Posts Tagged ‘Inclusion’

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 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.


James, L. (2012). EDSP 6644Educating Exceptional Students, Principles of Hope: Blog 1,WordPress Seattle Pacific University. Retrieved from

James, L. (2012). EDSP 6644Educating Exceptional Students, Principles of Hope: Blog 2,WordPress Seattle Pacific University. Retrieved from

James, L. (2012). EDSP 6644Educating Exceptional Students, Principles of Hope: Blog 3,WordPress Seattle Pacific University. Retrieved from

James, L. (2012). EDSP 6644Educating Exceptional Students, Principles of Hope: Blog 4,WordPress Seattle Pacific University. Retrieved from

James, L. (2012). EDSP 6644Educating Exceptional Students, Artifact 1,WordPress Seattle Pacific University. Retrieved from

James, L. (2012). EDSP 6644Educating Exceptional Students, Artifact 2,WordPress Seattle Pacific University. Retrieved from

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

Capstone–Standard 02 Meta-Reflection: Learning Environment

Standard 02 Meta-Reflection: Learning Environment

Creates and maintains school-wide and classroom environments that are safe, stable, and empowering.

Initial reflection during C & I Orientation:

In my role as the special education curriculum leader in an inclusion setting, I must ensure that a continuum of services is available for consideration by each student’s IEP Team. I must see to it that my students are provided services in the “least restrictive environment” and that they are given the opportunity to access free and appropriate public education.

Meta-Reflection following completion of EDU 6655 Human Development and Principles of Learning:

I enjoyed the opportunity to have guidance in this course toward some of the most recent brain research relating to education. While reading the first week’s chapters and articles, I found myself most intrigued and inspired by the Jossey-Bass descriptions of “mirror neurons”, and saw for myself many possible explanations of experiences encountered within my family (a brother who is severely disabled, and my father having suffered two gunshot wounds to the head) as well as those of students within my classroom. I found reading the article, On Empathy: the Mirror Neuron System and Art Education, to be very informative. In settings where I hear people (including my students) share their challenging, real-life stories find that I experience what some might refer to as “compassion fatigue”—therefore, I am interested in the impact of stress on learning. As stated within the Jossey-Bass Reader in Chapter 4, “It is increasingly recognized that efficient learning does not take place when the learner is experiencing fear or stress…inappropriate stress has a significant effect on both physiological and cognitive functioning….stress or fear also affect social judgment, and responses to reward and risk” (p. 44).

In my first paper written for this course, Personal Background Reflection Paper (please see link to Artifact 2.1 below), I reflected on my own childhood experiences in comparison to that of many of my students, and discussed how these intertwining factors influence my teaching interactions with students. As authors Stiggins, Arter, and Chappuis (2006), have clarified, the distinction between assessment of learning vs. for learning, places the emphasis on helping students answer the three questions, “ ‘Where am I going?’; ‘Where am I now?’; and ‘How can I close the gap’?”

Within my second paper, Professional Philosophy of Education and Developmental Theory (please see link to Artifact 2.2 below), I expressed thoughts pertaining to Erik Erickson’s developmental theory. “Erikson defined eight developmental stages during which a crisis must be resolved in order for a person to develop psychosocially without carrying forward issues tied to the previous crisis…” Author, Crain, states, “The adolescent’s primary task, Erikson believed, is establishing a new sense of ego identity—a feeling for who one is and one’s place in the larger social order. The crisis is one of identity versus role confusion” (p. 291). A reflective process I use with students (described below), is one method I believe helps them engage in the development of their ego identity:

Currently in my position as a special education teacher in a largely “inclusive” high school in terms of service delivery, much of my work with students is conducted in the context of individual appointments in my office. One tool that I use regularly with my students is a self-evaluation process—involving both written and verbal responses to a weekly progress report including; detailed listings of assignments, scores, current grade-to-date, attendance, etc. for each of their six classes. An overarching purpose of the use of this tool is to assist students with developing self-advocacy skills as they strive to succeed in high school as well as prepare for post-secondary endeavors. The reflective exercise guides the students through the process of reading information pertinent to their day-to-day life as a student. The completion of the form requires analysis of their current progress as well as the development of strategies for establishing and reaching both short and long-term goals, and encourages students to take ownership, responsibility, (and credit) for their actions and efforts (James, 2012).

