Archive for November, 2010

In today’s schools, teachers face students who have absolutely no motivation to learn the information required in school curriculums.  Students today are trained at an early age to participate in the classroom’s learning process, but often have no reason why they personally should find the information they are learning important or applicable.  How many courses do adults look back on as being unimportant in their pursuit of their quality of life?  How often does the process of assisting children with middle school or high school math homework intimidate adults who have supposedly mastered these subjects (as evidenced by their high school diplomas)?  Teachers today face the need to inspire their students to learn the important skills and concepts necessary to make them successful in the modern world.

Teachers need to make the information that they teach appealing and applicable.  Information gained in class must be taught in such a way that students realize the immediate or long-term application of what they are learning.  Students must be taught to critically analyze all information they receive for application to their environment.  This especially applies in the field of history, where dates and facts are lost easily if there is no meaning or significance applied to those dates and facts.  Information must be structured in such a way that important concepts are taught and freedom is allowed in the classroom for the exploration of student interests.  Teachers themselves need to be focused on caring for each one of their students.  Teaching methods should be focused on principles which elevate the needs of individual students.  Student understanding of information must be grounded in cultural and historical understanding of the world they live in.  Subjects such as History and English must connect what is being taught to the conditions of the modern world. Often to achieve this, teachers will need to work together to make their subjects connect to the learning happening in other classrooms.  As no class can fully inform students on all important ramifications of information, the connection to understandings in other classrooms must be established.  A student must understand that the information that they learn in class should be applied to their general knowledge and understanding.  Teaching should be a process of helping students understand how they can use information to form their understanding of the world.  In this way, they can be successful in whatever they decide to pursue.

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One sign that inclusion is not being successful in a general education classroom for an exceptional student is if there is no social connection between the exceptional student and the other students.  One of the central goals of inclusion is for students with disabilities to develop their social abilities through connections with other students their age.  Often what can happen in an inclusion program is that the student experiences the island effect where he or she is still in the same classroom as other students but feels separated from the general learning environment.  It is important in an inclusion program for the general education teacher and the para educator to be working together to involve the student with a disability or disabilities in the learning and activities of the general classroom.  The emotional wellbeing of a student is often determined by the relationships that they form in the general education setting.  There are exceptions, but often a good sign of poor inclusion is the lack of a social connection between an exceptional student and others.

Another sign of poor inclusion is a lack of dialogue between the general educator, the para educator, and the special education team.  Successful development for an exceptional student is often determined by a connection between faculty over the best program or resources for an exceptional student.  Detrimental to a student’s academic and social development is a poor connection between the para educator and the general education teacher over the involvement of the student in general classroom learning and activities.  Equally detrimental is a poor connection between the special education team and the para educator and general education teacher over proper teaching methods and materials and what new learning technologies and programs are available.   It is important that the para educator and the general education teacher are continually brought up to speed on the dynamics of their responsibilities for educating an exceptional student.  The most successful learning experience for an exceptional student is when their education is the product of the collaboration of several professionals.

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Leo Tolstoy asks in “On Popular Education” what the right is of schools to force education or the learning of knowledge on their students.  Why should society ask its newest individuals to conform to the expectations of knowledge that educational institutions create?  Through the medieval era and up to the dawn of the Scientific Revolution, the reasoning behind asking students to learn information was founded on an understanding that man must have knowledge about God and creation for him to find salvation and for him to succeed in the world.  Since the advent of Darwinism and the findings of science, society has moved away from having religious foundations for education.  Society has focused their reasons for education on the effects of education on people in their environment.  Tolstoy wrote about how in Russia these two conflicting perspectives had provided no good answer as to why individuals should be taught a specific catalogue of information.  He believed that there should be no specific expectation of knowledge to be learned, but rather that schools should conform their teaching to the needs of today’s society and that all learning should be based on freedom and experiment.

The answer to the question that Tolstoy sought in his society lies for us in the importance of understanding an individual’s future place in society.  John Dewey writes in “My Pedagogic Creed” how education should be out of the larger life experience of the child.  The purpose of education should be to provide the child access to the lessons learned by those who have gone before him or her for the purpose of finding answers to the questions they consider important.  This process of allowing a student access to society’s understanding of morality and nature allows the student to take full command of themselves as a powerful and able individual.  Through their participation in the society of the school they are allowed to develop their understanding of how to function in society at large and from there to understand what place they will take in it.  School, therefore, should pursue both the goals of the institution and the goals of individual.

