Hi, I'm Erin, and I teach English. This portfolio chronicles my educational accomplishments. You can e-mail me at ekkross@gmail.com.

Collaborative Relationships

Assignment A

Overview:

Both IEP's and 504's are created with the intention of giving students the best opportunity to find success in school regardless of their special needs. They also set up a foundation of support between the parents and people who work with the student in school in order to give the student the most support possible.

IEP's need to include the student's present level of performance, measurable annual goals, related services, an indication of the student's participation in the general education setting, the dates of service or modifications, a statement of needed transition services starting at age 14, how progress toward annual goals will be measured, and how parents will be informed of the student's progress.

A 504 plan can include a wide variety of special needs a student may have. This includes communicable diseases, temporary disabilities requiring some hospitalization or homebound recovery, allergies/asthma, recovering alcoholic or drug user, environmental illnesses, students 22 or older, or parents with disabilities, and students with disabilities who do not need an IEP. In order to start a 504 plan, the student must first be referred by a teacher, parent/guardian, physician, or therapist. A meeting is then scheduled, plan developed, and a review date is set.

One of the differences between an IEP and a 504 plan is that 504's include temporary disabilities. 504 plans also often cover accommodations beyond the classroom, specifically for students who need to have their special needs met while hospitalized or a homebound recovery. 504's also cover the needs of students who do not qualify for an IEP.

General Educator's Role:

The participants in an IEP team include, but are not limited to, the parents of the child with special needs, general educator(s), special education teacher, administrators, school counselors, school psychologists, and the student when appropriate. General education teachers are important on an IEP team because they are the people who typically spend the most time with the student in school. We can provide insight into their abilities in different subjects, how they respond to a variety of methods, as well as attest to the student's behavioral tendencies and their typical social skill and interactions. All of these aspects of the student's learning experience are essential to understanding the whole picture and therefore creating a plan that is best suited to the individual student's needs.

Benefits:

It is beneficial to include the general educator in the IEP and 504 planning process because they can be a consistent support system for both the parents and the child during the planning process as well as the implementation. This support system is also important for the other teachers that are involved in the student's plan because teaching a child is a team effort. Additionally, students and parents will feel that the general educator is genuinely interested in the academic and social success and general well being of the student. As I mentioned above, the general educator can also add to the "big picture" view of the student's educational experience. This fuller view only serves to further help create a suitable plan and support system for the child.

Expertise:

My own areas of expertise are more specific than just "English" or "Secondary Education." I have learned to be a good listener, to students, peers, and parents. This is a useful area of expertise because it allows me to understand the needs of my students and do my best to take care of them. I am also very good at gaining and maintaining the respect of my classroom. I use this skill to help them learn how to be respectful, kind, and accepting of each other and therefore create a high quality learning environment in which no one is singled out because they are different from the majority. This is a useful skill because I can teach my students how to treat all students, regardless of their special needs, with the kind of basic human respect they all deserve. I also bring a serious passion for Literature, Language Arts, and teaching to my career as well. This passion can be seen in all aspects of my teaching and is usually infectious. Because my students see how important they and my job are to me, they are typically more inclined to listen and become interested in the subject matter.

References:

Assignment B

Challenge Related to Inclusive Education:

Case Study: In one of the middle school classrooms I observed in last year, one class period of the time I would spend there was made up of about half students with special needs and half regular education students. The students with special needs included physical and mental retardation, as well as learning disabilities and behavior disorders. This presented a problem in many ways in this particular classroom. The rest of the students often ignored the students with special needs. It also seemed as though the teachers did not know how to either handle the students' needs, or how to fully include them into the everyday workings of the class.

Often, in the classroom of about 26 students, there would be between two and five adults, including my observation partner, myself, and the school's special education teacher. In spite of this fact, there was rarely a time when I felt that all of the students were on task and fully understood what was required of them for the class period. Thus, it appeared that a larger quantity of teachers could not solve the problems that were present for each student. I think that part of the difficulty came from the fact that students were receiving several different messages and directions from the different teacher in the classroom. For a student with special needs, especially learning disabilities, this can create more confusion, which often leads to frustration, and can result in some "acting out." Two male students in particular were challenged in this area. They were the students with the most severe disabilities, but were rarely given instruction beyond those presented to the entire class. This would result in the two of them missing out on activities and finding other, less productive, ways to entertain themselves.

Ideal Solutions: To help with the problem of students ignoring and even shunning the students with special needs, I would create a classroom environment that celebrates diversity in all forms (Monda-Amaya & Meadan-Kaplansky, 2005). I would use class rules to establish this setting, and have an honest discussion with my students about why rules like these are important. I would use many of the ideas we discussed in SPED 405, specifically the objective of giving each student jobs and responsibilities. This allows students to feel important and valuable in the classroom. It can also coax some of the students who may struggle with accepting others into a leadership role in which they are responsible for helping to maintain a positive classroom environment.

I would also use some class time to mix pairs of students, often pairing regular achievement students with students with special needs. The risk of this kind of method is that sometimes the regular achievement students will feel obligated to become the teacher. This would not be my intention at all. I would hope that both students could learn from each other and therefore build on the quality of the classroom environment. This would also provide "opportunities for social interaction" (Monda-Amaya & Meadan-Kaplansky, 2005), which is essential to making the students feel comfortable. Interactions like this can also help students learn how to be effective collaborators, a skill they will need later in life. Methods like these can also do wonders for students' self-esteem, helping them to feel like important and valued members of the classroom community with a unique voice worth listening to. Often this can help students who have been struggling become more interested in engaging in the activities in the classroom again because they feel as though the teacher truly cares about them as individuals, beyond just their final grades.