Ironically, just this week in April of 2013, as I am working on completing the requirements for my master’s degree by writing/rewriting reflections on my own learning as a graduate student, a dramatic event occurred within my classroom as a student was completing his own written reflection. (Note: As of result of new learning in my graduate studies, I have increased the level of expectation for student reflection to include more extended written responses. The following account of a very recent experience relates also to the use of technology in the classroom—proving that even outdated technology can be used to connect with students).

Since I don’t have enough computer access for all students in my special education Learning Strategies class, I have chosen to use small keyboards to have students write reflections on a regular basis. Although the small, “NEO” keyboards are outdated devices, they are available for my use. Each device holds 8 separate “files” which I have students use to make progress notes in response to specific prompts at various times throughout each term. Files 1-6 are reserved for periods 1-6, and file # 7 is for “other”. Usually, I encourage student to describe in File # 7–accomplishments of which they are MOST proud. I upload their responses regularly and find this process to be extremely valuable in helping me maintain a connection with students and to assist me as I endeavor to respond to their individual needs. Some students are able to express so much more in writing than they would in face-to-face conversations.

Tuesday, as I was uploading and reading student reflections, I noticed the reflection of one very quiet and studious student was prefaced with the comment: “Mrs. James, be sure to read paragraph # 7″. As I continued to upload his work, I found a most heart-wrenching, yet beautifully written expression from this student who had recently been placed on probation. It was evident that he was experiencing a downward spiral toward severe depression. His cry for help included the words, “I can’t go out and make friends or give a shout out to others about my emotions. I get it out in writing or typing now. I stay silent and lonely to rot away…” Thankfully, I was able to talk with him after class and set up an appointment for him to meet with the counselor. The student and I have agreed that he will continue to use writing as a way to help him process his intense emotions.

An example of how research validates the threatened needs of this young man to be connected with his friends and to know that someone cares is referenced in my third paper, Professional Analysis of Developmental Appropriateness (please see links to artifacts 2.3.1, 2.3.2, and 2.3.3 below). As I discuss the Individual Transition form of the Individual Education Plan (IEP), I make the suggestion that work habits and interpersonal skills should be addressed on this form for secondary students because these skills relate to Kohlberg’s Level II Conventional Morality. Crain refers to Kohlberg’s Level II Conventional Morality—Stage 3. Good Interpersonal Relationships. “At this stage children, are by now usually entering their teens—see morality as more than simple deals. They believe people should live up to the expectations of the family and community and behave in “good” ways. Good behavior means having good motives and interpersonal feelings such as love, empathy, trust, and concern for others” (p. 161).

In my Week 4 Blog for this course, EDU 6655: Mind and Brain….Techniques–backed by research? (James, 2012), I expressed my conflicting thoughts about controversial brain research. I conveyed my tendency to agree with author, Hyatt, who suggests “that much of the rush by educators to provide ‘brain-based’ learning opportunities for children is based on information that is selective, oversimplified, or incorrectly interpreted, and he strongly urged that educators and the public exercise great caution when trying to apply findings from brain science to educational interventions” (Hyatt, 2007, p. 120).

Based on my informal, anecdotal research gleaned as an educator in the classroom from 1980 to the present, high school students generally experience a relatively high degree of stress–which I maintain to be a contributing factor to some of the struggles I observe in their lives. My goal is to continue in my endeavor to use any means available to meet the needs of my students as I address Standard 2: Create and maintain school-wide and classroom environments that are safe, stable, and empowering. In the process of completing the requirements for this course (see links to artifacts below), I appreciated the opportunity to reflect with a fresh and guided focus on my years in the classroom and I intend to continue to view new research as it becomes available. I believe new insights will continue to come, along with validation for long-held convictions.


