Integrated Elementary & Special Education
Imagine being an elementary education teacher and having a special needs student in your classroom. Now imagine creating a lesson plan that includes that child and all the others in your lesson. It isn't easy.
Many teachers aren’t prepared when school districts place students with disabilities into the general elementary classroom. Because of this, schools have traditionally used a “pullout” program where students with disabilities are taken out of the classroom for specific work with special education teachers and paraprofessionals. Now school districts across the country are turning to an integrated model.
The University of Minnesota Duluth has created a program focusing on educating future teachers to fully include students with special needs into the classroom setting. “It is truly an integrated program,” said Joyce Strand, head of the education department at UMD. “Most universities have a class here and there that will teach special education in the elementary classroom, but the program at UMD is fully integrated and collaborative between special education and elementary education faculty. It qualifies graduates of our program to teach K-6 elementary education and K-12 special education. It’s a competitive and marketable degree on a national level.”
Because the teacher has had the training to educate, challenge, integrate, and encourage those students, children with special needs are engaged with the rest of the class. “The program focuses on the learning environment with diverse learners, not just the class as a whole,” Strand said. “The UMD program teaches strategies in a practicum setting. The student teaching experience is in both elementary and special education settings. This is Minnesota’s only undergraduate Integrated Elementary Special Education teacher preparation program.” Other universities in Minnesota have a choice of adding special education but at UMD it is a requirement for all elementary education majors.
Degree seeking college students who successfully complete the Bachelor of Applied Science degree from the Integrated Elementary and Special Education (IESE) program are qualified to apply for state licensure to teach K-6 elementary education and K-12 special education in the areas of learning disabilities and emotional behavioral disorders.
In addition to the integrated special education program, the UMD Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Language Revitalization and UMD Department of Education has partnered with the Augsburg College Master of Arts in Education in the Twin Cities and created the online Naadamaadiwin Tribal Special Education Cohort. The cohort gives special attention to American Indian students and teachers. The online courses equal four semesters and one summer session of instruction. Students from both campuses are required to meet in Hinckley, Minnesota twice a semester. This program is supported with a personnel training grant from the Minnesota Department of Education.
The cooperative program was formed and installed after eight years of planning. Input came from native cohorts and educational leaders. The backbone of the program was based on Martin Brokenleg’s book Circle of Courage. Throughout the book, Brokenleg discusses youth who are at risk and the education standards that would need to change in order to improve their chances at success. “The book served as a model,” Strand said. “And during a conference at which Brokenleg spoke, we were inspired to create a program at UMD that reflected his philosophy.”
In the fall of 2008, the two campuses introduced the Naadamaadiwin program by offering a post-baccalaureate special education license with an emphasis on tribal communities and learning styles. At Augsburg, the program is combined into a master of education program. “We had identified the percentage of Native Americans in special education,” Strand said. “After compiling the numbers, we found that the Native American ethnic group makes up a large percent of the special education classes in our region. There was definitely a need for a program that focused on the teaching required for special education in ethnic communities.”
Because of the program’s success and its indigenous component, it is serving as a national model for future programs that could include African American, Hispanic, and Immigrant cultures as well.
“Education is about individual students. We are equipping future teachers to understand this very important concept,” Strand said.
Inclusive education isn't easy, but UMD is working to help teachers manage classrooms with diverse learners, from students with special needs to high achievers.
Written by: Christiana Kapsner
UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan, firstname.lastname@example.org