Finally, more in terms of academics, when students with special needs see their peers using learning strategies effectively, they can begin to see more real-life applications of the methods they have been taught. This can help them learn how to better implement them more independently.

Challenge Related to Collaboration or Co-Teaching:

Case Study: In the same middle school mentioned above, one of the classes I sat in on used a co-teaching model. One of the problems with this method was the fact that the two teachers involved had such dramatically different teaching styles. One of them, Mr. A., tended to be harsher and even mildly militant with his classroom management style. The other teacher, Ms. K., tended to be quieter and kinder, though still firm with her classroom management. One of the reasons this created problems was the fact that many of the students seemed to get conflicting ideas about what the teachers wanted from them. Mr. A. would typically point out the students' negative behaviors, whereas Ms. K. liked to give more positive feedback. This often had the effect of students being confused about whether they were performing well or poorly. Such a conflict of ideas can make students frustrated and less inclined to stay focused and complete tasks.

Additionally, there were times when it seemed as though Mr. A. would try to take over more control of the class, in spite of the fact that it was primarily Ms. K.'s classroom. This set up a strange power dynamic between the two teachers, even in front of the students. I believe that this too, could be somewhat confusing for the students, especially when they were receiving directions that varied slightly from teacher to teacher. The directions would never be completely opposite, but the small differences between instructions could easily become confusing for students who already struggle with understanding and following directions. This also made it difficult for students to determine which teacher they should go to for help when they needed it.

Ideal Solutions: Ideally, as discussed in the notes taken from Wangeman in Morsink, Thomas & Correa (1990), this situation would be prevented from the start by pairing teachers with other educators with similar, though not identical teaching styles and philosophies. This would help to cut down on any conflict or power struggle that may otherwise have occurred. It is also important for these co-teachers to clarify and coordinate their "roles and responsibilities within the partnership" (Morsink, Thomas & Correa). By determining their specific roles in the classroom, this opens up a more constructive working relationship for the two educators, with a more limited risk of confusion or conflict on their parts, and therefore becomes a more beneficial arrangement for students. There should also be more time spent planning during which both teachers sit down together and discuss all the different elements of their upcoming lessons, including, but certainly not limited to, content, classroom management, and in what ways the directions would be given to students. This would help teachers have a clearer idea of what the purpose of the lesson is and what they each are hoping to communicate with it.

Additionally, it would have been beneficial to these teachers if the administration were more involved in guiding them in the right direction to ensure they are being as effective as possible. This could have also led to a lot of self-reflection on the part of the teachers, which is one of the most valuable tools educators use to evaluate and improve on their own methods. These teachers should have also established from the beginning that both teachers are equally in charge of the classroom. This would have helped to avoid the problem of students' not knowing who to go to for help.

Specific co-teaching strategies should have been discussed explicitly before this method was implemented. I also feel that more consideration should have been put into pairing the teachers, building teams of teachers that have "complimentary dissimilarit[ies]" (Morsink, Thomas & Correa) rather than total opposites.

Challenge Related to Instructional Planning and/or Delivery:

One of the hardest parts of creating lessons for a classroom with such diverse learning needs is the fact that there are so many differences not only in terms of what help students need, but also what kind of directions students need as well. This is a problem that presented itself repeatedly in the middle school classroom mentioned above. The differing levels in academic achievement often mean that there is a lot of disparity in terms of reading and writing ability levels (in an English classroom like the middle school). Because my supervising teacher, Ms. K., was a fairly new teacher, this was an area in which she struggled quite a bit.

In one particular unit, she was teaching the class about different parts of speech. On one of the last days of the unit, she was going over prepositions. To help aid her lesson, she had handed out worksheets for the students to complete which allowed them to practice locating prepositions in sentences. The problem with this activity was the fact that some students had not yet been able to fully understand the prior lessons in order to help them distinguish between prepositions and other parts of speech. They were not able to build on prior knowledge because the knowledge wasn't there yet.

The situation become more complicated when those students who fully understood the lessons completed their worksheets while some of the students with special needs were still trying to decipher the directions and the notes Ms. K. had written on the board. This left Ms. K. with the difficult task of finding some other meaningful activity for the kids who were done to do while she went around and helped the students who were still struggling. She did not seem to feel comfortable re-explaining the lesson in a different way to the whole group of struggling students. She chose, instead, to help these students individually.

Ideal Solutions: I feel that one of the best ways to have tackled this kind of issue would be to pre-prepare for several different learning levels. We have learned in SPED 405 that a teacher must plan universally, assuming that a classroom will consist of students that have a variety of academic achievement levels, behaviors, and needs. I would present the information I was trying to teach in at least two different ways before letting the kids work on their in class assignment. I would provide ample time for students to ask me questions. To help keep the students who already understand the lesson from becoming bored, I would include them in the second teaching method, either by keeping them engaged by asking them questions, or asking them to help me explain the content in some way.

I did like the fact that Ms. K. used actual sentences to teach the students about parts of speech so that they could get a firmer grasp of the real-life applications of what they were learning. I would still incorporate this method in my own. I would also try and present the information visually though, which could be especially helpful for students who struggle with reading. Teaching the parts of speech using symbols, colors or other visual cues could clarify the differences for struggling students, as well as provide a more creative activity for students who already understand the content.

It may have also been beneficial for Ms. K. to give the students she knew were likely to struggle with the parts of speech the worksheet and notes ahead of time, thus giving them a chance to read through the content before class so that they are not encountering it for the first time in class. I would also ask these students to look over the information and come to class with any questions for me, so I can make sure to answer those questions immediately. This would also eliminate any nervousness the students might have about speaking out in class because they will not be caught off-guard by the lesson.

Collaborative Relationships Rationale