n2y: Can you give us a picture of how using the integrated n2y solutions has changed your day-to-day experience in the classroom?

AH: It has been completely life changing, classroom changing, for me and for my students. Unique Learning System is where I spend the bulk of my day. I use it for my ELA time, for my functional skills, for math, and obviously the content switches every month between social studies and science, so it is my all day, everyday space.

It’s really time-saving, for sure and if there’s not a specific item I’m looking for in the program, SymbolStix PRIME makes it really easy to customize. I’ve started writing my own stories using SymbolStix PRIME. Kudos to n2y for making everything look really nicely formatted.

Prior to n2y, everything was pretty juvenile for my kids. I didn’t have time to reinvent the wheel and make my own curriculum. So having age-appropriate, grade-aligned materials has been totally life changing… something that I had been wanting for my students with moderate to severe disabilities.

n2y: How is the classroom experience different for your students?

AH: I teach at the middle school level, and not having to use materials meant for a first grader—being able to give them age-appropriate materials—is a major transforming factor. With some materials I’ve used, my students will say, “this is for babies.” Many of my students ask why they’re in my classroom, and I say to them, “You learn differently from other students, you learn at a different pace, and I’m here to help you.” I don’t have to pull up a typical “See Spot Run” curriculum or those infamous clip-art cartoons. It’s great being able to have something universal, like the stick figures in SymbolStix PRIME, or the middle school grade band books—the students in those books are actual middle school kids. I also appreciate how multicultural they are in terms of race and representations of disability. They’re able to see students who look like them in more than one regard. One of the students in a recent cooking lesson looked like my students. Being able to see themselves pictured in a story has been really incredible.

n2y: What types of materials would you be using if you didn’t have these solutions?

AH: Honestly, I would be making my own materials, which is super time-consuming. Over time I’d be able to build up my collection of resources. I was doing that when I started teaching. Had I not been given access to Unique Learning System, I would have had to start over when I moved from the elementary to the middle school level. Or go mow people’s lawns to be able to buy ready-made age-appropriate materials for my students!

n2y: How are the differentiated lessons and standards alignment within your Unique Learning System lesson plans helping you?

AH: Prior to using your products I thought, “There has to be a curriculum out there for students with moderate to severe disabilities.” And then we found n2y and discovered that you took it one step further by making it grade equivalent… grade aligned with everyone’s state standards. And, as I’ve mentioned, being able to use materials that are grade equivalent is especially important for my students.

n2y: Do you have a routine for incorporating News‑2‑You and L3 Skills into your class?

AH: Because I’m in a middle school, I’m blessed to have the period system that breaks my day up into 45-minute blocks. I have one period completely dedicated to News‑2‑You, which is my social studies period. We’ll spend a day going over the vocabulary, and move into reading the article and relating it to students’ lives. We try to go through all the activities and if I need supplemental materials, I’ll dive into the activities from n2y. And I’ll find a video that pertains to the topic for the week. You give us video resources, which I use after the lesson as a recap.

I use L3 Skills to support whatever they’re working on individually, and specifically for their IEP goals. If we have just worked on comprehension, I’ll try to find activities and games that relate. I especially love it for math. And I love the fact that I’m able to assign games to specific students.

n2y: What are your favorite aspects of these supplemental programs? And what do your students like about them?

AH: The recipes in News‑2‑You are the number one thing that I love, and my students love the game page and recipes. Friday is cooking day. Every week we are able to cook something that I’m not just randomly planning. I love that I’m able to have everything standards aligned and thematic, even down to the nitty gritty of the recipes. And they love the joke page—they really laugh at the knock knock jokes!

My students also love L3 Skills. I think they enjoy the games because they don’t have cheesy graphics. They are carefully designed and visually appealing to my students. That’s the main thing I love about n2y solutions in general: everything is relevant!

n2y: Have the integrated assessment and reporting features improved your ability to demonstrate compliance?

AH: Yes. I use the Unique Learning System GPS a lot for keeping data, writing IEP goals. And something I’ve recently ventured into is trying to align the activities with goals that can be written for questions that are on our state test… tasks like finding conclusions, reading a story and making a picture that has to do with what they just read, and identifying the relationship between characters and setting and plot. Also being able to track data with the checkpoints for the monthly units.

n2y: Have you noticed an improvement in student outcomes in your classroom or changes in the district as a whole?

AH: This year I went back to look at students who had assessments done in 2015, and saw that they couldn’t do certain tasks then, and now they can. Even year-to-year, for me, seeing the progress… I get great joy seeing that line on the graph going up over the years, especially when it skyrockets from one year to another.

I know that a lot of materials are being made for our district’s more severely disabled students using SymbolStix PRIME. I really appreciate how mature looking and up to date the symbols are. Other middle school classes across the district are using Unique Learning System, too. Stories, comprehension, math and integration of other subjects have been transforming a lot of classes.

n2y: Do you have advice for other teachers or administrators just getting started with the n2y total solution? Tips on using it with fidelity?

AH: The curriculum had been something I’d been searching for, so I taught myself what works for me specifically, how you can use it and customize it. The best advice I give people is to take the lesson plans and follow them to a T. And once you’re comfortable, you can make it your own by customizing it. It’s a lot to learn, but using it over time, you will get good at it if you stay consistent with it, just like using consistency works with our students.

I would recommend taking advantage of the professional development, because as we all know, in special education one size does not fit all. Something that I do doesn’t necessarily work in another classroom, so having knowledge about how to use the curriculum is valuable.

With everything—Unique Learning System, News‑2‑You, SymbolStix PRIME and L3 Skills—it takes time. You’re not going to figure it out overnight or even in a few months. Just grab a piece of it and run with it. And once you feel comfortable then grab another piece. If you feel you don’t have time in your day, just chunk it down even smaller.

I tell people to start with News‑2‑You. Read the newspaper and talk about it and go through the activities within the paper—it’s all-inclusive. Once you’re comfortable with the scope and sequence of that, then move on to Unique and creating things with SymbolStix PRIME.

n2y: We always find that once people try News‑2‑You, they want more.

AH: That’s how I was 5 or 6 years ago when I heard about Unique Learning System. I said, “Finally, someone created a curriculum for our students who deserve it.” It hasn’t been done before and no one else is doing it to my knowledge. Thank you to whoever at n2y decided to put the time and effort into creating this incredible program!

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About the Author
Aaron Hemingway is a middle school special education teacher for students with moderate to severe developmental disabilities. He has been teaching for eight years. Aaron’s passion is utilizing educational technology to make the curriculum more accessible for all students. Aaron currently lives in Bakersfield, California, with his wife, Carissa, and two children, Eisley and River.