Unique Learning System is a comprehensive curriculum designed for special education students. I have been using ULS for seven years, during which I have had the chance to utilize every grade band provided other than pre-school. The ULS curriculum consists of monthly themes which usually alternate between a science or social studies topic. The monthly theme is included throughout the ELA, Math, Science, Social Studies, and life skills lessons. Each month’s unit consists of 30 lessons spanning different skill areas in ELA and math, and also includes a science experiment and history timeline associated with the monthly theme.
Also included in this curriculum are lessons for core skills such as calendar, morning meeting, life skills, social skills, and leisure. Additionally there are many extra materials to assist in classroom setup, communication, and play skills.
Unique Learning System also includes added features, such as News 2 You, Symbolstix, L3 Skills, and Positivity. In this post I will only be referring to the basic ULS component and its monthly lessons.
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What are the different Levels with Unique Learning System and what do they mean?
Once you add students into your ULS classroom, you will complete an academic profile for each of them. The profile takes you through a series of questions about their skills in different areas and assigns the student a score, which then corresponds to a ULS Level. These levels help you determine the type of materials and the amount of support the student will need.
Level 3 Learners
Level 3 learners usually require the least amount of support. They are fairly independent in demonstrating comprehension of the curriculum’s content. Students who are Level 3 learners are typically learning to read or already have some decoding skills, are able to write simple sentences, and are solving basic math problems.
Level 2 Learners
Level 2 learners typically need more visual supports within activities. The materials used with Level 2 learners include visuals paired with text. These students may need some prompting from staff in order to complete tasks within the modified learning content.
Level 1 Learners
Level 1 learners need maximum support to complete activities. The main focus for Level 1 students is for them to participate in an active way in the lessons and activities. For many of my Level 1 learners, purposeful choice-making is the main goal we are working on. For some students, you may still be working on what their mode of response will be (i.e. eye gaze, pointing, etc.).
What do the ELA lessons in Unique Learning System consist of?
In the Unique Learning System curriculum, several instructional strategies are included in the area of reading instruction, all from evidence-based practices. The lessons include instruction in phonics, comprehension, reading fluency, vocabulary, and phonemic awareness. All lessons include materials and lesson plans for each student level, as well as ways to extend the lesson further. I am currently using the elementary grade band with my students, and we work on specific sets of letters and sight words each month, as well as word families and content vocabulary.
What is the best way to implement Unique Learning System’s ELA lessons?
How you decide to implement the ELA lessons from the Unique Learning System depends on the current make-up of your students. I have taught these lessons a few different ways in different teaching environments. I have found small groups to work best. In my class, we split students in to 2 groups of 3-4, with an adult leading each group. I have a 3rd adult available to assist students when they need it. The students who need the most support are my Level 1 students and over time I have found several ways to help them participate in these lessons.
6 Ways to Make ELA Lessons Accessible to Level 1 Students
One of the great benefits of the Unique Learning System curriculum is that it provides leveled activities to assist in differentiating instruction. However, more preparation and creativity is sometimes needed to truly make these activities accessible for Level 1 students. Level 1 students are typically working on active participation, meaning our goal with these students is for them to have ways to participate in all lessons and activities by providing responses. Often we are working on making purposeful choices with these students, and determining ways for them to communicate (i.e. eye gaze, pointing, etc.). Here are some ways I am able to encourage participation of my Level 1 students in my ULS ELA lessons.
1. Utilize a switch with USB connection for read-alouds
ULS provides Powerpoint slides of their leveled books that go along with their monthly units. I pull these up on a laptop or SmartBoard and attach a large switch to the computer. The switch I have has a USB attachment. The switch basically acts as the left click on a computer mouse. Within the Powerpoint of the story, when students press the switch, it turns the page and automatically reads the next page in the book. This helps us work on turn taking, attending, responding, and following directions. The one I used is similar to the one pictured below and I was able to get mine from our assistive technology department.
2. BigMack Communicator for Repeated Story Lines.
I know I have mentioned the BigMack Communicator before, but it is so useful for so many different activities. It is especially nice because it does not take much pressure to push, so it is easier for my students with weak fine motor muscles to use. So of course I found a way to include it in our ELA lessons.
