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Inclusion and MTSS

I spend a lot of time in schools in many different grade levels and while there are more differences than similarities in the goings on of a 1st grade classroom and a 10th grade one, one major similarity is the question of inclusion. How does one classroom teacher meet the needs of all their students when the needs can be quite disparate?

So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, how does inclusion work in a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS)?

Inclusion is meaningful participation in the least restrictive environment (LRE) for a student to learn. Without evidence to the contrary, meaning until we have definite evidence that a student cannot participate in a certain environment, we must make the least dangerous assumption (LDA) about where the LRE is. We must also be able to demonstrate that all avenues for inclusion have been explored before a student is moved to a more restricted learning environment. Learning environments and learning content are not mutually exclusive. Just because a student may not learn well in a classroom does not mean that the students should then have restricted access to grade level content and instruction from a highly qualified teacher. Typically, though, teachers and IEP teams find that with a few modifications, meaningful inclusion in classroom-based instruction is possible and ideal for all learners, with interventions and specialized instruction occurring both inside or outside the classroom.

So, what does that look like? And what content should be covered at each tier to ensure meaningful inclusion?

First and foremost, all students should have access to classroom-based instruction with their grade/age level teacher. ALL students. Let’s unpack the concept of a ALN’s Balanced Math Structure (launch, main lesson and menu) as fully inclusive classroom-based instruction. 

All students can participate in a Launch/Number Sense Routine. This may mean that the classroom teacher needs to work with related service providers to help support the inclusion of students with more complex needs. For example, a student may require a visual task to be adapted to a tactile one, or the addition of a high contrast background may be enough. Talking with a Speech Language Pathologist to adjust or make additions to an augmentative communication device may be required. In some cases, taking a few minutes to pre-teach the launch during an intervention group would enable all the students to come to the launch prepared to engage and access this whole class experience.

Main lesson may need to be adapted in similar manners as above. Small tweaks to the classroom environment, along with the lesson, go a long way to promote full inclusive access and entry points for every learner. Sometimes having the IEP or EST team members do a classroom walkthrough reap great benefit as the related service providers may notice small things or have tiny tweaks that once implemented have a great impact on our ability to engage more learners. 

Menu is where the targeted differentiation happens within the classroom-based content students receive. Menus are created with the needs of all learners in mind. 

Intervention, determined by high leverage assessment data, classroom-based work samples and observations, is where a select group of students receive targeted instruction in high leverage concepts. High Leverage Concepts are grade level content aligned and foundational to growing solid math understandings in a particular grade level. Intervention groups should be flexible. Assessment data, student work and observations should be revisited every 6 to 8 weeks to reassess the current needs of the students and to re-create the intervention groups.  

Specialized instruction is where students on IEPs work with specialists to dig deeper into developing core mathematical understandings as well as developing the unique skills they need to access materials. This work is individualized and based on that child’s core cognitive profile. Specialized instruction should be aligned with classroom-based instruction, even when students are “off grade level”. Using our High Leverage Concept Learning Progressions helps demonstrate the content alignment with classroom-based instruction. For example, if a student in 5th grade is receiving specialized instruction in additive reasoning, there is a direct alignment between additive reasoning and multiplicative reasoning and there are models for instruction that best help students develop a deep understanding in additive thinking which lay the foundation to best support later understandings of multiplicative thinking.   

IEPs are not curriculum and therefore a student on an IEP still needs access to classroom-based instruction. Concurrently, students on IEPs may still require and be included in intervention groups above and beyond their specialized instruction and classroom-based learning.