4 November 2009
Field Visit Paper
Christa McAuliffe Elementary School was built in 1987 and named for Sharon Christa Corrigan McAuliffe, a dedicated high school social studies teacher who lost her life in the tragic explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The school’s goal is to empower students and challenge them to “make good choices,” the school’s motto. McAuliffe values respect and teaches students to have respect for self, others and property. McAuliffe educates students grades K through 5 and offers extensive programs and extra-curricular activities. I observed ALS teacher, Meredith Brown’s Special Ed class. The children vary in age from five to ten and have a variety of disabilities including Down syndrome and autism. Briarhill Middle School opened in 1995 and offers a full range of educational opportunities for sixth through eighth grade students. Briarhill makes an effort to recognize outstanding student and teacher achievement. Their goal is to foster a positive learning environment that offers a variety of specialized programs and activities for students to participate in. I observed the Special Ed classroom of developmental teacher, Jody Mahaffey, and AVLS teacher, Guin Roming. The children range in age from ten to fifteen and also have a wide variety of different disabilities.
A variety of activities including crafts, individual work, and snack time helped the students to develop their fine motor skills. During an activity in which the class made spiders from yarn and pipe cleaners, students used these skills to wrap the yarn around a small piece of cardboard, attach the pipe cleaner legs to the body of the spider and to cut the yarn. This activity required each child’s focus, participation, and careful hand-eye coordination. Although teachers were there for help, the students were encouraged to work independently and develop these skills on their own. This is an example of scaffolding. “As a learner completes a task within the Zone of Proximal Development (with assistance), cognitive development is greatest if the level of assistance is large at first, and then gradually reduced as the learner's skill improves. Eventually, the learner will be able to complete the task alone” (Louis). During independent work, students practiced holding a pencil while writing words and doing math problems. Several of the students also developed motor skills typing on a keyboard called the Alpha Smart. It is the same size as a normal keyboard which allows the children to practice their finger placement and prepares them to use regular computers. During snack time, students helped their teacher to set the table and prepare the snack. From passing out plates to spooning on salsa and sprinkling on cheese, the students used these skills.
In a classroom full of children with a variety of disabilities, teachers must adapt to each child’s needs and provide appropriate assistance and guidance. However, the students are still expected and encouraged to work independently and do things on their own. Therefore, each child must use their problem-solving skills and put their best efforts into everything they do. During classroom activities, most of the children paid attention and listened to instructions. Although some children would talk or play with items in their desk, the majority sat quietly at their desks keeping their eyes on the teacher. Their focused behavior helped them to achieve class activities and finish their assignments. The students who were not sure what to do or how to do it continued trying on their own but also asked for help when needed. By using reading strategy and skills such as following along, students were able to comprehend what they were reading. They answered the teacher’s questions correctly and found the correct matches on their worksheets.
Students were both encouraged and rewarded for good behavior. This approach is an example of reinforcement, an operant method of socialization. “Providing choices and a variety of activities and materials is important so that students remain interested in and motivated by the educational environment” (Lytle and Todd). Most of the students used manners saying please and thank-you. Students used their communication skills either verbal words or sign language to communicate with their teachers and peers. The children also were patient by waiting for instructions and sitting in their desks with quiet hands and feet. The children were very helpful. They never hesitated to do what their teacher asked of them whether it was passing out plates for snack time or calling another teacher. The children seemed to get along well with each other. They were friendly towards one another and kept their hands to themselves.
Site B – Briarhill Middle School
Physical development/Fine motor skills
In a class with older and growing students, physical development and fine motor skills were incorporated into nearly every activity. The students used and strengthened these skills while doing individual work such as writing and various work job activities that required concentration, hand-eye coordination, and the use of fine motor skills. They made pictures with colored tiles, sorted various types of objects such as nuts and erasers, and strung beads. The students also had motor lab time where they did crunches, pushups, and other physical activities. Everyone participated in motor lab even if they were not able to do the activities. The teachers adapted to each child’s needs and worked with what the child could do not what they could not. It is important for teachers with students with disabilities to adapt the curriculum to the various learning styles of each child. “Gartin, Murdick, Imbeau, and Perner (2002) described differentiated instruction as “using strategies that address student strengths, interests, skills, and readiness in flexible learning environments” (Hoover and Patton). The children worked on developing their fine motor skills during reading and writing activities. While reading, they turned the page when instructed, followed along with their fingers, and pointed to vocabulary words or the answer to their teacher’s questions. While writing in their journals, some traced highlighted letters wrote previously by their teachers while others wrote the words on their own but in specialized boxes for each letter. During snack time, students decorated cookies. By spreading on the frosting, counting out chocolate chips and placing them on, and drawing with icing, the students practiced using their fine motor skills.
The students used a number of problem-solving skills during activities and assignments. “Problem-solving methods must take place among the methods used by the teachers in the classroom (Çakmak, 2003). Problem-solving is selecting and using the efficient and useful tools and actions among all facilities to reach the desired targets (Demirel, 2000)” (Otacioglu). While doing worksheets and during reading, the students repeated and reread words and instructions. They referred back to what they have already learned. While reading, to answer questions they used process of elimination and found evidence in the text to support their answers. The students communicated with their teachers and peers and asked for help when they needed it.
No matter the activity, all students were involved and engaged. They listened, were respectful of those talking, and paid attention. They had manners, saying please, thank you, and excuse me. They also took turns reading, answering questions, and using materials in the classroom. The children used their communication skills to tell their teachers what they wanted using both words and sign language. The children got along with each other and were encouraging to each other by saying good job and giving high fives. The students were able to work both independently and together. The children responded well to the teachers’ positive and encouraging attitudes.
The environment at McAuliffe was colorful and fun. Teachers provided personal attention and encouragement to their students. They helped students to develop independence and do things on their own. They explained activities well, repeated themselves often, asked questions, and encouraged children to respond. A lack of structure was evident. It was chaotic and students had nothing to do. Sometimes the teacher was on her phone, not paying attention and talking which was often distracting to the children. The classroom at Briarhill was also fun and positive. Teachers were proficient at motivating and encouraging students. They also did an excellent job at accommodating and adapting to each child in order to include everyone. The students worked independently. Unlike the elementary school, this classroom had a very well planned scheduled that kept the students occupied and learning all day long. Similar to McAuliffe, a lot was going on. Sometimes the teachers were talking distracting students and would not always focus on the one child they were working with.
In both elementary and middle school Special Ed classrooms, developing fine motor skills, using problem-solving strategies, and improving social interactions are key goals to a student’s success. It is essential to adapt to each child’s needs and really work with what each child can do, not what they cannot. Teachers must be prepared with a schedule to keep children busy and constantly learning. A firm, consistent, and nurturing approach to teaching is most beneficial. Above all, teachers should create a positive and thriving environment where their students can grow, learn, and feel comfortable. For others observing in the future, speak with the teachers beforehand to come up with the best time to observe when you know students will be doing something. Also, prepare yourself for interaction with the children who are very loving and not afraid to come up to you.
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Lytle, Rebecca and Teri Todd. “Stress and the Student With Autism Spectrum
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