Often, ULS leveled books will contain a repeated story line that in found on each page, or most pages, of the book. When this happens, I place a visual on a Big Mac Switch, and during our read-aloud time, I pause at the repeated story line and say, “Read it with me.” The student then presses the switch to “read along” with me. This is a great way to include them in shared reading activities.
3. Story Reading with GoTalk 9+
One tool I use in my classroom for help towards independent reading is the GoTalk 9+. I use the Symbolstix software to create icons for each page of the story. The student then presses the icon that matches the picture on each page. When the student presses the icon, it plays the recording of me reading that page of the story. This activity can help work on fine motor (pressing the buttons on the device), page turning, and story progression. My Level 1 students require more prompting for this activity but it is still a great way to expose them to the monthly content, work on matching skills, and increase attention. My Level 2 and Level 3 students also use this as part of their independent reading time.
4. Use GoTalk 4+ or GoTalk 9+ for Vocabulary and/or Word Wall Words
Each monthly unit for ULS has 12 vocabulary words. For students who need larger pictures, I print vocabulary on 3 separate pages to use on the GoTalk 4+. If students are able to differentiate between smaller pictures I use 1 or 2 pages on the GoTalk 9+. This way students have a verbal response option when they point to pictures while participating in vocabulary and word study lessons.
I do the same process with the monthly Word Wall Words. I am able to show them the large copy of the word, and have them touch the matching word on the GoTalk, which says the word for them. This type of matching is a more difficult skill, so my students still need prompting from behind to participate. For some of my students, the goal is eye gazing at the word I am holding, and then making sure they also look at the word they are being prompted to touch. As always, as they become more independent, staff will slowly fade their prompts. We are always working towards independence.
As with the other devices, I was able to obtain these from our school’s speech therapist.
5. Use Objects to Provide Examples and Choices for Comprehension
Using objects to help with reading comprehension is a great way to make the text more real for students. Not only do objects allow Level 1 students a way to connect with the story, using objects benefits all students in the class by making the text fun and interactive. They can be used to identify parts of a story, given as choices for answers to comprehension questions, and can be used to teach vocabulary. Many of these items can be obtained inexpensively from the Dollar Tree or children’s consignment shops.
6. Use Do-a-Dots to Assist with Worksheet Activities
Paper and pencil worksheets are a challenge for many of my Level 1 students. Many of them have limited fine motor skills that make working with a pencil difficult. One way my staff and I help these students is by using Do-a-Dot markers for multiple choice questions. The dotters are easier to hold than a thin pencil. Also, you can put a tennis ball on the end to make it even easier to hold. This works throughout the day for different choice making activities, as well as for help with art activities.
When in doubt, check the ULS Lesson Plan
Every lesson in the monthly unit of ULS comes with a thorough lesson plan. Each lesson plan includes instructional targets and tasks for each ULS level, as shown in the picture above. I always check these before beginning or planning for a lesson to help me determine what the goal for my Level 1 students will be within the activity. Once I know the goal, I can then determine what materials they will need as support.
In addition to leveled instructional targets, the Teacher Reference Materials section of ULS contains instructional guides to assist with how to teach the lessons. This is a great starting point, especially if you are new to the curriculum. The Active Participation Guidelines and Active Participation Scripts will specifically help you with your Level 1 students. They include guides on presenting materials, adaptive materials, and instructional strategies.
One Last Thing About Teaching ULS Lessons to Level 1 Students
When making additional materials, such as larger pictures, more copies of vocabulary for matching, or icons for your devices, Symbolstix is a great resource within the ULS software if you have access to this portion. It has all the icons used within your monthly unit, plus you can upload your own pictures if you wish to use photos. When you pull up Symbolstix, you can use ready-made templates to make materials, design your own, or (and this is my favorite) you can use ready-made templates for specific devices! This is what I use to make my inserts for my GoTalk 4+ and GoTalk 9+, as well as my large circles for my BigMack Communicators. This is useful not just for lesson materials, but for communication materials throughout your entire classroom.
I hope you have found these tips for supported Level 1 students in their ELA lessons helpful! Share this post with your fellow special education teachers if you think they would benefit as well. If you have discovered ways to make these lessons more accessible, please comment below so we can learn from one another. I look forward to hearing your ideas!