One of the things that all educators struggle with is making our curriculum accessible to all learners. This includes our special education populations, which so often get “forgotten”. By this, I mean that these students receive the same tired routine of being with their peers for 10 minutes for morning warm-up, removed for the bulk of the day, then going to their arts classes with their peers before going home. Sometimes, there is some variation to this routine, but it’s sparse from what I’ve seen.
Now, I don’t think educators are intentional about this. Every single teacher I’ve ever met has compassion for our special education students and truly wants to help them, but they simply do not know how.
Here are the pretty standard things I hear:
“I’m not trained in how to make this material understandable for their situation”
“I can’t handle their behaviors in my class”
“It’s not fair to them or to my regular students. They aren’t really learning and my students are being held back from their potential because we have to wait for those kids”.
It’s so painful to see those words in print, isn’t it?
Mostly because I think we’ve all said or thought at least one of those statements above. I’m certainly not proud of that fact, even though those statements were never meant to degrade or devalue any student. But the bigger question remains… what CAN we do with our special education students?
Current US education policy is pushing for us to increase the amount of time that our special education students are in their “Least Restrictive Environment” or LRE. The more time our special ed students are in LRE (aka: the ‘regular’ classroom), the better. Or so says policy anyway. Whether it is or not isn’t really the question of this entry. The fact is, that’s the policy we are currently operating under and many of our teachers just don’t know how to make that happen.
The good news is that Arts Integration is an incredible strategy for including special education students. We know that Arts Integration increases student comprehension, builds critical thinking skills, and makes cross-curricular connections that enhance their overall learning. Here’s the thing: it does all of this for our special education students too!
Arts Integration is blind to ethnicity, ability, or gender.
There is no such thing as “sub-groups” with Arts Integration. People of all shapes, sizes, abilities, color and gender all relate to the Arts. They are at the core of who we are as a means to express ourselves and to know the world. So when you teach an Arts Integration lesson, you are meeting the needs of all people.
I’m so tired of education breaking people down into categories. We take the test scores and stare at the data sheets for days analyzing how our FARM students did or why our ELL learners scored a certain way in math processes. It’s so easy to forget that each of those numbers – each percent – is indicative of the PERSON who took the test.
The reason I bring this up is because people always want to know the data behind Arts Integration.
And while I have a ton of data that supports the strategy, the best indication of its worth in our schools is in the way that it provides access for all of our learners. It bands us together and provides everyone with their own personalized starting point. In an Arts Integration lesson, you can reach your “gifted and talented” students, your on-grade level students and your special education students at the same time without any other sort of differentiation (if that’s what’s best for that lesson). Because the Arts become the Access point.
So the next time you just don’t know how to include your special education learners and are stuck – try an Arts Integration lesson. You will be so inspired by what they can do and what all of your students can learn.
Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education.
Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.