Improving Systems for Teaching Diverse Learners
“Our college has an excellent existing framework, along with the structures in place to prepare teachers for the diversity of learners they will face in the classroom,” said April Regester, assistant professor, special education. Regester is one of several COE faculty participants in a federal grant that will take Missouri’s framework for teacher and school leadership preparation to the next level.
CEEDAR stands for “Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability and Reform.” The project, funded by the federal government, has expanded to 20 states, which include Missouri, added in 2015. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has partnered with the College of Education at UMSL, along with Central MO State, MO Baptist University, and Avila University in Kansas City to implement this planning grant. The Special School District and Ferguson/Florissant are also local partners.
The grant provides technical support (from the National CEEDAR Center in Florida) for partnerships between state education agencies, institutes of higher education and interested school districts to:
- Reform teacher and leadership preparation
- Revise licensure standards
- Refine preparation evaluation systems
The goal is to advance statewide policy and practice to produce professional learning systems that prepare and support high quality educators with the competencies to ensure that all students learn.
“That may sound pretty basic,” said Regester, “but there has been a tremendous amount of newer research in cognitive science and how learning happens that now can inform teacher preparation programs. That research has pointed to a truly important core set of skills and practices that all teachers should possess when they first step into the classroom.”
She acknowledges that, over the years, there has been resistance to the idea of defining a core set of skills and knowledge for teachers. This goes back, in part, to a longstanding belief that the ability to teach is a personal trait, dependent on individual style and talent.
“The diversity teachers find in classrooms runs the spectrum from students with disabilities, to English language learners, to gifted students.” Cognitive science research indicates that learning styles may be as individualized as fingerprints.
To reform teacher preparation, the CEEDAR collaborative is using what research has found to be the basic fundamentals of inclusive teaching called high-leverage teaching practices. Researchers have identified 19 high-leverage practices that form the basic fundamentals of teaching. These practices are used constantly and are critical to helping students learn important content and are also central to supporting students’ social and emotional development. They are “high-leverage” not only because they matter to student learning but because they are basic for advancing skill in teaching.
“Our work with CEEDAR includes making sure that teacher candidates graduate with the skills, knowledge and understanding of high leverage practices and evidence-based strategies that support a diverse group of learners,” Regester said.
The basic framework to support inclusive teaching and learning is the Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Curricula that is designed for effective UDL provides:
- Multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge,
- Multiple means of expression to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know, and
- Multiple means of engagement to tap into learners' interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn.
DL is supportive of the largest group of learners in any given situation. The more students who are understanding the material, the less individual academic or behavioral interventions will be needed.
The concept uses multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS). This system is used to efficiently differentiate instruction for all students. The emphasis is on schoolwide, differentiated universal core instruction at Tier 1 delivered to all students, and having a high likelihood of bringing most students to acceptable levels of proficiency. Tiers 2 and 3 provide intensive and increasingly individualized interventions.
“The best performing schools have most of their students learning in Tier 1, with fewer individualized interventions in either Tier 2 or 3,” Regester said. “Under-performing schools are just the opposite, and end up referring too many students for individualized interventions. The more skilled teachers are at implementing Universal Design for Learning, the better they become in delivering differentiated teaching, which is key to reaching and teaching the most students.”
For the CEEDAR project, Regester formed an action team from UMSL that includes faculty members Nick Husbye, Nancy Singer, and Amber Candela, along with COE staff members Kent Robison and Stephanie Koscielski, plus Lisa Powers from Special School District. The team is working with other Missouri partners in CEEDAR to produce policy that will affect educator preparation across the state. The work will provide an improved framework to support and graduate students who are prepared to understand and know the resources to teach all kids.
“Our dual program really fits into this work,” she said of the college’s undergraduate program that culminates in a teaching degree with certification/endorsement in either special education or TESOL. “Also, the structures we have in place for our program in providing early field work in community agencies followed by work in Studio Schools will definitely support the changes that will occur from the CEEDAR project here in Missouri.”
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