Sunday, 23 February 2014

Pro-D in Special Education

While I am not a support teacher, I am a teacher of students with diverse learning needs.  Some are identified by the Ministry of Education and some are not, but all are entitled to as much support as I can provide.

On Thursday and Friday, I had the opportunity to attend the Special Education Society of British Columbia's Crosscurrents conference.  With the make-up of my class and a strong interest in differentiated instruction, I decided to attend this conference last year and attended again in order to learn as much as I could from British Columbian Special Education teachers.

As well, I've been taking a BC CASE course, which focuses on Special Education, through my school district.  I wanted to learn as much as I could about codings, acronyms, and supporting the diverse learners in my class, so this seemed like a great opportunity to soak up more knowledge from experts within my district.  I really value the opportunity to discuss student needs with a diverse group of educators within my school district.

As I reflect on all that I've learned through these experiences, and my experiences as a teacher of a very diverse class, I have as many questions as answers.  I've been thinking a lot about adaptations and personalized learning, as I have spent the past few years seeking to meet the needs of all learners in my classes, whether or not they have ministry identifications.  My priority is increasing students' engagement and their opportunities to succeed.  As well, I have been reflecting on how my understanding of Special Education, and the needs of all learners, has evolved throughout my teaching career, thus far.

Some of my wondering includes:
  • How might my teaching change if I worked through the creation of an IEP document with every student and parent in my class in September?  (Not just coded kids...everybody!)
  • Why are adaptations usually associated with Special Education?  Shouldn't they be an integral part of education?  (I know that they are for many teachers but I have heard some teachers say that they will not adapt unless an IEP calls for it.)
  • How can we better educate pre-service teachers on adapting for diverse learners?  I feel that my skills in this area were weak when I began teaching and wonder if others felt the same way.
  • How can we better educate new teachers about the role that School Based Team meetings, counsellors, special education teachers, teacher-librarians, administrators, youth workers, Aboriginal education workers, speech and language pathologists, school psychologists, and other specialist teachers play in our school system?  I don't feel that I was aware of these important roles when I began teaching.
  • I am currently completing my Master's in teacher-librarianship.  How could the role of a TL be integrated with the role of a support teacher?  How are they similar?  How are they different?  The more I learn about both positions, the more I think they could be integrated to provide student support across a school.
Teachers can (and should, in my opinion) adapt for any student at any time.  We should know our students well enough to do this, particularly as the year progresses.  The more I learn about Special Education, the more convinced I become that many of the approaches used by Special Education teachers should be integrated into the practice of all teachers.  I feel badly about my lack of knowledge in this area when I began teaching and remain committed to learning as much as I can about Special Education so that I can meet the needs of my students as effectively as possible.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Bringing Elementary to Secondary

People often ask me what I think of elementary school after spending six years as a secondary school teacher.  Honestly, I love it!  The more I think about the elementary school system, the more I realize how limited I was by the timetable and structure of the secondary system.  I didn't realize it at the time, but I was restricted by the fact that the bell rang and students had to leave, and by the fact that I was in charge of one subject in its time slot.  The opportunity to facilitate cross-curricular learning opportunities has really opened my eyes to the possibilities that could exist in secondary school.

Through cross-curricular projects and learning activities, my students are able to meet learning outcomes for many subject areas at once.  I love the ability to integrate curricula and feel that it provides me with an opportunity to engage students in learning which connects with the world around them.  As well, this allows students to delve into one project and meet learning outcomes from a variety of areas.

It's no secret that I'm a fan of inquiry-based learning.  I used inquiry in secondary school but I feel that opportunities for this type of learning could be improved by an examination and restructuring of the secondary school system.  One suggestion I have made in my discussions with colleagues is the possibility of enrolling students into cohorts for some of their studies.  I know that this does happen in some schools.  Science Co-op was a program when I was a student and involved combining science courses and work experience so that students could use their time more flexibly for the semester, attending field trips and work experience opportunities.  I think it would be fantastic to combine English courses with elective courses.  Students could explore areas of interest alongside a teacher with the same passions.  They could build their literacy skills while reading and writing about their elective course theme.  What if these courses incorporated mathematics, as well?  Or Social Studies?  Health and Career?  I can imagine how well English 10, Social Studies 10, Planning 10, and a grade 10 elective would fit together.  I know that some cohort-based programs are offered in secondary schools, but would love to see this become a more available option so that students and their teachers can explore the same cross-curricular learning opportunities that I am enjoying as an elementary teacher.  (I am aware that it would be a timetabling nightmare, of course!  I can dream, though!)

The longer I teach elementary school, and learn about my students' lives and interests, I realize how little I knew about my secondary school students.  At the time, I felt that I had strong connections with many students and their parents, particularly if I taught them for multiple years.  Now, I realize how much there is to know about my students.  The advantage of having students in cohorts at the secondary level would have relational benefits, as well.