Meta-Reflection: Standard L: KNOWLEDGE OF LEARNERS AND THEIR DEVELOPMENT IN SOCIAL CONTEXTS (L1-L4)
L1: Learner centered – a variety of culturally responsive, developmentally, and age appropriate strategies.
Age appropriateness is really a difficult issue in special education because we aim our goals at the student’s individual levels, and the goal for our students is not always to reach the academic levels of their peers. Sometimes the goal for students are more generalizable for their future success in society, and focus on helping them become more independent, such as being able to count and use money or reading and being able to use transit schedules. Other times we just need to find the right strategy for the student to learn, so our lessons and assessments are constantly adjusting to meet the needs of the student.
It is pertinent to address the cultural and developmental differences in students with disabilities. Not only do we implement strategies that focus on cultural and developmental factors, but we embed the ideas into the overall theme of our classroom and instruction. Each month we focus on a different area of the world that our students or their family are from, and we do try to focus lessons on that region. This is especially significant in the reading and writing subjects where we try to implement social studies and other skills. We also invite the parents to come into the classroom to share food, attire and stories about their culture. This has been a learning experience for me as well as the students. During this month I focused my handwriting lessons on animals from India/Bangladesh, which is where my “Tiger Lesson” in S1 is from.
Here are two examples lesson plans aimed at different levels in my classroom. The first is for a one-on-one fine reading lesson and the second is aimed at using the 5 W’s to conceptualize for writing:
Henna hands: One of our students is from Bangladesh and another’s parents are from India, so for as one of our India/Bangladesh projects we worked on a fine motor skills craft (overseen by our OTP). This not only gave concrete evidence of a social studies lesson on the area, but created an interesting artifact that will hopefully provide knowledge and awareness to their families.
L2: Classroom/school centered – learning, knowledge, and skills connected to classroom and school communities.
One of the most important strategies for students with disabilities is one that teaches generalizable skills that will help link them to their communities in the future. Another factor for special education is how we integrate our students with their typically developing peers. I feel it’s imperative that we try to create a school environment that does not exclude or stigmatize students with disabilities. Most of our students are involved in inclusive practices, whether it is in P.E., recess, or specific academic subjects. One student who is not integrated with other classrooms is non-verbal student with profound disabilities who many of the general education students seem apprehensive of since his loud and exaggerated actions are often misconstrued as aggressive, so I have started walking with him and introducing him to as many groups of students as I can to help them realize that much of the issue is a lack of communication. It seems that it is helping with their view of him, and it is giving him some exposure to his typically developing peers.
I feel this is connected to our North Hill “school rules,” which are:
1) Be Safe
2) Be Respectful
3) Be Responsible
4) Be Ready to Work
Most schools now have a version of these rules, but we put extra emphasis on them in our classroom. We discuss them every morning during our calendar/circle time in which we work on everyday math and the daily schedule. Our classroom also has separate “classroom rules,” which are:
1) Listen when others are talking
2) Keep a smile on our face, and have fun
3) Do our best work
These classroom rules are aimed at the challenges some of our students face in the school environment, and we reference both sets of rules throughout the day when a student needs some positive reinforcement.
I can teach: This is reflective paper based on my experiences with schools, and how we try to prepare our students for the future.
Principal observation feedback: This is the report given to me by my school principal. It occurred before my student teaching, and is a mandatory observation for all teachers and Para-educators.
L3: Family/neighborhood centered – informed by collaboration with families and neighborhoods.
Being in such a diverse classroom has really been a blessing for me, and it’s really given me an opportunity to learn from my students and their families. We make an effort to not only meet them, but to bring as many of them into the classroom to help educate all the students about their families and traditions. The other students are sincerely excited to meet and learn about their classmate’s culture and family.
Recently our school has taken up “Rachel’s challenge,” which is an attempt to show kindness and compassion toward other students and people. Rachel Scott was the first victim at the Columbine tragedy. We had an assembly which explained her family’s ambition, and it has been a revelatory experience to see how her story has affected our students. I recently wrote a letter to the Rachel’s Challenge Foundation to see if they would be in our area in the near future, and stop by our school (I haven’t heard back yet). It was amazing to see the short term transformation in our students’ attitude, and I am hoping to continue to push for a lasting change.
“One Grain of Rice” lesson plan: This lesson uses reading, math and social studies to not only help the students become well rounded, but also to make the lesson more interesting and memorable.
