So right now I feel like the kid in the movie Home Alone when Macaulay Culkin applies the aftershave to his cheeks and then realizes the consequence of his actions. Besides the obvious pain that he feels, the character has the realization that he has made a mistakes and perhaps the result that he was hoping for just wasn’t quite what was expected. My mode of thinking has definitely changed due to some much needed observation time that I spent with a teacher who was working with students with autism.
As an educational technology specialist I am always looking for ways to help integrate (yes I realize this has become a dirty word in some facets) technology into the day to day teaching of curriculum. This year I was given a new challenge when my district decided to provide professional development with our Special Education teachers. My role transformed from working primarily with classroom teachers to those whose students have special needs. This was an entire new ballgame for me. Yes, I’d had special needs students in my classes over the years. I had that ONE required special education course in college. I’d seen the work that Special Education teachers had done in passing. But did I really understand that day to day environment and plethora of needs that teachers of students with special education must meet? Heck no!
What I have been struggling with most this year is finding a way for my Low Incidence teachers to use technology in their classrooms. With stimulus money we were able to purchase equipment like SMART Boards and flip cameras for these teachers as well as fund their professional development time (money for substitute teachers and stipends for after school meetings). In addition, I attempt to meet with these teachers monthly to provide coaching and in-classroom support. It took me 3/4 of the year to realize I really didn’t know how to help these teachers. Plus, did the really need my help to begin with? Yes, I could spend time teaching them how to use their new equipment, but that teaching time doesn’t go nearly far enough when it isn’t applicable to their settings. And I didn’t know what was applicable!
So finally I realized that I need to spend time just observing activities in these settings. What can I do to make their lives easier, to reach their students and help them fulfill their learning goals? After observing in two classrooms with autistic children, one with higher functioning and one with lower, I came to the realization that I need to think of the students as individuals. I helped create goals for IEPs before, attending numerous meetings, looked at data from specific tests, and talked with parents of special needs as a classroom teacher, but I really didn’t get it until I took the time to reflect today. I need to be focusing on the individual students in these classrooms, not on how I can help them learn as a group.
As with all children, needs are vastly different. In a perfect world, each and every child would have their own IEP and instruction would be customized and differentiated. But I digress and that is another Blog topic in and of itself. I need to talk with individual teachers and find out what the students’ learning goals are in their Individual Learning Plans. Once those goals are identified, I think it will move me in a direction on how I can help. One child might be working on shape recognition. I know I can come up with SMART Board activities that can assist in this goal. I can find apps for the iPad that can allow for individual practice and provide feedback for the student. These are things I can do.
I know it may seem like a silly revelation to some, but to me it took a while for my brain to really wrap around the ways I can help Special Education students. I can find lots of examples of other Special Education teachers using technology, but unless it is explicitly helping individual students meet their learning goals, it is not going to help them. I’m excited because I feel like I have some direction now. I can’t wait to reflect with the teachers that I observed this week and last and brainstorm some ideas together. So that’s it. That’s my big realization.