1 Dina Bosco SPE 500 Preclinical Field Observation 11/19/2007 Preclinical Field Observation and Reflections Project For this Field Observation Project, I decided to do my observations at one high school within three different types of classrooms at Maine South High School in Park Ridge. Although I gathered much background information from several Special Ed teachers from all grade levels (K-12), my actual observation logs occurred in the high school setting. At Maine South, I observed three types of classrooms: one self contained, one resource/guided study (where the students are mainstreamed but have one class per- day where they are self-contained), and a general ed English classroom where students are mainstreamed almost entirely. I decided to do my observations at one school so that I could analyze and examine how the three main types of classrooms operated under one roof. I spread out my observations over a series of days, and I found myself to be much more aware, educated, and informed on the theories and logic behind finding the right environment for learning disabled students. I found that without the right environment, setting, and methods of instruction, learning may not be possible for certain students because of their disabilities. Seeing this variety in one cohesive high school opened my eyes to many things I never knew prior to this experience. 2 Maine South High School Self Contained Classroom: Accessibility/Assessment: In the self-contained classroom, there were about 15 students with lower-incidence learning disabilities (ADD, ADHD, etc) and two teachers. There seemed to be a variety of tools to provide as much accessibility to learning for all students. The environment in this classroom differed greatly from the general ed classroom. It appeared that this self- contained classroom provided a comfortable setting for students, as well as endless amount of resources to help them complete their work at their own pace and time. There were two teachers there: One who seemed to walk around the classroom and assess and make sure students were on task; the other was there helping students with a particular vocabulary assignment. He sat there going through number by number helping any students who needed his guidance. Other students worked on other assignments, at their desk, on the computer, etc. The classroom provided 2 computers with internet access to allow students to research or complete documents in Word or Power point. It seemed like all of the students had the similar assignments to complete; however, they had the freedom to complete the assignments at their own time considering they were in the same classroom for the whole day. When assessing, the teacher seemed to give much feedback and include the student as much as possible with the assessment. The teacher was checking one girl’s progress for her Power point presentation on ten goals she had for herself in her life. The teacher first looked through each slide, and critiqued what she felt needed improvement or what she really enjoyed about the project. The student was able to comment on her assessment 3 and share her thoughts as well. The teacher was very patient and respectful of these students, so it made them respect her very much when she did come around the room and assess. Classroom Organization/Climate: Since the classroom included students with lower-incidence learning abilities, the exterior setting and physical structure of the room was very similar to a regular general ed class room. The lighting and desk set up was the same; however, the only difference I would say is the accessibility of resources. There were computers along the side of the room that students can use at their own risk; there were three teacher desks in each corner that students could sit at to work in groups or alone; there were a variety of dictionaries, construction paper, markers, etc. The students could make use of the blackboards and resources whenever they wanted as long as they weren’t disruptive to others in the classroom. The organization of the classroom goes hand in hand with the climate. The teachers seemed to have created a very comfortable and welcoming atmosphere. From the second I walked in the room, students filed in and seemed relaxed and relieved almost to be in a self contained classroom. The teacher knew when a student got a new outfit, or what the student did over the weekend, and they seemed very comfortable talking to her about their lives. It was refreshing to see, as a person who had always been in a more formal learning environment. Although regular ed teachers are just as inviting and personal, they have a job to teach a more structured and specific curriculum for each day that is not as conducive to creating such a lenient and family-like setting as a self contained classroom is. The goals and objectives in a self contained classroom are not as curriculum-based, 4 but more personal centered because of the delicate emotional and physical instabilities that certain students have. The teacher had expressed to me that some times she just has to give students the space if they’re having a bad day or they forget to take their medicine. She says, “They can’t learn properly when they don’t have it. You just have to wait till tomorrow to teach the curriculum if that’s the case. That’s not the sole goal in this classroom. They need to learn, but sometimes they physically can’t if we had strict guidelines and excessive rules.” Curriculum/Methods of Instruction: As previously stated, the classroom routines are less structured and formal as a regular ed classroom. Students have more freedom to complete tasks in their own fashion. I observed the first few periods of the day, so it could be possible that a more planned lesson was performed later in the day; however, it seemed that the main goal and operation of the class was to get each student to understand, learn, and complete work individually because not all of them learned at the same rate. One girl was a senior who was practically ready to be mainstreamed, while others needed this self- contained environment to learn. So it seemed that the teachers did a great job adapting and using a variety of teaching techniques to cater to each student individually. The type of support that the teachers gave seemed to be infinite, and were created by the students. If a student wanted to work in groups, a teacher was there to help and assist. The group that