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How I Handled...

Streamlining Instruction
For Special Education and
Low-Performing Students

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We are a large school with many students identified as ESE (Exceptional Student Education) or low-performing (based on state test scores). Our special ed and Title I teachers were complaining about large chunks of time spent gathering students from multiple classrooms, so we set about streamlining the way we grouped our students in order to increase actual instruction time.

The Problem:

In our school, we have a large population of ESE (Exceptional Student Education) and low-performing students on each grade level. We’re a very large school, so the students in those two groups are divided among eight classes at each grade level. All students identified as ESE receive pull-out instruction from a special education teacher; and all students identified as low-performing (based on state test scores) receive special in-class or pull-out instruction from a Title I teacher. Those special teachers pointed out that by the time they gathered students from three, four, or even more classrooms, 10 minutes of instruction time might have been frittered away. As you can imagine, the special-instruction teachers were also overwhelmed by the need to communicate with so many regular-ed teachers.

The Solution:

We have eight classes of students at each grade level (but our solution might work if you have only two classes too). We saw an opportunity to create on each grade level two "wheels" of four classrooms/teachers. One "wheel" of teachers would serve as home base for those students identified as ESE; the other wheel would serve as home base for students identified as low-performing. Specially identified students were divided equally between the four classes in each wheel; the balance of students in each class comprised regular-ed students.

By creating the two wheels at each grade level, we cut down on the number of regular classroom teachers with whom each special teacher had to communicate. Now, the special teachers had half as many teachers they had to keep apprised of student progress. With fewer teachers to contact and correspond with (and gather students from), we freed up valuable instruction and planning time for our special teachers.

Another added benefit surfaced: where it would have been impossible for special education teachers to make an inclusion model work (by being in as many as eight classrooms at a grade level), they were able to work with a smaller number of teachers to do more inclusion teaching.

The Reflection:

Our ESE teachers love that they have been able to eliminate wasted instructional time and do more teaching using the inclusion model. Our regular ed teachers have also benefited. Each of them is communicating with one -- instead of two -- special teachers. In addition, those teachers who have been assigned the "low-performing" students are able to create more small-group lessons focused on needs identified by a task analysis of the students' test scores.

See our How I Handled Archive to read about problems that other principals have solved.

About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Each week, members of Education World's How I Handled team share how they solved actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. How I Handled team members are anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day.


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