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Unique Learning System–A Useful Tool for Classrooms

The Unique Learning System is a great standards-based special education curriculum. It is designed for students taking alternate assessments. It provides age-appropriate skills for preschool through high school. Find out why I like it and what I think it offers teachers.
I have wanted to write this post for quite a while about the Unique Learning System. For most of my career working with schools, I have asked the question of training audiences regarding what curriculum they use in their special education classrooms.  Prior to NCLB particularly, I often got back the response that most educators viewed the IEP as the curriculum for their classrooms.  Given that IEPs are designed to enable students to access the curriculum this really means that either every element of a curriculum would have to be written into the IEP (making the documents even longer than they are), or these classrooms were teaching individual goals without the context of a curriculum and standards that needed to be met.

The Need for Standards-Based Special Education Curriculum

The Unique Learning System is a great standards-based special education curriculum. It is designed for students taking alternate assessments. It provides age-appropriate skills for preschool through high school. Find out why I like it and what I think it offers teachers.With the advent of NCLB and accountability, most teachers now indicate that the state standards are their curriculum and the states’ alternate assessments are based on the standards.  However, for students with severe disabilities, the distance between their abilities and needs and the standards is significant.  In addition to trying to link the standards to activities that are within the learning capabilities of students with severe disabilities, finding activities that are age-appropriate but developmentally appropriate, and are meaningful to long-term outcomes for these students is a significant challenge for teachers.  Because of these challenges and because teachers usually have a significant amount of work in creating activities that meet the needs of their students, I have always been on the lookout for good scope-and-sequence tools (i.e., curriculum-based assessments) and tools to help teachers develop appropriate curriculum-based activities to avoid having to make them.  I am happy to say that the Unique Learning System can help to meet both of those needs.

Many of you may be familiar with News2You, which is a symbol newspaper that has been a great classroom tool for individuals with severe disabilities, including autism, focusing on current events.  A few years ago, the N2Y company developed a thematic curriculum called the Unique Learning System.  The curriculum is based on the core standards or state standards.  There are also links for the state standards for those states that have not yet adopted the core standards in all areas.  I have been using the Unique for a few months and have loved it.

Social Studies and Science Themes

The Unique uses themes based in social studies and science and embeds reading and math skills into the content.  There are leveled books with comprehension questions, a word wall, spelling words, counting, surveys, patterning activities, science activities, art projects, games, and cooking activities all focused on the monthly theme.  There are 9 themes (September, October, November, January, February, March, April and May) with holiday activities in December and a summer unit for the summer.  The picture supports for activities are already made and available in a pdf file for download and printing.  There are worksheets as well as manipulatives that are related to the themes (e.g., vegetable pictures for counting in the unit on plants we eat).  The cost of the subscription for a year is very cheap ($399/year per class at the time of this post) but you do have to add printing and laminate to the cost and it will still take time to create the materials.  However, once made the materials can be used again in the future.

Update: Since this was written, ULS has added a number of interactive materials that can be used on whiteboards, with projectors, computers or tablets.  This reduces your need for as much printing.

Leveled Content for All Learners on Alternate Standards

The content is designed for students taking the alternate assessment and who are identified as Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 learners.  Level 1 learners are typically students who would use a switch or other type of technology to participate in the goal–similar to the “participatory” level in the Florida alternate assessment.  Level 2 students typically point to pictures from choices to respond to questions, similar to the “supported” level in Florida.  And Level 3 students, similar to “independent” students in Florida, are able to read and identify the correct answers.  The curriculum has assessments that allow you to assess your students to determine which level is the best fit for each student.

In future posts I will focus on the assessment elements of the Unique, how it aligns with alternative assessments, how to organize the materials, and samples of what you can create and how to use it in lesson plans.  In the summer, you have the opportunity to review and try out the summer unit of the curriculum, including the newly added preschool band for free! You can review the webinars that they offer to get more information, including information about how to get started if you have purchased it.

Update:  Since this post was written I’ve written several other posts about the Unique Learning System.  

Until next time,

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