EDU684: Literature Review

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EDU684 Week 8 Literature Review

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Literature Review: Special Education

Brandon Klevence Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, New Jersey City University EDU 684 Integrating Curriculum with Diverse Learners Dr. Kathleen Carter 03/22/2020


Special Education is a topic of interest for all teachers in an age where there is an ever increasing number of students with 504 and IEP plans. Between 1970 and today there have been many laws, pedagogical methods, and situations that have arisen to allow all students to receive an education that is suited to their needs, ways of learning, and thinking. The primary purpose of this literature review is to uncover some historical background regarding Special Education in America over the last few decades. While understanding the genesis and background of Special Education services in schools it is also important for us to uncover some contemporary frameworks and practices for thinking about student learning. These lenses allow us to understand: the importance of access and a focus on inclusivity of general education, how Special Education should also be viewed as multicultural education, how Career Technical Programs(CTE) have viewed Special Education within their project based units, and how contemporary practices using technology such as Universal Design for Learning are put into practice. This review seeks to outline best practices uncovered from various case-studies or methodologies as well as uncover some questions, needs, and requirements that investigative researchers, school administrators, or practicing teachers have outlined. There will be a focus on the implications of modifying your practice to be student centered, designed for a variety of ability levels, and that there are still a variety of services needed for students and teachers to succeed.

To begin one must differentiate between student access and inclusivity when we focus on special education and student inclusion in general education programs. Access is the ability for a student with disabilities to be provided time and “meaningful interaction”(Cosier, 323) in a general education classroom. While inclusion is not just use of pedagogical methods with students in a class, but belief that students must have a sense of belonging in the classroom (Cosier, 323). As seen in a case study on secondary school agricultural programs in Ohio teachers need to work on this differentiation as there has been a steady increase in the number of students with disabilities they serve up until it’s publication in 2009(Hoerst & Whittington, 39). Before we look towards pedagogical methods or the current landscape for special education programs, we should look back in time, as access and inclusion has its roots in the civil rights movement. Prior to the 1970’s many students with disabilities were deemed uneducable because of their impairments or ability to disrupt general education classes(Sullivan, 1). Because of this the trend was to educate students separately from general education students leaving families to pick up the slack with regards to socialization and education(Sullivan, 2). Over time as laws, such as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act(Sullivan, 3), were enacted and research was conducted on special education programs it was found that students with greater access to general education classes achieved more academically than those with less access (Cosier, 324). So access and inclusion are mandated by law, but are a “moral duty” for all teachers(Hoerst & Whittington, 2). More time spent in general education classes has been deemed a successful practice as it allows for greater student achievement(Cosier, 330), but we must also account for the requisite work for all stakeholders. Administrators and teachers must spend more time allowing access to classes for all students regardless of ability level, and teachers must refine and adapt their practices to include all students and give them a place in their classes. Simply put, there is a huge disparity between giving students access to general education classes and giving them access to general education classes and providing additional supports such as differentiation(Cosier, 330).

Disability in an educational setting can be contextualized by looking at the educational institution, the history of the institution, what cultural and historical backgrounds people bring with them, and how a student interfaces in this complex web of historical and personal bias(Sullivan, 6). Because of this, the framework in which Ohio agricultural programs choose to operate is housed in student-centered learning and inclusion. Specifically Ohio educators are using a variety of instructional activities that allow them to meet students at their various levels of ability and tailor content to them that is relevant and engaging(Hoerst & Whittington, 40). This push to differentiate instruction allows for “cultural pluralism”(Sullivan, 10) which in simpler terms is a focus on inclusion, full access, and full participation. One must start by meeting the student at their baseline and build from there(Hoerst, 42). Everything can be structured in an interdisciplinary way in order to engage students in building their own views of the content, materials and tools must look past the traditional textbook, and students must be allowed the time and space to build their views cooperatively with other students and educators(Sullivan, 10). Pairing these methods with activities, or demonstration followed by learning by doing, that address a variety of abilities, as well as pairing of students across abilities has been proven to improve educational experiences for all involved(Hoerst, 42).

