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Standard 8 Meta Reflection: Exceptionality August 23, 2013

Students with unique needs can display a wide variety of behaviors in a learning situation and educators must become familiar with the specific difficulties and challenges associated with their particular situation. Often times, it is the general education teacher who first brings the needs of exceptional students to the attention of a referral team. Identifying and serving students with such needs will require special considerations and purposeful modifications on the part of the educator. Teachers also must familiarize themselves with the legal requirements associated with serving students who are exceptional.

There are several categories of disabilities, each with their own challenges as well as overlapping characteristics. Each category also requires a different set of general modifications, accommodations and instructional strategies.

Students with learning disabilities are usually of average or higher intelligence but are challenged when it comes to information processing. They don’t typically have physical, health or emotional disturbances. Such students might exhibit reading difficulties, high activity levels, short attention spans, poor organizational skills and often fail to recognize subtle communication cues such as body language and facial expressions (Lewis & Doorlag, 2011, pp. 52-54). Students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can display “inappropriate attention skills, impulsivity, and, in some cases, hyperactivity.” (p.58) Classroom modifications for this category primarily are related to instructional strategies that involve remediation and compensation.(p. 193)

Students with intellectual disabilities exhibit a slower rate of learning and often have developmental delays in several areas such as language, social and vocational skills. Such students may experience learning difficulties with specific types of learning. For example, reading comprehension will be more challenging than reading recognition or math problem solving will be more difficult than math computation. Instruction is geared primarily towards habilitation in an effort to prepare students for the skills necessary for successful adulthood. (Lewis & Doorlag, 2011 p. 210)

Behavioral disorders can affect classroom behaviors, social skills, and academic instruction. It is characterized according to three indicators: “1. If it deviates from the range of behaviors for the child’s age and sex which significant adults perceive as normal: 2. If it occurs very frequently or too intensely; or 3. If it occurs over an extended period of time.” (Lewis & Doorlag, 2011, p. 232) Program modifications often are necessary in the areas of classroom behavior, social skills, and academic instruction. This can involve detailed data collection followed by a customized intervention program that seeks to either increase or decrease a behavior or teach a new behavior.

     Communication disorders affect student interactions and are some of the most common disorders. Some common difficulties are mispronunciations, dysfluency, and unusual voice quality which interferes with communication.(p. 250)  The main accommodations teachers need to focus on here speech and language impairments are opportunities to practice what the speech-language pathologist has implemented.

Autism Spectrum Disorder can exhibit a range of characteristics from severe delays to giftedness and can affect verbal communication, non-verbal communication, and social interaction. In most instances, teachers work with the special educator to decide on modifications in the classroom. Motivational systems can be helpful to modify certain behaviors. Additionally, the classroom may need to be physically arranged in order to support the student’s social interactions, maximize participation and decrease problem behaviors. (Lewis & Doorlag, 2011, p. 264) For example, a student who calms him/herself with pacing can be positioned near an area with clear space along a wall.

In her book, Ellen Notbohm writes from the perspective of a child with autism. One quote reads, “Because I think differently, my autism requires that you teach differently.” (2006, p. xxv) While this is true for many students with disabilities, I believe it is especially true for students with autism. Notbohm suggests the  instruction that is visual/spatial, repetitive, and presented in whole chunks is most effective for students with autism (p. 29-30).

Students with physical and health impairments have a wide variety of conditions such as cerebral palsy, asthma, diabetes or allergies. Some of these conditions require no modifications while others might require extensive services. The Individual Educational Plan (IEP) for this student will address the goals pertaining to a student’s specific needs.  This may include modification of the physical environment, schedule format, and/or the structure of instructional activities and assignments.

Regular progress monitoring is an important component to consider when providing accommodations for students with special needs. Frequent data collection and recording will help inform educators of whether or not students are making progress towards goals, what are areas in need of improvement, and what goals need to be revised. Frequent progress monitoring also allows educators to provide timely feedback to the student, family, and care team.