Arter, J., Chappuis J., S.,  Stiggins, R. (2006). Classroom assessment for students learning. Doing it right, using it well. Boston, MA. Pearson Education, Inc.

Crain, W. C. (2011). Theories of development: Concepts and applications. Boston, MA: Prentice Hall.

Hyatt, K. J. (2007). Brain gym[R]: Building stronger brains or wishful thinking?. Remedial and Special Education, 28(2), 117-124.

James, L. (2012). Professional philosophy of education and developmental theory, Seattle Pacific University.

James, L. (2012). EDU 6655: Mind and Brain….Techniques—backed by research?, WordPress  blog, Seattle Pacific University. Retrieved from

Jossey-Bass Inc. (2008). The Jossey-Bass reader on the brain and learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Links to artifacts for Standard 2:

EDU 6655-ARTIFACT 2.1 Personal Background Reflection Paper

EDU 6655-ARTIFACT 2.2 Final Professional Philosophy Paper

EDU 6655-ARTIFACT 2.3.1 Final Paper SECONDARY TRANSITION Form Analysis

EDU 6655-ARTIFACT 2.3.2 TRANSITION Form Analysis.list


Reflecting Back; Moving Forward by Design~

Curriculum Design Meta-Reflection

At the beginning of this course, along with my anticipation of fresh perspectives, up-to-date research and invigorating dialogue, I also expected that I might have difficulty selecting a project topic from a particular content area. In my years of experience moving from parallel special education classes to nearly full inclusion, I have found myself having to redefine my role as a teacher. My somewhat diminished view of myself has been compounded by the fact that for the past five years—I have not had a classroom. My current setting in a school which is only five years old, my colleagues and I continue to advocate on behalf of our special education students to ensure that a “continuum of services” is available.

Fortunately, I have seen many students “rise to the occasion” and perform successfully within the general education setting. The author refers to Vito Perrone, former director of teacher education at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education who “believes all students—including those assigned to remedial or low-track classes—should have opportunities to reach understanding, not just knowledge, by “making connections among and between things, about deep and not surface knowledge, and about greater complexity, not simplicity” (as cited within Parkay, Hass & Anctil, p. 533). I agree with Perrone and have witnessed the success of students who have been exposed to classes offering “greater complexity”, however, also believe that our high schools must recognize that our students possess of range of needs.

I responded to the discussion question of “values imbedded in the curriculum”—specifically related to the topic of “college ready”. My high school lists on our webpage the mission statement: “…students will graduate college ready. They will be prepared to act as informed citizens in a global society and empowered to care for their community”. A separate line states that “students will complete gateway courses for college enrollment”. Parkay, Hass, and Anctil, in Curriculum Leadership, convey the great challenge before us as educators: “To provide all learners—from those with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds and with their variety of needs, abilities, learning styles, and prior educational experiences—meaningful and growth-promoting curricular experiences…” (p.). Before our school opened (in response to controversy around the phrase “college ready”) the team of educators and community members crafting the wording to “qualify” the college focus in the vision statement by including the words “post-secondary endeavors.” The concept of differences in student needs is expressed when Inlay writes that “community and belonging” is critical in “creating a safe place that accepts the different qualities of each individual” (p. 44).

I voiced the sentiment in my initial post that although the website displays “inclusive” language—acknowledging that we have a diverse population within our community, the course offerings appear to be heavily geared toward the college bound students. In support of this direction, I note that a surprising number of my students are finding success in their general education classes. I agree with the following research in the article, Authentic Assessment and Student Performance in Inclusive Secondary Schools: “…with more challenging tasks, students with disabilities performed better than students with and without disabilities who received less challenging tasks” (King, Schroeder and Chawszczewski cited within Parkay p. 237). It seems, however, that as standards and graduation requirements continue to increase, the number of options and course offerings that appeal to the “less-likely-to-be-college-bound” students decreases. I sometimes wonder what “imbedded values” some students perceive. Unfortunately, I see a number of students who become discouraged and simply drop out after finding little success in overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Within the article, Engaging the Disengaged Student: Research Shows Why Some Are Immersed in Learning While Others Are Indifferent, author Susan Black, provides suggestions for remedying  issues related to disengaged students. The article refers to what Charlotte Danielson, of the Educational Testing Service, describes a “’distinguished teacher’ as [: one] who has mastered a number of skills in four broad domains: planning and preparation; classroom environment; instruction; and professional responsibilities” (as cited within Parkay, Hass & Anctil, p. 531). Although my role as a special education teacher requires that I advocate for students with special needs and I sometimes voice my concern about unreasonably high standards, this does not mean that I am opposed to encouraging students to strive to achieve levels as high as possible. I agree with the author who states: “ Students stay engaged when teachers create lessons centered on ‘big ideas’ and design assignments at the correct level of difficulty—not too easy and not impossibly difficult—so students are challenged but still able to succeed” (as cited within Parkay, Hass & Anctil, p. 532).

