Pedagogy is often described as the act of teaching. The pedagogy adopted by teachers shapes their actions, judgments, and other teaching strategies by taking into consideration theories of learning, understandings of students and their needs, and the backgrounds and interests of individual students. (Wikipedia)
This chapter will begin with an overview of special education law and key points from IDEA and ESSA related to Instruction and the education of students with disabilities. Next, you will gain an understanding of High-Leverage Practices in Special Education (HLPs 11-22) , specifically related to Instruction, as determined by the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and the Collaboration for Effective Educator, Development, Accountability and Reform (CEEDAR Center). These are some of the foundational building blocks to guide the special educator in developing high quality instruction. Embedded with the HLPs are instructional methods,  strategies, and accommodations to support diverse learners.

Table of contents.

  • HLP 11 Identify and prioritize long and short term learning goals.
  • HLP 12 Systematically design instruction toward a specific learning goal.
  • HLP 13 Adapt curriculum tasks and materials for specific learning goals.
  • HLP 14 Teach cognitive and metacognitive strategies to support learning and independence.
  • HLP 15 Provide scaffolded supports.
  • HLP 16 Use explicit instruction
  • HLP 17 Use Flexible Grouping.
  • HLP 18 Use strategies to promote active student engagement.
  • HLP 19 Use assistive and instructional technologies.
  • HLP 20 Provide intensive instruction.

Excerpts from © 2019 by the Council of Chief State School Officers, Ensuring an Equitable Opportunity: Providing a High-Quality Education for Students with Disabilities, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY).

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 marked an historic win for civil rights when the doors to public education were opened for all students. For the first time, children with disabilities had access to a public education and the hope of a productive and fulfilling future. Today, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA), the most recent iteration of that law, aims to deliver on that promise; namely, that all students with disabilities have equitable access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment. Along with the reauthorization of IDEA came a shift for states to move to a results-based accountability system and an emphasis on improving academic outcomes for students with disabilities and away from a strict compliance focus.

The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), the recently reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, also aims to deliver on that promise; namely that all students, across all backgrounds and circumstances, are provided the opportunity to receive a high-quality education. While responding to the various federal laws has traditionally led to silos within state education agencies (SEA), under these two pieces of federal legislation the alignment between ESSA and IDEA is strengthened and provides an important opportunity to deliver on the promise of equitable and ambitious outcomes for students with disabilities. However, effectively preparing students with disabilities for life after high school remains a challenge for states as evidenced by the significant educational achievement and opportunity gaps that persist between students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) prioritizes the needs of all students, meaning that every student with a disability is, first and foremost, a general education student.

This includes ensuring that all educators are prepared to provide all students, including students with disabilities, with excellent differentiated instruction, services, and supports.
State leaders have an opportunity to develop clear terminology and definitions for what constitutes a high-quality individualized education program (IEP) and strategies to ensure positive outcomes for students with disabilities mandated by IDEA

To deliver on that promise, students with disabilities are provided with an individualized education program (IEP). The IEP is developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law, requires special education, and is attending an elementary or secondary school receives specially-designed instruction and related services

In a landscape where students with IEPs are increasingly included in general education classrooms, states must ensure that all educators, teachers, leaders, and school staff, are prepared to provide these students with high quality instruction and appropriate individualized services and supports. What constitutes excellent instruction for a majority of students is not always effective for students with disabilities. However, when educators incorporate high-leverage and evidence-based practices, specialized instruction, and intensive interventions, students with disabilities can be successful and progress in the general education classroom.

Although an IEP is a vehicle for providing a free appropriate public education to students with disabilities, it will only enable a student to receive that education insofar as the people responsible for its execution are prepared to respond effectively to students’ learning needs through effective instruction, the identification and provision of appropriate services and supports, the measurement and monitoring of student progress, and a clear expectation of family engagement throughout the process.

The IEP is developed to ensure that a child who has a disability …receives specially-designed instruction and related services.

  • incorporate high-leverage and evidence-based practices.
  • specialized instruction
  • intensive interventions
  • appropriate services and supports
  • measurement and monitoring of student progress
  • clear expectation of family engagement
  • implement a *multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) with a focus on the “whole child”

*A multi-tier system of supports is a proactive approach that has several common key elements: universal screening, systems of increasingly intensive supports and interventions, progress monitoring, team-based problem solving, and data-decision making. It uses evidence based practices and interventions and is generally a school or district-wide approach that emphasizes family engagement. Done well, MTSS serves as a comprehensive system of supports that provides for swift responses to student academic and behavioral needs by utilizing real-time data to monitor growth and make informed decisions for all students, including those with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Implementing a comprehensive MTSS meets both the requirements of ESSA and IDEA by aligning internal and external resources to meet the needs of the wide spectrum of students.

