Secondary School – “Jane”
Jane is fourteen years old, and has obviously suffered from learning difficulties for many years. It is important also to note that she has limited social skills. This may be a problem with various contributing factors, having developed over a period of time – and could now possibly be adversely affecting her educational experience. As Jane has a supportive family and school environment1 and has managed to remain within the mainstream schooling system, it would be a necessity to attempt to keep her in this environment if at all possible.
The actual fact of whether or not Jane fits in and is comfortable in the presence of her peers in the classroom is also of importance though. A potential problem with a student who has a ‘severe’ learning difficulty is that they can become the victims of teasing and embarrassment in the school environment. This may or may not be the case with Jane – it would certainly be something that could be investigated in regards to her ‘shyness’ and apparent lack of social skills. I think the fact that Jane is talented in the sporting arena could be used successfully in the educational side of her schooling.
Using this interest and success in one area could then be channeled into other areas, whether it be History, English and so on. Having something positive to focus on, for the teacher, for Wendy, and her peers, could just provide a ‘window of opportunity’ to increase her confidence, spark an interest or aid in teaching certain material etc. If her teacher can provide some materials based on Jane’s interest in sport, thus engaging and motivating her – much better progress could be made. The role of Jane’s parents, and the fact that they are supportive is also fundamentally important to her education.
When educating children such as Jane who have serious learning difficulties, parental involvement and a real concern and commitment to their child’s educational and social growth would play a pivotal role. As Jane is in a secondary situation, her teachers would generally only be taking her for one particular subject. However, the role these teachers play would involve the same principles and strategies. Above all, providing a supportive learning environment is perhaps the most important role of the classroom teacher.
They would need to be aware and actively participate in any specialized learning program that has been designed for a student experiencing difficulties – and also be prepared to implement their own teaching strategies in order to meet the demands of providing a quality educational experience for Jane. The classroom teacher should also seek out advice and communicate regularly with support staff and all those involved with ensuring the curriculum meets the learning needs of Jane throughout the entire spectrum of subjects and schooling.
This concept of ‘teamwork’ is very important, and is mentioned in several studies and works dealing with educating children such as Jane. These include a University of Miami study 1, that highlights the importance, but also some of the dangers of different teachers being involved with the one student. It makes the point that in order to succeed, “open lines of communication” and “adequate preparation” are absolutely essential.
It is likely that Jane would have been ‘appraised’ in primary school, as, according to their policy guidelines, Education Queensland schools seek to “identify those with learning d This information and the fact that some of Jane’s problems may have already been identified and addressed would be very useful, as she is not long out of the primary school situation. The Support teachers employed at Jane’s school play an important role also, as mentioned, their collaboration with the classroom specific subject teachers can be of great benefit to both teacher and student.
These specialist teachers can often get a much broader picture of what is going on with a particular student, and what subject areas or methods of teaching they may be responding to or struggling with the most. Classroom teachers often make the comment that it is very difficult to give adequate attention to students experiencing difficulties in large classes without the help of support teachers. 3 The study by researchers at Miami University also concluded that in order to successfully teach students such as ‘Wendy’, additional resources, and importantly staff, were essential in the school system.
The study received feedback from teachers such as the need for “consulting support so (they) do not feel they are on their own “, and “some extra help in the classroom. “4 This would apply equally to a teaching situation with Jane – that would, as mentioned, require special strategies, materials, and a great deal of the time. This extra one-on-one time would then enable the specialist support teachers to develop a much broader insight into how to implement an appropriate learning framework in the classroom, and perhaps devise a support plan which could then be implemented by Jane’s different teachers.
Also playing an immensely valuable role in Jane’s education are her parents. Any particular concerns and feedback from her parents could be beneficial to developing a greater understanding of her particular problems, strengths and weaknesses and so on. Parental involvement is seen as highly desirable and important when dealing with children with learning difficulties. 5 This is also outlined in documents such as The NSW government’s Special Education policy, which addresses the rights and responsibilities of parents and caregivers quite explicitly.
