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Special Needs in the Technology Education Classroom? How to make the shop more accessible to students of all abilities. An Inquiry Paper by: Andrew Janzen B.A., B.Ed. Presented to: Vincent Chan and Ashley Shaw Inquiry Seminar II EDUC 451B, UBC January 29, 2014 Introduction In one way or another, every student has ‘special needs’. The role of the educator and the school is to come to understand those needs and create spaces where they can learn with as few barriers to that as possible. The need for educators to recognize the uniqueness of each learner and develop a differentiation approach to teaching to optimize every student’s learning is top priority (Hoepfl, 2007). For this paper, I will be referring to special needs in the sense that the British Columbia Ministry of Education defines it: “A student with special needs is defined as student who has a disability of an intellectual, physical, sensory, emotional or behavioural nature, has a learning disability or has special gifts or talents” (2013). The Technology Education class (hereafter referred to as Tech Ed), like all other subjects, must be made accessible to every student. I have not found exact numbers detailing how many students with special needs are in Tech Ed classes specifically, but if it is the same as other subject areas, there are typically 3-­‐4 students with an IEP in any given class (BCTF, 2012). However, how accessible is the shop class for students with disabilities or special education needs? How can it be made to be a place of discovery, innovation, problem solving and learning for all students? Are there particular techniques or strategies to connect with non-­‐mainstream students? Can the shop class be just what students with learning or behavioural challenges have been longing for in connecting with their education? In this paper, I wish to explore these questions and try to shed some light on the benefits of Technology 2 Andrew Janzen Education for special needs students and some thoughts for enhancing the learning and experience of everyone in the classroom. History Up until the amendments made to the Canadian Human Rights act (1977) and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982), people with disabilities, including students, were often segregated from the rest of the populace (DeLuca, 2013). As a result of the 1982 amendments, Canada became the first country to constitutionally guarantee the rights and freedoms of people with disabilities (DeLuca, p. 309). According to Bennett, Dworet & Weber (2008), early efforts to include students with special needs in schools varied from full-­‐time involvement in mainstream classrooms, to partial placement into mainstream to placement into special education classrooms (DeLuca, p. 309). Today, most provinces in Canada guarantee access for all students with special needs to education with most being placed in mainstream classrooms or in the least restrictive settings (Hutchinson, 2010, qtd in DeLuca, p. 310). There have been many opinions and emotions at play in the fear and uncertainty of having special needs students in the Tech Ed classroom. There is the obvious fear that such students may not be safe to themselves or others in the classroom because of supposed inability to learn core safe practices, or at least their own inability to teach them effectively. There is also the frustration that there is not enough time in a class to teach to all the diverse needs of every student, this compounded by the ever increasing class sizes and underfunding (BCTF, 2012). And, even when there is an 3 Andrew Janzen educational aid person, their competence of the shop structure and safe practice is questionable, putting students at risk even further. All too often, the shop teacher is expected to cater to all sorts of students, many of which seem to be in the Tech Ed program because they experienced little to no success in other classes. The shop ends up being the ‘dumping ground’ so to speak, for ‘difficult’ students. These are at least some of the misconceptions or fears associated with special needs students in the shop class. Background In British Columbia, the Ministry of Education’s special needs student education policy mandate is that “all students should have equitable access to learning, opportunities for achievement, and the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of their educational programs” (2013). The policy goes on to define Special Education needs as: “those characteristics which make it necessary to provide a student undertaking an educational program with resources different from those which are needed by most students. Special educational needs are identified during assessment of a student; they are the basis for determining an appropriate educational program (including necessary resources) for that student.” (2013) From this definition, we see the purpose of special education as integrating special needs students into class participation, with as many helps as needed, as much as possible. It seems to hint toward a somewhat dated idea of ‘normalization’, the goal 4 Andrew Janzen of which is to basically mimic the educational experience of the normal student as much as possible for the non-­‐normal student (Kimeldorf, p. 6). Which, on the surface, sounds not too bad. But how much is an ‘altered norm’ helpful? I would argue this approach does more to further stigmatize the special needs student rather than include him/her in the ‘normal’ group as a core member. The number of students in British Columbia with some sort of special education need, and likely an Integrated Education Plan (IEP) consistently hovers around 50,000 annually (BCTF, 2012). These needs range from sensory, physical or cognitive challenges to behavioural and learning issues. There are ever-­‐increasing diagnoses of children with Attention Deficit (Hyperactive) Disorder (ADD/ADHD). Every one of these needs comes with distinct challenges. For students with physical disabilities, there are accessibility concerns; are there stairs students must navigate? Are students able to handle machines safely? For students with cognitive challenges; are they at a level of ability to be safe in the shop? How do we adapt the PLO’s to accurately reflect ability? The reality in BC is that learning and behavioural disabilities by far outnumber any other challenges with 3.3% and 2.3% of all students falling into these categories respectively (BC Ministry of Education, 2013). Many of these students have received assessments for Integrated Education Plans (IEP), although many fly under the radar, but have special needs nonetheless. This may be the hardest challenge to face because the teacher is forced to develop some sort of adaptation to content and teaching on the fly, so to speak, but without the 5 Andrew Janzen same level of support. I will now take a closer look at the IEP process and some thoughts about making it more helpful to the Tech Ed teacher and student. IEP’s Integrated Educational Plans are essential for many students education experience. The BC Ministry of Education describes the IEP as describing “individualized goals, adaptations, modifications, the services to be provided, and includes measures for tracking achievement” (2013). The definition goes on to say the IEP is meant to be used as a tool of collaboration between the school, the parent, the student and any other support staff. The IEP can and should be developed with Tech Ed in mind for those students enrolled in Tech Ed classes. In order for this to happen, Tech Ed teachers must be involved in the planning process. Whether there is a visible physical or mental disability, where equipment needs adjustment or special jigs created, or if there is a less visible learning or behavioural challenge that makes it more difficult for a student to absorb information, especially important safety information, the Tech Ed teacher must be given the opportunity to make adjustments to the classroom or his/her teaching approach in collaboration with other school staff, the parents and the student. It is imperative that the Tech Ed teacher understand early on the needs of each of his/her students. There must be clear communication of any triggers associated with a students’ behaviour and coping strategies for dealing with inappropriate behaviour. A child’s family situation may also be important information for the teacher to be aware of. 6 Andrew Janzen Integration vs. inclusion The question still remains, what is the most beneficial approach to educating students with special needs? Have we fully adopted an inclusive model? Marie Hoepfl defines one approach as normalizing or mainstreaming through differentiated instruction (2007). Essentially students with all learning abilities are grouped together and teachers must adapt their teaching approaches to be able to communicate and teach to all. Christopher DeLuca defines this as Integration: The integration response focuses on compensating for student deficits in cognitive, physical, or behavioural abilities often by providing additional and specialized accommodations and modifications by expert staff. While students are integrated into a common learning space as general education students, educational programming and delivery may be different and may result in limited social interactions and participation in mainstream activities. (p. 310) In other words, this approach may seem to allow special needs students a full educational experience, but seems to still have that student on the outside looking in. DeLuca continues in suggesting in contrast to integration, “the inclusion response seeks to address the interactional gap and cultivate a culture of social acceptance amongst all students and teachers in the learning environment” (Hutchinson, Freeman, & Berg, 2004; McPhail & Freeman, 2005; Thomas et al., 1998 in DeLuca, p. 310, italics mine). This is the model accepted by the BC Ministry of Education for all 7 Andrew Janzen classes and defines it as “the principle that all students are entitled to equitable access to learning, achievement and the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of their educational programs… [and] goes beyond placement to include meaningful participation and the promotion of interaction with others” (ital.. mine, 2013). Ultimately the goal is to create an inclusive consciousness and culture within schools that promotes social interaction as central to learning for all students. Unfortunately, this is, at times, hard to see in practice. From my experience, students are still being placed in homogeneous groupings in schools, at least in earlier years. From my experience, I have seen