Progress monitoring- Assessment data obtained from benchmark assessments, progress monitoring tools, and universal screeners viewed by teachers at the student level are particularly useful in demonstrating individual progress over time.

Adapted from McLeskey, J., Barringer, M-D., Billingsley, B., Brownell, M., Jackson, D., Kennedy, M., Lewis, T., Maheady, L., Rodriguez, J., Scheeler, M. C., Winn, J., & Ziegler, D. (2017, January). High-leverage practices in special education. Arlington, VA: Council for Exceptional Children & CEEDAR Center.  (Permission is granted to reproduce and adapt any portion of this publication with acknowledgement)

Teaching students with disabilities is a  strategic, flexible, and recursive process as effective special education teachers use content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge (including evidence-based practice), and data on student learning to design, deliver, and evaluate the effectiveness of instruction. This process begins with well-designed instruction. This instruc­tion, when delivered with fidelity, is designed to maximize academic learning time, actively engage learners in meaning­ful activities, and emphasize proactive and positive approaches across tiers of instructional intensity.

Effective special education teachers base their instruction and support of students with disabilities on the best available evidence, combined with their professional judgment and knowledge of individual student needs. Teachers value diverse perspectives and incorporate knowledge about students’ backgrounds, culture, and language in their instructional decisions. Their decisions result in improved student outcomes across varied curriculum areas and in multiple educational settings. They use teacher-led, peer-assisted, student-regulated, and technology-assisted practices fluently, and know when and where to apply them. Analyzing instruction in this way allows teachers to improve student learning and their professional practice. (p. 69)


HLP 11 Identify and prioritize long and short term learning goals.

Teachers prioritize what is most important for students to learn by providing meaningful access to and success in the general education and other contextually relevant curricula. Teachers use grade-level standards, assessment data and learning progressions, students’ prior knowledge, and IEP goals and benchmarks to make decisions about what is most crucial to emphasize, and develop long- and short-term goals accordingly. They understand essential curriculum components, identify essential prerequisites and foundations, and assess student performance in relation to these components.

Special education teachers develop learning goals for students on a long- and short-term basis; these goals determine the focus of instruction. Learning goals include those for students’ IEPs as well as for specific subjects (e.g., what to emphasize in math) or sub-areas (e.g., teaching particular concepts and skills in fractions, comprehension of expository text, linear measurement). In prioritizing these goals, teachers identify the most essential, powerful, equitable, and crucial learning outcomes.

All standards are not of equal importance (Chard, n.d.); the same can be said of conceptual understandings and skills. In addition, there is a need for out-of-level instruction for some students (L. S. Fuchs et al., 2015); teachers need to identify and prioritize students’ goals around critical content (Doabler et al., 2012) while linking to their present level of performance, strengths, and needs.

arrowFor more information on long and short term learning goals and learning standards, go to the chapter on Standards-based Curriculum and Instructional Planning.


HLP 12 Systematically design instruction toward a specific learning goal.

Teachers help students to develop important concepts and skills that provide the foundation for more complex learning. Teachers sequence lessons that build on each other and make connections explicit, in both planning and delivery.

They activate students’ prior knowledge and show how each lesson “fits” with previous ones. Planning involves careful consideration of learning goals, what is involved in reaching the goals, and allocating time accordingly. Ongoing changes (e.g., pacing, examples) occur throughout the sequence based on student performance.

Students with disabilities require more systematically designed instruction than their typically developing peers (Archer & Hughes, 2011). Researchers (e.g., Brophy & Good, 1986; Gersten, Schiller, & Vaughn, 2000; Marchand-Martella, Slocum, & Martella, 2004; Rosenshine & Stevens, 1986; Simmons, Fuchs, Fuchs, Mathes, & Hodge, 1995) have identified at least 16 elements of systematically designed instruction to include within and across lessons and units.

Three elementsclear instructional goals, logical sequencing of knowledge and skills, and teaching students to organize content—are essential core components of systematic instruction.

