Relevance and Big Picture

The students are learning a large variety of subjects – Math, Science, English, and Health Studies to name a few. Within each subject they are taught the facts and how to of each, then assessed for understanding. However, their teacher always takes things one step further. Not only does she teach them what they need to know to pass the test, she teaches them how it applies to their everyday lives. Math is applied in the concept of space awareness, hands-on activities, and real-life scenarios. It is also combined with English (forming sentences describing the equation) to help improve the children’s understanding by making connections.

In English, they learn how to write paragraphs, read, and other valuable skills. These are applied to their lives by writing paragraphs about things that they did or want to do or keeping a journal of their experiences if they go away on vacation. They can then share these with the class if they feel comfortable, giving them the opportunity to share their experiences while also getting feedback and tips on their writing. It gives them a reason to write what they experienced, rather than just telling them that they have too.

I have also discussed the Tower Garden that they are using to learn about biology. This helps them see how learning about plants can affect their everyday lives. If they want to have a garden when they’re older, this will be a valuable experience. Even if they don’t, it helps them understand and be able to physically see where their food comes from and how it is produced, which gives them a better sense of self-awareness.

Health Studies provides them with real-life scenarios that make them think about how their actions and choices will affect their lives. This not only helps them develop an awareness of what is safe, but it also helps them to develop critical thinking skills, which are essential both now and later in life.

Overall, I can now see just how important the role a teacher plays in the lives of their students is. They don’t simply provide children with facts that they have to memorize, or at least they shouldn’t. They should provide children with valuable experiences that prepare them for later in life and help to show them the relevance of what they are learning. Children generally are more open to learning something if they can see how it applies to them. This challenges the teacher to come up with lesson plans that teaches them what they need to know in a way that shows its relevance, challenging them to be a better teacher. We are living in an age where the teacher is no longer expected to stand and the front of the class and lecture on a topic, hoping that at least half of the students keep up. It is our responsibility to ensure that every child receives education and is able to benefit from it. Because of this, we need to be constantly adapting our techniques to suit the changing generations. Education is not a one-size fits all process, and we cannot continue to treat it as such.

Curriculum & Instruction

One thing the students are learning is cursive writing. They have worksheets where they learn the way to write individual letters, then how to string them together into words without lifting their pen off the paper. We helped them work on this last week as well, and many of the students were struggling to form the shapes and write in a continuous line. Their writing would often be crooked or go completely off the lines. This week we helped them again, and their improvement in that last week was astounding. They had learned to fill the entire line with their writing and to keep it relatively straight. Their writing was also a lot neater, further demonstrating their improvement.

Our students also have French once a week. They learn french through talking about the weather and date, talking to each other, and playing games. Their fluency and pronunciation in French improves each week, and they are able to answer questions much more quickly than when we began our placement.

They are also learning biology with the help of a tower garden. The plants have grown much quicker than if they had been in a regular garden, and as such are able to observe the growth and development of their plants much quicker and to a finished point. This also has the benefit of helping tactile learners as they are responsible for taking care of their plants.

These are only three of the many subjects they are learning, but you are able to see their growth in every area. When they are struggling with a concept, the teacher introduces a new teaching strategy or activity to help them. Because all of their teachers are so adaptable to different learning styles and interests, the students are able to learn far more than if they had specific details and ways they all had to learn information.

Oh, Canada: bridges and barriers to inclusion in Canadian schools – Reflection

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“Inclusive education means that all students attend and are welcomed by their neighbourhood schools in age-appropriate, regular classes and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of the life of the school” (Inclusive Education Canada, n.d.).

While inclusive education is a great ideal and something we should strive for, we are still far from it. Students are still separated from their peers into “special” classes, making them feel isolated. Teachers, unsure of how to teach those who need extra help, simply give them work that is below their grade level so that they don’t need help. Or, they might have a EA for that child, so that the rest of the students aren’t “held back.”

While some of these might be necessary in certain situations, they should not be the norm. Children, regardless of their differences, need to be with others of their own age. Separating them only harms both the child and their peers. The child is not able to develop socially because they have no one to interact with. Their peers aren’t able to learn that even though some people are different, they are still unique individuals that are just as capable of accomplishing anything. Giving them work that is below their grade level or what they are capable of harms their academic development. Additionally, while having an EA may be helpful at times for both the teacher and student, it sets the student apart from their classmates.

However, if we integrate children with various disabilities into the classroom environment with as few restraints as possible, it has actually been proved to include not only their development, but the development of their peers as well. If the child is struggling, other students who do understand the concept can help them to understand it as well. This helps promote positive social interaction, while also improving the academic performance of all children involved. The child receiving the help feels included, which helps them to learn, while also seeing the same concept from multiple perspectives (because everyone explains it slightly differently), maximizing their learning. The children that are helping also benefit, because when you teach a concept to someone else, your own understanding and retention increases dramatically. Furthermore, teachers can differentiate content (what to teach, degree of mastery you want students to have), process (How you teach, physical arrangement, etc.), and product (how students will demonstrate their learning) to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to learn.

“Despite their general support for inclusion in principle, without adequate resources – including teacher training – teachers are less supportive of inclusion. Mittler (2003) found that the most significant barrier to inclusion is negative attitudes in teachers, parents and administrators.” (49)

We need to move away from these negative attitudes if we want to truly impact the lives of our students. How can we say that we want everyone to learn, but then only agree to teach those who are academically gifted? How can we include some children while excluding those who need us the most? Differences in our students need to be normalized so that children do not feel ostracized and alone. Inclusive education is something the needs to become a priority for all teachers, as it is fundamental to the development of the next generation.