groups of student with some sort of behavioural or learning challenge, together with the same group for all their courses. They are labeled with a group name and known throughout the school as that name ie. “he’s a ……student”. Even within the Tech Ed class, which they all attend together in their own block, there is more a sense of needing to ‘baby-­‐sit’ rather than encourage real learning, even if teaching and content is highly adapted. These students do ‘Tech Ed’ projects, but at times, it seems expectations are unnecessarily low. Yes, to include these students in ‘normal’ classes may make it more of a challenge, but there could also be benefits for everyone in the classroom. Teaching Strategies Differentiation is another teaching strategy that can be employed to further open up opportunities for learning in the Tech Ed class. The general idea of differentiation is “the variety of classroom practices that accommodate differences in students’ learning styles, interests, prior knowledge, socialization needs, and comfort zones” 8 Andrew Janzen (Benjamin, 2003 in Hoepfl, 2007, p. 235). The goal in differentiated learning is not for teachers to teach each individual differently, but to develop flexible groupings of students, and to assess “the varying needs, interests and readiness levels of the mixed ability students” (Tomlinson, 2001, in Hoepfl, 2007, p. 236). Differentiation happens in three possible ways: modification of content of a lesson, modification of the process in which the content is taught or modification of the product that will be assessed in the end (Nordlund, 2003 in Hoepfl, 2007). These modifications may be as simple as smaller group instruction rather than teachers trying to teach everyone at one time (Hoepfl, 2007). This certainly requires creativity and ingenuity. A large part of the challenge is students’ motivation and interest in subject material. Somehow the information and skill must be tied to something concrete and relatable for the student in order for them to engage and enjoy learning. Teacher mentoring In my years of experience working with teenagers, I have come to see mentorship as central to growth in all aspects of life. I have experienced mentorship from several different people, and when I received it from my teachers, I was much more able to participate in a healthy way in what they were teaching. What is mentorship? It is not merely an older person telling a younger person what to do and how to do it. It is relationship. A mentorship relationship within a Tech Ed classroom can help students with special needs feel comfortable about sharing their struggles and 9 Andrew Janzen challenges in the classroom. A big part of mentorship is communication; this becomes vital when dealing with students who are struggling. Mentorship can happen on different level. In an ideal classroom, the teacher is seen as a mentor to all the students in a broad sense. Students look up to their teacher for guidance in their learning. There is mutual respect, and also a level of admiration by students for the teacher. This happens when the teacher exhibits care and actual interest in their students’ needs. It becomes clear to students when a teacher is just there for the pay cheque. The next level may be with a smaller group of students. Often this begins by sharing similar interests with students, asking about their activities outside of class and, where possible, going to events the student is involved in. The deepest level is one-­‐
to-­‐one mentorship. The teacher makes regular contact with the student and parents to assess their learning and understanding and connectedness to the community. This can be where a child with special needs really finds growth and encouragement. It is important that the teacher not single this student out in front of their peers, but rather meet with them outside of class time. Informal check-­‐ins are likely better than planned sit down meetings. Creating communities Chris Watkin, in his article Classrooms as leaning communities, identifies a sense of community within the classroom as essential to all students’ learning and teachers’ sanity (2005). The development of healthy student relationships, within a 10 Andrew Janzen heterogeneous grouping of personalities and needs, can be the single most important element in real learning. Creating a place where students with special needs can learn and be included will in tern be an invaluable setting for all students to learn. How can we do this? The idea of peer mentorship can be huge for kids with special needs and ‘normal’ students. Within those relationships, students considered ‘normal’, develop a new skill set of communicating what they have learned in their own words. Their understanding will deepen. They will also, hopefully, begin to build a relationship with the other student, which will serve to develop a new awareness of that person as a fellow student wanting to learn, dispelling any stereotypes or misconceptions of students with special needs. Students with special needs will hopefully be receptive to such a relationship and see themselves as equal to their mentoring partner. Again, a relationship will hopefully emerge that will go beyond the classroom and developing a healthier community mindset throughout the school and life. Healthy communities have routines and rituals that each member