was working on a vocabulary packet listened to the way the teacher instructed. Other students worked by themselves. The classroom allowed for student interaction as long as they were doing work. This class was by no means a “free for all,” however there was a great deal of leeway, and it seemed like the students were very respectful of the fact that the 5 teachers were giving that to them. I did not really get a chance to see what types of assignments students were working on, since they all worked on individual ones, but from what I saw, it seemed the teachers gave a variety of different types of assignments: power points, computerized learning, etc. The girl who worked on the power point of ten goals of her life seemed to take it very seriously. I’ve seen regular ed students grunt and groan about using power point, but the fact is that this girl not only learned about how to use the program, but also helped her set goals for her own life. Lecturing was not an instructional method in this classroom. Because of how well these students know each other since they are together all day, the teacher took advantage of that fact and created projects and assignments where students had to integrate and work cooperatively with each other. Communication: The teacher did a very good job of communicating with the students. There was a great difference between the way she communicated and explained instructions and the way the regular education teacher did. The teacher in the self contained classroom was almost like these students’ advisor, so she made sure to grab attention to students specifically, and repeat instructions several times. She would make the students repeat back to her about what they had to do for that day. The students didn’t seem to feel patronized by this at all; they just know that they need that type of treatment. I think the main reason why this classroom is so successful and communication is well received is because of the relationship the teacher has formed with the classroom. They seemed like a family and very comfortable with each other, and I think this is ESSENTIAL for student learning. A lot of these students know they have a problem with learning, and I asked the teacher if 6 any of them feel stigmatized from being in a self contained classroom. She replied, “No not at all. They want to be here. Some of them know that they can learn better in here than in a general ed classroom. Their IEP’s aren’t high incidence like autism, for example. They feel comfortable in this classroom, so I think learning is easier for them in here.” She then proceeded to tell me about a specific girl who was mainstreamed in an English classroom and failed. “She wasn’t incapable of learning the content. She just had problems with wandering the class, and couldn’t sit still like the other students around her. She couldn’t learn that way, so she failed. And I think staying in a classroom and failing when others were succeeding created more of a stigma than being in this self contained environment.” It was clear to me that the students felt more comfortable with students they could relate to, and less comfortable around students who didn’t understand what a learning disability was capable of doing to a student’s learning process. Behavior Management: Because I was only in this specific self contained classroom for a day, I wasn’t able to see for myself how certain behavioral problems were reinforced. The students that day were respectful for the most part, but I’m sure there were days where this wasn’t always the case. It appears that the teachers have a great understanding of each student, so knowing how to handle them would be easy. When I asked about this particular management issue, she said that she included the students in self-regulating themselves. She didn’t lecture or punish them, but she has great control over them as a group. If there was talking, she asked nicely to quiet down and they did. The student response seemed very positive. She did mention, however, that there were days she had to stay away from certain students if they didn’t take their medicine. She said talking to them and yelling 7 only made it worse, so ignoring certain bad behavior was a technique she practiced, as a teacher. The teacher said she set up social and academic rules at the beginning of the term, and the students know exactly what she expects of them. I am not concluding that these students are all angels, but I think with the high level and patience, respect, and concern for these kids is portrayed very clearly to the students, and that is why they are so respectful back. With another teacher, with a different level of patience, this classroom could be completely different. However, sometimes you have to loosen the reigns a little bit, and adapt to situations as you go to get more in return. Resource/Guided Study Classroom: *Because I only observed this class for one period, observation logs are not as ample as the self contained classroom. Accessibility/Assessment: This classroom was a resource classroom and was basically like a guided study for students who have learning disabilities, but are mainstreamed. They are in all general education curriculum; however, they have one period a day where they visit with their resource teacher. The accessibility is much like the self contained classroom. The teacher is there solely to keep students on track. She had to have a variety of understanding of all subject areas, and was there basically like a tutor to help them complete work during this period, and also teach them how to organize and stay on task. Computers were all around the room, and there were many books, dictionaries, paper, markers for students to use as they please. Because this teacher didn’t teach the kids new information and was there more as a guiding teacher, she didn’t assess them. She helped them monitor their progress 8 by going around to each student and checking their assignment notebooks and looking over assignments before they turned them into their general ed teacher; however she didn’t grade them. She was very helpful though in supervising their work. Classroom Organization/Climate The organization and set up of this classroom differed slightly from a regular classroom: the desks were tables instead of regular desks. The physical structure was smaller; however, it was comfortable. The climate that the teacher created was very impressive as well. The teacher