This week's #WeirdEd post and questions are written by Anne Lafferty.
This is a post about special education. Wait! Don’t run away! It’ll be fun! Hey, don’t worry, I’ll drop all the abbreviations here at the door and leave them right there for the remainder of the post: FAPE, LRE, IDEA, IEP, PLOP, BIP. ITP. Also, no paperwork today. We’re going on a tour and I’m your guide.
“I couldn’t do what you do.” The last time I heard this phrase it made me think - I haven’t had many visitors to my class outside of parents and specialists. I'm a teacher of kindergarteners and first graders with moderate-severe disabilities. Most people don’t really know what goes on inside my classroom, so I’m going to take you on a tour of my space. Bear with me - it’s my first year in this setting so it’s a bit of a work in progress.
Here is my student seating. Some of the chairs at the table are specialized to provide physical support for students with low muscle tone. One chair has a bumpy, squishy cushion to help a student to sit. They love it - and my own kids love sitting on that chair when they visit. At the circle all students sit in cube chairs, which also provide some postural support.
Some of my kids are learning how to control a pen, pencil, or crayon. Others are working on remembering and writing their home address and phone number. I have one student learning how to type using Keyboarding Without Tears. We needed to adjust the mouse to make it “sticky” so she could drag and drop. You can see the progress one of my kids made in drawing his self portrait, too, since the beginning of the year.
This is our visual schedule. By now all of my students recognize each item on the agenda. Everyone in my room - myself, paraeducators, specialists - love the visual schedule. The symbols really make a difference in quickly identifying what comes up next.Some students have their own personal schedule. They put each item on the left side in the morning and right before lunch. As we go through our day, the students move the current activity to the right. This helps decrease anxiety that a lot of my students feel when they transition from one activity to the rest. Velcro is the best invention ever and makes an excellent birthday gift for the special education teacher in your life. Ahem.
For language arts and math we have a modified curriculum with lots of visual and auditory supports. Some of my kids can follow along near grade level, others are working on goals to participate by gesturing or otherwise indicating a choice. Some students are working on things like addition and subtraction, others are working on counting meaningfully to 10 or 20. Every student has their own unique goals that my curriculum can help address. For some of my students language arts and math are opportunities to work on fine motor and language skills.
Most of my kids need some help navigating campus. We have to watch a little more carefully for steps, ice, corners, and uneven ground. Imagine walking around on this playground using a walker or crutches.
If it’s bright out, sunglasses or a baseball cap can help. In classrooms with fluorescent lights some of my students may need a hat to help deal with that kind of light. In noisy places like the cafeteria, assemblies, or bathroom some of my students use noise-canceling headphones to cut down on the distracting and annoying noises around them.
We have weekly visits from the speech therapist, occupational therapist, adaptive P.E. teacher, and the physical therapist. Here, students work on things like cutting with adaptive scissors (aren’t these cool? Before I worked in this class I didn’t know there were so many kinds of scissors), writing, catching a ball, swinging a bat, balance and walking. Some of my students are working on building vocabulary or using three or more words in a sentence. Here are some of our occupational therapy toys…
I hope you enjoyed this tour of my room and what we do. My kids are capable of quite a lot and while their progress doesn’t always show up on measurements from state standards or common core, they learn a lot every day. I think it’s valuable to explore settings that are really different to what we are used to, whether different subjects, grade levels, or settings. It’s good to know the range of what is out there, outside of the cocoons of our little worlds. I think there are valuable things to find for our students in all sorts of settings.