Archive for July, 2012

EDSP 6644 BLOG 2 Principles of HOPE

EDSP 6644     BLOG 2         Principles of HOPE

HOPE PRINCIPLE: “O” “Offer an organized and challenging curriculum”

O2—Offer appropriate challenge in the content area–Teacher-candidates plan and/or adapt curricula that are standards driven so students develop understanding and problem-solving expertise in the content area(s) using reading, written and oral communication, and technology.

My focus as a high school teacher who works primarily with students who have a learning disability, is often centered on helping each student to know their strengths, understand what they have difficulties with, and to be able to articulate and access the type of support they require to engage in the general education setting. Often, these accommodations may be to address reading, math, or written language or behavioral needs and may or may not include the use of assistive technology. At times, I find that students have a tendency to rely on accommodations that may have been put into their IEP in earlier grades, when in reality they have “outgrown” the need for a specific support. In my thirty years as a special education teacher, I have found that among my greatest delights are experiences of watching students “re-frame” the way they view themselves—learning that they are more capable than they had previously believed. This transformation within—derived from “self-acceptance”–can have a dramatic and positive impact on promoting social acceptance by their peers.

In a recent discussion post, one of my colleagues articulated some very good questions: How do you give your students a more realistic view of their abilities? How do you help them see what they are truly capable of and what they still need work on? How do you keep students motivated to grow and improve when they are so focused on what they can’t do?

Even after my years in the classroom, I continue to wrestle with these very questions and find that the “answers” are never as “cut and dried” as I might like. Instead they are often as “individual” as my students. For example, last year one of my students –who has a disability in math–wanted to take Chemistry and signed up for it during registration. His mom called me within the first few days of school and was very concerned that he would not be able to handle the course. The solution we arrived at (based on discussion with the student and teacher) was to arrange for the option of a Pass/Fail grade. When we offer this option, we always include that if the student is able to achieve the level of a letter grade by the end of the course—the student may select the grade they prefer. Often, the presence of the “safety net” gives the student the extra courage to exceed everyone’s expectations. This particular student ended up with a C-/D+ (with accommodations) and was very pleased with his experience and what he had learned.

Another classic example of the safety net I encounter with my 11th graders pertains to state testing. If as a 10th grader a student has reached a Level 2 status in their area of need (which counts as “passing” if addressed in their IEP)—but their score is only a few points away from a Level 3–I will present the student with the option of taking the test again. For some—the experience of retaking the test is so stressful that they opt to not retest. Other students, knowing that they have already attained what is required for graduation in terms of state standards, make the decision to try to raise their score. This is especially appealing for students who may only qualify in one area such as writing, for example. If they have already scored at a Level 3 in Reading and Math and are only a few points away in Writing, a raised score could result in earning a Certificate of Academic Achievement versus a Certificate of Individual Achievement.

Although I always inform students and their families of the various options available to them–based upon their IEP goals–solutions to many of the problems students encounter in the school setting are dependent upon what the student feels comfortable with.

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EDSP 6644 BLOG 1 Principles of HOPE

EDSP 6644     BLOG 1         Principles of HOPE

Having begun my teaching career in 1981 as a young Seattle Pacific graduate with degrees in both Psychology and Special Education, I have a rather long-term view of special services being delivered in the public school setting. Although I did not have the specific words of the HOPE principles before me as do today’s teacher candidates, I do believe the essence of their meaning was inherent in the teachings of my SPU professors at the time. As I reflect on the years, I see evidence of the following HOPE principle:

HOPE PRINCIPLE: “H” “Honor student diversity, development, and their right to learn” H3—Honor the classroom/school community as a milieu for learning. Teacher-candidates implement classroom/school centered instruction, including sheltered instruction that is connected to communities within the classroom and the school, and includes knowledge and skills for working with others.

 

I remember well the days when the high school I started teaching in offered parallel classes in nearly every subject area—certainly SE English, SE Math, but also SE Science, SE History. For a couple of years, we even offered SE Keyboarding! In practice, anyone with an IEP was “eligible”—regardless of what specific areas they qualified in. Decisions were often based on what we thought the students were capable of. Also during that time, the regular program offered “lab” classes in each of the core areas that were known to be a little less intensive than the standard general education coursework. For example, Practical English, General Science, Consumer Math and History Lab were more suited for students who might not be academically strong. Many students with IEPs were able to be quite successful in these classes. If not, we brought them back to our Special Education classes. However, right about the same time the law required special education to move away from the parallel classes toward full inclusion, general education did away with the “lab” classes. Unfortunately, what had previously been a choice of a range of three “levels” of classes–became instead a huge jump—especially for students who had taken all core classes in special education. As special education teachers, we struggled greatly with how to successfully encourage our students to adjust to these changes, but somehow we all made it—thankfully improving with time and experience. We still maintained SE Math and SE English as well as SE Learning Strategies classes–and for a while, maintained the option of SE Science and History, based on deficits in reading and writing.

When our district’s new high school opened up in 2007, our principal wanted our team to implement a full-inclusion program. Also by this time, all students were required to take Algebra and that same year our district was moving from a junior high to a middle school configuration. The combination of these changes resulted in 58 9th and 10th grade students with IEPs (many of which had been served in special education classes in junior high) being newly enrolled at the high school level into ALL general education classes. Not only were these students brand new to us, but an additional factor was that no official staff training had been offered to prepare us for full inclusion. Our SE team felt strongly that “a continuum of services” needed to be offered, although this view was not shared by our administration. Therefore, we took data. We carefully monitored every student’s progress in any way possible. We talked with teachers, met with students, checked and recorded online grades, and listened to concerned parents. Data became the magic key. Within three weeks, we were able to discern enough of a pattern and shared this data with our administrators–respectfully requesting that we be allowed to create a few class sections for SE Math, English and Learning Strategies. Our request was granted and this model has since become our status quo. (Although now, the students with the greatest needs can be served in SE starting from the beginning of the year, but others are encouraged to spread their wings, knowing that we have a safety net with alternative approaches if needed).

So, when considering the question: Is inclusion in the general education setting the best placement for students with disabilities—and the best way to honor my students’ diversity, development, and their right to learn? I would have to say, it depends on the needs of the individual students. My experiences have shown me that a relatively small number of students I work with still need to have the option of placement in one or more special education classes, yet I have also observed a significant number of students rise to the occasion when presented with the opportunity to take all general education coursework. I have learned to embrace full inclusion for many—but not for all.

As noted within the text: “Content-area instruction assumes that students have mastered the basic skills of reading, writing, and math. For many students with special needs, this is simply not the case. For these students to benefit from instruction, modifications must be made…changing the criteria for task performance (speed, accuracy, amount of work, or) task characteristics (which) in contrast, refer to the basic skills necessary for performance (Lewis & Doorlag, 2010, p. 203). Lewis & Doorlag also state: “General education placement is considered optimal for students with disabilities if they are capable of making progress in the standard school curriculum…” however, The Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) by law must be “To the maximum extent possible…” and “Their placement must be feasible; they must have a good chance of successful performance” (p. 12).  Based upon the student’s area(s) of need and the degree of modification required, individual decisions must be made by the individual IEP teams for individual students.  In order to successfully and legally provide appropriate services, a range of options must be available from which to choose when considering how to best address a student’s needs.

References:

 

Lewis, R. B. & Doorlag, D. H. (2011). Teaching students with special needs in general education classrooms (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.