Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Working Together: What Teachers Can Learn from Parents

Effective strategies for communication between teachers and families often begin with questions regarding the parent and student perspectives on strengths, areas for growth, and goals. Within college-level coursework, pre-service teachers learn what questions to ask, but don’t have the opportunity to hear actual responses. In order to offer such an opportunity to pre-service teachers, the College of Education, in collaboration with the Jones Center for Special Education Excellence, sponsors an event each semester focused on promoting teacher communication and collaboration with students with differing abilities and their families.

The event, Navigating Life with Differing Abilities: A family and student perspective, includes a panel made up of individuals and families with diagnoses including Spina Bifida, Asperger’s Syndrome, Chromosomal Abnormality, and Intellectual Disability. Pre-service teachers taking SPECED 358: Methods of Instruction will learn about the families' perspectives as the panelists answer questions including:

  1. How has the presence of a disability affected your family dynamic? 
  2. How do teachers and school staff communicate with you? What methods/strategies are most effective? 
  3. During IEP meetings, what was done/what do you wish was done to make you feel like part of the team? 
  4. What role do you think teachers can play in encouraging peer interactions? 

Following the questions, the audience of pre-service teachers may ask additional questions or follow up on previous statements. In a questionnaire provided before and after the fall semester event, the pre-service teachers indicated they felt more confident about their ability to communicate with parents and students after participating in the event. Student comments included, “[I need to be] always communicating with parents and treating them as equals” and “This panel discussion really helped [me] understand how much an educator can affect the student, parents, and family members.”
— Brooke Lylo, Assistant Professor Exceptionality Programs

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Including Learners with Low-Incidence Disabilities

Inclusive practices are at the cornerstone of what we share with students as they prepare to work with diverse groups of children in schools. Drs. Robin Drogan and Darlene Perner, Department of Exceptionality Programs, College of Education, published a chapter, Facilitating Systems of Support, in the book Including Learners with Low-Incidence Disabilities.

This book, Volume 5 in the International Perspectives on Inclusive Education series, brings a global perspective to a topic that is not often covered: supports for students with low-incidence disabilities. Drogan and Perner’s chapter highlights the major features necessary to facilitate inclusive education for students with low-incidence disabilities. Some of the features include: values and beliefs, rights, relationships, a sense of belonging, effective practices, and school community and culture. They focus on quality implementation of effective instruction and strong collaborative practices. Teachers are central to the creation of change in schools. When teachers create systems to embrace all children, we can succeed in sustained inclusion of students with low-incidence disabilities.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Brag Tags

During my first student teaching placement, I developed a Positive Behavior Support system called “Brag Tags” for use with my fourth-grade students. The target behaviors selected for the Brag Tag system were homework completion and appropriate class participation. Initially, my students struggled with turning in homework on time, as well as maintaining on-task behavior during classroom instruction.

I designed three types of tags: academic tags, behavior tags, and a birthday tag. The academic tags promoted homework completion and participation during instruction. The behavior tags reinforced positive behavior throughout the school day. The birthday tag was a formal and fun way of recognizing students on their special day. The tags were printed, cut out, laminated, and hole-punched. When a student earned one, they were provided a tag to put on their necklace. Earned tags would hang on the bulletin board for all to see throughout the day.

With the assistance of my cooperating teacher, we established clear expectations for earning a Brag Tag. We often reviewed classroom expectations with the students. This was necessary for both students and teachers to ensure the students’ behavior was worthy of a tag. Students could not request a tag nor point out behaviors of others that they deem to be worthy of a tag.

At the end of the month, students could take their necklaces and the Brag Tags they earned home to show to their families.

The Brag Tag bulletin board was set up in front of the classroom so students could monitor their progress throughout the day. The board was the first thing they could see when they walked in the classroom. It was big, visual and accessible for students to use. Each student had his or her own classroom number, by which they identified their necklace.

Students could earn a tag at any point during the day, but they could only put tags on their necklaces during transition times (i.e. between classes, before lunch or recess).

By the second week of the system’s implementation, most of my students turned in their homework assignments. Students demonstrated an increase in active engagement and on-task behavior by volunteering in class, completing assignments, and minimizing chatter.  Because it was concrete and visual, it was easy for students and teachers to get a sense of student progress on the targeted behaviors.  This also became a major boost to classroom climate.  I especially liked that even students who were usually withdrawn and never raised their hand began to interact more readily.  In my classroom, the Brag Tags were a huge success!

— Kori McManus, Student Teacher

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Benefits of Play on Whole Child Development

Today, many decisions impacting children focus exclusively on their cognitive development or development from the neck up. However, developmental experts Patricia Weissman and Joanne Hendrick endorse a whole child perspective that pictures the child as being made up of five distinct selves – cognitive, creative, emotional, physical, and social. This developmental domain approach underscores essential elements across multiple environments that children need in order to thrive. One of these essential elements is play, and recent research supports the benefits of play on whole child development.

Interactive exploratory experience, both features of play in unstructured social environments, enhance cognitive understandings. According to Anthony Pellegrini, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, different types of play foster social competence. That includes respect for rules, self discipline, aggression control, problem-solving skills, leadership development, conflict resolution, and playing by the rules.

When provided with frequent opportunities to play, children develop self-determination, self-esteem, and the ability to self regulate – all vital elements of emotional development. Active physical play builds strength, coordination and cardiovascular fitness and moderates childhood obesity and its associated health complications. Children engaging in pretend play exhibit a greater capacity for cognitive flexibility and creativity across the lifespan. 

In Bloomsburg University’s College of Education, we value these play interactions. We are lucky to have on staff Dr. Michael Patte, who has a number of publications which focus on play. Most recently, Dr. Patte and some colleagues published the book International Perspectives on Children's Play with Open University Press. Dr. Patte also recently penned a piece on the decline of unstructured play for the National Toy Industry.

Weissman and Hendrick (2013)
Action for Healthy Kids (2008)
Pellegrini (2009)
Barros et al. (2009)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010)
Russ & Fiorelli (2010)