P1 – Practice intentional inquiry and planning for instruction. This standard means that as a teacher I will be planning and adapting curricula based on standards to personalize it to the diverse needs of every student in my classroom. Figure 1 shows a portion of a lesson I wrote for General Inquiry and Teaching Assessment Methods, showing my intentional plan for a lesson in literacy for third grade. Marzano (2007) suggests that in forming declarative knowledge, students need to review and revise the information as they understand it, and that one way to do so is to have students compare things and ideas. With this in mind, I have planned a lesson that takes into account both the standard and the need for students to review and revise their information. This portion of the lesson demonstrates that I am learning to adapt standards to the benefit of my students, though I am beginning to understand that more thought and effort goes into planning lessons so they fit the needs of each student than I have displayed here. In this lesson plan, having students compare and contrast two different stories is helpful for them to deepen their understanding of writing conventions and parts to a story. In the case of this lesson, I think the most crucial thing it is missing is a specific plan for personalizing it to individual students. If I were to actually use this plan in my classroom, I would add a plan B for if the students aren’t quite understanding, and I would like to split the lesson segment up further.
During my undergrad, I took a short-term class on inclusive education, which examined the benefits of including all students – including those with disabilities – in standard education. I’ll be honest: I did not like the class, and I did not think that inclusive education was beneficial to anyone, the disabled students, the teacher, or the classrooms. Part of the reason for this was because I have a very strong belief that an individualized education for everyone is one of the best ways to teach, and trying to lump everyone into the same category is not the way to accomplish that. I still hold on to this belief, and try to model my practices as a tutor and aide after this fashion, but since working in a local K-8 school and beginning classes at SPU, I have changed my beliefs about inclusion.
First of all, there is no evidence showing that students learn better when they are isolated from their peers. Studies have shown that while adding students with disabilities to a classroom has no negative impact on the learning of the other students, the positive benefits for the disabled students are huge (Scheuerman, 2015). In fact, the students who are pulled from the classroom to work on their own show a significant drop in achievement. The same can even be said for students who are not disabled, but are considered “low achievers”; these students, when mixed into a group of “high achievers” or “leaders” will also perform better, but when shuffled off with other “low achievers”, they have less academic success (Marzano, 2007). It was hard for me to argue with these facts. On the other hand, when I taught preschool, I had two autistic kids in my class with no additional support. I had neither the training, nor the experience to help me teach them, so often I did not know what to do when confronted with a situation where my students were wandering around the room during naptime, or dumping toys out of buckets constantly without cleaning up. It was frustrating and time-consuming, and it took away my attention from the rest of the classroom. I think now, however, that this was a bit of an extreme situation. In my current work as a tutor and classroom aide, I’ve seen the results of students with IEPs and who are disabled (called Access students) after they have been working in the classroom with the teacher and usually another helper. The age of the rest of their classmates has helped – preschool is a difficult time for a teacher to keep a classroom under control while distracted. But these Access students flourish under the support and care of their teacher, and they learn to work with other students. One student is oppositional-defiant, and she spends the majority of her time in the classroom. She has an IA working with her for the most part, and will sometimes request to leave the classroom if she feels that she is being particularly difficult to work with, but this is a choice she is allowed to make. She consciously thinks about her behavior (or someone helps her realize her behavior) and is allowed to choose how she will respond. In this way, her teacher is not expected to ignore the rest of the class in favor of “fighting” with her, she is learning to manage and track her own behavior, she is more successful in her learning, and her classmates also learn techniques for handling sometimes difficult situations.
It has taken reflection and learning on my part, but I have found that I’ve changed my tune in terms of inclusive education. Every child deserves an appropriate education, regardless of their special needs. And, as Dr. Scheuerman said in class, “every child is special”. Every child has his or her own unique qualities that make them an individual, and every child will need some kind of special attention now and then. It’s up to us as teachers to ensure that this is true for all students. I am a firm believer that including every student in the normal classroom can only promote growth and learning for everyone involved.
Scheuerman, R. (2015). Special education and exceptionalities. [PDF Document]. Retrieved from Blackboard: https://bbweb03.spu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-1056248-dt-content-rid-2155116_1/courses/EDU6989_44077201453/Issues.Session%203%20%28Inclusion%29.pdf
Marzano, J. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
During our panel discussion in class this week, the question of a teacher’s responsibilities regarding the inclusion of religion education as a part of the curriculum, in the sense that it is an important topic to promote global citizenship. A subject of controversy, the idea of promoting either teaching values or teaching about religions in school brings up the “separation of church and state” argument. Although I am in support of this concept as a general rule, I think that the lengths we have gone to in order to keep religion out of our public schools are extreme. That’s not to say that one religion, even if it is the most predominant in our society, should be espoused, but neither should one belief. As put by McConnell (1995), “it is no more neutral to favor the secular over the religious than it is to favor the religious over the secular.” As the United States becomes increasingly diverse, the necessity for encouraging and teaching acceptance of all grows stronger. Pretending that religion isn’t a part of our world does no favors to those who will one day have to take their own place, and only encourages ignorance and a lack of acceptance that is needed. Knowing this, my belief is that a teacher’s responsibility is not to ensure that all thought or act of religion be removed from schools, but rather to ensure that students understand why it is that some people may act the way they do. On a smaller scale, helping students understand each other can reduce bullying and increase awareness of others’ feelings. On a larger scale, it helps students to see what is going on in the world, and what they can do to help. As an example, I was in 6th grade when the twin towers were hit by terrorists. Growing up in a predominantly white, Lutheran community, I’d never really heard of (or never paid attention to) this strange religion called Islam. All I knew was that Muslims hated Americans, and they thought we were bad people because we didn’t believe what they did. It was a narrow, uneducated belief, shared by many of my friends and peers, and one that could have been avoided had we been taught that Christianity wasn’t the only belief people had (this was something I knew vaguely, but did not quite grasp). The US was swept by Islamophobia after 9/11, and still is, causing mistrust, systemic racism, and acts of violence that are completely misplaced. This is why teachers need to be advocates for well-balanced, neutral education that lets students know that while there are different religions and cultures, and these can motivate us to certain behaviors, it doesn’t mean they are wrong. It is their responsibility to ensure that their own beliefs aren’t being force-fed to students, and that other religions and cultures are represented in their classroom as normal, routine examples. When I taught preschool, we had a “diversity” unit for helping students put words to the different cultures they saw, but diversity was something we taught year-round. Our art was inspired by different cultures, we held discussions about how (or what!) other people might eat during mealtimes, and our materials depicted people from all around the world. I think the same thing should be happening in elementary and secondary schools. In math, students learn that much of it came from Greece, but the Greeks were only a part of the history of mathematics. Medieval Europeans believed that math could explain the created order of nature, and that God had ordered all things by weight, measure, and number. Other cultures and religion helped shape what we know today, and our students should understand this in order to help them find their place in the world as responsible, global citizens.
McConnell, M. (1995). Testimony of Michael W. McConnell. Evans, D. (2005). Taking sides: Clashing views on controversial issues in teaching and educational practice. Dubuque, IA: McGraw-Hill/Dushkind.