Just Right Supports, Improve Outcomes for Students With Disabilities

by | Feb 9, 2018

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What is just right for me?

Just right is a measure that can only be determined by the academic, social, and behavioral profiles of individual learners. Imagine a room filled with people at a standard temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit, some feel cold, some feel warm and some feel just right. What will make the room feel just right for those who feel too warm or too cold? We wouldn’t be able to satisfy all the people in the same room at the same time. We are all different.

Now imagine students in a classroom during an eighth-grade English Language Arts lesson. The dynamics of that middle school classroom create a high-stakes environment for all students including students with disabilities in this class. Each student is different, therefore requiring different supports to access the curriculum. What is just right for each student is in response to each student’s present levels, interests, and learning styles. Learning what’s just right for each child is intricate, because it may change based on the student’s strengths and needs over time and across content areas. No matter how intricate, it is doable, necessary, and a valid investment. Just right supports that improve the outcomes for students with disabilities are crucial for receiving a high-quality education program.

Where do we begin?

For students with a disability, learning and understanding each individual’s strengths and needs through the special education and Individualized Education Program (IEP) process IS the beginning. In general, once students have been identified as a student with a disability and found eligible for services, they receive goals, objectives, special instruction, related services if applicable, and accommodations and modifications among other prescribed components on their IEP to support their learning, progressing and accessing grade-level standards.

The IEP team meets annually to review the IEP and make changes if necessary; and reevaluate at least every three years to ensure current evaluation data continues to drive the IEP for a free and appropriate public education, supporting the student’s needs. Individualized special education supports within the IEP are warranted and serviced, but the supports may not prove or always prove as just right.

What if educators and families took a special interest in discovering and ensuring what just right supports improve the outcomes for each student with a disability? More importantly, how would just right support feel to a student with a disability? The outcome can only be positive on both sides.

Why Just Right Supports?

Just right supports are extremely important to the life of a student with a disability. Periodic inventories and anecdotal notes of informal teacher observations can provide views from different vantage points outside of the traditional IEP team format. The Student Support Team or equivalent team could further delve into learning more about students with disabilities and the just-right supports beyond the IEP team to more impactfully dive into the data to drive the just right supports. Teachers can also employ strategies to present, involving students in learning their just right strategies. Periodic inventories would communicate direct information to educators and families, of what students with disabilities enjoy, special interests, concepts relevant to their lives, information on how they view themselves in class and the world, along with how they can learn better.

Just right supports may not be tapped into for students with disabilities because some people assume their needs are already supported through their IEP, but just right supports provide opportunities to foster more. The benefits and improved outcomes of just right supports are rooted in seamlessly navigating the educational environment and standards-based curriculum with relief and dignity, unlocking ambiguities.

What are the Practical Applications?

Just right supports impact performance in all content areas and social, emotional, and behavioral learning. In reading and mathematics, just right supports can align vertical pathways for students to achieve success while feeling the momentum of their efforts versus relying on standard reports of progress and possible inconsistent feedback. Students with disabilities may become more comfortable giving feedback to help educators and families to better support their goals.

Just right supports can clarify restored ways for a student with a disability to gain more ownership in their improvement, such as self-selecting an array of independent reading level literature, increasing reading and math fluency and comprehension, acquiring skills to fill deficits, and bridging learning gaps among other areas. An inventory can help educators and families create new and refine existing supports to become just right. Anecdotal notes of informal observations conducted by teachers could reveal untapped opportunities to build on emerging skills.

What’s Next? Beyond Supports

Commitment to a desire to provide students with disabilities just right supports beyond their free and appropriate public education and special education services is essential. Giving students with disabilities the strategies and tools that will embolden them to exercise perfect practice, set meaningful and measurable goals, and observe their own increased frequency of growth and development is ideal.

Just right supports may give students with disabilities room to advocate for their learning by understanding what supports produce better outcomes on their scholarship, building the intrinsic motivation to adapt their learning styles to the conditions around them. They may readily become active participants by collaboratively selecting their supports, not being forced to use supports that cause them to have too much of an advantage, or imposing an unfair struggle. Ultimately, just the right supports will promote resilient learners. What can you do to secure just the right supports for those students with disabilities in your care?

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