Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What’s So Special About Special Education?

Guest Blogger Brian Worthen is a teacher at Qualicum Beach Middle School where he teaches all general subjects at the Grade 6 and 7 level. Previously, he has taught in Vancouver and suburban districts in SLD,remedial, accelerated as well as ESL. Graduate studies centred on barriers to experimental field studies in the subject of science education.

Students in today’s classrooms reflect what is currently happening in society. Gone are the days of shaping students to be model citizens that have been instructed to uniform beliefs, manners and information. Society of today is rapid, multifarious and dynamic. Family compositions are numerous as are the challenges and stories each child possesses. We cannot even possibly predict what the future society holds for our students in a decade.

With this in mind, it is crucial that many educators consider change. This means distancing themselves from lock and step, uniform, curriculum based lessons and paying more attention to the learning needs of the child. Students of today will need many different progressive opportunities in their avenues of learning. More importantly, they will need to be exposed to a large set of learning tools that they can utilize to confidently navigate in the world that they must contribute to. Teachers may have to consider their role less as an instructor and more as a steward in preparing the youth of today.

When one enters a special education resource room, we are frequently reminded of the manipulatives, media as well as other approaches for the concepts being taught. We ponder the flexibility of evaluation and the various approaches used in order to meet the learning outcomes for the students of these resource rooms. Yet, there are barriers in offering a “regular” classroom these types of tools – large numbers of students with increasingly challenging needs. Other obstacles include the continual assignments of programs by communities and governments that address growing social problems in the community. Then there is the fundraising and the valuable time taken in order to comply with student data requests. These impairments reduce the time that a teacher could utilize in order to concentrate more time with assessment and tools that could be employed to reach more students in the classroom. If this were made possible, perhaps we would see that “special education” is really more general than we think. Perhaps it is what we should all try to achieve?

For many, distancing oneself from a comfortable fixed mindset is not simple. The hidden curriculum that teachers must consider to embrace in their quest to reach as many learners as possible should take into account many practices and systems such as formative assessments, feedback, quick checks, and strategies that reveal to students how they each learn. One should consider replacing the pressure of curriculum amounts with the availability of some degree of choice for the spectrum of learners that sit in the class. Energy directed to stagnant data collection could take meaning with its purposeful rerouting to individual student progress indicating improvement or weaknesses. Personal interviews with portfolio work and self assessment is a continued “best next practice” that can show benefits for learning. Performance vs. Learning or the dialogues over flexibility, clear goals and the balance between opportunity and capacity must be a constant topic whether in the staffroom, parking lot or at the water fountain.

A teacher is the coach in the classroom. Performance can be prefaced by the learning of the skill set. This skill set can be taught in many ways in order to reach all the players. Then, and only then, can the classroom become a place of showing students how they can flourish in the world. The principal, who cannot possibly do school reform alone, must take on the role to advocate for conditions where teachers can be distracted less from management administrivia and interruptions which would hopefully free up time for honing practices in an environment that fosters greater individual student learning needs. However, until some fixed mindsets are weakened, educators hopefully will, in small steps, help each other with the age old adage that stays constant: teachers need to teach.

Photo from Orange42's photostream

1 comment:

  1. I love the idea of helping each other take small steps. What steps should we take this year?