Students with Disabilities classroom reflection #1

Feb 18, 2008

Students With Disabilities                                                                                           IL 2502

School/Classroom Observation Report

Description of Setting

            Lunar Area Middle School is the typical non-descript suburban school located within the typical non-descript suburban setting. The school is not nationally ranked by any standard for academics and though I have driven past the school many times in my life its existence was not known to me until my student teaching observation began. The Language Arts curriculum appears to be what one would find at any other middle school. A poetry unit begins the school year, and from there the usual units involving short stories, fiction and non-fiction, a persuasive speech unit accompanies the informative speech unit, and so on. Even the novels used are the standard eight-grade texts: Holes, Call of the Wild, The Outsiders, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Dairy of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (with any mention of Anne’s menstruation and interest in sex removed of course). An unimaginative school wide curriculum suggests that the differentiated instruction for students-with-disabilities is also unimaginative. Nothing in my research refuted that assumption. Curriculum is mentioned first because what students are studying has more importance to any study of school policies and academic performance than do demographics. However, the students are predominately European-American, about 90%; most of the other 10% are African-American; a small number of students are Asian-American. The economic demographics are mostly middle-class with a few new upper-middle class housing plans having been built in the last few years. The district recently developed plans to build new facilities for the middle and high schools. I could find no mention of new technology designed to benefit students-with-disabilities being included in the plans.

            I will end the introduction by saying that based on the teacher in-service workshop on inclusion I attended this week a follow-up study or a more in-depth study of Lunar Area Middle School’s inclusion policies will provide evidence to the district’s commitment to teacher students with disabilities.

Official Policies

            Information about school policies were obtained by talking with the director of Special Education for the district and with the middle school’s Special Education director.

            The district Special-Ed instructor said the school has more “exception” than policy. They do things they find to work and eliminate the things that do not work. His background is in psychology and needed to take courses to fulfill state requirements for his position. He believes inclusion is a “good” thing because it allows special-ed students to interact with their peers, and because it uses peer pressure to force them to achieve more. He also thinks an authentic academic environment is important being that it fosters a sense of belonging for students as well as giving those students the best possible instruction.

            Students with disabilities cannot be suspended for more than ten days at a time or more than fifteen days in a school year due to the fact they are not physically able to complete the work. He mentioned the FAPE law which prohibits lengthy suspensions. He also mentioned that parents may sign NOREP. NOREP allows suspended students to go to another facility instead of being suspended. The director mentioned that the district had a habit of overusing a special school for special-ed students with behavioral problems. The district was send students to this school well above the state average which resulted in the school being put on probation for doing this.

            Inclusion at all costs will not be done at the district. Some students need more one-on-one instruction and benefit from the extra attention they receive from one-on-one instruction. A lawsuit was brought upon the district by parents who believed the district was dumping students in LE. The settlement reached, called Gaskins, ensures that all necessary steps are taken to keep students out of the resource room. Two meetings are needed with the general-ed teachers before an IEP can be written. The settlement also forces the district to undergo observations by monitoring teams to ensure compliance.

            The district is also on probation because its special-ed students scored poorly on the PSSAs. I was told by the school special-ed instructor that some of those problems are due to the PSSA standards being raised every year for special-ed students and it is difficult to keep pace with the raising standards. Remediation programs such as Study Island and Pass Key are in place. These programs are more geared for the students who have the better chance of improving their scores than the general population.

Practices and Procedures

            During the observation time of my student teaching experience I was able to witness one inclusion Social Studies class and one Learning Support Language Arts class. The inclusion class did not seem to be any different to any regular class. The special-ed teacher spent most of her time going around the room keeping the LS students on task. She did not appear to do any instructing. The regular-ed teacher does not change his teaching style to suit any particular sub-group in his classroom, be that a sub-group of Accelerated Students or a sub-group of Special-Ed students. No differentiated instruction was used, nor was any type of adaptation used. The instruction was a boring lecture on some pointless occurrence from the fifteenth-century and overall no student seemed interested. I personally could not wait for the class to end. Some IRE was involved but the class was mostly lecture. A worksheet may have been involved but I cannot remember. To be fair to that teacher this was the only class of his I observed and to his credit he is more than willing to have any number of special-ed students in his classroom.

