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Improved Outcomes for Students with Disabilities

At Foxfire School in Yonkers, teachers Ivan Vasquez and Lucia Ricciardi have seen their students, especially students with disabilities, blossom in response to some explicit teaching strategies they are implementing. The students show increased focus and on-task behavior. Ivan has seen a reduction in anxiety as students learn that every one of them will have to respond, every one of them will make mistakes, but every one of them will be supported in arriving at the correct response. Lucia has seen a significant increase in student engagement and participation and in students’ ability to answer critical thinking questions, to dig deeper into the text and to share their findings with each other.

What are the strategies?

Ivan and Lucia have added multiple explicit teaching strategies to their toolbox. Here are a few:

  • Introducing, teaching and maintaining routines. Lucia uses SLANT, or “Sit up-Listen-Ask & Answer Questions-Nod Your Head if You Understand-Track the Listener”, to teach her students how to be active learners throughout a lesson. Ivan uses prompts to remind both his students and himself to use routines. He has posters around the classroom prompting use of classroom routines like “Tell, Show, and Do” and “Check for Understanding”.
  • All students responding all the time. Ivan uses student response strategies in every lesson that require every student to respond. He might have them write and display responses on white boards or index cards or give verbal responses in a whip-around or in think-pair-share and/or read-write-pair-share activities. Lucia uses “Cold Call” so students don’t raise hands to answer questions—she randomly calls on students to respond. Students know they might be called at any time.
  • Corrective feedback. Both Ivan and Lucia note the importance of ensuring that every student knows that errors are acceptable and that they will be supported in arriving at correct answers. Lucia notes that when a student either answers incorrectly or not at all she might call on another student for the correct answer, but she always goes back to the first student to let him or her also give the correct answer. Ivan notes the importance of pair-share activities in this regard. Students have the opportunity to support each other in arriving at the correct answer and to rehearse responses before being called on.

What can we learn from this Bright Spot?

  • Explicit and direct instructional strategies work! They allow teachers to engage all students in successfully mastering complex concepts.
Here are just a few examples from that survey showing how Lower Hudson educators supported their students’ success in past years:
  • I focused more on the Universal Foundations Standards and modified my curriculum for the Work Study. Additionally, my Special Education Director and I have been working on creating a CDOS committee which will help with the transition process. One outcome is that we have implemented bi-weekly work assessments and unit evaluations and we have seen steady growth among the majority of the students.
  • I began to train my middle schoolers who will be going to a supportive work program in more specific skills. They are becoming more responsible for their own actions.
  • We will be changing our Master Schedule during the extended school year/summer session to give some of our students the opportunity to build CDOS hours/experiences. We also offered a Work Skills class this year to address the soft skills needed to be successful in all jobs. This Work Skills class taught our students some very important aspects of work readiness that they did not have previously. They learned the importance of interviewing skills and resume writing, etc.
  • The whole of this school year in our classroom has been focused on students’ independence and individual student success. From September all tasks and activities placed on our students were done with this in mind. The outcome has been quite positive.
  • I added students to Students who were struggling with decoding were able to read and listen to their books at school and home.
  • I made sure students developed career plans and taught readiness skills for the world of work. My students completed cover letters and resumes, and started to understand how math pertains to the real world.
  • I now make it a point to be as explicit as possible and I try to model everything I ask the students to do. As a result, students are able to complete the tasks more easily and have a deeper understanding of the work and material.
  • I started tracking reading rates of Resource Room students. When I graphed reading rates of appropriate leveled books every student showed growth.
  • I started to use some of the reading comprehension strategies in my group immediately. Students became more verbal and willing to participate in group discussions.
  • I’ve started Peer Assisted Learning Strategies in my classroom and student engagement has improved significantly. .
  • I now make time to allow the kids to work together and dialogue about what they are learning. I’m seeing improved grades and reading comprehension.
  • I now use the engagement practice of written and choral responses most of the time and every student is more engaged and involved in the lessons.
  • I engage my students more in small groups and have them respond to each other. As a result, my students are volunteering to participate in class discussions more than ever before. They like teaching one another vocabulary and facts using the teaching methods I learned.
  • I started using several of the motivation techniques; e.g., current events/hot topics, “no opt out” for answering questions, and choral responding instead of calling on students who raise their hands. Now my students are more willing to answer because I eliminated hand-raising and I cold-call; fewer of them tune out.
  • I speak about vocabulary throughout my lesson now so that it changes from a “vocabulary word” to a generic word in their vocabulary.  Students now remember what the words mean!

Every year at the end of the year we ask educators who attended our workshops that year to reflect on that experience. We are most interested in your responses to two questions:

  • Did you change your practice as a result of what you learned? If so, how?
  • Did this change in practice result in improved student outcomes? If yes, how do you know?




Class/Grade Level*


What did your student(s) achieve?

What instructional practice or systemic change supported this student success?

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