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Active Learning Center Year 1: Personalized Pathways in Special Education

Listen and learn

Listen and learn : Research paper
Lecture presentation

Monday, June 24, 11:30 am–12:30 pm
Location: 121AB

Presentation 2 of 3
Other presentations:
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John Hoover   Dr. Tara Mason  
Our Active Learning Center promotes personalized learning paths for special education students. Learn about a curriculum and instructional model focusing on literacy, growth mindset and strategic instruction across subjects using a Universal Design for Learning framework where students are empowered to learn. This lecture will present year one findings for our aggregate student data.

Audience: Curriculum/district specialists, Teachers, Principals/head teachers
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Smartphone: Windows, Android, iOS
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Participant accounts, software and other materials: The presentation will be via an interactive presentation platform, i.e. Nearpod or Pear Deck. Participants will be able to engage with information on any internet-connected device.
Focus: Digital age teaching & learning
Topic: Personalized learning
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: Special education
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Foster a culture where students take ownership of their learning goals and outcomes in both independent and group settings.
  • Provide alternative ways for students to demonstrate competency and reflect on their learning using technology.
  • Advocate for equitable access to educational technology, digital content and learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs of all students.
Disclosure: The submitter of this session has been supported by a company whose product is being included in the session

Proposal summary


As a special educator, my pedagogy can best be described as a multi-tiered personalized learning approach. I would define my approach to personalized learning as instruction in which the pace of learning and the instructional approach are optimized for the needs of each learner using UDL and technology-driven solutions to meet student needs. Personalized learning is non-linear and takes into account student choice and voice in their learning where they feel increased ownership and empowerment. Using this model, over the three years I have my middle school students they will learn how they learn best and develop the self-confidence they will need to persevere in high school. For my students, learning in a traditional classroom is highly challenging and therefore they have to be effortful and driven. It is my job to teach them (a) that they are capable of learning, and (b) how they best learn. Most importantly, my students also have to reframe their thinking from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

Steelcase & Angevine ALC Research Questions:

RQ1. What impact does the new Active Learning Center have on selected pedagogy, teaching approaches, and student learning outcomes?

RQ2. To what extent will an Active Learning Center classroom for special education students personalize their learning and positively impact their academic growth and mindset?

To answer each of these questions over the two year grant period, we will use a mixed methods research design through which both quantitative and qualitative evidence will be gathered, analyzed, and summarized.


Quantitative Data
Longitudinal data will be collected from the cohort of 24 student participants on my caseload through the two year grant period. This group will be referred to as the ALC 1.0 Cohort. The cohort includes students who are being served in our special education program and experiencing the ALC. The quantitative data will include reading achievement and mindset scores as well as relevant descriptive features using the following four tools:

1. Steelcase Learning Environmental Evaluation Measurement Tool

2. PERTS Mindset Survey, Project for Educational Research that Scales (PERTS). It is a short, valid, reliable diagnostic (Dweck, 2012; Blackwell,, 2007). Student Mindset and Learning Interviews (Dweck, 2015 & Mindset Works)

3. iReady, i-Ready Growth Monitoring is a computer-delivered, adaptive assessment in reading/English language arts (ELA) for students in grades 1 through 8. The test is adaptive and will accommodate a wide range of student ability levels being sensitive to student growth across progress monitoring. This test is administered twice a year with two additional progress monitoring benchmarks.

4. Aimsweb Curriculum-based Measures, given bimonthly, the maze is a multiple-choice cloze task that students complete while reading silently. The first sentence of a 150-400 word passage is left intact. Thereafter, every 7th word is replaced with three words inside the parenthesis.

Qualitative Data
In addition to the quantitative data, we need to tell the story of our ALC 1.0 Cohort. The quantitative data is one piece of the story while the student and teacher voices are the other. Using semi-structured interviews and observations student and teacher input, feedback, and perspectives will be gathered and analyzed.


I believe an active learning center (ALC) represents a most promising structure to break the cycle of underachievement in my special education classroom, where my current students maintain a fixed mindset (i.e., struggles and lack of immediate success are viewed as failure). By creating personalized learning paths for each student with learning and social/emotional disabilities there will be positive impacts on academic and emotional growth. The expected long-term ALC impact is to serve as a model classroom in our school district and the state of Colorado for active learning in special education programs. Apart from digging into Steelcase’s research question, we will be focusing our 2-year research project on (a) growth mindset (i.e., students view themselves as capable of growth, change, and success), and (b) achievement in reading using the evidence-based instructional method of peer-assisted instruction resulting in greater than two years growth in reading for my ALC students.


Apart from the positive impacts for my cohort of special education students who will grow from fixed to growth mindset and increase their literacy knowledge and skills, the results of this study will impact special education programs. This two-year research study hopes to positively impact special education program implementation by promoting evidence-based practices that help schools make choices around innovative classroom furniture and curriculum and instruction championing personalized learning paths and a growth mindset.


Claro, S., Paunesku, D., & Dweck, C. S. (2016). Growth Mindset Tempers the Effects of Poverty on Academic Achievement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201608207.

Harris, K. R., Graham, S., Moran, S., & Saddler, B. (2017). Preventing Writing Difficulties: The Effects of Planning Strategy Instruction on the Writing Performance of Struggling Writers. In Students Who Are Exceptional and Writing Disabilities (pp. 3-17). Routledge.

Hoover, J. J., & Patton, J. R. (2017). IEPs for ELs: And other diverse learners. Corwin Press.

Kauffman, J. M., Hallahan, D. P., & Pullen, P. C. (2017). Handbook of special education. Routledge.

Paunesku, D., Walton, G.M., Romero, C.L., Smith, E.N., Yeager, D.S., & Dweck, C.S. (2015). Mindset Interventions are a Scalable Treatment for Academic Underachievement. Psychological Science.

Yeager, D. S., Walton, G. M., Brady, S. T., Akcinar, E. N., Paunesku, D., Keane, L., Kamentz, D., Ritter, G., Duckworth, A. L., Urstein, R., Gomez E., Markus, H. R. Cohen, G. L., & Dweck, C. S. (2016). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

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Dr. Tara Mason, Western Colorado University

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