This, and other similar documents from education departments around Australia, states that “parents and caregivers have a responsibility to support schools in the education of their children with special teaching and learning needs. 6 Jane’s parents would be able to provide valuable information on behavioural and emotional issues that may not be so easily recognizable in a class of twenty or thirty pupils for example. The fact that they are supportive of her, and thus are much more likely to participate in an education ‘plan’ in cooperation with her teachers, means Wendy is at a distinct advantage over children without this type of support.
For a student who is experiencing difficulties at school, having a supportive home environment is important. Keeping the lines of communication open between Jane’s parents and her teachers will no doubt increase the opportunity for Jane to experience some sort of success within the classroom. The principal of Jane’s school also faces many obligations in a situation such as this. In the case of having Jane in the school – the principal would need to be aware of the policies stated in the ‘Education Queensland’ brief on educating students with learning difficulties and disabilities. 7
As mentioned in an article entitled Helpful Tips for Successful inclusion in The Council for Exceptional Children’s’ Journal, teaching and successfully including ‘different’ levels of students in the school curriculum “requires a total commitment from the Principal down to the school custodian… and a team of individuals with a variety of capabilities and responsibilities. “8 The principal is charged with ensuring that the school where Jane is a pupil is committed to helping and nurturing her – whilst providing appropriate educational services to meet all of the different students’ needs.
It is also the role of the principal to ensure teachers have access to resources, support staff, training and development programs to facilitate teaching students with severe learning difficulties. The importance of having staff who are trained and experienced in dealing with students such as Jane, as mentioned in the University of Miami article,9 is a definite priority for any principal in this situation. The school principal must ensure that all of Jane’s teachers are aware and respond adequately to her learning difficulties.
This includes adopting a range of learning and teaching strategies to meet these demands as well as following closely the Ascertainment guidelines for students with learning difficulties outlined by Education Queensland. More information is available from the Queensland government document entitled “Ascertainment Guidelines for Students with Disabilities” which outlines the formal requirements for assessing children such as ‘Jane’.
The principal needs to play the role of overall coordinator – in communicating with all teachers and support personnel involved with the educational needs and performance of Jane. This would include being aware of particular problems, workload difficulties, possible lack of resources and other factors that may affect the overall success of Jane’s learning at the school. The principal has a responsibility to ensure that the curriculum and assessment procedures in place are also responsive to the needs of all students, and this is something that would need to be closely monitored.
Support services and personnel are available to provide support to both teachers and students. As mentioned, the support of many different staff members, the school principal, the childs’ parents and so on, are all important in successfully educating and ‘including’ Jane in a general school environment. Other personnel that may prove useful and should be considered include the School Counsellor, Librarian, and Career Officer. A Psychologist, Speech Pathologist, G. P. , and outside support group of parents and similar children could also prove useful.
There are several works which deal with support programs for secondary students, and detail possible ‘support’ networks that include some of the professionals mentioned above. Education Queensland has information and brochures that address some of these issues surrounding support personnel, including information for parents and caregivers on a range of physiotherapy, speech pathology and occupational therapy options for some students. 12 As a member of the Learning Support team at Jane’s school, there are certain actions that could be taken in order to maximize her success within the school system.
As Jane has already been formally assessed, the onus is now on members of the support and teaching staff to adopt a range of approaches and options designed to respond to her needs as outlined in the report. The ‘Curriculum Framework for Education Queensland Schools – Years 1-10’ states the school curriculum plan “will reflect and respond to the educational needs of all students” and that to enable all students to successfully access the curriculum, “including students with disabilities… “specialized support may be needed. Involving her parents in this process, having a meeting with them and other staff would be of benefit.
Creating an ‘individualized education program’ for Jane which could be utilized by her various teachers, is one way of ensuring that she gets maximum attention in the areas of most need. An Individualized Education Plan, according to ‘Education Queensland ’14, is a written plan that addresses the individual learning needs of a student. In Jane’s case this would outline a continuing course of action to meet her needs, and state what resources are necessary. This should be “uncomplicated and easily understood by all involved”, and seek to give Jane “realistic educational goals”.