            The LS LA class I observed was difficult for me to comprehend. I was allowed to interact with students and I received copies of the class materials, but the purpose of the instructional style I did not understand. By that I mean what the teacher was doing. The students had the materials that the regular-ed students had but they were accompanied with more in-depth study materials than the students in the regular classes received. The study guides, or work books, had vocabulary, grammar, and comprehension exercises. Students work independently in the class. They are able to work at a pace different from the other students but not their own. They have progressions they must make and the teacher pushes them to meet those standards.

            Differentiated instruction is used in the form of audio books. Students who use the audio books must do the same work the other students do in the form of worksheets and study guides. They also must read from printed texts. Listening alone will help them become better readers but it is not a replacement for actual reading I was informed. The students in this class seemed very antsy and most were preoccupied by my presence or were continuously disrupted from their work by one student who did not stop talking, making noise, or moving around the classroom.

            As to what the instructor was doing I am not sure. She moved around during the class helping students complete the exercises in their workbooks. She also spent a considerable amount of time correcting student behavior. At the time I did not see her as being much more than a tutor or babysitter to these students. However, she and the other special-ed teacher I observed during the inclusion class are both highly capable and dedicated professionals who have dedicated their careers to teaching students with disabilities. The problem could be that school or district policies restrict their efforts to properly instruct students with disabilities.

            My cooperating instructor takes the same approach to having LS students in his classroom as does the social studies teacher I observed. The only form of adaptation or accommodation her makes for his LS students is to remove one wrong answer from multiple choice tests. He has told me that during my practicum I need to make an effort to call on the LS students to get them involved in class discussions. All other instruction and assessment is the same. During the persuasive speech unit one female LS student had difficulty doing her speech. Immediately after beginning she started crying and had to leave the room. She was allowed to stop her speech and leave the room. The next day she attempted her speech a second time. This time she also cried. She finished her speech crying the whole time and went several minutes longer than the allotted time. She received zero score for time which in the speech rubric is enough to lower the grade by two-letter grades. My cooperating instructor answered when asked that because she is in the room she must be held to the same standard as the other students. I do not feel comfortable enough with my cooperating instructor to ask why more practice time or scaffolding was used for this unit or why his LS students did not receive adaption for this assignment. I was not present for the entire unit but I believe the only type of warm-up students got before the speech was doing a form of impromptu speech which lasted one minute. To my knowledge no formal speech-giving instruction was provided to students other than giving them a rubric to follow.

            In my cooperating instructor’s classroom no other form of adaption is used besides what is done for the tests. The LS students do not do very well. They have trouble keeping up with the reading and need to have things repeated several times which tends to hold-up class (my apologies for the colloquialism). My cooperating instructor has had two LS students removed from his class because they could not keep up with the coursework. My interests are in observing his classroom environment and instructional style next year when inclusion will be mandatory for Language Arts.

Personal Reflection and Conclusion

            While it is my personal belief that all instruction should be adapted and differentiated for the benefits of all students, not just the students with disabilities, and it is also my belief that the type of inclusion found in Lunar Area Middle School has no substantial benefit for students with disabilities, I have to admit that effort must be made to matriculate special-ed students out of special-ed classes and into regular classes whenever possible. There can be no long term benefit to keeping special-ed students removed from the general population. Once their time in secondary school ends, these students will either be expected or needed to function in society as will people without learning disabilities, or they will want to. Being in a regular classroom may cause them to have lower grades than if they took special-ed classes only, but the experience they gain interacting with their peers will have a greater impact on their quality of life than if they can remember what a microbe is on a test.

            Specifically speaking the one-teach one-assist format in the inclusion classes seems to be ineffective. The LS teachers are more like assistants or helpers not teachers. The general-ed teachers realize this deficiency and worry what will happen when more inclusion is on place and they must share instruction responsibility with teachers unqualified in their respective subjects. I do have optimism this situation will improve because the social studies and science teachers on my team look forward to more inclusive education practices, as does the math teacher. My cooperating instructor,  the team’s Language Arts teacher, was concerned about contractual issues during a departmental meeting.

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