How I Did It: Customizing Projects for Students in My Special Education Classroom

As we entered into our first year of Summit Learning, our classroom at Anacostia High School in Washington D.C. faced the unique challenge of being Summit’s Learning’s first fully self-contained special education program. Customizing projects was a large focus for us.

Our students face challenges within their personal lives and also have mild to severe emotional and cognitive needs.

To have a successful year, we would have to make Summit Learning accessible with their unique needs, as well as work around prevalent truancy issues.

Customizing Projects: The Basics of Accessibility

As both a Summit Learning coach and teacher, I knew this was not going to be an easy task. We anticipated the need to modify a few key parts of our instruction. This included:

  • Checkpoints, or the instructional steps in a student’s assigned project that lead toward the graded finish product.
  • Playlists, which are diverse ways to explain material appropriate for different learning styles, such as videos, Microsoft mixes, graphic organizers, and 1:1 video workshops and video feedback via Loom.
  • Differentiated Learning, or student choice to work on modified tasks and final products, and instructional level resources.

We did not, however, anticipate the amount we would have to do in customizing projects to reach every student in our classroom which range from 10th grade to 12th grade. This school year has made many of our veteran team members feel like first-year teachers.  

The good news is, as I look back on this year, I can say that the Summit Learning Platform provided a base to work from and the flexibility to do so with minimal road blocks within the system.

So how did we make our projects accessible to all students?

Customizing Projects: The Technology

First, we identified and shared several Playlists. There were many supports we put into action but some stood out because of their effectiveness.

  • Quizlet was used for vocabulary development and pre-Focus Area assessment study activities.
  • Brainpop was used to provide students with content information and to support Cognitive Skills tasks.
  • Microsoft Mix allowed me to provide students with guided content learning that they could complete at their own pace, anytime and anywhere.
  • Loom was used to individualize feedback for the project checkpoints. For students to master Cognitive Skills, we found that feedback through workshops were essential. So we developed a virtual form of feedback on this video program. First, we created videos that we embedded within the Summit Learning Platform, either in the comment section or in the resource section of the project checkpoints. Loom allowed the students to receive video, audio, and guided feedback outside of classroom hours.

These tools dramatically reduced the amount of in-class time I spent doing direct instruction and these programs supported our students who had major truancy issues or who needed additional support.

Assessing Data and Improving Together

We met regularly with our content colleagues to review our rubrics and graded student work samples together, so that we would all have a better understanding of the rubric. Also, we met monthly to identify what was working and what was not working with our students. We used data from the platform to target the Cognitive Skills that the majority of students were struggling with.

We then adjusted the instructional level content we provided to the checkpoints of the project as we received student student feedback and data.

We allowed student input into the final products and what type of final product they would produce, which helped them to feel more invested in the process. Then we allowed students to show their mastery of skills in various ways, such as a verbal, written or by performing a final product.

If a student failed a Cognitive Skill, then they could go back and complete a checkpoint that would measure their Mastery of that skill (as opposed to having them complete another final product or project). Finally, we were intentional about adding Cognitive Skills to multiple projects to measure student growth.

Giving Students a Voice

Offering students a choice (within limits) was a key component of making our projects accessible and engaging. Students were allowed to choose the topic of the projects within the parameters set by the teacher.

For example, when completing a project on social movements, past and present, the students were allowed to pick a movement, but only one that we had not studied.

Takeaways After a Year of Summit Learning

When our school year began, one of my students struggled to complete and pass his assessments and Cognitive Skills. When we began working together, he was reluctant to do work without assistance or to use the Summit Learning Platform tools provided to him.

After making the adjustments to his curriculum and being consistent with him, this student was passing all Cognitive Skills and was ahead in his Focus Area assessments by January. He was able to do most of his work with minimal teacher support, and he even stepped up to show other students how to use and navigate the Summit Learning Platform.

At the same time, a few of my fellow teachers who questioned the impact of using Summit Learning and customizing projects for students have now told me that their students are producing some of the best work they have ever seen in our building. They have seen students grow several grade levels based on the Cognitive Skills Rubric. We continue to grow in this process but the results speak for themselves.

All of this to say, after the tall task of customizing projects within our curriculum to move our new model forward, we have seen unexpected growth in student independence, student and teacher capacity, social skills, confidence, standardized testing scores, and Habits of Success.

Giving students a voice and a choice in their work can make high school more meaningful. To learn more about how Princeville High School boosted student voice and choice, listen to teacher Anne Krolicki and student Emily Green share their experiences on the Summit Sparks podcast


About the author

Jereamy Rose
Jereamy Rose is a Self Contained Social Studies teacher and Summit instructional coach at Anacostia Senior High School in Washington D.C. He works with special education students who require full-time special education classrooms because of their disabilities. He has been working in the field of mental health and education for over 16 years. Jereamy received his Bachelor of History/Psychology degree and Specialist in Educational Administration degree from Siena Heights University, as well as a Master’s Degree from Lynn University. Throughout his career it has been his goal to empower students, families, and educators so they have to capacity to meet their personal, professional, and educational goals.