Finally, it is imperative that a positive and collaborative relationship be fostered with the families of students with special needs. Seligman (2000) references numerous publications that support the notion that school environments that are rich with strong parent-educator partnerships are more likely to foster accelerated academic progress. Current literature also reflects that parents of children with special needs can provide information that is vital to the planning and implementation of their child’s educational program (McCloskey, 2010).  Numerous resources offer strategies and ideas that foster the building of bridges between school and home. Beth Perce (2013) offers several suggestions that educations can follow to enhance communication such as parent surveys, home visits, and weekly communication. Further, student guardians and caretakers are likely fearful for their children as they maneuver through the education system and simply need a compassionate and informed advocate who can offer support and reliable information. I am providing links below to two papers that address this very issue:

Collaboration with Parents of Exceptional Children: The Role of the Educator

Parental Positioning in Special Education

These artifacts illustrate the legal and ethical side of collaborating with parents of children with special needs. They also provide a perspective from the parents’ side that can help promote an atmosphere of empathy and cooperation.

 

References:

Lewis, R. B. & Doorlag, D. H.(2011). Teaching students with special needs in general education classrooms. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

McCloskey, E. (2010). What Do I Know? Parental positioning in special education.

            International Journal of Special Education, v25 n1 p 162-170 .

Notbohm, E. (2006). Ten things your student with autism wishes you knew. Arlilngton, TX: Future Horizons, Inc.

Perce, B. (2013, May 21). Teaching Secrets: Learning From Parents. In Education Week. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2013/05/21/tln_perce_parents.html?qs=IEP

Seligman, M. (2000). Conducting effective conferences with parents of children with disabilities.

 New York, New York: The Guilford Press

 

Collaboration Through BLT and PLC March 13, 2012

HOPE principle E2, Exemplify Collaboration Within the School, focuses on how educators work collaboratively on a professional level within their school community. I am currently serving my second year on our Building Leadership Team, or BLT. This group consists of representatives from each grade level, one from the specialist team, and our principal. We systematically collect input from and relay information to our grade level teams in a “Professional Learning Community” manner in order to evaluate school systems and make decisions based on improving student learning.

Our BLT, along with other leadership groups within the district, attended the DuFour conference on Professional Learning Communities (PLC)  in Seattle this past summer 2011. We were eager to apply what we learned to our learning community within our school as well as to the learning community within our section of the district. We gained much insight into the steps we must take to implement the big ideas of the “professional learning community”. The initial phase of this implementation focused on math enrichment support for students who, according to our school data, already knew the material being taught. This data also drove the development of our school Continuous Improvement Plan, or CIP, which addressed curriculum enrichment as well.

While the conference was excellent, our BLT was motivated, and my grade level team was committed, consistent adherence to PLC tenets is sometimes a struggle. We are more adept at it this year than last year and will probably be even better next year if we follow this trend. We consider our efforts time well spent as we know that it is what is best for students.

 

Parental Positioning in Special Education March 12, 2012

Parental Positioning in Special Education

I have always paid particular attention to how the ebb and flow of instruction is directly affected by the quality of collaboration and participation with and by the parents of our students. This is especially evident in the educating of children with special needs. There seems to be an elevated level of anxiety and urgency from each participant when parents, teachers, educators and specialists first gather to plan interventions for a child with special needs. I believe it is critical that, at this early juncture, the parent is made to feel valued, respected and knowledgeable when it comes to the well being of their child.  This will set the tone for future interactions and will establish an environment of trust which will be important – especially if an issue must be discussed that is not popular with all parties.

One article I am featuring in this writing, What Do I Know? Parental Positioning in Special Education by Erin McCloskey (2010), sheds light on the efforts parents put forth to advocate for their children with special needs when dealing with the professionals involved, such as physicians, therapists, teachers and administrators. This article points out that parents, as they interact with the various entities that are involved with their children’s well being, frequently position themselves in such a way as to be active participants as team members.  This was referred to in the article as “reflexive positioning” and is often accepted and supported by the providers.