Teachers design instruction that will help students meet challenging yet attainable learning goals that are stated clearly, concisely, and in measurable terms (Hattie, 2008). Instructional content is selected and sequenced logically to support or scaffold student learning. Less complex knowledge and skills are taught before more complex outcomes, information that is used frequently in the curriculum is taught prior to content that appears less often, prerequisites are mastered before higher level knowledge and skills, unambiguous information is taught before less clear material, and content and skills similar in form or function are taught separately before students are required to make independent discriminations among them (Archer & Hughes, 2011). Teachers make explicit connections among content and skills within and across lessons to allow students to link prior and new knowledge; see relationships among facts, concepts, and principles; and organize content to maximize retention, deepen understanding, and facilitate application.

arrowFor more information on systematically designing instruction, go to the chapters on, Lesson Planning and the Direct Instruction Teaching Method.


HLP 13 Adapt curriculum tasks and materials for specific learning goals.

Teachers assess individual student needs and adapt curriculum materials and tasks so that students can meet instructional goals. Teachers select materials and tasks based on student needs; use relevant technology; and make modifications by highlighting relevant information, changing task directions, and decreasing amounts of material. Teachers make strategic decisions on content coverage (i.e., essential curriculum elements), meaningfulness of tasks to meet stated goals, and criteria for student success.

Special education teachers select and adapt curriculum materials and tasks so students with disabilities can meet their IEP goals. Special educators make modifications by highlighting relevant information, changing task directions, and adjusting content amount and depth (Vaughn & Bos, 2012). Material adaptations can include:

  • Making substitutions for text material (e.g., audiotaping content, reading content aloud, using other media, working individually with students),
  • Simplifying text (e.g., making abridged versions, providing outlines and summaries, using multilevel supports), and
  • Highlighting key concepts and information (e.g., previewing content, developing study guides, summarizing or reducing content).

Teachers may substitute text material when students are unable to read and extract information independently and simplify and highlight content to facilitate comprehension.

Special education teachers also use content enhancements , a range of strategies to augment the organization and delivery of curriculum content so that students can better access, interact with, understand, and retain information (Bulgren, 2006; Deshler et al., 2001). Three examples of specific enhancements are graphic organizers, guided notes, and mnemonics.

Graphic organizers are visual–spatial arrangements of information containing words or concepts connected graphically to help students see meaningful hierarchical, comparative, and sequential relationships (Dye, 2000; Ellis & Howard, 2007; Ives, 2007). There are numerous web-based resources teachers can use in developing and customizing graphic organizers for classroom use.

Guided notes are “teacher-prepared handouts that ‘guide’ a student through a lecture with standard cues and prepared space in which to write the key facts, concepts, and/or relationships” (Heward, 1994, p. 304). These are designed to actively engage students during teacher-led instruction and provide models of complete and accurate note-taking that can be used to prepare for academic assessments.

Mnemonics are memory-enhancing strategies that help students recall large amounts of unfamiliar information or make connections between two or more facts or concepts (Wolgemuth, Cobb, & Alwell, 2008). Three commonly used mnemonic techniques are letter strategies (Kleinheksel & Summy, 2003), the keyword method, and peg word strategies (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010). Again, numerous web-based resources can help teachers create and customize mnemonics.

arrowFor more information on adapting curriculum tasks and materials, go to the chapter on Differentiated Instruction


HLP 14 Teach cognitive and metacognitive strategies to support learning and independence.

Teachers explicitly teach cognitive and metacognitive processing strategies to support memory, attention, and self-regulation of learning. Learning involves not only understanding content but also using cognitive processes to solve problems, regulate attention, organize thoughts and materials, and monitor one’s own thinking. Self-regulation and metacognitive strategy instruction is integrated into lessons on academic content through modeling and explicit instruction. Students learn to monitor and evaluate their performance in relation to explicit goals and make necessary adjustments to improve learning.

 Because students with disabilities do not typically use learning strategies to improve academic performance like their typically developing peers do, they must be taught explicitly to use strategies. Strategies are not step-by-step instructions; instead a strategy “is a heuristic that supports or facilitates the learner” in using higher order thinking skills (Rosenshine & Meister, 1992, p. 26). Newell (1990) noted that there are two layers of problem solving when using strategies; applying a strategy to a problem, and selecting and monitoring the effects of that strategy. Cognitive strategies (e.g., making predictions, summarizing, apply grammar rules, making meaning from context) are representative of the former, whereas metacognitive strategies (e.g., self-management and self-regulation, planning and monitoring) depict the latter. Strategies help students become “proficient problem solvers” (Montague & Dietz, 2009, p. 286) by teaching them how to self-monitor learning or behavior, recognize problem areas, create and execute solutions, and evaluate success. In short, cognitive strategy instruction teaches students how to learn (Jitendra, Burgess, & Gajria, 2011).