Without a specific religious calling for individuals to education in today’s society, the reasoning for the importance of education must lie in the place specific individuals will take in tomorrow’s society.  As they will become tomorrow’s citizens, it is important that they achieve the understanding that will make them apart of an enlightened society.  Without education, society runs the risk of becoming entirely composed of individuals who have no understanding about the importance of the world around them.  It is therefore important for them to gain a sufficient understanding of the world to make the correct decisions.  In order to engage the student’s desire to become apart of this process, the school must be willing to work with the student to answer their specific questions about the world around them.  Preparation for life after schools, therefore, should occur in such a way that the student is prepared for what they want to do.  Their active place in society will not become meaningful for them if they are forced to fit into a place that they weren’t made for.

Scheuerman, R. (2010).  Lecture 8 Full Text.

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Inclusion of students with severe disabilities in the general education classroom requires the teacher to have the desire to do whatever is necessary to help their students succeed.  This means that the teacher must be willing to help their student with putting on clothes, eating, etc.  The para-educator assisting the student with severe disabilities should be the one meeting most of the student’s needs in the classroom.  However, the presence of the para should not stand in the way of the development of a relationship between the general education teacher and the student.  It is not appropriate for the general education teacher to focus all of their time in the classroom on the student with severe disabilities.  They have been hired to teach and educate the body of students as a whole. However, (again) the general educator should be willing to do whatever is necessary to meet the needs of their students in the pursuit of developing a relational with their students for the purposes of education.

In the case of the specific types of severe disabilities mentioned in the text, this means that the teacher might find it necessary to practice new forms of instruction, learn new forms of communication, or might need to help a student develop socially or behaviorally.  For students who experience Traumatic Brain Injury, an Individual Education Plan (IEP) centered on the development of a student’s ability to learn and to focus for long periods of time is prescribed.  Special attention should also be paid to behavioral functions, social and emotional abilities and norms, and language development or reconstruction if necessary.  For students who have Deaf-Blindness, the importance of Direct Instruction and structured routines is emphasized.  Students with Deaf Blindness also require the development of specific forms of communication through hand-under-hand guidance, adapted sign language, and very specific tactile cues.  They will also require Orientation and Mobility (O&M) or training in navigating and functioning in different environments.  In the cases of both of the specific disabilities mentioned above, the student will most likely spend a great deal of time in the special education classroom before they can function in the general education classroom.  However, it is necessary that the student with severe disabilities is placed in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) as soon as possible so that they can achieve their full potential under the educational practice of Normalization.

Hallahan, D. P., Kauffman, J. M., & Pullen, P. C. (2009).  Exceptional Learners:  An introduction to Special Education.  Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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Arthur Ellis in Multicultural Education writes about how the dream of the melting pot in the United States has never been realized.  Israel Zangwill envisioned a land where peoples from around the world came to America where they would leave their cultures and languages behind in the pursuit of being an American.  This dream of an American identity separate from all other cultures and nations never came to be.  The country that we live in is a mixture of cultures and identities, which all continue their separate existence in differences in individual backgrounds and family histories and traditions.  Arthur Ellis argues that our perspective as a society should not be one of America as a melting pot or as a singular society, but rather as a pluralistic society containing multiple cultures and dimensions.

The problem with this perspective is that it lessens the importance of American identity for the sake of preserving and uplifting the identities of other cultures.  Often when Immigrants come over to the United States they come from rough environments and want to be enriched in the character and culture of America, with all of the freedoms and abilities that come with it.  As teachers we have the responsibility to help students become better citizens, and how will they develop a sense of their connection to the American system without a perception of their own American identity?  It is important that regardless of the many cultures that compose our nation that we as a people still have a perception of ourselves as Americans.

Previous generations understood the importance of their identity as Americans and sought to make education a part of the process of passing on their national heritage and beliefs.  Horace Mann wrote about the responsibility of the state to promote the necessity of individuals working for their own preservation and enrichment.  He also wrote about how education elevates the poor and destitute so that wealth can be shared by all and so that individuals will have the ability to defend themselves against the selfishness of others. In so doing, he promotes American ideals and beliefs about the state of humanity and what should be done about it.  His belief in the American system shines through his writings on the importance of education.

