Children with Special Needs
The Tools’ approach to children with special needs is derived from Vygotsky’s own views of disability and special education; he believed that these children should learn with—not apart from—their classmates. Only their participation in classroom activities can ensure that special needs children will experience the social context necessary to acquire the mental tools needed for their development.
The Tools of the Mind approach to special education closely aligns with Response to Intervention (RTI), the approach that is now part of the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA 2004) for grades K–12. Tools provides specialized training for classroom teachers and special education staff to facilitate the implementation of RTI, as well as Recognition and Response (the early childhood version of RTI), in early childhood programs or school districts. Tools uses Dynamic Assessment, a technique developed by Vygotskian researchers in the 1930s and since used by many educators working with children with special needs.
Scaffolding techniques for learners at different places in their development are at the heart of the Tools approach to instruction. Tools activities are designed to accommodate multiple levels of ability, thus maintaining the social context of peer interaction. At the same time, teachers learn to use specific scaffolds to optimize instruction appropriate to a child’s individual needs, while working with a group of children.
Tools professional development helps teachers learn how to use Dynamic Assessment; to identify which Tools scaffolds are appropriate, and when to remove a scaffold to support a child’s development. Tools activities lend themselves to a collaborative teaching model in which classroom teachers and special education staff work together in classroom-imbedded intervention.
Tools has been implemented successfully with children with speech/language disorders, cognitive, and motor delays, and ASD (autism spectrum disorder) in a number of different types of special education programs, including:
- Reverse inclusion
- Self-contained special education programs