Strategies go across content and skill areas. Some examples of common cognitive strategies include:

  • For reading comprehension, collabora­tive strategic reading (Vaughn et al., 2011) and text interaction strategies (e.g., summarizing, text structure, identifying the main idea; Jitendra et al., 2011);
  • For writing, the self-regulated strategy development (SRSD) model (Harris & Graham, 2003; Santangelo, Harris, & Graham, 2008);
  • For mathematics, enhanced anchored instruction (Bottge et al., 2015), Solve It (Krawec, Huang, Montague, Kressler, & de Alba, 2013), and schema-based instruction (Jitendra & Star, 2011);
  • For retention and memory, keyword mnemonic strategies and letter strate­ Gies (Fontana, Scruggs, & Mastropieri, 2007); and
  • For self-management, self-monitoring (Bruhn, McDaniel, & Kreigh, 2015) and SLANT (Ellis, 1991).

These strategies are effectively taught through explicit instruction, including structured and organized lessons, modeling, guided practice, progress monitoring, and feedback (Archer & Hughes, 2011). In the modeling stage, students observe the teacher using the strategy while thinking aloud to demonstrate how skilled problem solvers approach tasks. Think-alouds also help students build their metacognitive ability (i.e., the ability to think about their thinking; Montague & Dietz, 2009).

These strategies, when taught explicitly with modeling and guided practice, have been proven effective in multiple studies across content areas and disability types.

HLP 15 Provide scaffolded supports.

Scaffolded supports provide temporary assistance to students so they can successfully complete tasks that they cannot yet do independently and with a high rate of success. Teachers select powerful visual, verbal, and written supports; carefully calibrate them to students’ performance and understanding in relation to learning tasks; use them flexibly; evaluate their effectiveness; and gradually remove them once they are no longer needed. Some supports are planned prior to lessons and some are provided responsively during instruction.

Scaffolded supports are supports provided to students that are either preplanned or provide  “on the spot” and then faded or removed once they are not needed (Rosenshine, 2012); teachers gradually release or transfer responsibility to students (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) as they become more proficient. Scaffolded supports can be provided in multiple forms including dialogue (e.g., modeling, hints, questions, partial completion of the task, informative feedback; Englert, Tarrant, Mariage, & Oxer, 1994; Palincsar & Brown, 1984), materials (e.g., cue cards, anchor charts, checklists, models of completed tasks; Rosenshine, 2012; Rosenshine & Meister, 1992), and technology (Putambecker & Hübscher, 2005). The term scaffolded instruction was introduced by Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976) based on their study of parent– child interactions and defined by them as assistance from adults that “enables a child or novice to solve a problem, carry out a task or achieve a goal which would be beyond his unassisted efforts” (p. 90). Scaffolding occurs within Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (1978)—the distance between what a child can understand and do independently and what he or she can understand and do with assistance. Special education teachers use effective supports for student learning; to do so, the teacher must fully understand the task as well as students’ changing understanding and proficiency.

arrowFor more information on scaffolding instruction to “Scaffolding


HLP 16 Use explicit instruction

Teachers make content, skills, and concepts explicit by showing and telling students what to do or think while solving problems, enacting strategies, completing tasks, and classifying concepts. Teachers use explicit instruction when students are learning new material and complex concepts and skills. They strategically choose examples and non-examples and language to facilitate student understanding, anticipate common misconceptions, highlight essential content, and remove distracting information. They model and scaffold steps or processes needed to understand content and concepts, apply skills, and complete tasks successfully and independently.

Explicit instruction (EI) is a direct, structured, supportive, and systematic methodology for teaching academic skills (Archer & Hughes, 2011). When using EI, the teacher provides an explanation or model, guides students through application of the skill or concept, and provides opportunities for independent application of the skill or concept to ensure mastery (Mercer, Mercer, & Pullen, 2011).