An individualized Education Plan also, according to the ‘Centre for inclusive Schooling’ should describe the ways and means by which a program for a student experiencing difficulties with learning will be carried out. it also provides a record of student pro gress, and is described as a “road map” that will give student and teacher a “starting place, a defined route and a destination. ” 5 These suggestions of initiating and utilizing an ‘Individual Education Progam’ are reinforced in the “Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Programs for Secondary Students with Mild Disabilities” article also.
The fact that Jane has limited social skills is a cause for concern – there can often be a relationship between learning difficulties and other areas of stress and disability. Again, communicating with her parents, a psychologist, or G. P. may help in this area. It would be helpful if members of her learning support team also concentrate on building Jane’s self-esteem and confidence (perhaps some attention and use of her sporting abilities could help) which would in turn ensure her academic success is maximized.
The ‘Curriculum Framework for Education Queensland Schools – Years 1-10’ states the school curriculum plan “will reflect and respond to the educational needs of all students” and that to enable all students to successfully access the curriculum, “including students with disabilities… “specialized support may be needed. The learning support team has to be aware of policies and requirements of bodies such as Education Queensland when planning for Jane in the school system and curriculum. With students such as Jane, with severe learning difficulties, certain characteristics are important for her teachers to have.
They need to strive to be particularly understanding and sympathetic while at the same time being open to designing and implementing suitable programs to teach the required syllabus for particular subject areas. It would be helpful to all concerned if Jane’s teachers are able to clearly establish the guidelines for standards of work whilst making allowances for the difficulties Wendy may face in meeting some of them. Her teachers need to be willing to incorporate some of the strategies suggested by the Support team, and indeed build on the information gained from her assessment with regard to specific learning requirements.
In a class with many students, a teacher needs to flexible and able to respond effectively to students with learning difficulties without appearing to ‘single’ them out too much. The ‘rapport’ between student and teacher can also be particularly important, as mentioned in several studies and works, including “Learning Disabilities. ” 7 In this work, the importance of a good relationship between the teacher and student” is described as being “an essential first step in educational therapy” by the author, and this is directly related to building self-esteem for the student also.
Jane’s teachers need to have an understanding of her needs, attitudes and fears in the classroom, and approach these with compassion and concern. Lerner states that it is necessary to have “a subjeclive understanding of the pupil as a whole individual with feelings, emotions and attitudes 18 All this calls for teachers to be positive, patient, and often imaginative – but above all, willing to ensure that they help Jane meet her educational needs in their classrooms.
The arrangement of the room and organization of the classroom in which Jane is a student is also an important consideration. Jane should be seated where she can easily see and hear the teacher, as well as her classmates. Some extra time taken to work out the most appropriate seating and grouping patterns will prove beneficial to all involved. Jane may, for example, be best suited in a mixed-ability group rather than a friendship-group, and so on.
Another consideration in the organization of the room would involve the availability of any teacher aides and support staff, how many computers are available and where the students can access these; how well Wendy works with certain students and situations. Lerner makes a point in his previously mentioned article that “the physical setting (should be) conducive to learning” and suggests “quiet corners and the removal of distracting stimuli”i 9 to help teach students such as Jane.
There are some very important points to consider when devising teaching strategies for a student such as Wendy to successfully ‘include’ her in the general classroom. The importance of ‘including’ students such as ‘Jane’ in the regular classroom is dealt with in the article “A Successful Secondary Support Program for students with specific Learning Disabilities”20. The article highlights some of the disadvantages to both teacher and student of so called “pullout” or remedial programs that separate students with learning difficulties from mainstream classes.
It makes the point that often students become confused and teaching staff disadvantaged by not following a more ‘inclusive’ approach; separating these students is said to be “generally ineffective and educationally unsound. ” When evaluating material for Jane, the fuct that she has a severe learning difficulty must be taken into account. The material should be well presented, the language should be at an appropriate level and the skills need to be well sequenced to ensure an adequate level of interest.
