their career preferences to coteachers or the career counselor, who located relevant information for the students’ interests. Then students studied career printouts with the assistance of special education teachers in resource rooms. Some students received support from a sign language interpreter, the assistance of specialists or IEP managers, and coordination with job experience sites. For example, some students with disabilities were already preparing for careers specified in their transition IEPs; in the “Survival Skills” class, the coteachers helped these students learn skills as defined by their on-the-job experiences.
2. Write Resume
  Teachers explained the purpose and construction of resumes and reminded all students to have a friend proofread resumes and letters. Then using model resumes, most students wrote resumes to reflect the education and experiences that they hoped to complete by the end of their formal education. Some students wrote resumes appropriate for careers after post-secondary education. Others wrote resumes to demonstrate completion of necessary training or experience with part-time jobs for pos-thigh school employment.
  Some students with disabilities dictated their work and sought assistance with proofreading. A few students, as described previously, videotaped their resumes. In each video resume, the student was filmed at job training sites per-forming various tasks, such as operating office machines, sorting items, filing papers, and so forth.
3. Search for Jobs
  Students searched newspaper classified advertisements to find jobs for which they could apply, with their anticipated credentials. Since local newspapers had few or no opportunities for some professions, such as dance therapist or singer, students became aware that, as adults, they might eventually have to relocate or to find a different type of job. Students also learned of position listings other than newspapers.
  The coteachers used various accommodations to support students in searching for jobs. For example, for some students, the teachers located appropriate advertisements and read them aloud. From the available choices, students then selected the ads to which they might respond. Additional support was available in resource rooms at other times of the day.
4. Write Application Letter
  The coteachers distributed examples of good letters and explained the components of those letters. Students com-posed suitable letters for a generic job in the chosen field or targeted letters for specific employment ads.
  As with other written assignments, the teachers encouraged students to obtain proofreading assistance from peers and teachers. A few students dic-tated their cover letters and received editing help from the coteachers during class, with help from resource teachers at other times.
5. Interview
  To prepare students for the practice interviews an employment counselor of a local business college visited and spoke to students about greeting skills, common interview questions and suit-able replies, nonverbal messages, inter-view clothing, and entrance skills. The presentation was videotaped and made available for additional study and review outside of class.
  The Interview Experience. Each student experienced a videotaped career inter-view based on his or her chosen occupation. The interviewer—our superintendent of schools—composed individualized interview questions from each student’s resume. Students were dressed in interview clothing and demonstrated appropriate behaviors while responding to questions. The interviewer used certain questions frequently: “What are your strengths that make you a good candidate for this job?” “What have you gained from your previous experiences?” “How soon are you available to start?”
  Viewing the Videotaped Interview. After all interviews were complete, students and the coteachers viewed each interview on videotape and provided positive and negative verbal feedback to each classmate. Students critiqued each others entrance skills, appearance, body language, voice, and quality of responses and judged, “Would this person get the job?”.
  During the interviews, the sign language interpreter stood behind the inter-viewer, off-camera, to interpret inter-view questions, as needed. The inter-preter also assisted the interviewer with any signed responses or unclear speech.

Questions and Answers:
  Kim, a senior with disabilities, interviewed to become a dog groomer. Her resume consisted of both a written synopsis of her employment history and a video resume of her school-sponsored job training. The interviewer was aware of her disabilities and tried to ask suitable questions.
Interviewer: “What will you do when you are grooming dogs?”
Kim: “Wash ‘em, brush ‘em, clean ‘em.”
Interviewer: “What kinds of dogs can you groom?”
Kim: “Not mean dogs!”
Student Success:
  John was a senior who had recently made a transition from special education services. For his interview as a security guard, John was carefully dressed in a white, long-sleeved dress shirt, a dark tie, dark dress pants, and polished leather shoes. His hair was neatly trimmed. John entered the interview area with confident stride and erect posture. He made eye contact, extended his hand, and greeted the interviewer politely. Throughout the entire interview, John maintained his posture and voice tone and eye contact. All of his answers to the interview questions were appropriate, and at times, exemplary.
  The next day during interview critiques, students conveyed only positive comments about John’s interview, even though no one in the class considered him a friend. For the ultimate question, “Would this person get the job?” the students overwhelmingly pro-claimed, “Yes!”