Echo Glenn: This is my reflection after visiting our state detention center that houses a school, and how it relates to special education. It was an amazing learning experience to see how this part of our education community lives on a day to day basis.
The Role of the Family in Education of Children with Special Needs
There may be a lot of team members when it comes to special education, such as SLP’s, OTP’s, school psychologist, general education teachers, special education teachers, school nurses, resource room teachers, etc., but none are more important that the student’s family. Not only have they spent more time with the student than anyone else, but they see them in a variety of environments. This knowledge is extremely important in the making of a productive IEP. I work in an intermediate special education classroom, so the parents are usually familiar with the school and have had IEP’s for several years. This gives us a little background on the students and their home life, and if there have been difficulties then it provides prospective for creating a good working environment. When there are new students to the school, or ones that have not had an IEP, then we try to meet with the family before we actually conduct an IEP meeting. This way we can be the family’s advocate at the IEP planning sessions and express their thoughts. In our “EDSP 6642” Individual Education Programs class, Dr. Thomas recommended providing the family with a copy of the IEP before the meeting so they could familiarize themselves with the plan. This is can be difficult in our classroom because of the diversity and percentage of ELL parents, but for those same reasons it is imperative that we find translations or a way to communicate our ideas to them beforehand.
There are a number of ways to include families into the daily operation of a classroom. In our class we have a communication folder that goes home with each student’s backpack every day, and comes back in the morning from the family. We fill out a daily form that addresses how their day went, which could include items such as what they worked on to basic health statements for students that have profound disabilities or are medically fragile. The mother of our student with the most severe disabilities fills out a form every morning informing us if he has eaten breakfast, had a bowel movement, and whether is “happy” or “agitated.” This also allows a chance for her to voice minor concerns or just a “heads up” on temperament. Most major concerns from the family are addressed with an open door type policy where they usually call or email with questions. We respond to these concerns as quickly as possible to alleviate any unneeded worry.
In general we encourage parents to participate in the classroom as much as they are comfortable with. We have what we call “The ILC around the world” where each month we focus on a different area of the world that our students or their family are from, and we do try to focus lessons on that region. This is especially significant in the reading and writing subjects where we try to implement social studies and other skills. We also invite the parents to come into the classroom to share food, attire and stories about their culture. It is pertinent to address the cultural and developmental differences in students with disabilities. Not only do we implement strategies that focus on cultural and developmental factors, but we embed the ideas into the overall theme of our classroom and instruction. I have found that a lot of our parents seem hesitant to be involved with the school as opposed to parents of typically developing children, but when given an opportunity to talk about their culture they seem to feel more at ease. This may revolve around the idea that we are proud of our students’ differences whether it is developmentally or culturally, and I have learned so much about the areas that they come from. This approach also makes it easier for the families to approach us with questions and concerns about their children, and makes the IEP meeting environment much more relaxed and open for communication.
L4: Contextual community centered – responsible citizenship for an environmentally sustainable, globally interconnected, and diverse society.
Our classroom is involved with the Ecology Club, which educates classrooms and facilities about recycling. The Ecology Club is also responsible for creating a plant habitat in a previously unused outdoor foyer that focuses on local plant life. There is also a salmon tank in our lobby in which salmon eggs are raised to hatchings that are eventually released into the wild, which is for a good cause, but also provides a concrete learning example of Northwest wildlife.
In our Integrated Learning Center (ILC) classroom there are 9 students, and 8 of those students have at least one parent from another part of the world who speaks English a second language. T take advantage of our diversity we created a multidisciplinary approach to learning about other cultures, and on a monthly basis focus on a different area of the world that pertains to a student’s family. Several times the families have visited the classroom bringing authentic food dishes, traditional clothing and music, and have even given lessons based on family histories and customs. This has been not only a learning experience for our students, but for the teachers as well. Coming from a multicultural family I embrace learning about different parts of the world, so to meet such a diverse group of people over such a short period of time has been a tremendous experience. Being a parent is busy, but to be a parent of a child with disabilities is even more so, so their willingness to take time to cook, travel to our school, and show us their traditions is remarkable.
Around the World with the ILC: This is our “culture wall” that shows where our students and teachers are from, and some of their creations. We focus on a different area of the world that each month, and it has created some of the most memorable experiences for me.