Sokal, L., & Katz, J. (n.d.). Oh, Canada: bridges and barriers to inclusion in Canadian schools. SFL. Inclusive Education in Canada. Retrieved from https://urcourses.uregina.ca/pluginfile.php/1259202/mod_resource/content/1/Oh%20Canada-Bridges%20and%20Barriers%20to%20Inclusion%20-%20Sokal%20%20Katz%20%282015%29.pdf.

Inclusive Education – Diversity and Difference (Part 2)

Because students are so diverse and we live in a world that is just beginning to recognize all of our differences, it can be hard to know if everyone’s needs are being met. École Wascana Plains School just opened this fall after finishing construction, and as such was able to take a more drastic approach to ensuring this ideal is met.

Gender neutral washrooms, a topic with much heated debate surrounding it, are a reality in this school. There are no segregated washrooms, allowing students to identify how they want to without worrying about how others may react and without drawing unwanted attention to themselves. This contributes to an overall safer environment, while also teaching students to be accepting of people who identify outside of the binary. Because students don’t have to use a washroom that doesn’t match how they identify or fear facing ostracization and possible consequences for choosing to do so, their academic achievements will be higher. It has been proven that stress lowers cognitive performance, while feeling safe in one’s environment increases it.

The school has a Catholic wing as well as a French Immersion wing, in addition to the regular school. This essentially allows three schools to be operating under one roof, encouraging students from different parts and backgrounds to interact. Incorporating a Catholic school within a public school is a huge step, which may help to encourage further acceptance of different ways of identifying as well as religious beliefs, both of which are issues that are constantly under fire from opposition. Reaching understandings will help build better relationships moving forward, while preventing further misunderstandings from occurring.

Treaty education is also extremely important and is used to help develop understandings of larger issues in our society. Encouraging acceptance and reconciliation, pushing for equality and recognition of our history, as well as looking forward to what our future looks like on Treaty 4 land is very important, and as such takes a central role in many lessons.

École Wascana Plains School takes a very liberal minded approach to inclusive education. Student’s needs are anticipated, with solutions in place to help everyone feel safe coming to school. The needs of the individual are looked at, allowing systems to be set in place to ensure they are comfortable. Rather than only looking to the needs of the majority, minorities are recognized and valued, which is shown in the care the school has for all of its students.

Inclusive Education – Diversity and Difference (Part 1)

The students in our class are from very diverse backgrounds. Many come from different countries, and have different skills, abilities, and beliefs. Because of this, certain topics have to be approached with sensitivity. However, this also allows for a more diverse learning environment. Students are able to learn about different cultures and their practices from each other, while also being able to tell others about themselves.

Another form of diversity is their different learning abilities. Some of the children struggle with nearly every subject and concept, while others are miles ahead. The teacher manages these differences by having unique lesson plans that reflect the student’s varying needs. One example that I have previously mentioned is “Words Their Way.” This program allows students to learn new words and letter formations at their own pace with words that are at their level.

Another way they work to have inclusive education is through their classroom arrangements. Students sit with one or more other students, allowing them to help each other during work periods. This helps both the students that need extra help (learn information in different ways from friends) and the ones doing the explaining (this will help with their own understanding of the material). Additionally, each class gets an EA for an hour every day or once a week, depending on what each class needs. This helps ensure that those who need extra help are able to get it, even if the teacher is busy helping others. It also does not single any individuals out, which is what would happen if an EA was assigned to a specific student on a daily basis. This promotes both academic and social growth.

Other forms of diversity that may not be visible are economic diversity, sexuality/gender identity, religious beliefs, and so many more. Every child brings their own story and background with them to school, creating a very diverse community. I greatly admire the teachers at the school for accommodating all of these differences and ensuring that each child has the opportunity to grow, both intellectually and socially.

Teachers and Knowledge

In our class, new concepts are taught in a variety of ways, which allows different learners to have the same opportunities in the classroom. For example, the topic being covered in Math right now is Geometry. To help everyone learn, the teacher first did a section with the textbook, then a section that is hands on. The students were required to make two different shapes (for example, a rectangular prism and a pyramid) out of clay, then identify the number of faces and bases, as well as the name of the prism. This allowed tactile learners to also benefit from the lesson, not just those who do well when the topic is explained on paper.

The Genius Hour Projects also allow for different learning styles, as the topic can just be facts on paper, a tactile object, or something the children physically do (such as skating).

Additionally, the class learns new words with “Words Their Way.” The teacher assessed each student individually at the beginning of the year to determine their level of knowledge of spelling. Then, each student receives a set of words each week specific to their level of development, and focusing on areas they struggle with. This allows the lessons to be more individualized and specific to each student, allowing them to learn as much as possible in the school year. Rather than having some students bored with the spelling words of the week because they already know them, and other students struggling because they don’t understand why certain letter combinations sound a certain way, they each are able to learn words that are at their own level.

Our class is also using a Garden Tower to learn about biology. They each have a plant that is assigned to them, and they must record their observations on its growth every week. Additionally, they all work together to ensure it is functioning properly and has enough water, allowing students to have some responsibility for their own learning. Not only does it help teach biology, but chemistry too. They monitor the PH of the water, then add certain compounds to make it more or less basic, ensuring the best growing parameters for the plants. This allows for students interested in a variety of sciences to have an opportunity to learn more about what interests them.

In order to accomplish such individualized learning, the teachers work together, even if they are not teaching the same grade. Resources are shared and explained, and new ideas are debated. This allows all the teachers’ knowledge to continually be growing and changing, enabling the students to receive the best education possible.