Many others wrote about the importance of what it meant to them to be an American.  As the nation grew and changed, the perspective and beliefs of the people altered the national perspective of American Identity.  Booker T. Washington wrote about how individuals should pursue the opportunities that are all around them.  He also wrote about how different racial groups in society should learn to cooperate for the betterment of all.  The American people have worked to eradicate the evils of discrimination.  Racial tolerance has become a hallmark of what it means to be an American.   It is important that individuals are encouraged to embrace their individuality and that especially in schools cultural diversity is continually developed.  However, the existence of American identity does not stand in the way of encouraging the differences between people.  America is now composed of different racial and ethnic backgrounds than it was in previous centuries and so the conversation that should be taking place throughout the nation is who are we now?  What does it mean to be an American?  General Educators are given a responsibility to educate students on their responsibilities as citizens and so are entitled with the calling to develop the next generation’s perception of their own identity.  If the United States becomes disconnected in its perception of itself, what is going to keep other cultures from completely overrunning it?

Scheuerman, R. (2010).  Lecture 7 Full Text.

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Educational considerations for a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will depend on the kind and the degree of the disorder.  Students with varying levels of Autism will have difficulty with cognition, behavior, and communication development.  Often cognition and behavior problems relate to the student with Autism’s difficulty with communication.  Problems with communication come from a lack of a desire to communicate for social purposes.  Other factors contributing to a student with Autism’s difficulty with communication are impaired social interactions (or desires for) and abnormal sensory perceptions (unnatural reactions to auditory or physical stimuli).  Behavioral problems from a student with Autism are often repetitive behaviors (rocking, spinning, etc.) or inappropriate social interactions (biting, hitting, etc.).  Students with Autism’s cognition difficulties are unique to Autism, in that though it is similar in some ways to students with intellectual disabilities, there are often students who have an incredible ability in one area or skill.  Autistic individuals who have this incredible ability are given the title Autistic Savant.  Educational recommendations for students with Autism are Direct Instruction (Often in a one-on-one basis in a special education program), Behavior Management (also often in a special education classroom), and Instruction in a natural setting (LRE).  A student with Autism will often spend a great deal of time in the special education classroom before they develop the ability to be successful in the general education classroom.  Once they are in the general education classroom, the general education teacher will have to be aware of the educational considerations mentioned above.  A student with Autism will often need direct instruction both in academics and in appropriate behaviors and need assistance from the teacher to develop successful social interactions and friendships.  A general education teacher who has a student with Autism should be adequately informed on the condition of Autism, so that they can appropriately react to the attitude and actions of the student in the general education classroom.

Educational considerations for students with Asperger’s Syndrome directly relate to their difficulties with social interaction and communication skills.  Students with Asperger’s Syndrome have difficulty seeing the hidden curriculum, or the lessons that other students learn about social interactions through experience with others and with the teacher.  Students with Asperger’s often have to be taught directly what is appropriate in class, who they should trust outside of school, and what reactions are appropriate at what times.  Linked directly to this is their difficulty with the social uses of languages.  They often have to be taught what the appropriate thing is to say to others, what attitude they should have or communicate, and what people mean by certain phrases.  Educational considerations for students with Asperger’s include social interpreting and coaching.  Teachers, Para educators, and special education teachers need to work direct with students with Asperger’s to help them interpret social interactions and what is appropriate for conversations and interactions.  Teachers can use the SODA acronym, where students with Asperger’s are asked to Stop what they are doing, Observe what the situation is and what others are doing, Deliberate about what the best course of action in is, and Approach the person with whom they would like to visit.  Students with Asperger’s will also often need direct coaching on developing social and academic abilities.  General education teachers will need to work directly with students with Asperger’s in the absence of a para educator to help them develop their abilities in social interactions and academics.  Also, it is important that, like Autism, general education teachers are informed about the condition of Asperger’s so that they will have the appropriate reaction to the student’s comments and actions in the classroom.

Hallahan, D. P., Kauffman, J. M., & Pullen, P. C. (2009).  Exceptional Learners:  An introduction to Special Education.  Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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Arthur Ellis writes in Educational Challenges about the responsibilities of the school to prepare children for the outside world out of their obligation to society.  Schools are required to educate individuals with understanding in information and skills, awareness of cultural values, development of social ability and peer group relations, and with a modest preparation for working life.  Teachers are given a responsibility to prepare students for citizenship.  Central to the process of a child’s growth as an individual is the development of their moral understanding. This process, however, is complicated by the fact that multiple cultures and value systems influence and affect our society and the diversity of students in a classroom.  So, a teacher is endowed with a responsibility for moral development, but society hasn’t defined what their moral values are.  An aware teacher understands their effect on students and their perception of understanding.  Students assume automatically that the teacher is well learned in the subject they teach and are taught by society to trust what the teacher is saying.  Therefore, a teacher holds responsibility for everything they say and for every value they teach their class.  But from where should a teacher define their moral standards and beliefs?