Rosenshine (1983) developed a list of six fundamental teaching functions that incorporate principles of explicit instruction: review, presenting new content in small steps, using guided practice, providing corrective feedback, providing independent practice (both massed and distributed), and weekly/monthly cumulative reviews. When teachers use EI, academic learning time increases, which is strongly linked to student achievement (Archer & Hughes, 2011). In essence, explicit instruction is a set of teacher behaviors that have repeatedly shown to have a positive impact on student achievement, especially those who are struggling to learn.

When EI is used in the classroom, academic learning time is increased. Evidence supports the use of EI with all students (in both general and special education settings), across all ages and grade levels, and across content areas. EI can be used with all learners, but is essential for struggling learners.

arrowFor more information on explicit instruction, go to the Chapters; Direct Instruction Teaching Method and Delivering Instruction

HLP 17 Use Flexible Grouping.

Teachers assign students to homogeneous and heterogeneous groups based on explicit learning goals, monitor peer interactions, and provide positive and corrective feedback to support productive learning. Teachers use small learning groups to accommodate learning differences, promote in-depth academic-related interactions, and teach students to work collaboratively. They choose tasks that require collaboration, issue directives that promote productive and autonomous group interactions, and embed strategies that maximize learning opportunities and equalize participation. Teachers promote simultaneous interactions, use procedures to hold students accountable for collective and individual learning, and monitor and sustain group performance through proximity and positive feedback.

Grouping patterns change often depending on lesson goals and objectives and may include (a) homogeneous and heterogeneous small groups, (b) pairs, (c) whole class, and (d) individual instruction (Hoffman,2002;Vaughn & Bos, 2012). Varied grouping arrangements are used flexibly to accommodate learning differences, promote in-depth academic-related interactions, and teach students to work collaboratively. Special education teachers must be skilled in using both homogeneous (same-ability) and heterogeneous (mixed-ability) small groups to help students meet explicit learning goals.

Homogeneous groups are used to provide focused, intensive instruction for students with common instructional strengths and needs and are configured to meet short-term goals and objectives (Cohen & Lotan, 2014).

Heterogeneous groups include students of varied knowledge and skill levels and can serve multiple instructional purposes. Special education teachers use small, mixed-ability groups to engage all students in grade-level content-related conversations, facilitate student thinking and communication skills, and improve interpersonal relationships among students with and without disabilities (Hattie, 2008; Kagan & Kagan, 2009). Teachers monitor small-group interactions, provide positive and corrective feedback, hold students accountable individually and collectively, and sustain group interactions through proximity and feedback.

arrowFor more information on flexible grouping, go to this chapter on Cooperative Learning. 


HLP 18 Use strategies to promote active student engagement.

Teachers use a variety of instructional strategies that result in active student responding. Active student engagement is critical to academic success. Teachers must initially build positive student–teacher relationships to foster engagement and motivate reluctant learners. They promote engagement by connecting learning to students’ lives (e. g., knowing students’ academic and cultural backgrounds) and using a variety of teacher-led (e.g., choral responding and response cards), peer-assisted (e. g., cooperative learning and peer tutoring), student-regulated (e.g., self-management), and technology-supported strategies shown empirically to increase student engagement. They monitor student engagement and provide positive and constructive feedback to sustain performance.

Student engagement lies at the heart of positive academic outcomes. The correlation between student engagement and academic achievement is consistently strong and significant (Brophy, 1986; Rosenshine, 1976). Engagement strategies ensure students are active participants in the learning process and the school environment. Strategies may include group (i.e. cooperative learning groups, peer-assisted learning) or individually focused structures (e.g., personalized positive feedback, enlisting strategies). In addition to strategies to increase participation, teachers use strategies to connect learning to students’ lives and increase students’ value of and interest in the school and feelings of belonging.
Marzano and Pickering’s (2011) model of engagement organizes the essential components of engaging students around four questions that reflect the student’s perspective:

How do I feel? Student enthusiasm, enjoyment, and pride (among other emotions) increase student engagement (Skinner, Kindermann, & Furrer, 2008). Students need an environment where they feel safe and supported in order to engage in academic tasks. Students’ feelings of acceptance also play a role in their level of engagement. To address this, teachers:

  • Ensure equity and fairness in academic opportunities, including responding to questions, receiving rigorous material, and playing games (Marzano & Pickering, 2011).
  • Design the learning environment to encourage active student participation and attention (e.g. table and desk arrangement, group size, location of instruction).
  • Build positive personal relationships with students (e.g., know students’ academic and cultural backgrounds; include students’ names in instruction, examples, and text such as word
    problems; connect instruction to students’ interests; Hattie, 2008).
  • Provide positive feedback for students who are actively engaged and attentive (Hattie, 2008).

