Recently, educators have felt the pressure to close academic gaps. They’ve also felt a need to provide Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) due to the extreme social disconnect students have experienced, especially those with an intellectual disability (ID). Even before mandated social distancing, the average loneliness for individuals with ID was 44.74% (source).
So, the questions for Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® became: How can we support educators AND students both academically AND social-emotionally? How can we help youth strengthen connections with others?
The answer was Unified Classroom. This virtual classroom created by Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools is generously funded by the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education. It is a unique classroom filled with free, adaptable, and engaging resources to support K-12 educators while addressing SEL skills today’s youth need.
Unified Classroom’s Four Components
Unified Classroom consists of theme-based packages with four components:
- Adaptable grade-level lessons created with age-appropriate development in mind. They are packed with current topics and highlight real people. Diverse texts and videos help teach the content and deliver the core message. Lessons align with Common Core State Standards and CASEL’s 5 SEL Competencies.
- Unified Talks tutorials are how-to videos hosted by youth from around the country. Diverse hosts answer questions like: How can we work as a team? and How can I help create a sense of belonging for others? They share stories and provide examples on how to become more inclusive.
- Digital engagement opportunities are prompts and templates that encourage youth to apply what they’ve learned and to continue the conversations on their own social platforms.
- Inside Inclusion videos and discussion guides are youth-led ,theme-related discussions. The videos provide a healthy example of how to communicate with a diverse group of people. Each video is paired with a discussion guide.
A Classroom for Everyone
Unified Classroom is ideal for K-12 youth with and without ID. Educators and youth don’t need to be familiar with Unified Champion Schools programming in order to use Unified Classroom.
Unified Classroom and Your Class
Package components can be used together, or individually. Lessons are flexible to meet any classroom setting or instructional group size. They can be adapted to meet specific needs of students. This adaptability will ensure students can access the lesson to apply the academic skills while also comprehending the core message.
Suggestions on how to utilize Unified Classroom in your class or advisory program are below.
- Draw students into the lesson by watching a Unified Talks Complete a digital activation as a class activity before assigning a lesson.
- Watch the Inside Inclusion episode after students gain knowledge of the theme. Use the discussion guide to have your own class discussion.
- Review package Objectives and Standards guides to identify a lesson that will focus on a specific standard. Push out these lessons to early finishers. Use as extra practice or as extensions to classroom work. Use as warm-ups at the beginning of a class.
Unified Classroom and Your Club or Team
There are themes with resources that can strengthen your club members’ relationships while helping them become inclusive youth leaders. There are themes that can provide the SEL skills your team needs to be successful on and off the field. Club leaders and coaches can easily remove any academic-based questions.
Suggestions on how to incorporate Unified Classroom with your club or team are below:
- Set up clear expectations and values. Work as a group to complete lessons. Learn about the power of goal-setting, member roles, strengths and weaknesses, and more.
- Practice reflecting to assess the group’s impact or performance. Watch the Unified Talks episode where the host models how to reflect.
- Complete one of the activities as a group or turn the activity into a whole school engagement piece. Challenge others in the school to create their own final product.
- Utilize a social media template as an announcement or recruitment tool.
- Ensure your group is inclusive. Help current members gain a better understanding of peers with ID by engaging in the Understanding Disabilities package.
Unified Classroom and Your Caseload
Unified Classroom can support the caseloads of Special Education teachers and support staff. Resources can help reach SEL Individualized Education Plan (IEP) benchmarks by explicitly teaching these skills and providing an opportunity for practice.
Suggestions on how to utilize Unified Classroom to help reach IEP goals are below:
- Watch Unified Talks to explicitly teach an SEL skill. Complete a lesson in a small group.
- Watch an Inside Inclusion episode as a model of how to use accountable talk and active listening skills. Mimic the discussion by following the discussion guide.
- Refer to a lesson to help with reflecting on emotions, behaviors, and more. Students can use their own experiences to make it more meaningful.
“I feel like Special Olympics was there”
One middle school special education teacher said “As a middle school teacher, I LOVE Lesson 4!! I see so many possibilities for this lesson!”
She also expressed that the lessons “are age appropriate and engaging” for students.
Another educator shared her praise for the classroom. She said, “I feel like Special Olympics was there…with the click of a button I was able to go to the [Classroom] and there was such a variety.”
Youth shared their love for Unified Talks videos. “I love them” they said, “I think they…do an awesome job capturing the messages we are trying to share!”
Visit Unified Classroom
Doubling down on academics will not be enough to fill current academic gaps. Students also need to feel connected to make academic gains (source). Unified Classroom can help educators plan and create a welcoming class environment. It can teach SEL skills while addressing academics. Most importantly, it will help students develop an inclusive mindset by interacting with diverse classmates.
Check out Unified Classroom by visiting www.generationunified.org. Subscribe to the Generation Unified YouTube Channel, here, to locate all of the video episodes. The Middle Level Resource Library includes every middle school lesson.
About the Author:
Kaleigh Vogan works as an education advisor for Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools®. She is the content creator and manager for Unified Classroom. Previously, she worked for 8 years as a middle school teacher in North Carolina and Florida. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org