Researchers study secrets of innovative classrooms

Walk into any classroom at Henderson Inclusion Elementary School and you see two teachers, not one. You see students teaching each other. The school blends backgrounds, cultures, languages, and learning abilities. Its motto: We’re better together.

Henderson School, in Dorchester, Mass., has also drawn researchers from KU’s SWIFT Center. It is one of six nationally recognized knowledge development sites.

SWIFTSchoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation — was established at the University of Kansas in 2012, with a five-year, $24.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. SWIFT researchers study innovative inclusion methods at successful institutions such as Henderson, then share their findings with other schools that are seeking to break down barriers in education.

About a third of the students at Henderson have learning disabilities or physical challenges. Those who have disabilities learn in the same classrooms as those who do not.

“Studies indicate that all students perform at a higher rate when they’re learning in an integrated classroom,” says Wayne Sailor, director of the SWIFT Center. “The data show high achievement for these kinds of programs, so we’re going to continue to provide teachers and administrators with support for transforming education.”

Sailor says each development site uses different methods. “Each one has part of the picture, something we can learn from,” he says. “Now everyone should be able to see what works.”

Henderson principal Patricia Lampron credits innovations like peer instruction and team teaching — including general and special education teachers in the same classroom.

Like many schools, Henderson is finding new applications for technology. Teachers tailor lessons to individual learning styles. Students may do math problems on iPads or record their responses to books by making short video responses.

“We don’t have it all figured out,” Lampron says of her program, which started with the kindergarten level in 1989. “But we’re always trying to do better for students, to make sure they have access to the curriculum, no matter what.” 

  • The $24.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education was the largest award in KU’s history.
  • The five-year grant was awarded in 2012.
  • The center is directed by Wayne Sailor, professor of special education and associate director of the Beach Center on Disability, an affiliate of the Life Span Institute.
  • SWIFT has six nationally recognized knowledge development sites and supports 67 schools in five states.
One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
5th nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets: Colleges," Military Times
KU Today