seemed to know these students very well, and was able to joke around with them. When they did goof around, she was very patient and had to keep reminding them to keep on task. She walked around the room consistently; and there was a high level of respect between the teacher and the student. The expectations of the students were clear: they knew that this environment was helping them, it was just a matter of keeping them focused. I think the students were very aware of how much the teacher was trying to help them, so as much as they may have rather been in the cafeteria like the other students, they respected the efforts of the teacher. When I asked them personally if they liked having a period like this, they more or less said that it helped them. They knew that if they were in a regular study or lunch period that they wouldn’t get any work done. So they have a great deal of understanding of the situation and of themselves. Curriculum/Methods of Instruction: The main routines and instructions to this classroom is simple and clear to the students. It’s an opportunity for them to get extra help, complete work satisfactorily, and learn to stay organized. Previously said, the one method the teacher used was checking 9 assignment notebooks and writing down on a chart what they completed each day. They are also allowed to take tests during this period, rather than in the actual gen ed period, so the students often implements a quiet, individual instruction. Communication: The teacher did a great job communicating information to the students. She set specific academic goals for each individual student, rather than for the classroom as a whole. During the classroom, she set certain rules about respecting others in the classroom, and made it clear to the “talkers” of the group that they needed to complete their own work to benefit themselves. The students were very comfortable approaching her because of the way the teacher made each student feel important and special. It was so great to see how welcoming and understanding these teachers were towards the students. Another way in which she kept up communication was creating a check off list that each regular ed teacher had to sign every day. The categories that the teachers had to check off were things such as: student behavior, completion of work during the period, etc. They had to turn in these sheets at the end of the week. This was a great way to get an understanding of the students outside of the resource room. Behavior Management: The teacher defines the “behavior problems” in this classroom. She was very consistent with her rules and reinforcements. When students were disrupting, she would ask them nicely to complete their work. The fact that she was so nice and understanding made them behave better. They didn’t take advantage of how nice she was either, from what I saw. Like the self contained classroom, the personal relationships she formed with them only bettered the behavior of the class. 10 General Education Classroom: *Because the General Education classroom had was more structured and had a set curriculum, methods of instruction and curriculum routines/assessments are more specific. Accessibility/Assessment The classroom I observed was a transitional Lit Seminar class (which was basically a remedial course for English Seniors). Most of the students had IEP’s and went to resource for one period of the day. The teacher used a variety of tools to keep the students involved and engaged. Because many of them were very unenthusiastic about the material, he included videos, packets, and his funny disposition to draw their attention and make learning less of a chore. He was flexible with letting the students use resource as a resource in learning. He had to be more lenient with certain classroom routines to allow learning to be possible. He made books, packets of background and contextual information accessible to students to help build up knowledge of certain material in the lesson plans. As for assessment, he did give quizzes on the reading to ensure student reading each night. The students complained about the quiz, and some of them had “wandering eyes,” however, he made it very clear what was expected of them. He also gave worksheets to go along with the reading to turn in. Classroom Organization/Climate: The physical structure of the classroom was very simple: there the ordinary materials found in it: paper, dictionaries, books. I found that many of the general education classrooms were more decorated and contained student work and posters hanging all over the room. This particular classroom had a bookshelf of outside reading books that 11 students could read, as well as movies and dvds. The teacher had bean-bag chairs so students could be comfortable if they wanted. As for the climate, the classroom was a little more structured and formalized than a self contained classroom; however, many of these students have been together for four years straight, so they were extremely comfortable talking to each other, which also caused a problem as well. The expressed to me, after the period, how much they enjoy the teacher because of how funny and understanding he is. They said he treated them like people and actually enjoyed being there, so it made it better for them. They said the teacher makes a huge difference in creating the right atmosphere for them, and I believe they are right. They said he was much different from some teachers they’ve had, and while they can be a “rowdy” bunch, they respect him very much. Curriculum/Methods of Instruction: This category can be more thorough because I was able to see the curriculum and materials he was required to teach across the board. The teacher used the combination of lecture and group work, and did a great job utilizing outside materials to engage the students. They were learning about all the different parts of a story: the setting, plot, rising action, climax, falling actions, and instead of just teaching that verbatim, he introduced the terms with a packet of what each one means and then had them get into groups to find it in the particular story they were reading. The next day, he used a fun exercise to get them to understand it even more. He played a movie about Scooby Doo and a series of short stories. For one particular story, he gave them a worksheet to fill out to find the setting, plot, falling action etc. It was a nice activity to adapt to students with learning