Educating the Exceptional Learner Benchmark Assignment

Abstract
This paper reflects on the teacher candidate’s observations of the student “Junior” and the various accommodations that were made for him in various classroom settings. It also discusses different accommodations that could be made in general education classes and special education classes. The paper discusses the need for high school students to be self-advocating or self-determining and learning to make decisions on his or her own. SPE-226 Educating the Exceptional Learner Benchmark Assignment: Teaching for Exceptionalities Students with exceptionalities are a breed all their own.

Each student has individual strengths, weaknesses, and individualized education programs/plans (IEPs) tailored to those needs. There are many resources, accommodations, and settings for these students to help ensure their academic success. One particular student, herein called “Junior,” is a mixed bag of interesting. Junior’s cognitive abilities are on par with his classmates. However, he needs help with reading, writing, and other social and behavioral skills. He likes to engage in discussion, enjoys music, and is diligent in his work. Observing him, his teachers, and other various special education classrooms has given valuable information to increase my teaching strategies.

Inclusive Math Class
Junior’s first period class is Algebra 1-2. It is an inclusive class and is co-taught by Meinen and Geigas. Meinen, the special education teacher, is there to help students and provide assistance services to Geigas’s teaching. However, all of Geigas’s classes have some form of inclusion. Consequently, Geigas’s teaching strategies differ from regular education teaching strategies in order to appeal both to the inclusive students and regular students. For instance, Geigas uses different colored pens for different the different steps of a problem when he is teaching and doing problems with the class. He is also willing to create copies of the class worksheet for any student who needs it, not just special education students. The accommodations for Junior’s quiz were highlighting the directions for him and writing the different formulas, like point-slope form and the equation for finding the slope of a line, on his paper for easier access.

Highlighting the directions for Junior’s quiz was successful. He knew what was expected of him, and what he needed to accomplish with the quiz. He did not need to have the directions read to him or explained to him. In addition, writing the formulas on his paper helped keep him on track. He only needed help with one graphing question, which could be a difficult question for any student. Because Junior only missed two questions due to minor mistakes, I believe the accommodations were very successful and do not need to be changed. Furthermore, I would review the minor mistakes with Junior, have him explain where he went wrong, and give him half-credit since he had the major concepts correct.

Many other technologies or other instructional supports exist that could enhance the learning for Junior and his classmates. In the math classroom, there are white boards and a document scanner. The document scanner is what Geigas and Meinen use to do the problems together with the students. Two major benefits to having the document scanner are having a hard copy of what work was done in class and being able to go back if necessary. If the class were only using the white board, each problem would have to be erased in order to move on to the next problem. If a student needed to go back, this would create a lot of wasted time redoing work that was previously done.

Another good technology tool that students could use is Khan Academy, a website with videos and exercises to help anyone learn skills and concepts at their own pace (Khan Academy, 2013). It also tracks all data inputted and shows the user’s statistics over time. This information is private to the user, but it can be shared with teachers and coaches, so teachers can use the Khan Academy classroom in their own physical classrooms (Khan Academy, 2013). While Khan Academy is a good resource, the classroom only has one teacher computer available, so any type of technology is extremely limited.

Self-Advocacy and Self-Determination
Junior is just one student of many. There are many other special education students in the inclusive classrooms that could need more help. Because these are high school students, they need to be taught the idea of self-advocacy or self-determination. This is the idea that the student’s ability to “consider options and make appropriate decisions and to exercise free will, independence, and individual responsibility” (Hardman, Drew, & Egan, 2009, p. 92). Therefore, many of the special education students in the inclusive classes must ask for the bigger accommodations. For instance, if a student needs to go to a separate room with less people and/or have the directions read and explain to them aloud, they must ask permission to do so (A. Geigas, personal communication, November 4, 2013).

“Since self-determination skills are most effectively learned and developed by practicing them, students with disabilities should be given ample opportunity to use their self-advocacy, decision-making and socialization skills well before they leave high school to prepare themselves for working and living in their community” (PACER Center, 2013). Allowing this type of openness is actually beneficial for the students. It allows the students to become more independent while in the safe, closed environment of the classroom. Additionally, effective self-determination teaching can increase positive transitional outcomes in moving from high school to adult life (Hardman, Drew, & Egan, 2009, p. 92). For these reasons, many accommodations are not expressly given to students.

Self-Contained Special Education Class
When it comes to special education classes, there can be more focus on the individual student and his or her needs. In Junior’s special education behavior class period, the class focuses on what is expected of him and his classmates in social situations. They were planning a field trip to a symphony during the week, so the teacher discussed examples of the types of behaviors that would be expected of them and what behaviors would be unexpected in the given situation. As for Junior, he likes to be engaged in class, which leads to him shouting answers. In some classes, it is acceptable, and others it is not. He had to be reminded that he needed to raise his hand, and be acknowledged in order to speak during his turn.

Michelle Garcia Winner gives a good accommodation or lesson that can deal with this kind of behavior: I encourage teachers to keep their eyes focused on who they were talking to, hold up the palm of their hand in the direction of the blurter and say to them “I was looking at this student (say the student’s name), I was talking to this student, I am not talking to you right now.” By doing this, the teacher provides cognitive information about the process of communication that helps the student learn how to avoid blurting. (2012) On the other hand, Junior did well in understanding why certain behaviors would be unexpected, offensive, or rude while at the symphony. Given this observation, one can tell that Junior only has mild or moderate problems with social behaviors. As a result, this self-contained class was geared more towards his classmates in the room. This is a prime example of how the accommodations of special education teachers differ so greatly between rooms, classes, and students.

Conclusion
Observing and talking with Junior’s teachers, special and regular education, has given me a plethora of information that has increased my teaching tools and strategies. Observing a range of classrooms and situations has given me a deeper understanding of the kind of scenarios that may be presented in my future. Overall, Junior is a very bright, engaging student. Spending time with him and observing a multitude of different classrooms has given me valuable insights into the world of teaching students with exceptionalities.

References
Garcia Winner, Michelle. (2012). Social Thinking at School. Retrieved 13 Nov 2013 from https://www.socialthinking.com/what-is-social-thinking/-social-thinking-at-school Hardman, M. L., Drew, C. J., & Egan, M. W. (2009). Human Exceptionality: School, Community, and Family (10th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning. Khan Academy. (2013). A free world-class education for anyone anywhere. Retrieved 14 Nov 2013 from https://www.khanacademy.org/about PACER Center. (2013). SELF DETERMINATION. Retrieved 13 Nov 2013 from http://www.pacer.org/tatra/resources/self.asp

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