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EDU 223AC Research Project

Chris Albach

6 Aug 2015

My research into how to create a positive learning environment in the

classroom and at home for students with intellectual disabilities has
complimented what I have read and observed up until the present time. After
having taught regular education elementary school for more than 20 years I
feel that I came well prepared for the special education classroom at the high
school level. I teach students with autism 9-12 grades and of course my
students can remain at the high school until they turn 21 years of age. That
being said, most of my students are at the same or similar
emotional/academic level as my elementary students were at the time. This
makes the transition to high school for me seem like not such a big leap. One
big difference to me at the high school is the noise level. I dont really mean
the students themselves so much as the school itself. At the elementary
school the students stayed mostly in their own classroom except for a special
class such as library or computer lab and then it was a quiet walk down the
halls to that room and back afterwards. Students were rarely all in the
hallways at once except for fire drills or school getting out at the end of the
day. At the high school, of course, most students change classes at the end
of each class period and the passing period lasts from 7-10 minutes and
preceded by a loud buzzer or bell. They also play music just before the end
of the passing time to indicate to students that it is time to hurray if they
want to make it on time. Because of the large campus and many students
being outside for different reasons throughout the day announcements tend
to be very loud as well so all can hear.
I mention all this because most of my students with autism are very
sensitive to loud noises and can become agitated and sometimes angry with
the sensory over-load from the loud noises here on campus. While some
regular education students might enjoy the loud music and the chance to get
up and jostle around as they change classes every hour. My students can
become over-stimulated by all the loud clamor and it takes them some time
to settle back down into student mode again. My classroom aides and I work
very hard to keep our classroom calm and inviting to our special cliental and
their sensitivities. One of the important ways we work to make our classroom
positive and productive is in how we speak with students. In an article from
the Harvard Business Review, Judith and Richard Glaser talk about how
positive conversations affect brain chemistry. The actual chemicals emitted
by the brain in a negative conversation can stick in your brain for hours and
cause even more negativity. In some of my students that suffer from
emotional and behavioral disorders, E&BD, it can be even worse and set off
an emotional chain reaction that could result in serious discipline or

suspension. The chemical emitted during a positive interaction has a calming

effect, but doesnt stay in your system as long. In their summation the
Glasers state that Im not suggesting that you cant ever demand results or
deliver difficult feedback. But its important to do so in a way that is
perceived as inclusive and supportive I have carefully chosen
instructional aides with the same philosophy and approach to student
Beyond establishing a calm quiet work zone for my students I want to
provide them with as many choices as I can. My students have some
behaviors that can make it difficult for them to function in most regular
education class settings. In her article from Educational Leadership,
September 2008, Seven Strategies for Building Positive Classrooms, Carol
Gerber Allred talks about the strategies of the Positive Action Program that
have been implemented into more than 13,000 schools. She says: Often,
teachers are so focused on ensuring that students pass achievement tests
that they have little or no time to address students social and emotional
needs. With my student population, standardized test scores are not the
focus which allows us to spend more time paying attention to student needs
according to their IEP, Individualized Education Plan. Some of the steps that
are part of the program that we use are reinforcing positive behaviors. We try
to praise them for the good things they do and encourage them to praise
each other, which is tougher. Students with autism have difficulties socially
and dont always seek out communication with others. Getting them to do
simple things like hold doors for each other and say thank you can be a
challenge. Often they are in an emotionally egocentric state and dont think
first about others. The Positive Action Program says that we must teach
positive behaviors. Usually when students get to the high school level they
know how to be positive and show positive behaviors, but not always so with
my students. Instead of saying to a student, dont do that, we need to
model and say what we want them to say and do. The method for instilling
intrinsic motivation in students is just the opposite of the Conflict Cycle in
Nicholas Longs theory. In this case positive thought leads to positive action
and positive feelings. This positive cycle leads to powerful intrinsic
motivation. This is very important for my students that tend to display E&BD.
The Positive Action program is research based through longitudinal
randomized studies and achieves positive effects in both behavior and
academics. We have had a number of observers come into our classroom
and comment on the positive learning atmosphere they feel.
One thing that we have done and need to do more simulation units to
allow students to practice skills we are trying to teach. One of the academic
problems my students with disabilities struggle with is permanence, being
able to apply learned information to other settings. Something as simple as

using newly learned vocabulary word in a new sentence is difficult. In an

article from the Journal of Applied Educational Technology, Les M. Lunce
teaches the importance of simulations in the classroom. His article
Simulations: Bringing the benefits of situated learning to the traditional
classroom we learn about the power of teaching students who are highly
motivated by classroom activities that are fun, engaging and create a
greater interest level than traditional pencil and paper assignments. These
simulations often include an element of student choice which then results in
a certain outcome which may be good or bad based on the choice. The
advantage over the passive student role in watching a video or listening to a
lesson is that here the students can take an active role and be a part of the
event or activity. For my students making choices and decisions is huge and
such an important skill they get precious little practice at doing. We do
hands-on learning in areas like cooking and cleaning. Since these are life
skills almost all of us need to do for ourselves, its important for our students
with an eye toward the transition from high school out into the community to
be able to do for themselves. The math work we do is mostly based on
shopping and making choices with how much money they have to spend.
The disadvantages here have to do with the time it takes to assemble a unit
or even to use a commercial version. The other issue I have in my classroom
is the wide range of skill levels of my students. This year with some new
higher functioning students we hope to be able to add more of these types of
units to our curriculum.
In conclusion it is very important that my classroom is a safe, low
stress environment for my students to learn. For home learning it should be
the same. It is a place I want to spend my days as well. There are lots of
ideas and programs out there to choose from. The challenge for the teacher
or parent is to find a good fit and make it work for your students.

Allred, C. (2008). Seven Strategies for Building Positive Classrooms. Educational Leadership,
Schaps, Ph.D., E. (2005). The Role of Supportive School Environments in Promoting
Academic Success. Retrieved August 1, 2015.
Glaser, J., & Glaser, R. (2014). The Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations. Harvard
Business Review.
Lunce, L. (n.d.). Simulations: Bringing the benefits of situational learning to the traditional
classroom. Journal of Applied Educational Technology, 3(1). doi:Spring/Summer, 2006
Milsom, A. (n.d.). Creating Positive School Experiences for Students with Disabilities.
Professional School Counseling, 66-72.|/journal/