Conversely, positioning may need to be negotiated when the parent encounters resistance or a conflict of ideas. This is called “interactive positioning” because each party actively negotiates his/her position. An example was given in the article when a parent encountered a physician who did not share her enthusiasm for a particular researcher and his therapy techniques and stated as such in a condescending manner. The parent went in to the appointment in “reflexive positioning” mode, but the doctor’s callous comments turned their interaction in to “interactive positioning”.

McCloskey (2010) goes on to say that defining and understanding this theory of positioning has implications on the training of teachers and other professionals who interact with parents of special needs children. It is important for the aforementioned professionals to know that their choice of words and how they conduct a conversation can enable the positioning efforts of parents, or it can render it ineffective and cause the parent to feel belittled and insignificant.

McCloskey’s (2010) research was conducted in a preschool setting. She determined that when parents are empowered at this stage of their child’s education through successful positioning, they are more likely to continue their efforts to be effective collaborators throughout their child’s education. Ultimately, the child benefits from this positive relationship.

The IDEA Parent Guide, put out by the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), states that a parent “can become an informed and effective partner with school personnel in supporting your child’s special learning and behavioral needs.” (2006) Additionally, a parent quote in this guide emphasizes that parents of disabled children must know the law, have good communication skills, and be part of a team. I state this here because parents know that they must be effective advocates for their children. They must, therefore, invest themselves in a way that gives them knowledge and position themselves so that they are heard and respected. This is a tall order for a parent who, at the same time, is anxious, uncertain and scared for their children. We, as teachers, can empathize with these parents and engage in conversations that enable parents positioning rather than stifle it.

References

McCloskey, E. (2010). What Do I Know? Parental Positioning in Special Education. International Journal of Special Education, v25 n1 p 162-170 .

National Center for Learning Disabilities. (2006). IDEA Parent Guide: A Comprehensive Guide to your Rights and Responsibilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Retrieved  from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED495879.pdf

Reflection:

When I consider the fear and uncertainty parents of children with disabilities must endure, especially in the beginning of the process, I am saddened by the realization that they must sometimes feel like it is “my child and me against the world”. I am also impressed with the strength and fortitude many parents project as they advocate for their children. The more insight I gain regarding the struggles and celebrations experienced by parents in the world of special education, the more value I place on promoting a collaborative partnership with these parents.

 

All About Me Posters Aid in Topic Selection in Writing March 4, 2012

HOPE principle P1 addresses the practice of intentional inquiry and planning for instruction. As I consider the standards for writing in the Lake Washington School District and plan for writing instruction in my class, I am careful to take into account the need for a variety of writing resources that meet the writing needs of each of my students. Some students need an ABC chart at their fingertips with explicit instructions on how to use it in order to apply phonemic awareness skills to their writing. Other students enjoy using “turn and talk” time with their writing partner to verbalize their writing plan before getting started.

One of my students’ favorite (and my favorite as a teacher) writing tools are the “All About Me” posters we keep posted around the room for most of first semester. The idea for this activity was passed on to me by a teacher with whom I team taught a couple years back.These posters are created by the students themselves at the beginning of the year and include photos and writing that inform others as to:  Who is the student? Who is in his/her family? What are the student’s likes and dislikes? Students then are scheduled to present their poster orally to the class after having practiced their presentation at home. The posters remain accessible in order to provide a resource for students as they choose a writing topic. Choosing a topic tends to be a challenging skill for many young writers and I often hear “I have nothing to write about!” Students are taught to revisit their All About Me posters and look for details in the photos and comments that might bring on a writing idea. They are also encouraged to visit other students’ posters to see if any connections can be made between the life of another student and his/her own life.

As I reflect on the effectiveness of this strategy to help students select a writing topic, I think of all the times I have perused through my family photo albums. This activity often spurs animated conversation with anyone who is close by and is willing to listen. It brings to mind many detailed experiences I have had that evoke one emotion or another. It makes sense that it would do the same for our students.