learns and abides by. Routines in the Tech Ed class can be as simple as a five-­‐minute ‘wrap-­‐up’ conversation after cleanup and before the bell rings. A ritual may be something like designating a different student each class to be the ‘tool man/woman’, in charge of collecting all the tools after class before everyone is dismissed. These types of routines and rituals help to solidify a sense of tradition and hopefully a security in 11 Andrew Janzen the structure of the community for all students. This security is essential, especially for many special needs students. Collaboration The idea of collaboration could have great benefit for all students including those with special needs. Meeting together with teachers of other disciplines to develop an education program that effectively communicates knowledge and skill of each discipline through hands on experience should be further explored. Collaboration can and should happen on many levels. First, as shown above, collaboration between Tech Ed teachers and the IEP coordinators is essential to everyone being aware of students’ needs. Another level of collaboration needs to happen between teacher, parents and students. Regular communication can help to inform effectiveness of teaching and reception of learning. Collaboration between students, at the heart of peer mentoring and creating communities, students are encouraged and even required to work together to overcome obstacles and solve problems together, utilizing the strengths of everyone in the class. The possibilities for making the Tech Ed program the much needed link for many students for learning in other subject areas deserves some real exploration. The hands on experience of designing, making and experimentation of the Tech Ed classroom, allows learners of all styles to engage with the information being taught. Take, for example, a Social Studies lesson on medieval times trebuchets warfare. Instead of just reading about it or hearing a teacher talk about it, have students build 12 Andrew Janzen one in their Tech Ed class and create a design and build competition. This would be beneficial for all learners, especially if they are teamed with diverse learners. Benefits of Tech Ed for Special Needs Students So why go through all this trouble to make Tech Ed accessible to all students? The Tech Ed environment has the potential to be very beneficial to students with special needs. For students with learning challenges, the hands on experience, which connects information with creative construction and playful project work, can be the link for deep understanding. Tech Ed “is centered on designing and making. It aims to develop pupils’ skills and abilities, which will enable them to understand and to begin to control their man-­‐made environment” (Davison & Gaster, 1985, p. 103). It would be a tragedy for us to not expose them to all Tech Ed has to offer. Davison and Gaster (1985) contend: [Tech Ed] offers a chance for pupils to be able to discriminate, make judgements, to compare and contrast, as a basis for decision-­‐making. All these abilities are important in encouraging confidence, self-­‐reliance, some control over one’s environment-­‐-­‐developments which should be objectives for special education as a whole. (p.103) Tech Ed teaches more than just how to build a table or overhaul an engine. Ultimately the goal of Tech Ed is teaching life skills. It teaches special awareness and teamwork in ways other classes cannot. It is also invaluable for developing students’ language and self-­‐expression through creation, design, description, explanation and construction (Davison and Gaster, 1985). 13 Andrew Janzen The psychomotor skills and abilities are invaluable for all students, but especially for those students who may not be capable of a high level of academic achievement. Students with special needs may do well if exposed to manual skills jobs and encouraged to pursue less academic career. The Tech Ed program can be invaluable for developing job skills and knowledge for special needs students (Okolo et al in Rojewski et al, 1990, p. 17). Conclusion Tech Ed teachers ultimately do not teach technology; we teach students. This must be our mindset in all areas of Tech Ed. Our mandate is more than constructivism; the top down, departure of knowledge, like filling empty jars with all our indispensible wisdom. We must teach to the heart of every child, giving them the tools and resources they need to continue learning long after they leave our classrooms. I come back to the notion that all students have special needs in one sense or another. They need mentors; people who care about them as fellow learners and human beings with true value. They need to be included in safe communities that they can feel like contributing members of. Teachers need to collaborate in creating IEP’s and in their teaching of students with special needs, both for the students’ needs and the teacher’s ability to keep teaching. Teaching to students with special needs cannot be approached with a one size fits all technique. It takes teachers willing and able to connect with kids on an individual basis, using many strategies and experimenting with new ideas. Yes, this will take a lot of work, but it comes with immeasurable rewards for everyone. 14 Andrew Janzen References
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