With suitable supports, including differentiated instruction, students ranging from gifted to those with significant disabilities can receive an appropriate education in general education classrooms. A multilevel lesson planning system is presented here that is manageable in a standards-based instructional context, along with a variety of helpful instructional strategies and real-life examples. Supports are outlined for students with mild disabilities, and adaptations are explained for students with severe disabilities and for students with special gifts and talents. Advice is provided for making a manageable change to differentiated instruction.
Although Jo has severe cognitive disabilities, she has been successfully included in general education classrooms for many years. While she is far behind her classmates, she is making steady progress. Jo is not required to "keep up" with the other students, or to "pass" (in the traditional sense) to be a member of general education classrooms. Instead, individualized goals are set for her by a collaborative team that includes general education teachers, the special education teacher, a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, a part-time paraprofessional, and her parents. Jo's report card reflects her progress toward these IEP (Individual Education Plan) goals.
Jo's favorite subject is science, especially labs. She also enjoys art and wants to be an artist when she leaves school. Her worst subject is social studies. Jo recognizes and can write most consonant letters; she can read a few basic sight words. She recognizes numbers up to 20, and can use manipulatives to solve simple addition and subtraction problems. Jo is one of the most motivated students in her grade. Her strengths are in spatial and interpersonal intelligences. She is outgoing and well-liked by most people she knows at school. Her speech can be difficult to understand. She needs to have changes in her routine explained in advance whenever possible, and may become upset and cry when this is not possible.
An important responsibility of the collaborative team is to identify ways for Jo to meaningfully participate in lessons that would otherwise be much too difficult for her. The team meets regularly to discuss Jo's progress and to collaborate on adaptations needed for upcoming units. For example, when other students perform math operations with large numbers, Jo participates by building models of some of these numbers using hands-on place value manipulatives; this is related to her IEP goal to improve number concepts. Other examples include working on IEP goals to improve her printing and keyboarding skills while the rest of the class works on more complex writing assignments.
Andy is extremely frustrated with school. Although he makes some effort to study for tests, these are largely ineffective. The only resource materials available to him are textbooks which are significantly above his reading level, and his own woefully insufficient notes. He does not understand much of what he tries to read and is currently failing two subjects. Andy is not lacking in intelligence; he is very knowledgeable about his family's horticulture business, for example, and is entrusted to act as the cashier when the family is short-handed. Math is definitely his strong subject; although he has difficulty with memorization, he is generally able to achieve at grade level in this area. The music department considers him one of their more talented students. Whenever grade-level reading and writing are required, however, he is "sunk."
In addition, Andy has never been an easily managed student behaviorally. He is very fidgety in class, and tends to be what even his favorite teacher had labeled as "mischievous." These problems are increasing, and new ones are cropping up. he rips up or refuses to complete assignments, and is disrespectful to his special and general education teachers. …