Johann Hobart in The Ethical Basis and Aim of Instruction writes that the aim of education is the pursuit of virtue, and virtue is found only in true inner freedom through the pursuit of insight and volition.  Virtue includes the process of moral self-determination, for which Hobart prescribes an education in religious training.  The pursuit for a communicable system of moral values is a search to find an anchor, by which to tether all perceptions of how society should be and what the correct course of action is for society and for individuals.  Without something to base society’s perceptions on, moral values change from generation to generation and there is no understanding of moral absolutes to be passed to the next generation.  For generations, western culture was based on the moral values and understandings found in Christianity.  Our current society rejects Christianity as a viable source for moral values.  Society is only happy with the teachings of Jesus if those teachings line up with society’s perception of moral values.  This means that moral values are no longer a hard foundation of understanding, but rather something that fluctuates with the changes in society.

All individuals feel that actions are either right or wrong and from this we perceive society’s view of moral understanding.  The nation that we live in dictates actions as legal or illegal based on the agreement on and acceptance of laws upheld by the government.  From an understanding of this and from an understanding of what actions generate favorable outcomes can a teacher derive their perception of a system of moral values communicable to their students, says society.  There are, however, teachers whose convictions run deeper than society’s perception of right and wrong.  It is inappropriate, by law, for those teachers to teach their students those convictions. Yet it is difficult for a teacher to not teach those attitudes when their values are communicated by their actions and their own attitude.  Ellis also points out how a teacher’s life is defined by small victories in the classroom and the cumulative positive effect that they have on student outcomes.  It is a responsibility of a teacher to better the lives of their students through the understanding that they communicate to them.  So how does a teacher better their students by encouraging them to pursue moral understanding if moral values fluctuate with society?

One of the foundations of education for Rousseau in his Emile is the importance of directing students to nature and inviting them to curiosity.  Nature as understood either by man’s nature or by the natural world is knowable through observation and through pursuit of understanding.  Moral absolutes, if they are all encompassing and definite, are definable and knowable by individuals.  What is best for self and for others is an understanding that is worthy of student interest.  The obligation of the teacher is to teach individuals the rules that society dictates in the context of the conduct of individuals, and then to ask questions that will pique their curiosity about what the correct course is for humanity.  It is only by asking these questions that humanity is allowed to progress and to make changes for the betterment of all people.  Moral understanding in today’s society is a process of searching for absolute truth.  Teachers ought to use their position to encourage students to ask the kinds of questions that will lead to student understanding of absolute moral values.

Scheuerman, R. (2010).  Lecture 6 Full Text.

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                 The federal definition of emotionally disturbed in the context of IDEA and its rules and regulations includes the following:  A condition in which an individual exhibits one of several certain characteristics often, to a marked extent, and over a long period of time.  Those characteristics can be a general inability to learn (not explained by mental or physical difficulties), an inability to construct or keep satisfactory friendships or relationships, inappropriate behaviors or feelings in general circumstances, a general mood of unhappiness or depression, and a tendency to be afraid or have specific physical symptoms in reference to personal or school related problems.  This definition includes individuals with schizophrenia but does not include individuals who are ‘socially maladjusted’ but not emotionally disturbed (Exceptional Learners, pg. 266). 

                The authors of Exceptional Learners express their belief that the exclusion of socially maladjusted individuals is unnecessary.  Often, they argue, it is difficult to differentiate or adequately determine by the wording of the definition whether or not someone who is identified as being socially maladjusted is actually not emotionally disturbed.  They bring up the fact that it will be difficult to determine whether someone can be identified as emotionally disturbed if they are performing adequately academically.  They might not fit the category of EBD (Emotional or Behavioral Disorder) if they are not having a general difficulty to learn.  The problem with this argument is that although academic achievement problems are assumed to be the focus of why someone would be identified as needing special education, the federal definition allows for an individual to have one or more of the characteristics that defines someone as having an EBD in which case it is possible for them to have other symptoms and still be performing well academically.  Also, the definition is not specific to academic problems only, in which case constant behavioral disturbances combined with clear emotional disturbance would be enough to classify the individual as having EBD.