Teaching strategies need to build on the remarks and findings of Jane’s assessment – many of her difficulties may be over come by only slight modifications to the regular classroom strategies in place. Research on effective teaching in an article in the Australian Journal of Teacher Education found that strategies such as explaining things on simple terms, giving clear instructions, and more frequent reviews and revision of work could prove useful in a situation involving Jane, and similar students.
These ideas are also backed up by Lerner, in his work where suggestions are made with regard to strategies. These include modifying language “to enhance student learning “, techniques to simplify language, (which include). .reducing directions to telegraphic speech’, using only essential words; maintaining visual contact with the learner; avoiding ambiguous word and emphasizing meaning with gesture; speaking in a slow tempo 21 Jane’s teachers need to provide constant feedback and encouragement – and attempt not to ‘punish’ her for failure if possible.
Also, demonstrating things to her, and ensuring that she understands ‘handouts’ and new ideas is important. lii teaching new material, it would be helpful to ‘pre-teach’ new vocabulary or give this to the support teacher to reinforce with Jane – she may need to be taught systematically what other students learn ‘incidentally’. Thus, she will probably need more ‘time’, practice and explanations than some of the other students in the general classroom.
Other strategies such as tying in concepts and information she already knows in lesson plans, dividing her work into smaller ‘pieces’, with limited, short-term goals, and using practical tasks to address her ‘weaknesses’ could all be of great benefit. Jane’s teachers can also utilize some of the strategies suggested in the work of Lerner and Westwood which have been mentioned above.
These include reassessing ‘responding’ time in the classroom, asking questions that produce many correct answers, extensive content coverage in lessons, and modi1 the difficulty level of some work. 2 It is important that Jane has the opportunity of completing set tasks that are not necessarily ‘easy’, but are set at the appropriate level for her to achieve and progress within the school curriculum. As was pointed out by ‘Special Education Project – Queensland’ director Steve Miller, the focus should be “on adapting a common curriculum” … to meet the needs of all students, and ensuring that students with disabilities and learning problems have a “chance at the same outcomes” (as all students). 23
Other ideas that would help when devising teaching strategies for Jane include using typed notes rather than hand-written ones, and ensuring work sheets are uncluttered and easy to understand. The use of obvious cues to emphasize different features and points on visual stimuli would help Jane, as would linking this sort of material with written text as often as possible. Preceding verbal instructions with cue words (listen, right! ) is a good strategy in any classroom, as is providing the opportunity of different modes of response for a student such as Jane.
She may respond well to drawing, mapping, selecting from multiple choice answers, oral presentation, computer tasks and so on; all considerations in the assessment procedures for Jane also. Overall, encouragement, reinforcement, time and understanding are going to be necessary for Jane to complete many of her classroom tasks and assessment. Jane needs teaching strategies such as those mentioned, that would enhance her learning and achievement in the classroom in a positive and challenging manner.
In any situation where a student with severe learning difficulties is included in the general classroom, an important consideration has to be that the needs of all students are being met. As mentioned back in 1984 in ‘The Beazley Report’, and later discussed in an article by Forlin, the needs of all students – particularly those with whom the children with disabilities or severe difficulties were to be placed was of great importance. 25
The majority of Jane’s peers should not have their own learning experiences interfered with because of her learning difficulties – and this can sometimes create a complex ‘juggling-mix’ for teachers. In the previously mentioned work ‘Teachers Views of Inclusion’, the authors make the point that many teachers expressed concerns about “the extent to which inclusion would interfere with the academic learning of… general education students.
This concern and addressing of the “equity” issues surrounding the needs of all students is something that would need to be considered and constantly monitored with a student such as ‘Jane’ in the regular classroom. Constant reviewing and modification of material in response to all levels of student ability is necessary if Jane and her peers are to have a successful educational experience. With careful lesson and assessment planning, cooperative learning approaches, and access to resources and support, all students in the classroom can benefit and excel in the classroom.
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