Am I interested? Student interest and choice are needed for students to be motivated and have ownership in their learning. Teachers:

  • Incorporate student interest, choice, and physical movement (Dwyer, Blizzard & Dean, 1996; Dwyer, Sallis, Blizzard, Lazarus & Dean, 2001; Jensen, 2013).
  • Keep the momentum of instruction and lesson pace appropriate for the attentional needs of students, including smooth transitions, effective use of instructional time, and effectively preparing students for independent tasks and activities (Emmer & Gerwels, 2006; Kubesch et al., 2009).

Is this important? Students must feel that what they are learning is worthwhile. Teachers need to be explicit in their instructional objectives and relate new information to knowledge students currently have.

Can I do this? Self-efficacy is necessary for a student to put forth effort and persist through difficult tasks. Students need to feel challenged and supported in order to attend to and complete tasks. Teachers:

  • Have an awareness of students who are chronically disengaged and make an effort to build a relationship and use strategies to enlist students (e.g., teacher helper, mentoring, lunch buddies, encouragement; Archambault et al., 2009; Appleton et al., 2008; Christenson et al., 2001).
  • Develop mastery measures for students to work towards, which is particularly important for students with disabilities who often are functioning on a different academic level than their same-age peers.

Effective student engagement practices hinge on the presence of positive teacher– student relationships and a climate that fosters community, ownership, and identity (Cornelius-White & Harbaugh, 2010; Jensen, 2013). Through his meta-analysis, Hattie (2008) found that teacher–student relationships have a substantial (0.72) effect size related to student achievement. Many other researchers have supported this finding (see Jackson, 2015). Hamre and Pianta (2006) emphasized the developmental nature of student engagement, finding that strong student–teacher relationships in kindergarten have robust effects on students’ school outcomes lasting through eighth grade.

arrowFor more information on strategies to promote active student engagement, go to the chapter on Active Learning Strategies


HLP 19 Use assistive and instructional technologies.

Teachers select and implement assistive and instructional technologies to support the needs of students with disabilities. They select and use augmentative and alternative communication devices and assistive and instructional technology products to promote student learning and independence. They evaluate new technology options given student needs; make informed instructional decisions grounded in evidence, professional wisdom, and students’ IEP goals; and advocate for administrative support in technology implementation. Teachers use the universal design for learning (UDL) framework to select, design, implement, and evaluate important student outcomes.

Students with disabilities benefit when they have access to assistive technology devices and services, and when teachers use instructional technology to support their unique needs.

When discussing the role of technology for supporting individualized needs of students with disabilities, it is appropriate to consider the promise of universal design for learning (UDL) for designing and delivering high quality instruction. (Basham & Marino, 2013; Rao, Ok, & Bryant, 2014). More recently, ESSA referenced universal design for learning (UDL) as a framework that should be considered when designing and delivering instruction and assessments for all students (see CAST, 2016). UDL is a broad framework that guides a teacher to consider multiple means of representation, engagement, and expression when writing lesson plans, delivering instruction, and evaluating learning (Rose, Meyer, & Hitchcock, 2005).

arrowFor more information on Universal Design for Learning, go to this chapter, Universal Design for Learning.  For more information on instructional technologies, go to this chapter, Learning with Digital Tools.

HLP 20 Provide intensive instruction.

Teachers match the intensity of instruction to the intensity of the student’s learning and behavioral challenges. Intensive instruction involves working with students with similar needs on a small number of high priority, clearly defined skills or concepts critical to academic success. Teachers group students based on common learning needs; clearly define learning goals; and use systematic, explicit, and well-paced instruction. They frequently monitor students’ progress and adjust their instruction accordingly. Within intensive instruction, students have many opportunities to respond and receive immediate, corrective feedback with teachers and peers to practice what they are learning.

In a schoolwide tiered system of support, the highest level of support is intensive intervention. Typically, this level of inter­vention, commonly referred to as Tier 3, is delivered by special educators, whereas supplemental intervention (Tier 2) is typically delivered by highly trained general educators. Tier 3 instruction is delivered through a process of data-based individualization (DBI). Through DBI, teachers start with a validated supplemental intervention and use diagnostic and ongoing progress monitoring data to design highly individualized instruction and continually adapt the intervention and instruction in response to student performance (National Center on Intensive Intervention, 2013). These instructional adaptations comprise intensive instruction. Tier 2 supplemental instruction also uses a research-based intervention to address skill gaps for students below grade level and not making progress with differentiated core instruction. Tier 2 instruction is delivered to small, homogeneous groups of students (approximately four to seven students) and aims to address skills that are foundational to accessing grade-level content, in order to prevent further academic failure.