                The Special Education Program is intended to provide a service to individuals who aren’t capable of having significant achievement in the classroom on their own.  Individuals who are socially maladjusted because of social or relational reasons are in need of service, but it would seem that their needs are better met by school counselors or school psychiatrists.  The authors seem to be eager to include as many individuals in the EBD category as possible so as to make up the difference in individuals who are identified as having EBD and individuals who are actually receiving the service.  Although it is true that there is a fine line between social maladjustment and emotional disturbance, the exclusion clause in the federal definition is there so that those who need special education receive it, while others whose needs would be better met by other services will not receive special education.  Those that require special education in the field of EBD should receive it, and the identification process should be lenient enough to make up the difference in individuals who need special services.  The exclusion clause, however, should not be removed from the federal definition.

Hallahan, D. P., Kauffman, J. M., & Pullen, P. C. (2009).  Exceptional Learners:  An introduction to Special Education.  Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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For the interview assignment for EDU 6918, I interviewed Nate Garner, a Social Studies and English teacher at Elma High School.  Nate has been a good friend of my wife’s family for a long time, and recently I have spent many hours talking with him about education and history.  I chose to interview Nate because of the fact that he teaches in my preferred endorsement area and because he’s a relatively new teacher (six and a half years) and I thought it would be interesting to get his opinion on the process of becoming a teacher that is a relatively recent experience for him.

Nate Garner chose to go into teaching history sometime after high school.  There were several classes that Nate enjoyed in high school that revealed a passion for history.  When it came down to making a decision about what he was going to do with his life, Nate had a hard time seeing himself doing anything out of the field of history.  His decision to teach was further solidified by the fact that he enjoyed the atmosphere of school, loved coaching football, and loved working with kids.

A normal school day for Nate begins at about four or five o’clock in the morning with normal morning routines and grading papers.  Nate is then at school by 6:30 or 7:30, depending on the morning, and prepares for his first class, freshman English at 8:24.  This class if followed by Intro to Literature and Composition, a World History class, Lunch from 11 to 12, and then 2 more World History Classes.  His last class ends at two, after which he has his prep period until football starts at 3.  Football ends at around 5, and then Nate is usually home around 5:30.  Nate then spends the rest of the night spending time with his wife and his seven-month-old daughter and trying to avoid schoolwork for the sake of family.

Nate usually spends an average of ten to fifteen hours per week on schoolwork outside of school, preparing for classes and grading papers.  The majority of the time he spends on schoolwork is technically his own fault, he says, because in trying to prepare his students for state tests he assigns a lot of short answer responses, which he spends a lot of time reading and making comments on in the margins for the development of his students’ writing ability.  He prefers writing assessments to other forms of assessment, though, because the assignment puts Nate in the role of an advisor or guide to the students in their process of development, rather than in the role of an authority who constantly corrects them.

Nate has found teaching to be an experience that is both satisfying and frustrating.  Nate is naturally a very competitive person and constantly desires to improve his teaching ability and methods.  His desire to be the best teacher that he can be, however, is sometimes blocked by the periphery issues that can sour the whole experience.  Nate has few problems with his colleagues, but has been frustrated with the actions and attitudes of administration and parents.  Often these incidents relate to the issues of standards and the concerns of parents.  Nate believes that the administration should defend teachers when their teaching is brought into question by the poor performance of students.  Nate also believes that education should be reformed at the state level to support good teachers, in contrast to the state implementing policies on the basis of statistics or educational philosophy.  Strict state standards for teachers might remove the ineffective teachers from education, but at the same time will bring down good teachers who don’t deserve to be removed.  Often, it seems, the best teachers that he knows are the ones that teach in spite of state standards and regulations.

Nate is a Christian and often speaks about his beliefs to his classroom.  His perspective is that it is difficult to talk about Social Studies without engaging the different facets of religion.  His desire is not to force his beliefs on his students but rather to allow them to explore issues and questions that they want to ask about religion.  His desire is to see his kids come to Christ, but will not use his position as a “bully pulpit”.

The most defining feature of teacher for Nate is whether or not a teacher has commitment to the work that they are doing.  Often teaching will be frustrating in ways that new teachers may not expect, but if teaching is what you’re supposed to be doing, you will desire to persevere in your pursuit of better teaching.  His advice to prospective teachers is to be sure of what you want to do, and then, when you’re sure, to stand your ground about your beliefs and on your principles.

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