Jackson, Lewis

Committee Member

Brewer, Robin

Committee Member

Urbach, Jennifer

Committee Member

Erekson, James


College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, School of Special Education


University of Northern Colorado

Type of Resources


Place of Publication

Greeley, (Colo.)


University of Northern Colorado

Date Created



215 pages

Digital Origin

Born digital


Students with significant support needs (SSN) have often been denied the breadth and depth of literacy instruction compared to their nondisabled peers. However, exposure to academic literacy increases when students with SSN are educated with their peers without disabilities within inclusive settings. While exposure is the first step to accessing grade level content, it does not necessarily mean that students with SSN will have the same opportunities to learn (OTL). Students with SSN require additional adaptions and supports to learn and make progress in the general education setting. Conversely, these supports are not always provided or used effectively to meet individual needs. The purpose of this study was to understand how students with SSN were provided opportunities to learn literacy within inclusive settings through the incorporation of universal design for learning (UDL), individual adaptations, communication supports, and embedded individual education plan (IEP) goals. Utilizing previously collected data from a federally funded grant, Factors Contributing to Academic, Social/communication, and Behavioral Outcomes for Elementary Students with the Most Significant Cognitive Disabilities, this study used a multi-case methodology to examine five students with SSN. All students selected for this study spent the majority of their time in the general education classroom for academic and non-academic activities (i.e., 80% or more of the school day and were represented in natural proportions with approximately no more than 1% of total school enrollees being students with SSN). Students represented different levels of literacy knowledge ranging from a student who did not read print to a student reading up to a third grade level. Each student presented with different modes of communication (e.g., eye-gaze, use of voice generating communication devices, verbal speech, etc.). These participants were selected through purposeful maximal sampling to provide a richer understanding of the commonalities and differences across cases related to OTL literacy content and instruction. Data were analyzed using Braun and Clarke’s (2006) thematic analysis, first at the within-case level followed by a cross-case analysis. Commonalities and difference in support related to student level opportunities to learn (UDL, individual adaptations, communication supports, and embedded IEP goals) were evident across cases. However, early in the analysis it was clear that classroom level components to OTL (i.e., instruction by the general education teacher, classroom materials, and alternate grouping formats) were also essential for students with SSN to have access to literacy content commensurate with their peers. Therefore, the themes identified for literacy content provided to students with significant support needs when educated in the general education setting related primarily to classroom level OTL. Three themes were apparent and included access to the classroom curriculum, instruction or activities providing literacy OTL and the attributes facilitating or acting as barriers to students with SSN and their opportunities to learn literacy content included two themes: student level access to OTL across observations and mediators and moderators for participation. Findings from this study identified the need to increase student level supports including access to UDL, individual adaptions, communication supports, and embedded IEP goals into literacy instruction for students with SSN as they learn the general education curriculum with their same age peers. Students with SSN, when provided these supports, have more opportunities to be active participants’ in literacy learning activities. Findings also show the importance of presuming competence and not basing access to supports or opportunities to learn on discrepancy of literacy level or skills. All students should be provided OTL literacy based on the general education curriculum, with high expectations regardless of literacy level.

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