Tier 3 intensive instruction is highly individualized for students with severe and persistent learning needs who, according to the data, have not responded to evidence-based core instruction and supplemental intervention. Teachers incorporate evidence-based practices that have been proven effective for students with disabilities across all content areas including math, reading, writing and behavior. Intensive instruction integrates cognitive processing strategies; is explicit; integrates opportunities for feedback; and is responsive to student performance data (Baker, Gersten, & Lee, 2002; Santangelo, Harris, & Graham, 2007). Instruction is delivered to a small number of students (no more than three) with similar learning or behavioral needs (WWC, 2009a). Teachers group students based on common learning needs; clearly define learning goals; and use systematic, explicit, and well-paced instruction to address skill gaps.

Teachers use data to identify skills gaps and deliver instruction that is highly focused. Students are taught a small number of high priority, clearly defined skills or con­cepts crucial to their academic success (WWC, 2009a). Within intensive instruction, students have many opportunities to respond and receive immediate, corrective feedback with teachers and peers to practice what they are learning. Their progress is continuously monitored to determine the effectiveness of instruction, and teachers adjust instruction accordingly.

Through the DBI framework, special education teachers closely monitor the effectiveness of a supplementary intervention. When students are not making adequate progress with research-validated supplementary interventions, special educators first intensify instruction by decreasing the group size or increasing the instructional time (Vaughn, et. al., 2012). If these quantitative changes are not sufficient, teachers can intensify instruction by modifying instructional delivery.
This includes integrating qualitative strategies to support cognitive processing such as making instruction more explicit and systematic and integrating strategies to support self-regulation, memory, and self-monitoring (Vaughn, et. al., 2012).  For example, special educators may model a math problem-solving strategy using think-alouds and visuals and then introduce a mnemonic to help students remember the strategy.

Research suggests that it takes students with disabilities at least 10 to 30 times more trials to master a skill than it does students without disabilities (WWC, 2009a).

  • Intensity can be increased by providing longer instructional sessions or having more frequent sessions.
  • One-to-one or small group instruction allows students more opportunities to practice, respond, and receive individualized feedback.

Many students with intensive needs have depressed executive functioning abilities and thus struggle to plan, regulate their performance and emotions, think flexibly about a problem, and manipulate information so that it can be stored in memory. To overcome limitations in this area, students need to learn planning, problem-solving, and self-monitoring approach in both social and academic areas.

arrowFor more information on Data-Based Individualization (DBI) go to:

 National Center on Intensive Intervention. (2013). Data-based individualization: A framework for intensive intervention. Washington, DC: Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education.

The IRIS Center. (2015). Intensive intervention (part 1): Using data-based individualization to intensify instruction. Retrieved from

The IRIS Center. (2015). Intensive intervention (part 2): Collecting and analyzing data for data-based individualization. Retrieved from


HLP 21 Teach students to maintain and generalize new learning across time and settings.

Effective teachers use specific techniques to teach students to generalize and maintain newly acquired knowledge and skills. Using numerous examples in designing and delivering instruction requires students to apply what they have learned in other settings. Educators promote maintenance by systematically using schedules of reinforcement, providing frequent material reviews, and teaching skills that are reinforced by the natural environment beyond the classroom. Students learn to use new knowledge and skills in places and situations other than the original learning environment and maintain their use in the absence of ongoing instruction.

Generalization and maintenance of newly acquired knowledge and skills by learners is a pervasive problem for students with disabilities, particularly those with autism spectrum disorder (Brown & Bebko, 2012; Phillips & Vollmer, 2012). Generalization involves performing a behavior in environments that differ from the teaching environment (Lee & Axelrod, 2005). Haring and Eaton (1978) suggested that skill development progresses in an orderly sequence: initial accuracy (acquisition), followed by fluency and maintenance, which are followed by generalization. Effective teachers must therefore have the knowledge and skills to incorporate generalization when designing and implementing instruction. Generalization of skills must be systematically programmed instead of assuming it will automatically occur (Alberto & Troutman, 2013; Schindler & Horner, 2005). In order to generalize academic and social learning to settings other than where learning takes place, students need the opportunity to use skills in a variety of settings, with a variety of instructors. Specific instructional techniques include teaching behaviors that can be used in many different situations, teaching the behavior in several different settings with several different instructors, varying instructions and reinforcers, and programming for common stimuli between the natural and teaching settings.

