S3 E7: Making the NGSS Accessible for All Learners

October 3, 2020

The NGSS were designed as “all standards for all students” — rigorous science instruction, no matter students’ labels, demographics, or past experiences. In this episode, Nicole interviews four Special Education experts to discuss NGSS accessibility. Learn how to make the NGSS accessible for all students.

Kristen Rademaker, Dr. Marquita S. Blades, Barbara A. Hopkins and Brian Raygor participated in this panel to provide their expertise. To learn more about these experts, please see the original video.

What are the challenges that come with making the NGSS accessible for all students?

Teachers struggle with the instructional shifts that come with the NGSS.

To begin, teachers are struggling with the pedagogical style that comes with the NGSS. This requires teachers to give up some of the power in the classroom to make their classes more student driven.

Also, it’s important that teachers realize that the standards are speaking to the students. The standards discuss what students should be learning and doing in the classroom, not what teachers should be doing.

Teachers are quick to revert to old practices to make the NGSS accessible to students.

Often, when teachers see students struggling with the NGSS, they revert to their old practices. As they try to make activities more accessible, they often make them too easy. This prevents students from receiving access to activities that meet the rigor of the NGSS.

For example, teachers often give students the content knowledge rather than providing students with the opportunity to discover it for the themselves. Unfortunately, this also lowers the engagement level for students.

Too often, science instruction is centered around vocabulary.

Many teachers are still front-loading their vocabulary. Instead, teachers should be providing students with a common experience before focusing on vocabulary. Then, introduce the vocabulary after students have had that experience.

By providing students with an experience, you introduce language in context. This method is far superior for language acquisition.

Also, important vocabulary doesn’t become a barrier for education. Students should be given the opportunity to demonstrate what they know without having to know the proper vocabulary. ‘

Furthermore, the ability to use vocabulary can give the illusion that students understand content. However, many students are able to use the terms appropriately, but can’t explain what is happening.

What strategies can be used for making the NGSS accessible for all a students.

Use phenomenon-based instruction.

Phenomenon-based instruction helps students to formulate questions. Also, this approach get students engaged in the learning.

But, not all phenomena are appropriate. Often, teachers miss the mark when choosing phenomena because they choose phenomena that is too complex. Instead, teachers should choose phenomena that are relevant to student lives.

Utilize a driving questions board.

In a traditional classroom, there are a few students who do most of the talking. However, in an NGSS aligned classroom, more students will feel empowered to participate. Using tools that emphasize the importance of all student voices helps to create this type of empowerment.

For example, a driving questions board allows students to have a place in the classroom where they can submit questions. This gives equal voice and opportunity to all students in the classroom.

Use modeling as a tool to allow for alternate forms of communication.

Many of the strategies that are used in a traditional science classroom emphasize language. For example, think-pair-share activities can be difficult for students who are quiet of who are not fluent in the language.

However, when we use strategies like modeling, we allow students to access another modality to communicate what they know.

Emphasize the practices rather than the scientific method.

The Science and engineering practices empower students to act as scientists in the classroom. So, it’s important to teach students how to use each of these practices in the classroom.

Also, these practices teach students skills that they will need for college and career. Critical thinking, analysis and problem solving are all skills emphasized in the practices which easily translate to the world outside of school.

Utilize universal design strategies that make the NGSS accessible to all students.

The straggles that were discussed in this episode are great for helping Special Education students and English Language Learners. However, they are also great strategies that are helpful for all students.

Allow students to attempt the activities and then provide modifications, accommodation and feedback.

When appropriate, give students the opportunity to attempt the classroom activities. Then, based on how they perform, you can make modification and provide them with feedback to help them improve.

For example, if a student is creating a model, have them create the model and then provide suggestions and scaffolding to help them to make improvements.

Accommodations for Modeling

If a student needs help to create a model, start by providing them with a few components of the system that they are trying to make a model of. This will help them get started, but will still allow the model and resulting explanations to be their own.

This is a great strategy for all students. Students can choose to use a blank page to create their model or the partially completed model.

Utilize problem-based learning.

Present students with problems to see what they know. This strategy is a natural accommodation because students employ their background knowledge. This background knowledge will come in a wide range of ability levels.

By asking students to come up with solutions to a problem, you are also able to introduce concepts and idea that you may not have introduced before. This is a great way to challenge your gifted students, who are often left out of the conversation about diverse learning needs.

Resources discussed in this episode:

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