As module 2 drew to a close, I began to focus on a predominate need in my setting. Specifically–to prepare my students to ask and reflect on the “big picture” questions pertaining to their life beyond graduation. My students must be encouraged to lift their sights beyond the day-to-day activities of high school life and consider the broader scope of what lies before them. While I believe it is true that we should encourage students to pursue training and education beyond high school, we must also keep in mind what Parkay, Hass, and Anctil (2010), state: “…curriculum goals can be clustered into two broad areas, each of which should always be considered in curriculum planning: goals that relate to society and its values and goals that relate to the individual learner’s needs, interests, and abilities” (p.8).

About a month into this course, I experienced an unexpected insight—somewhat strangely related to my understanding the topic of curriculum and backward-design. It came in the form of a highly personal application of keeping the “big picture” or “long-range view” in mind. Learning of the rapid progression and devastating effects of early onset dementia of one of my sisters—I began to come to terms with the perspective of “backward design” as it relates to life in general. As a family we are having to “lift our sights beyond the day-to-day activities and consider the broader scope” as we together consider her “needs, interests, and abilities”—in relation to the future. Somehow the importance of some aspects of life wane and others emerge as “overarching” and take precedence as they come to the forefront of our thinking.

Within module 3 I experienced an increasing excitement and enthusiasm for the curriculum project for this course and greatly enjoyed my focused efforts preparing for the peer review process. Both then and now, I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the transformation in my own perspective and the greater sense of optimism within me regarding opportunities to collaborate with others in my school on behalf of all students. Early in the module, I responded to the following discussion question from my vantage point as a special education teacher: How have the purposes for high school changed, and what should guide communities as they plan new high schools? Author Vivien Stewart in the article, Becoming Citizens of the World, discusses significant and new challenges facing secondary students in today’s schools represented by four major trends: economic, science and technology, health and security, and changing demographics. (p. 524-525). Merely from my perspective as a classroom teacher over the last three decades, I have seen incredible changes in all of these areas—especially considering that when I began as a high school teacher no one had a personal computer and needless to say, the world-wide-web did not exist. Many of my students who struggled in school academically could still find success in more of the hands-on classes such as carpentry and manufacturing. In the midst of the increasing requirements and demands to strive for rigorous standards, I as a special education teacher am concerned about those who are not able to meet with such expectations. Following a long list of skills needed by today’s high school graduates who will be engaged in global commerce and collaboration, Stewart expresses that, “U.S. schools are not adequately preparing students for these challenges….compared with students in nine other industrialized countries, U.S. students lack knowledge of world geography, history, and current events” (Stewart in Parkay, Hass & Anctil, p. 525). If U.S. students in general are falling short, where does this place many of my students?

Other colleagues voiced similar concerns within the posts for this module—although many postings were centered on the expectations for students in the very early grade levels. While reading these posts, I sensed that behind the academic dialogue were the voices of parents concerned about the increasingly demanding expectations for their own children—particularly in relation to the “Common Core”.