Maintenance of behavior is also essential to the process of learning. Maintenance occurs when newly acquired skills are used in the absence of ongoing instruction. Effective teachers use schedules of reinforcement, systematic reviews of material, and other techniques to promote maintenance of behavior in novel settings, thereby lessening dependence on the teacher (Lee & Axelrod, 2005). They thoughtfully and carefully choose strategies for maintenance and generalization at the onset of teaching new academic or social behaviors and build these strategies into the instructional program.

HLP 22 Provide positive and constructive feedback to guide students’ learning and behavior

The purpose of feedback is to guide student learning and behavior and increase student motivation, engagement, and independence, leading to improved student learning and behavior. Effective feedback must be strategically delivered, and goal directed; feedback is most effective when the learner has a goal and the feedback informs the learner regarding areas needing improvement and ways to improve performance. Feedback may be verbal, nonverbal, or written, and should be timely, contingent, genuine, meaningful, age appropriate, and at rates commensurate with task and phase of learning (i.e., acquisition, fluency, maintenance). Teachers should provide ongoing feedback until learners reach their established learning goals.

Feedback is used to elicit what students know related to academic content, and to provide direct support regarding what students need to do to learn.

Feedback should be timely, meaningful, genuine, specific but succinct, and age-appropriate, and takes many forms including questioning, scaffolding instruction, providing written comments, and providing computer-mediated feedback (Brookhart, 2008; Doabler, Nelson, & Clarke, 2016; Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Thurlings, Vermeulen, Bastiaens, & Stijnen, 2013). Feedback using programmed instruction or the use of extrinsic rewards is not highly effective in improving achievement (Hattie, 2008).  Moreover, rewards are not a central feature of effective instructional feedback, which should be designed to provide information regarding the student’s performance relative to a task.

Feedback should be goal directed; that is, it is most effective when the learner has a goal and the feedback informs the learner regarding how he or she is doing relative to the goal, and what needs to be done to improve progress (Doabler et al., 2016; Hattie, 2008).

Feedback should be clear and tangible, providing the learner with an action that may be taken in response to the feedback that leads toward learning content (Thurlings et al., 2013).

Teachers should also use appropriate and meaningful language, make connections to prior learning, and remind students what they already know (Doabler et al., 2016).

Different forms of feedback may be provided, including feedback about whether content was correct or incorrect, discussing strategies that were used or could be used for more effective learning, and addressing students’ self-regulation (e.g., whether a useful strategy is being applied to solve a problem; Hattie & Timperley, 2007). These types of feedback vary depending on the student’s knowledge regarding the content. For example, providing a student with error-correction feedback when initially learning content or a skill chain improve learning rate, whereas providing error correction when building fluency relative to content can negatively influence learning (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).

Feedback is most effective when addressing faulty interpretations of information (e.g., an inefficient or ineffective strategy to solve a problem), and providing cues to guide the learner toward the use of a more efficient or effective strategy or clearer understanding (Hattie, 2008; Thurlings et al., 2013).

Feedback should be used to engage a student in self evaluation, too, helping students to develop error identification skills and increase their self-regulation, independence, and confidence in learning academic content (Hattie &Timperley, 2007).

Feedback is among the most powerful influences on student achievement (Hattie, 2008). Using feedback effectively requires that teachers have substantial expertise in monitoring what the student knows about a skill or particular content area, and using this information to provide feedback that supports student learning. When feedback is used consistently and well, student educational achievement is significantly enhanced (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).

arrowFor more information on providing feedback go to this chapter on Feedback

References cited within this chapter can be found in the original text.

Adapted from McLeskey, J., Barringer, M-D., Billingsley, B., Brownell, M., Jackson, D., Kennedy, M., Lewis, T., Maheady, L., Rodriguez, J., Scheeler, M. C., Winn, J., & Ziegler, D. (2017, January). High-leverage practices in special education. Arlington, VA: Council for Exceptional Children & CEEDAR Center.

 Council of Chief State School Officers, Ensuring an Equitable Opportunity: Providing a High-Quality Education for Students with Disabilities,

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