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Inclusion and Intensive Instruction: Can We Have Both?

By Denyse Doerries, Ph.D.
September/October 2012

This is a challenging, yet exciting time to be an educator. The research on quality instruction is filled with new ideas.  We know more about the characteristics of effective teaching, teaching that challenges students to think, provides high expectations, corrective feedback, opportunities to respond, and a positive classroom climate (Hattie, 2009) than ever before.  But with new research comes controversies about interpreting the results, particularly around the “best ways” to improve outcomes for students with disabilities (SWDs).

How can we create inclusive schools and classrooms that provide the appropriate level of intensity of high quality instruction needed for SWDs to dbecome successful?  Research suggests that SWDs in both inclusive and resource/pull-out settings may not be receiving the intensive, specialized instruction needed to close the achievement gap (McLeskey & Waldron, 2011). Since it is both the quality and quantity of instruction that matters most for student success (Hattie, 2009), can a multi-level system of support provide the framework for prevention and intervention needed for SWDs (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Compton, 2012)?  Questions such as these need to be answered, but, regardless of the specifics, one common theme is that SWDs require sufficient quality, evidence-based instruction in order to close the ‘achievement gap’.

This issue of T/TAC Link Lines provides articles that define intensive instruction, reviews strategies for teachers to improve their instruction, and tools to do so.  

The article, I3 = Intense Instructional Intervention: Data, Decision, to Design by Mary Stowe discusses how educators can meet the need for intensive instructional interventions in an inclusive school through a continuum of instruction across “rooms”.  The article describes features of high quality intensive instruction that results in significant educational progress and formats in which students might receive such instruction. Helpful suggestions and examples are provided for inclusive classrooms as well as a description of the structures that need to be in place in order for SWDs to make academic progress.  

In another article read a story about a third-grade teacher who took a risk to improve her instruction for SWDs through peer observation.  Engaging Teachers in their Professional Growth by Elaine Gould describes a data collection and observation process that Elaine and a third-grade teacher employed to assist the teacher in reflecting upon and changing her instruction to address the needs of students within a general education classroom.

Opportunites to respond (OTR), or how actively students participate during classroom instruction, has been demonstrated to positively impact academic achievement to a significant degree (Hattie, 2009). The article Increasing Student Opportunities to Respond by Elaine Gould presents strategies that can be employed in all classrooms to increase students’ OTRs and thereby increase on-task behaviors while decreasing disruptions. The article includes links to videos demonstrating some of these strategies.

Technology is increasingly found to be effective at increasing student engagement, simplifying data collection, designing individualized instruction, and managing classroom tasks. Read Featured Apps: Tools for Teachers by Cathy Buyrn to discover the latest apps that savvy teachers can employ to streamline their efforts to meet student needs.  

Have you been wondering what the state of Virginia’s ‘waiver’ from the requirements of NCLB may mean for you in your classroom?  Read Understanding the Virginia ESEA Waiver by Cathy Buyrn and find out. The author attempts to make this new Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) initiative understandable and provides charts to clarify the meaning of the ‘Proficiency Gap’ determination.

The purpose of a well-written IEP is to provide data about student instructional, behavioral, and functional needs to inform decision making concerning the degree of intensity of interventions needed to support the student’s success. The article Designing Meaningful IEPs-Crafting the PLoP by Dale Pennell discusses the importance of an accurate, descriptive Present Level of Performance to inform the design of specialized instruction.

A new resource for schools, the Virginia Tiered System of Supports (VTSS) manual, is designed to assist schools in developing a framework for multiple levels of intensive instruction. This document provides tools for evaluating the currently used evidence–based practices and the structures already in place in a school/school system, with suggestions for strategies for implementing a multi-tiered system that matches instruction to student needs.  It may be accessed on the Virginia Department of Education’s  (VDOE) website.


Fuchs, D., Fuchs,L.S., & Compton, D.L. (2012).Smart RTI: A next-generation approach to multilevel prevention. Exceptional Children, 78(3), 263-279.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement.  New York, NY: Routledge,Taylor, and Francis Group.

McLeskey,V.J., & Waldron, N.L. (2011). Educational programs for elementary students with learning disabilities: Can they be both effective and inclusive? Learning Disabilities Practice, 26(1), 48-57.