I have mixed perspectives on the issue of high expectations. While I believe that all students should be encouraged and challenged to perform to the best of their ability, I am concerned that those who are unable to compete at a high level will sense that they no longer “belong in the race”. I believe that high schools have an obligation to help all students develop themselves in preparation for a realistic future. I agree in particular with the following segment from the Coalition of Essential Schools, 1998: “…Curricular decisions should be guided by student interest, developmentally appropriate practice, and the aim of thorough student mastery and achievement. Students of all ages should have many opportunities to discover and construct meaning from their own experiences” (As cited within Parkay, Hass & Anctil, 2010, p. 522).

My response as a special education teacher is to continue advocating for my students as we together embrace these challenges. Additionally, having “lived through” 30 years of legislative changes and their corresponding effects on service delivery models at the high school level, I have witnessed a wide variety of impacts of these changes on individual student achievements. While inclusion has offered clear benefits for many students, I have found this to be the most challenging model to implement. In the article entitled, The “Three A’s” of Creating an Inclusive Curriculum and Classroom, author, Anctil, clarifies with regard to inclusion that “supports will be brought to the child (rather than moving the child to the services) and requires only that the child will benefit from being in the class (rather than keeping up with the other students)” (Rogers, 1993, p. 2) (as cited within Parkay, Hass, and Anctil, 2010, p. 82).

In the readings for module 5, I noticed Parkay, Hass, Anctil (2010) refer in Chapter 5 to “two dimensions of curriculum: the target and the time orientation”. State standards are seen as “target(s)…at the macro (level) due to the fact that they are geared toward large numbers of students while decisions that are made in individual classrooms are considered to be at the “micro level”. The “time orientation” is found along the continuum of “the present or the future”. A further distinction is drawn between “student-centered versus subject-centered curricula” (p. 251).

I see myself as standing in the gap striving to find that balance between “macro” versus “micro”, “present versus future”, and “subject-centered versus student-centered curricula”–for each of the students on my caseload. Much like trying to stand in the middle on an old-fashioned teeter-totter, I continue to find myself leaning first this way–then that, as I endeavor to sense what is best for each student. I appreciated the suggestion by Parkay (2010) that “student centered curriculum…(which) emphasize(s) the growth and development of students”(p. 252) is most often applicable at the elementary level, however, find this focus seems to be at the core for special educators at every grade level.

In many respects, I see standards as improving student opportunity. For instance, the inclusion model of special education service delivery strongly encouraged by my principal requires that all incoming 9th graders be placed into general education English classes (unless the student’s IEP team determines that this is clearly not the student’s least restrictive environment). The thinking behind this stance is to expose each student to the general education curriculum which is in turn geared toward preparation for meeting standards on the 10th grade state test (which I believe is not simply “teaching to the test”). This is an example of “Standards-based education (SBE) [which] is premised on the belief that all students are capable of meeting high standards” (Parkay, 2010, p. 253). On many occasions, I have observed students with qualifications in the academic areas of reading and/or writing (who in previous decades might have been placed in special education classes), respond well to the challenge. In some cases, students have subsequently tested out of special education as they have been found to no longer qualify for services, based on their three-year reevaluation.

With regard to standards, one particular colleague wrote this week: “If we’re teaching towards mastery of standards, and the tests assess the standards, the phrase teaching to the test means something different than the negative connotations traditionally associated with that phrase” (Lyle, 2012). Expressing my agreement and adding my thoughts to the discussion thread, I suggested that we consider the Common Core English Language Arts Standard for Production and Distribution of Writing: # 5. “Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience”. I then raised the question: Is it even possible to “teach to the test” in the traditionally negative manner when focusing on this type of standard? As with so many things in life–I believe balance and flexibility are key components to consider. I see great benefits to the presence of the standards, yet I also believe there must be room for appropriate “discretion”. I recall hearing professor/speaker, Anthony Gregorc, give an illustration many years ago during a Learning Styles class at Seattle Pacific (1984). Dr. Gregorc stated something to the effect of: “There are many ways to get to Chicago”–stressing the importance of acknowledging alternate ways to achieve the same results.

