What curriculum modifications would you make for a student with special needs in language arts, particularly for a child who has difficulty reading?
One suggestion would be to have the parent and child pre-read a passage the night before it is going to be discussed in the class. You can also have the other students audio-tape the books, and then have the student with special needs listen to it. You can find a different level of the book like the Step Up Into Classics book. They give a parallel text that covers the same basic curriculum, but with fewer words.
Another good idea is to have a reading group, which is a small group of students who discuss a particular text. That could mean discussing the vocabulary or answering questions. For instance, we have a student here with autism, and her peers draw up the questions for her, which is a nice way to involve the kids.What curriculum modifications would you make to the math curriculum for a student with autism?
We've modified math using touch pads, which is a formalized system for teaching math in which the students put dots on the numbers. It is a way to make the math more concrete and visual. So instead of using counters, the students would actually put the dots on the numbers, and then count the dots. You can also use calculators to modify the curriculum.How would you modify science for a student with autism?
The science curriculum works really well if it's hands-on. The difficulty tends to come in film strips, lectures, and in other things where they're totally uninvolved. The more hands-on you make it the easier it is for the student with special needs.How would you modify the social studies curriculum for a student with special needs?
Social studies tends to be one of the most difficult areas to modify for a student with special needs. For instance, when you're studying the history of Colorado and the gold miners, that is so far removed from their life that it's really difficult for many of them to grasp. So we've tried some things like getting them to read a novel based on that period of time, and then we would talk about it in terms of what that character would think. We might also watch a video about a related subject. The key is to build a common base, so they understand what it is you're trying to say.What kinds of modifications would you make for a class like health?
I've found kids are fairly interested in health because it's about their body. It's also very much hands-on subject. We would just core down the amount of information that the student with special needs would have to know. They don't have to learn the intricacies of the digestive system. They just need to know that the purpose of the digestive system is to digest food, and that it enters through your mouth and then waste exits the body.What modifications would you make for a class like physical education?
Peer partners are a really strong key in modifying the physical education curriculum. We do a lot of circle of friends work, and P.E. is an area that comes up a lot. And when the kids are allowed to, they come up with some really great modifications.
For instance, we had one child who was having great difficulty jumping rope. The kids realized that he just didn't know what to do, and where to go while he was jumping. So they put a mat down where he was jumping, and they taped a square to it. They told him that he had to stay in the box while he was jumping, and pretty soon, he was able to do it. Peer support is very critical in physical education because the movement is so quick. Another modification we make is that instead of playing basketball, the kids will be the referees. Some of the kids might also prefer to play catch in the back of the gym as opposed to playing the big dodge ball game.What behaviour management strategies do you use with the students with special needs?
We have a really strong behaviour intervention program here for all the students. For some of the students, we write behaviour plans where we look at factual analysis of behaviour, and we then build our strategies on that. We also have a crisis response team that we call the STAT team for the Student Teacher Assistants Team. It's in place so that anytime a teacher feels that either they or the student needs a break, they can contact the office. We will then have people who are fairly well trained in de-escalating situations respond, and get the student back to class quickly and functionally.
We also do a lot of proactive teaching around appropriate behaviour, and a little over half of the school is involved in Circle of Friends. We go into the classroom and conduct class meetings. We work on appropriate teaching skills, and appropriate learning skills. The students learn how they can teach each other as well as how they can learn from each other. They would also learn about eye messages and peer mediation. I think that eliminates a lot of the problems, because the kids have a chance to discuss it before it becomes a crisis.Do you recommend any sort of seating arrangement when there are students with special needs in the classroom?
Yes, but I think that you have to experiment with that. I don't think that front and centre is always the best place. I have two children with special needs at home, and I've found that my son prefers to sit in the front row left side, so that he can have his back to the wall. Some kids with special needs might need to be in the back of the class, so that there's nothing going on behind them. Other kids meanwhile might have to be in front of the class, so that they can really focus on the teacher. I think that it's really important to have peer support around them.Do you have support teams in place in the school to assist teachers who have students with special needs?
It depends on the individual child, and who's working with that child. For instance, we meet on an every-other-week basis for the student we have with autism. We have three para-professionals, two special education teachers, a behavioural specialist, the principal and the classroom teacher, who meet with the parents every other week. With the other students it's once a month, or as needed. When a student has particularly severe behavioural needs, I try to meet with their teachers at least once or twice a week. I just drop in to see how they're doing. Do the parents attend all of the support team meetings?
If it's a formal support team meeting, then yes. For instance, when we have the meetings about the behavioural intervention plans, the parents are always invited. It depends on the importance of the meeting, and its function, but they're never excluded.You have a very active parent volunteer program. Do the parents of students with special needs volunteer to work with their own children?
No, not necessarily. I think it would be really difficult to deal with because watching their own child, they might see a hundred things that they do wrong. So I think it tends to be more difficult for them.Do you ever have to do anything to get the other students on side about inclusion?
Typically, if we're going to do parallel curriculum, we'll start off with, "What does it mean to be fair?" Fair means equal opportunity, not "same". We always have that discussion before the year even begins. We'll often go through the "who is". For example, who is Tim? What are his gifts? What are his challenges? What should he do? What shouldn't he do?
The biggest problems tend to occur around behavioural expectations. You can't fight every battle, so sometimes you have to let a few things slide. For instance, a child might be using their mouth instead of their fist, but you might let that go sometimes because your goal is to eliminate physical aggression.