This Portfolio Narrative will present my combined ten years of field work as an educator of special needs and special education students in an inclusion setting. I have had the privilege of acquiring all these experiences in a private school, as opposed to a public or pre-school, setting. The private school experience has furnished me with a plethora of unique and delightfully interesting insights into the educational process while also providing me with an outlet for what I truly love. I appreciate the fact that over the past ten years I have worked side by side with individuals that truly love what they do.
The shared vigor for molding young minds in a positive way has allowed me to make great long-lasting friendships but has also provided me with a chance to gain new knowledge from other teachers and administrators who were more like mentors and coaches than peers. Teaching has given me an opportunity to positively express myself in a way that no other profession can equal. On a daily basis, I am permitted to help shape our future through the process of teaching eager minds. "While you may not see firsthand the love of learning you have instilled in a child or the sense of responsibility that paves the way for a child to become successful in life, you have planted the seed that will someday grow beyond your wildest dreams!" (Murray, 2002)
Therefore, the objective of this portfolio narrative is to capture that before mentioned spirit and present these combined experiences in a format that can be used to receive college-level credits equivalent to my professional work history, insights, experiences and knowledge of the educational process. The report will convey what I have learned regarding lesson planning, questioning skills, cooperative learning techniques, differentiating instruction and other strategies for teaching exceptional children in a regular classroom.
Private School chose the private school setting because of a high level of uniformity. My experience and from speaking with public school educators, I have seen that the public elementary school systems throughout our nation lack in the sense because they provide very different curriculums from school to school and within schools, from class to class. It is very likely that when twins in different classrooms in the same grade but in a public school are most likely learning at completely different levels and covering completely different topics.
My experiences show that a public school curriculum is often written in general terms of vaguely defined skills and processes that are too abstract. It is to often the case that teachers for the same grade and level are totally unaware what their peer next door is covering. The private school setting on the other hand provided worked on the simple questions, what will your child be learning today.
The private school setting offered teachers a sound and well defined curriculum that was coordinated at the grade level and then the individual teacher level. This line of reasoning removed the repetition and gaps in the educational process. This private educational setting better met the needs of the children because it provided a curriculum that taught the same core knowledge for a particular grade no matter what teacher or level the students had the year before.
The First Day Jitters
In my experience, the first day of school is a mixture of nervous energy and often jitters. I have found it to be the toughest day of a school year for special needs and special education students because they often have additional anxieties, feelings of inadequacies, phobias and are usually lacking self-confidence. Forcing children to sit at a desk for any long periods of time on the first few days of a school year could zap the life out of class. My objective is to always refocus those energies into something positive. For the last seven years, I have used a technique to remove a great deal of the inner tensions and fears by starting the school year with a redirection technique or 'ice breaking' game.
For example, by choosing a theme prior to the hectic first day (i.e. squirrel, gingerbread man, prince or princess) the class is told that a friendly squirrel is hiding somewhere in the school and it is the children's job to draw a likeness of what they feel a squirrel looks like. This technique instantly occupies the children while allowing for visits with first day parents. Once the parents have gone, the class is given a new objective to help find the themed animal. The pictures are used as a diversionary tactic for trip to the library to meet the librarian and have her read a story directly correlating to the theme.
Once complete, the children are escorted to the library with their pictures in hand. After the library, the tour will continue throughout the campus to the cafeteria, nurse's office, playground, front office and at specified points the school staff is introduced. The final destination is back at the class where a college may put a fluffy stuffed animal for the children to hug and play with. This technique has consistently broken through to even the most introverted child while providing new comfort levels regarding the campus and the administration on the first day of school.
Lesson Planning have never been intimidated by the process of designing, researching and implementing lesson plans. As mentioned, over the past decade, the private school setting has provided me with excellent peer and mentor relationships that have helped my already strong planning skills. I feel I have become proficient to a point of scholarship.
The private school administration has emphasized that it is a mandatory requirement for all lesson plans to be both peer and department head reviewed prior to an implementation of the plan. Thus, unlike the public school sector where a lesson plan may or may not be required, I have grown in a system that has forced me to have lesson plans complete and accurate in advance of the particular session date described. The school has consistently utilized the six step lesson plan because of the simplicity to the documentation but the efficient manner of implementation. "The six standards they propose are that the work should have clear goals, require adequate preparation, make use of appropriate methods, produce significant results, demonstrate effective presentation, and involve reflective critique." (Cranton, 2000) Our typical lesson plan contained:
Stating the obvious, special needs and special education students have more immediate needs when it comes to the cooperative learning skills required of a typical student. It is not always as simple as asking for quite voices and straight lines. "Teaching effectiveness is inferred from the product that was created; it is the product that is the indicator of scholarship." (Cranton, 2000) Over the course of my career I have come to understand that the special needs child must often be preoccupied with a mental chore or even the implementation of a basic reward system to make walking down a school corridor less challenging. An example might include something like singing a song mentally or changing physical expectations like asking the children to walk on tiptoes.
Other experiences I have acquired that help in regard to cooperative learning includes always trying to minimize the distance between myself and whichever child I intend to speak to. This approach has been extremely successful for avoiding the shout across the room game and subconsciously provides a model for appropriate behavior.
When nap time is appropriate for a particular age, I have become a proponent for playing soft, slow classical music during down times. The special needs and special education students seem to find a mental quite place which promotes a calm and peaceful environment. It is also an excellent opportunity to introduce and familiarize students with composers and musical arrangements. Also along the line of rest and relaxation, over the course of my career I have moved ever more close in regard to decorating my classrooms with home-like features with the intention of softening the class atmosphere.
But no better lesson has been learned over the past decade that is more critical to the success of education a child with special needs than constant praise. I have learned to think before I speak so as to focus on the positive and to do my best to avoid or ignore bad behaviors as long as safety and manner are appropriate. The scream for attention has come further apart in each year of teaching as I became more experienced and patient.
Working with all types of children has both good and bed times. "Teaching is rewarding, challenging and fulfilling. You'll also find it can be tough, rough and discouraging." (Williamson & Thornton, 1998) Special children have other unique challenges as well. Special needs and special education students also enjoy…