Inclusion = Differentiation + Literacy

February was a month devoted to connecting the many pieces of what makes “Inclusion” happen successfully. The month got off to a controversial start as many educators responded to James R. Delisle’s Education Week post “Differentiation Doesn’t work.”  I was initially reluctant to respond, but Think Inclusive’s Founder Tim Villegas shared some pointers and urged me to take this necessary risk.  And so as a guest blogger for Think Inclusive, I published my response to Delisle’s article- Differentiated Instruction- Are we expecting too much? In my article, I articulate “The purpose of teaching is to facilitate learning, and learning doesn’t happen without differentiation. Differentiation is what makes our career field a distinguished art and science—not everyone can do it.” I then spend the majority of the article sharing some best practices for navigating the journey of Differentiation.  Many thanks to those that tweeted my article and mentioned my article in their rebuttals to Delisle’s article.  Read more of my article at:

During the first week of February, I was invited to be a panelist for the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Richmond (DSAGR); PossAbilities to Practical Applications conference. Based on my work in Inclusion, coaching, and presenting nationally on such topics of differentiation, Allison Thurman invited me to share my perspective on tips to successfully include our students with moderate to severe disabilities in the general education curriculum.  Already feeling privileged to be apart of such an important topic, I instantly agreed.  I was further elated, when I found out that Dan Habib would be the moderator of our panel. Just a refresher- Dan Habib is the creator of the award-winning documentary films Including Samuel, Who Cares About Kelsey?Restraint and Seclusion: Hear Our Stories, and  many other films on disability-related topics. Habib is also one of the founders of the SWIFT Schools Project, the School-wide Integrated Framework of School Transformation ( We discussed significant benefits and challenges of inclusion, how schools, parents, and communities can best work together to make schools more inclusive, and changes to bring about the paradigm shift in schools in VA and nationally to a point where inclusion is the norm.  The audience of over 200 educators, parents, and students were inviting and positive about the Inclusion Movement. For a clip of the Conference Panel proceedings, see my Vimeo Page (password for this video is SAVA).

To build on differentiation without addressing literacy instruction would be a disservice to all students. The “achievement gap” is a literacy gap, and everyone knows that literacy is integral to being successful in school, jobs, and life. In order to successfully include all students, we must use differentiation and explicitly provide students with literacy skill instruction. As a Jossey Bass Teacher Ambassador, I decided to start with a book that would help me increase my literacy repertoire and coaching skills.  The book I read with my Inclusion Specialist & Instructional Coaching team was Literacy and the Common Core by Sarah Tantillo The book comes with CD materials and templates organized by chapter that can be put to use in the classroom immediately, easy to use strategies to improve literacy that can be easily implemented, and examples from real K-12 classrooms with sample lesson plans and scripts for gradual release of responsibly to ensure student success with literacy strategies.

I then put a lot of the literacy strategies I learned into practice as I traveled to Boston to teach ELA for Supt. Jeff Riley’s Prestigious Sontag Urban Education Acceleration Academies. Based on Tantillo’s Chapter 2- I used a mnemonic device (RACE) and created a unique guided organizer for answering open ended response prompts; I then had students create a foldable to remember the distinct parts of the formula. 6ORQGraphicOrganizer-1 RACE citing textual evidence template RACE open response formula

2. Chapter 9 provides great examples and visual supports to show students how to use “Quote Sandwiches.” Hamburger Sandwich

3. General effective teaching principles in Chapter 7 were discussed such as the Guided Release model/ Explicit Instruction model which helps all students successfully transfer literacy skills and perfect their strategies independently. ExplicitInstruction_Graphic

4. The importance of asking higher order questions in Chapter 7/pg. 116 – One of my favorite quotes for engaging students in higher order tasks is “Climbing the comprehension process stairs.” Blooms_Revised_Detailed

One of the many benefits from buying the Literacy and the Common Core manual is that you also receive electronic access to another literacy strategy packed toolkit on the web- the Literacy Cookbook at This website offers many concrete examples of strategies, lesson plans, and templates for providing students meaningful literacy instruction.

In closing, it is truly up to us to differentiate instruction and build students’ literacy skills.  May the “differentiation” and “literacy” FORCE be with you as we strive to successfully include and reach all of our learners. Their smiles keep us going!

THIEVES non-fiction bookmarks
Students created a T.H.I.E.V.E.S non-fiction bookmark; this strategy supports students in self- monitoring and tracking their use of effective reading strategies for non-fiction text. For more on the THIEVES literacy strategy contact me.
Characterization Charts
Characterization Body ProjectStudents read about the Civil Rights Movement and key leaders in the movement. Students then created Characterization Resources, filling out specific criteria for each part of the body. Contact me for sample lessons and rubrics on 3D Characterization Body Project.
Blooms Comprehension Ball
Blooms Balls! A great Summarization Strategy that puts the A in “STEAM.” For more details on rubrics and examples leave a comment.

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