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: I chose to interview my cooperating teacher that I observed at a local high school in Champaign for this assignment. She explained to me that her biggest struggle involving inclusive education is accommodating and including students with 504 plans in her classroom. She explained that an inclusive model is already set up for her senior class, in which about 50% of the students have IEP’s, and she also has a special-education teacher as a co-teacher in that class. However, in her other classes, finding the time to accommodate those with varying 504 plans has proven very difficult. For example, for students who need extended time on an exam, finding a time and place to set up the test is something that my cooperating teacher struggles with. In addition, if a student needs a test read out loud to them, or if they need to complete the test on a computer instead of by hand, or have any other accommodations that require them to complete an assignment outside of the classroom, it is difficult to find the resources to make that happen. Because 504 plans are more flexible than IEP’s, it creates an issue for teachers who understand that they have to make accommodations, but do not feel as though the school is offering the proper services to help the teachers make those adjustments. The main issues that my cooperating teacher faces are in accommodating assessments to help include students with 504 plans without isolating them from the classroom. Some key players involved in this issue are the administration for not providing staff that can help teachers who may need an extra hand in the classroom during assessments.. Also,
providing a learning center or space where those accommodations can take place is also something that the administration needs to consider and is responsible for providing to the teachers and students.
Solutions: Some solutions that I have already started to outline in the paragraph above include providing teachers with a learning center where students who need accommodations can go to have their tests read aloud to them, or where they can complete an exam on the computer or other accommodations that for some reason cannot take place in the classroom. This way, the teachers can ensure that they have a time and a place where modifications to assessments can actually be completed in a way that will benefit the student. Without a learning center, my cooperating teacher explained that the student would have to come in before or after school or during one of her free periods for her to give a test. Many times, she explained, the students would not show up to the meetings or they would not be able to coordinate their schedules. The modifications set up for students with 504 plans are not supposed to make it harder for the teacher and student to complete assignments, but rather, to put them on an even playing field as the rest of the students in the general education class. Having a learning center that is open every day with multiple teachers working there during all school periods make it possible to accommodate the needs and schedules of the students and teachers. This solution allows students with 504 plans to be included in the regular classroom instruction and still be accommodated for their needs. While the school I observed had excellent accommodations for students with IEP’s and ensured that a Special Education teacher was in the classroom whenever necessary, that same attention is not paid to students with 504 plans.
Teachers and the administration do not feel the same urgency to make modifications and create services that help include students with 504 in the classroom.
Case Two: Challenge Related to Collaboration or Co-Teaching Problem and Key Players: The biggest problem that my cooperating teacher faces in regards to co-teaching is dealing with the implied power-structures that may be created when there is not a “true” coteaching system set up. She has a co-teacher in one of her classes and at times, she explained, she sees that the students do not feel as comfortable going to the other teacher to ask questions. She is the only teacher in the classroom that gives class-wide direct instruction. They have created a system where her co-teacher works one-on-one with students rather than instructing the class as a whole. Because of this, a hierarchy of power is created in the eyes of the students and the teacher and my cooperating teacher sees this as a big problem. In addition, finding time to collaborate with her co-teacher was a big challenge for my cooperating teacher. She claimed that there is no time to meet up and create lesson plans or discuss accommodations together. Rather, my cooperating teacher makes all the lesson plans and sends them to her co-teacher, who then makes any specific accommodations necessary for the students with IEP’s or 504’s in the class. Under this structure, there is no direct collaboration going on. They are not working together, but rather separately in the same classroom. Even in my own observation of the classroom, it was obvious that a disconnect exists between the general education teacher and the special education teacher, and the students notice it as well. It is not merely the illusion (or reality) of a power-structure that prevents the students from asking the special education teacher questions, it also is clear that she is not prepared for the lesson the
way that the general education teacher is. Thus, the key players in this issue are the general education teachers and the special education teachers. In addition, it is the administration or the district that may be able to help solve this issue.
Solutions: One ideal solution that my cooperating teacher offered me is that the district needs to provide professional development and training in regards to “true” co-teaching. My cooperating teacher (and I agree) describes true co-teaching as a system where both teachers in the classroom are viewed as the main teacher. They both have the same knowledge-base of the topic being taught and the students feel comfortable going to either one for questions and advice. Training is necessary to teach teachers how to work with one another and also to emphasize the importance of collaboration and how it directly effects the learning environment of the classroom. In addition, another solution that can help with this problem of a lack of collaboration is for the administration to help create the teacher’s schedules by allowing for co-teachers to have the same planning periods so that they have time in school to meet and plan for the day’s lesson. This way, even if the teachers do individual work outside of the class, they have an opportunity to regroup in school and to discuss any accommodations that take place. Because the class is set-up where close to the majority of the students have an IEP, there is no reason why the special education teacher should not play a large role in the class-wide instruction of lessons. Just the same, there is no reason why the general education teacher should not structure her own modifications to lessons to accommodate the majority of her class. Making it a priority to have both teachers seen as the “main” teachers of the classroom will eliminate any power hierarchies that may exist as a result of teachers not properly communicating with one another.
Case Three: Challenge Related to Instructional Planning and/or Delivery Problem and Key Players: A major problem that my cooperating teacher experiences involving instructional planning and delivery is how to manage giving direct-instruction to the full class while still accommodating those students with IEP’s who have trouble following a lesson in large-group settings. Specifically, my cooperating teacher expressed frustration as to how to accommodate students with IEP’s who have processing issues when she is lecturing. For one of her classes specifically, she finds that there is a group of three or four students, all of whom have either an IEP or a 504 plan, who sit together and distract one another. In my own observation of the class, I noticed that the students would begin class sitting quietly and they appeared to be ready to learn, but once the teacher began to give verbal instructions and went off on a short lecture, the students quickly began to talk with one another and distract others around them. The co-teacher in the classroom really only circulates around the class during small-group or individual work time. When the teacher is lecturing the class as a whole, she sits quietly in the back of the classroom. The main players in this situation are the two teachers in the classroom. If students have trouble focusing on lecture-style teaching in class, then it is the responsibility of the teacher to come up with accommodations that make lecture-style accessible to these students who may have processing issues or are not aural learners. It is good that my cooperating teacher recognizes that it is the lecture-style specifically that made the students begin to lose focus and act out. But she does not appear to make any modifications to her lessons to alleviate this
problem. She (and the co-teacher) needs to make direct modifications to that style of teaching in her lessons for her students to be able to grasp and process the main concepts.
Solutions: Some solutions that may help this group of students who struggle during lecture-style instruction are to give the students lecture notes prior to the beginning of class so that they have something visual that they can follow along with while the teacher is talking. That way, if it takes a student with processing issues longer to follow along with the teacher’s instructions, they will not have to worry if they miss one detail because it will be written out for them. Giving the students a partially filled-in outline rather than fully completed notes of the lesson is a way to ensure that the students are paying attention to the lesson and do not feel as though they already have the answers in front of them. A lot of students, not just those with IEP’s and 504 plans, have trouble following along to lectures. Taking notes and knowing how to follow along is a skill that students need to learn. The teacher should signal important points of the lesson by writing key words or phrases on the board. She should verbally warn the class and change her tone and expression when something important is about to be brought up. Repeating information multiple times is a helpful strategy when lecturing. Breaking up the lecture by asking questions and encouraging student involvement is an important tool for teaching because it creates a greater opportunity for the students to connect their prior knowledge to the new information being taught. In addition, it gives those kids specifically who like to have side conversations an opportunity to talk aloud in a constructive manner. Teaching listening skills along with whatever specific topic the class is learning is vital for all of the students in the class, both those with and without IEP’s.
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