Posts Tagged ‘Continuum of services’

Capstone–Standard 08 Meta-Reflection: Exceptionality

Standard 08 Meta-Reflection: Exceptionality–Capstone

Addresses the unique learning and behavioral needs of all children, collaborating with other educators and professionals where necessary.

Initial reflection during C & I Orientation:

The concept of addressing exceptionality is “where I live—day to day and moment by moment” as a special educator. Regardless of the unique needs presented by each of my students who qualify for special education services, I must ensure that they have access to the general education curriculum to the greatest extent possible. In the process, I must serve as an advocate for each student and coordinate the delivery of services required for offering free and appropriate public education on their behalf.

Meta-Reflection following the completion of EDSP 6644 Educating Exceptional Students

(Please note: A meta-reflection was not a requirement for the original course, EDSP 6644, therefore, this meta-reflection is a compilation of the six module reflections written and posted in WordPress.com throughout the course.)

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 continue to see evidence of the following HOPE principles as noted and expressed below:

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 whom 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…(p.203).” 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.

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 know their strengths, understand what they have difficulties with, and 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. As a teacher, I find it very satisfying to watch 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.

HOPE principle P”–Practice effective teaching: inquiry, planning, instruction & assessment. P1 – Practice intentional inquiry and planning for instruction.Teacher-candidates plan and/or adapt standards-based curricula that are personalized to the diverse needs of each student.

Should school districts implement Response to Intervention to improve academic outcomes for students?

Based on my understanding of the Response to Intervention (RTI) process as described in this week’s readings, as well as my experience as a high school special education teacher, I would have to say that it would be difficult to effectively implement “true” RTI at the secondary level, so would answer with a qualified “no”. However, I do believe that a range of interventions can be offered to students within a school, and therefore throughout a given district. As authors Vaughn and Fletcher (2012) state with regard to reading interventions:

Secondary students do not need to “pass through” successively more intensive interventions as in early elementary grades; rather, they can be assigned to less or more intensive interventions based on their current reading achievement scores (L. S. Fuchs, Fuchs, & Compton, 2010). Thus, it is technically current performance and instructional need rather than “responsive to intervention” that places them in a secondary or tertiary intervention (2012, p. 10).”

Although this reference specifically discusses progress in the area of reading, “current performance and instructional need” are often the primary indicators used across skill and content areas when determining appropriate interventions.

Generally, in my high school setting, most students who qualify for special education have been identified prior to entering 9th grade, although we do have instances of new referrals for special education services. With regard to school-wide interventions, however, we currently endeavor to offer three levels of interventions to most students. All students in 9th and 10th grades as well as selected students in 11th and 12th grades are placed in one of three levels of twice-weekly tutorial sessions. As designed by our staff, students who are performing satisfactorily are assigned to the largest group tutorials. The “secondary” or mid-level tutorials are comprised of 20-30 students and offer time and assistance for students to focus on skills and assignments in any subject area. The “tertiary” or smallest tutorials of approximately 10 students offer intensive interventions in either math or English skills. The student placement decisions are made by teams of teachers within both the math and English departments, as well as each of the four “Pods” within our school. The data examined and used to determine placement are semester grades as well as teacher recommendations based on ongoing classroom performance. Data is evaluated each quarter so that changes to placements can be made as needed.

Communication and collaboration between teachers and counselors allow for addressing the needs of students. The process of making the determination and assignments was outlined by our school’s leadership team and appears to be in line with the HOPE principle of “P” – Practicing intentional inquiry and planning for instruction. I find that students seem to respond gratefully when they realize that a team of teachers is working together on their behalf and discussing together how to best meet the needs of students.

HOPE principle “E”–Exemplify service to the teaching profession. E1 – Exemplify professionally-informed, growth-centered practice. Teacher-candidates develop reflective, collaborative, professional growth-centered practices through regularly evaluating the effects of his/her teaching through feedback and reflection.

