By Cameron Pipkin
While some schools have (unintentionally) relegated their special education teachers to little islands—isolating them in many ways from staff in other subject areas—with the advent of Common Core Standards implementation, smart educators are rethinking the role of special education teachers in the school at large.
This is because some instructional frameworks that special education teachers are especially proficient in are beginning to emerge as powerful tools for Common Core Standards implementation.
Specifically, universal design for learning (UDL), an instructional framework that develops flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences, has found a lot of traction lately in schools all over the country. UDL has begun to show up in state NCLB waiver requests as an integral part of standards implementation plans.
"To us, it makes perfect sense. With UDL, you really do start with addressing goals that are applicable for all learners," says Patti Ralabate, the director of implementation for the Center for Applied Special Technology in Wakefield, Mass., which helped develop UDL.
At its core, UDL addresses the “what,” “how,” and “why” of learning:
A report in Education Week outlines the way that UDL has been used in special education classrooms, and it doesn’t take much to see how useful the framework might be for Common Core implementation:
When a science teacher [implemented] common-core vocabulary into her lessons, she didn't order students to memorize a list and take a test—a task some students wouldn't be able to manage. Instead, students were able to show they've learned the words using journals, doing some kind of project, or carrying out a computer activity. The latter approach reflects the work the district is working on with Ms. Ralabate's center to improve literacy instruction across subjects, a demand of the common-core standard.
Tapping into the expertise that special education teachers have in teaching to a diversity of learners—in essence, having them train teachers in traditional subject areas in UDL—is proving a powerful way to efficiently implement the Common Core.