My curriculum project for this course, entitled: “Advanced Preparation ‘A.P.” for Culminating Project: Senior Portfolio”, began with the focus of addressing the needs of students in special education. Often, IEP students need extra time, struggle with confidence and self-advocacy skills, and lack experience in setting and achieving goals. However, as I have been talking with students who have recently completed their senior presentation, as well as school counselors and teachers who oversee the implementation of the current culminating project, each person has independently voiced that all students would benefit from the advanced preparation toward to 12th grade requirement and the newly designed features I have added to the existing curriculum–based on the Understanding by Design format and the requirements for this course. They have asked if I would share my ideas and products with our principal for possible consideration and inclusion into next year’s requirements. I must say that these discussions have broadened my view of the students within my “sphere of influence”, offered opportunities for increased collaboration, and provided significant personal encouragement. Therefore, the project continues to be a “work-in-progress” as many creative ideas are generated as a result of each new insight that is shared. I am hopeful that this new inspiration will allow me to see with “fresh eyes” my current opportunities in my school and that collaboration on behalf of all students ( “Backward Inclusion”?) will become a reality.

UbD Final Curriculum Project Laurie James


OSPI website 2012, Retrieved on May 1, 2012 from::

Parkay, F. W., Hass, G., & Anctil, E.  (2010). Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs, 9th ed. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

“Backward Inclusion?”

Module 4 Blog–“Backward Inclusion?”

On an especially positive note, I was encouraged this week during our curriculum leaders’ meeting to see the direct correlation between the topics for our school’s PLC work and all of the coursework for my master’s degree. I have also been selected to participate in the pilot implementation of the new teacher evaluation process. Even more inspiring is that the past two weeks have brought forth further integration between my work as a special education teacher and the needs of all students. In my school’s PLC work, our special education team has focused on self-advocacy skills as well as a range of work habits.  In a discussion thread this week, one colleague stated: “I think it is so critical for students to learn the basic skills such as: how to read a book, how to take notes, how to prepare for a test, how to study….basic organizational skills”. I responded by referencing an article concerning the Common Core, in which the author appears to share these sentiments: “To succeed with key content and key cognitive strategies, students need proficiency in a range of academic learning skill and behaviors. These behaviors include goal setting: study skills…self-reflection…persistence with difficult tasks…and time-management skills” (Conley, 2011, p. 4).

I strongly believe these “life” skills must keep in the forefront for all students. I hear fellow high school teachers share that they often expect students to already have all of these skills–forgetting that many students are not strong in these areas. Input from colleagues in this course indicates the need continues well into college. Additionally, numerous discussion posts addressed the increasing need for technological skills—also well supported by Parkay, Hass & Anctil (2010) who state: “Clearly, a critical form of literacy for the future is the ability to use computers for learning and solving” (p. 61).

As a special education teacher who has “lived through” 30 years of technological changes as well as legislative changes and their corresponding effects on service delivery models at the high school level, I have witnessed a wide variety of impacts of these changes on individual student achievements. While inclusion has offered clear benefits for many students, I have found this to be the most challenging model to implement. In the article entitled, The “Three A’s” of Creating an Inclusive Curriculum and Classroom, author, Anctil, clarifies with regard to inclusion that “supports will be brought to the child (rather than moving the child to the services) and requires only that the child will benefit from being in the class (rather than keeping up with the other students)” (Rogers, 1993, p. 2) (as cited within Parkay et al., 2010, p. 82).

At times, I have found advocating for my students to be quite challenging, however, while talking with a staff member after school today, I briefly mentioned the focus of my project for this course–designed to assist special education students in getting a head start on their senior portfolio. Interested in hearing more, she said, “That sounds like it would be beneficial for all students…”—then suggested I bring the project to our principal for consideration regarding implementation for all. I must say, the  response of this very influential individual was quite positive and rather unexpected. I smiled to myself, then thought: perhaps this could be a new form of “inclusion” called “backward inclusion”—designed to include general education students!

Conley, D. (2011) Building on the Common Core Educational Leadership, Volume 68 | Number 6 What Students Need to Learn, Pp. 16-20 Retrieved from:

Parkay, F.W., Hass, G., & Anctil, E.- 2010: Curriculum Leadership; Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs, 9th ed.; Allyn & Bacon, Boston, MA, USA .