As a long-time educator in my community, my professional goals are to increase my awareness and application of current research, strengthen my communication and interactions with colleagues and community members, and to inspire students to continue with their education.  Reflecting on my own educational journey, both as a teacher and now as a graduate student, I can see patterns of growth and change. I see how God is at work.

About a year and a half ago, I was discouraged to see that two of my students had dropped out of school–mid-year. Coincidentally, later that week, I received an unexpected phone call from a former student.  The woman on the other end of the line had been a teenager in my class–eighteen years earlier. She called to let me know that despite the difficulties and severe challenges encountered in her life (both as a child and well into adulthood) she would be graduating from college—with honors.  In the midst of our conversation, she offered that she would like to “pay it forward” and that if I felt it was appropriate, she would like to come to the school to share her story with my students. “Mrs. James”, she said, “I want to let them know that if I can graduate from college—so can they.” Even more surprising than the apparent transformation in this individual was the fact that this phone call–from a student whom I thought I had “lost”—inspired me to call Seattle Pacific University to inquire about graduate school.

Now, just today, at the close of my sixth quarter of graduate coursework –ironically as I am finalizing my article review on self-advocacy for the class entitled, Educating Exceptional Students—she called again. Once again, we engaged in enjoyable and encouraging dialogue concerning the ways we are each interacting with others in our respective roles—promoting life-long learning. We are making plans to have her return for her second time as a guest speaker in my classroom. I must indeed take action on my plans for promoting and increasing self-advocacy skills in my students—preparing them to hear and receive her story!

Artifacts for Standard 8:

The first artifact I’ve selected to post for this course, Educating Exceptional Students, is my peer review assignment, entitled: Promoting Self-Advocacy in Secondary Students .My reason for selecting this topic was primarily due to the fact that I see a great need in my current school to further develop opportunities for building self-advocacy skills in my students. Our high school’s special education team has already begun to work on a number of projects designed to address this need and I wanted to examine the latest research to bring back to the team in the fall. (I must say that I was surprised to find the terms “self-advocacy” and “self-determination” missing from the index in the textbook for this course.)

The second artifact I’ve selected for this course is an assignment entitled: Self-Advocacy for Secondary Students: A Literature Review. My choice to expand and elaborate on my peer review topic was primarily due to my high interest in this topic, the need for information, and the fact that I was able to locate a number of very helpful and interesting articles during my original search. The encouraging and surprising conversation this week with a former student from twenty years ago, provided a perfect case-in-point–supporting my desire to promote further education for my students.

References:

James, L. (2012). EDSP 6644Educating Exceptional Students, Principles of Hope: Blog 1,WordPress Seattle Pacific University. Retrieved from https://lpettengilljames.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/edsp-6644-blog-1-principles-of-hope/

James, L. (2012). EDSP 6644Educating Exceptional Students, Principles of Hope: Blog 2,WordPress Seattle Pacific University. Retrieved from https://lpettengilljames.wordpress.com/2012/07/24/edsp-6644-blog-2-principles-of-hope/

James, L. (2012). EDSP 6644Educating Exceptional Students, Principles of Hope: Blog 3,WordPress Seattle Pacific University. Retrieved from https://lpettengilljames.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/edsp-6644-blog-3-principles-of-hope/

James, L. (2012). EDSP 6644Educating Exceptional Students, Principles of Hope: Blog 4,WordPress Seattle Pacific University. Retrieved from https://lpettengilljames.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/edsp-6644-blog-4-principles-of-hope/

James, L. (2012). EDSP 6644Educating Exceptional Students, Artifact 1,WordPress Seattle Pacific University. Retrieved from https://lpettengilljames.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/edsp-6644-educating-exceptional-students-artifact-1/

James, L. (2012). EDSP 6644Educating Exceptional Students, Artifact 2,WordPress Seattle Pacific University. Retrieved from https://lpettengilljames.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/edsp-6644-educating-exceptional-students-artifact-2/

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

Vaughn, S. and Fletcher, J., (2012). Response to intervention with secondary school students with reading difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities: 45(3) (pp. 244–2 56). doi: 10.1177/0022219412442157