 

Buddy Class as Technology Mentors February 26, 2012

The HOPE principle P4Practice the integration of appropriate technology with instruction, is particularly applicable to my school as many, if not most, of the families work in a technologically oriented field. The use of computers plays a significant role in the daily lives of each family in my kindergarten class and my students are, for the most part, very comfortable using technology. This presents both advantages and setbacks to integrating computer use in the classroom. Many of the basic computer skills such as the use of a mouse, opening up of programs, and basic terminology are already familiar to students. However, some students are so confident in their computer abilities that they are quick to move forward without fully comprehending the task at hand.

To address this issue, I frequently engage students with computers while visiting with our 6th grade buddy class, especially if there is a defined end product. Since they are paired up with more technologically savvy partners, not to mention ones to whom they look up, our younger students are more apt to follow the modeling of their buddies and move at a more controlled pace as directed by the teacher. During a recent visit with our buddy class, students gained experience opening a website, navigating to the right link, viewing a video clip, and gathering information to answer questions about an animal.

While such guided computer experiences reduce incidents of students getting “lost in cyberspace”, I do recognize the benefits of students engaging in free exploration within a particular piece of software or website program. To familiarize students with the MS Word program, I plan to give them instruction on how to open up Word, start a new document, and change font style and size. Students will then explore these program tasks by writing word wall words in various styles and sizes.

 

Collaboration According to the PLC Model February 20, 2012

HOPE Principle E1 – Exemplify professionally-informed, growth-centered practice

     As a personal, as well as school wide, desire to increase student learning, we,  as a school, have embraced the process and principles of Professional Learning Communities (PLC). I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the DuFour PLC conference with other key members of our school staff this past August, 2011. The main tenets of this type of “reform” is focusing on learning rather than teaching, regular collaboration and goal setting with others in the learning community, collecting and analyzing data, and creating and implementing a plan to address the needs of students who struggle or already know the material. The collaboration and data analysis pieces of this model are what I and my teammates wanted to focus on this year.

We all have had students who either fail to learn the teaching targets or know them before they have even been taught. Frequently, we have battled this discrepancy on our own and applied interventions retrieved from our own creative, yet limited, collection of strategies. One premise (out of several) the PLC model is based on is the idea that the collective knowledge of a group of professionals is more likely to result in greater academic gains than the ideas of one teacher working alone. This requires PLC groups to meet regularly to formulate goals, share data, and provide and receive feedback.

My teammates and I, along with other school staff, have worked hard to arrange and follow through with weekly PLC meetings this year. We also have committed to sharing assessment results and providing feedback to each other. While this process is not perfect, we have accomplished much during our protected PLC meeting time so far this year. We are ready to set new goals for ourselves which will include streamlining our methods for data collection.

 

Invite and Honor Parent Involvement

In this blog I will be addressing Principle H4 – Honor family/community involvement in the learning process. I am so fortunate to teach in a community of families that maintains high expectations of educators and is also willing to put in any hours that are necessary to help us get the job done. Furthermore, we are blessed with a varied representation of cultures and ethnicities. In my class I have students from India, China, Turkey and Mexico and several had recently traveled to these countries to visit family.

Such collaboration with families along with the diverse make-up of my classroom served to enhance a multi cultural unit I presented which featured the customs and celebrations of a variety of countries. I sent out a request to my classroom families for volunteers to come in and present a custom, celebration, and/or tradition that was special to their family and specific to their country of origin (including the United States). I was pleased with the response I got and students benefited from lessons pertaining to Diwali, Holi, Chinese New Year, Christmas, Las Posadas and Hanukkah.

While there are many worthwhile philosophies that guide a teacher’s craft, a significant one for me is how we honor and recognize the families and communities our students come from. This is true for school communities that are in economically advantaged areas as well as in areas that are economically disadvantaged. It is not often that I meet a parent who has nothing to offer in regards to enriching the education of all students in my class. Sometimes it just takes an invitation and encouragement.