The first two things I learned about special education were: 1) to be explicit in instruction and directions and 2) to create a culture of success for my students. I’ve learned those things are much easier said than done.
I started the school year believing my students were no more than two grade levels behind, based on their Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) scores, and I created my lessons accordingly. I provided common accommodations such as shorter reading passages, read-aloud tests, advance organizers, and as many graphics as possible.
After weathering many meltdowns and shutdowns, I looked at my para in utter confusion. I could not understand what was setting my students off. I had evaluated the incidents and looked at antecedents, behaviors, and student expectations, and I failed to find a common theme.
The second time I asked, Bryan finally told me that he was lost. He didn’t understand the words I used or the book we used. He said I wrote too fast on the board and he writes slow and didn’t want the other kids knowing. On top of that, he is very sensitive of his speech impediment.
I thought to myself: If you would have just told me this from day one, you wouldn’t have been so miserable the past two weeks! Alas, he is 11 and like most 11-year-olds, he does not like to ask potentially embarrassing questions.
I gave Bryan a few diagnostic tests and discovered he read fluently at a 1.5 and could get through a 2.3 with some time and effort. I also discovered he had little skill in writing, could add whole numbers but not with decimals, and could subtract only whole numbers without zeros. He was terrified of decimals and fractions, and he was clueless about multiplication and division.
After I overcame my absolute awe at how this student made it all the way to sixth grade without developing any of these skills, I set to work obtaining as many resources as I could for him. I researched books on tape, writing strategies, and math strategies, and I went through my closet full of math manipulates. I was determined to get Bryan to improve his writing, do basic math, and increase his reading skills — regardless of the standards the state of Georgia felt he should be focusing on.
I discussed my plan with my principal and was given the green light to deviate from standards long enough to give Bryan the skills to at least follow along with grade level, even if he couldn’t quite master it yet. But as I began to request materials from leadership, I was surprised at how the great “process” got in the way of obtaining the things this student needed for success.
After a few conversations with colleagues, I realized that while we teachers are expected to provide a culture of success, we are not always given the necessities to do so. It was the great No Child Left Behind issue, on the classroom scale instead of nationally. I quickly became so frustrated and angry that I was near the point of demonstrating the same behaviors my students do.
After I was calmed down by my mentor, I realized that just as schools have to be creative to meet the requirements of NCLB, I would have to be even more creative to help my students. In this spirit, I have decided to use more videos than books, to provide notes with limited blanks for students to use, and to extend the time I spend on a troublesome topic to best help them.
Have you all had similar experiences doing more with less? If so, what cool tricks have you used?