In practice the student-centric approach that Ohio CTE programs utilize is “problem-solving” teaching techniques for all (Hoerst, 42). All students are encouraged to participate and are included in the formulation and discussion of the problem. Educators are to use a variety of instruction methods while functioning under the problem-solving umbrella, however priority must be made to relate the problem, content, and methods to student need, interest, and aptitude(Hoerst, 43). Students must know they matter(Sullivan, 10). This takes a considerable amount of effort for the educator to effectively execute within the classroom and as teachers are more comfortable with discussion and demonstration which is less likely to connect with the multi sensory needs of their students (Hoerst, 50). Across the board researchers agree that educators and administration should be given support, extra training, and time to develop and modify their practices in alignment with a student-centric approach(Hoerst, 50)(Cosier, 330)(Calvert, 19). A diversion from IDEA legislation from the late 1980’s is the mandate that assistive technology must be available to students with disabilities(Nepo, 207), but in alignment with Ohio’s push for educators to meet all students’ diverse needs (Hoerst, 50) a pedagogical practice called Universal Design for Learning(UDL) has been formulated(Nepo, 207). UDL is a set of seven guiding principles utilizing technological methods to educate all students regardless of ability or background. The principles are: equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for approach and use(Nepo, 214). These guidelines are to inform overall curriculum design and pedagogical practice with technology as a support. If used properly they may create a more equitable(Nepo, 218) and transformative approach(Sullivan,10) to educating students at their level.


Entering my fourth semester teaching Technology at a High School I have been introduced to UDL practices over the past year. My district has been integrating these principles into curriculum design and referencing them in observing instruction. Broadly put, this has been easy for me to acclimate to for three reasons: my content areas reliance on technology, project based or problem-solving unit design, and my reliance on a variety of practices to demonstrate for and assess my students. However, there have been issues with understanding exactly how UDL relates directly to the classroom as the district has made little time for training on the topic as well as supervised integration into each content area. Within my teaching I will continue to better identify various ways that I can relate to my students as well as meet their multisensory needs from unit to unit. This can be easier for my classes as most units require both physical and digital interactions as well as a required minimum amount of student agency and analysis. This allows for me to better meet my students needs and create a class for all students to succeed. For other teachers who may have required testing or rigid unit progressions this may not be as easy to undertake and in some cases they do not already use any of the principles in practice(Nepo, 217).

I have found that regardless of intent there will seemingly always be some sort of difficulty with fully allowing for access and inclusion in general education classes for all students. The literature pushes all for integration of students formerly identified as special education students into general education classes. I believe at my district this is already happening successfully as my students have a wide range of ability, support, and plans in place. However, I struggle to identify and question how well these frameworks and practices work when interfacing with students who have more severe learning needs: severe autism, cerebral palsy, downs syndrome, etc. My district meets these students by implementing a variety of programs: the Valley Program, the ACCESS Program, and ACCESS elective classes. The Valley Program is a stand-alone school for high need students who need a variety of supports and a school setting, but this is separate from general education and traditional special education services entirely. The ACCESS Program allows Valley Program students to begin to integrate into general education classes within a traditional high school with a homebase of two classrooms within the school. These students have the flexibility to be instructed in their support classrooms or in general education classes each day, and they’re also able to take elective classes in music, arts, and technology. What I find interesting about this system is how much it mimics the older special education models that are deemed archaic, however it still builds in flexibility and inclusivity on a day to day basis. This reading and reflection has opened up two primary questions for myself: What does an ideal model for students with severe learning needs look like? How do we better advocate for our students and educate ourselves when it comes to implementing meaningful practices such as UDL in our classrooms?


Special Education has been a topic of importance for the last few decades as all stakeholders in education work to emphasize student ability, agency, and background in the learning process. As noted there are many ways of working to begin to meet students needs: student-centred learning, problem-based learning, or whole process methods such as UDL. All of this hinges on teacher flexibility and acknowledgement from administration and governing bodies that more time, resources, and guidance on contemporary practices is needed for both practicing and pre-service educators. All of this is to allow for instruction that attends to all student differences and acknowledgement educator or institutional bias so that learners can be empowered to learn and achieve at their own pace.

Reference List

Cosier, Meghan & Causton-Theoharis, Julie & Theoharis, George. (2013). Does Access Matter? Time in General Education and Achievement for Students With Disabilities. Remedial and Special Education. 34. 323-332. 10.1177/0741932513485448.

Hoerst, Caryn & Whittington, M.. (2009). The Current Status of Classroom Inclusion Activities of Secondary Agriculture Teachers. Journal of Agricultural Education. 50. 10.5032/jae.2009.02038.

Sullivan, A., & Thorius, K. (2010). Considering Intersections of Difference among Students Identified as Disabled and Expanding Conceptualizations of Multicultural Education. Race, Gender & Class, 17(1/2), 93-109. Retrieved March 16, 2020, from

Calvert, Suzanne, C.. (2012) Students with Special Needs and Career and Technical Education. Lynchburg College Press.

Nepo, K. (2016). The Use of Technology to Improve Education. Child & Youth Care Forum, 46(2), 207–221. doi: 10.1007/s10566-016-9386-6