disabilities who can’t often focus as well as other classes. He is not as lenient as 12 a resource teacher who caters individually to each student; however, he still is understanding of the fact that some of these students need extra help staying focused. They have low incidence learning disabilities, but are capable of learning general education curriculum. It is an issue of focusing, and many of the students have ADD and behavioral problems, so he has to be very aware of that and incorporate lessons to make them learn effectively. Communication: This teacher does a great job communicating the expectations that he has for the students, and he does it effectively, I feel. I observed another class where this wasn’t the case. I was subbing, and the teachers expressed how much of a chore the teacher made teaching appear. But this particular teacher was very explicit with his instructions and was understanding of the students if they did slip up at times. If a student performed badly on a test, the didn’t make them feel stupid or inferior, and I think this meant a lot to the students. One thing the students said was that it was important that the teacher understands them on a personal level outside of the classroom, because there were many outside factors that affected their learning. Even if material was uninteresting to students, this teacher did a great job making the class enjoyable to be in, which naturally makes the students want to perform well. Many of the students had major problems with sitting still and staying attentive, which the teacher said was very difficult to deal with sometimes. But he facilitated things well by encouraging good conversations and explaining concepts until the students understood. He used overhead projectors and technology and TV to communicate concepts, just like the Scooby Doo movie. 13 Behavior Management: The behavior in this classroom seemed worse than the other self-contained and resource classrooms. I’m not sure why this was, but I think the fact that the students knew they had a structured lesson plan, rather than a spontaneous, free-wandering environment, made the students only rebel more. It seemed the more the teacher tried to formalize the lesson, the more they became uninterested and disengaged. It was difficult for the teacher, and said this is his hardest class because of all of the behavior issues. A lot of these students were involved in fights and are consistently sent to detention, but he said he still has to be understanding of the fact that some of then can’t control it. “It’s a fine line,” he said, “because since these kids are being mainstreamed but still have the disorders that certain self-contained classes have. I need to get through a more rigorous curriculum while still managing their behavior, where in a self contained classroom, its not as structured and planned. The students are expected to be quiet when he is teaching, and take the material seriously, and I think he does a good job portraying that to them. His reinforcements seemed well received, and I was impressed with his ability to maintain an enjoyable classroom, while still being able to be serious and reprimand these students when he needs. Reflection Throughout my experience observing these three types of setting, I have to say I was very impressed with the teachers techniques and strategies with these students. I was never aware of all of the logic and reasoning behind special education, and the effects it can have on a student. Having gone to Maine South High School, I never even realized 14 how many different types of classroom settings there were to cater to students with special needs. From what I saw, the teachers made the experience what it was. Without an understanding and caring person, the students would not behave as well as they did. It was clear and very evident to me that it take a lot of patience to work with students who have learning disabilities, and these teachers seemed to magically have the respect of so many students. The atmosphere of the classroom was key to improving student learning, and it didn’t have so much to do with the curriculum alone. I realized that the curriculum teaches itself when you cater to the personal needs of each student. The teachers all seemed to have personal relationships with the students, and it made the world of a difference. In the classrooms where the students were most comfortable were the successful ones, in my eyes. Many of my theories and ideas about special education were altered because of this experience. I always thought that mainstreaming everyone was the best solution to the problem: that putting everyone in a heterogeneous mix would benefit children in the long- run, to prevent social stigmas that would affect a student for a lifetime. However, through interviewing teachers, students, and simply observing, I found that that is not always the case. All students are different, and it is the job of the administration and teachers to cater to each need to better student learning. And sometimes, they might not learn to their fullest potential if they’re all mainstreamed. If the level of comfort is not there among “regular students,” the student with the learning disability won’t be able to learn as well. And that is what I learned. I saw first-hand, how close and comfortable the students in self-contained and resource were with each other and their teacher. And everything else fell into place. Learning wasn’t a struggle, and if it was, they had 15 unlimited resources and were able to work on their own time without the pressure of deadlines and structured learning to bring them down. I also learned that there are some problems that students cannot mentally or physically control. After seeing it and experiencing it, it seemed okay to contain students and give them extra treatment, because they may need it. It should be treated like a medical issue or problem, because in essence, that is what it is. And society has built up ADD, or depression, and certain emotional issues to be a problem that people can control and manage without any outside help. And that is where the problem lies. I found this experience to be very eye- opening, and I’m glad I was able to experience it. My theories and philosophy on education is growing and developing every day, and observing and seeing it first-hand is something that a textbook could never teach me.
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