6. Write Thank You Letters
  After the interviews, coteachers explained the use of thank you letters and distributed examples. Students wrote their own letters, which the teachers mailed. Some students with disabili-ties used dictation and other accommodations, as they had previously.
7. Investigate Living Expenses
  After completing the steps of a job search, students learned about living on their projected income. Students completed budgets based on their potential total yearly salary, deducted taxes, and divided their net salaries into monthly subtotals. Then students listed their expenses, based on ads in the newspaper, and learned to fit those costs into monthly categories. To complete the assignment, students were required to make their expenses fit their projected salaries. For many students, the cost of actually having the home and luxuries that they wanted was beyond their projected income. During class discussions of budgeting, some students reassessed their career choices, and others adjusted the expenses in their budgets and changed their housing and transportation expectations.
  Teachers gave explanations and demonstrations to the whole class and then circulated among students as they worked independently or in small groups on their budgets and related exercises. The coteachers used the accommodations mentioned previously for reading, oral speech, and written language. Written assignments were based on teacher-made worksheets or published materials with appropriate page layouts, print size, spacing, and clear instructions. Calculators were available for preparing budgets.
  Because some students with disabilities had difficulties with quantitative concepts of yearly or monthly salaries and with the mathematical operations required for budget preparation, these students did not work on budgets. Instead, they completed alternative assignments related to their school-sponsored job placements or their IEP requirements.
8. Assemble and Evaluate Portfolios
  Students assembled their research information and written assignments into individual portfolios for evaluation by the teachers. Coteachers constructed a point system for a total portfolio score, taking into account grading accommodations from students’ IEPs. Students earned points for promptly completed items, for the quality of each assignment, and for the quality of the practice interview, including elements from class critiques.
9. Participating in Authentic Community Experiences
  The coteachers planned for students to observe employees at work and to analyze appropriate workplace behaviors for different settings. Throughout the course, the teachers used mini-grant funds to pay for transportation to community sites for all students. Using charter buses, students visited a hotel reservation center, an airport security department, a restaurant, and a cable TV company. The students rode public buses to the state employment service. During site visits, employers spoke of qualifications for different jobs, appropriate and inappropriate job behaviors, and the importance of education.
With permission coteachers video-taped employees at work to study appropriate clothing and manners for different employment settings. Other community members visited the class to talk to the students about qualities that enable employees to be successful or unsuccessful in employment and provided additional information about their own professions.

Workers’ Attitudes

  One day, students visited both the reservation center of a nationwide hotel chain and the security office of the local airport. Back at school, the students described their overwhelming impressions of the contrasting behaviors of employees at each location.
  During the hotel facility visit, students were invited to sit with individual reservations clerks and listen to actual phone conversations. Employees of the hotel facility were “friendly and nice.” At the airport, students were subjected to full security procedures and described the employees as “suspicious of us.”

10. Planning for Practical Matters
  Transportation and meal planning were additional authentic experiences. Students studied meal costs and nutrition, compared homemade lunches with commercial ones, and prepared their own brown bag lunches for a field trip. One day with lunches in hand, students rode public transportation to the state employment service, as many adults normally do. On another occasion, after visiting the hotel reservation center, students ate in a restaurant to observe how people behave at business lunches.
  To prepare for field trips, the coteachers considered issues of mobility, oral language, bus fare, and appropriate behavior. A sign language interpreter accompanied each trip to interpret, as necessary. The coteachers discussed rules for appropriate behavior before each trip, and they consistently invoked school rules. Because all students happened to be ambulatory, the teachers did not establish special physical procedures or arrange for equipment.  A few students had minor balance and coordination difficulties. Without any prompts from teachers, the rest of the students avoided crowding students with ambulatory difficulties and waited for them to be seated comfortably on buses or in meeting rooms.

Negotiating Bus Fare
  To visit the state employment office, students walked together to the nearest public bus stop to ride the bus. Before the bus arrived, the coteachers distributed exact fare to each student. Jeremy, a junior with autism, smiled appreciatively as he received bus fare. He regularly rode public buses to his school-sponsored work placement.
  Jeremy entered the bus, pulled out his wallet, and signed to the bus driver, who watched patiently. As the rest of the class watched, Jeremy displayed his disability pass, paid his fare, and received change for the discounted fare to which he was entitled.

Final Thought

  In this inclusive class, teaming teachers made communication more convenient with a greater number of support personnel and community representatives and provided opportunities for more elaborate planning. Together the coteachers planned lessons, taught the class, supervised behavior, and graded assignments. Thus, the coteachers created a curriculum supported by appropriate accommodations to allow all students to experience important transition activities.
  In “Survival Skills,” students experienced hands-on, individualized, applied work, which often replaced lecture and worksheets. Within the new formats of the class, students practiced new skills and retained concrete examples of their accomplishments in a portfolio. The portfolio contained materials related to students’ career goals and a customized budget plan based on projected salary figures. Some class activities became the basis for transition discussions at home. One student showed her portfolio to her unemployed father, who then decided that he needed to write thank you notes after his job interviews.
Site visits and simulations were of particular benefit to all students. With support from area businesses and agencies—and the personal support of the school superintendent—students learn-ed about job searching, interviewing, appropriate clothing and demeanor, career possibilities, education options, meal planning, budgets, and transportation. An inclusive curriculum increased opportunities for all students to strengthen their transition to adult life.

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