Special Education Field Experience
I spent my ten hours observing in Mrs. Kimberly Lund's Pre-K classroom at Little Early Childhood Center. Pre-K students are only in school for half of the day, so Mrs. Kim has a morning class and an afternoon class. There are five students in the morning class and three students in the afternoon class. These students are three to five years old and each has a special need. While the teacher was cautious to discuss the students' special needs in detail, I did learn that most of them were diagnosed with Autism, and one student was born with Down Syndrome. Many of these students do not speak at all. The teacher shared with me that the two students that do speak now did not speak when they first came to her class. I can only imagine the incredible sense of accomplishment that Mrs. Kim felt when she heard the student's first word! That is an amazing gift to be able to give to a child and their parents.
The Learning Setting
The teacher has established a well-organized routine for these students. This classroom also has two wonderful paras to help work with the students. At Little Early Childhood Center all of the teachers greet their students in the gym where they say The Pledge of Allegiance and sing a few songs to get pumped up. Once the students are in the classroom, the teacher begins circle time around the SMART Board. Circle time consists of the Open Shut Them Song, ABC Song, and this really neat calender program.
After circle time the students divide into centers. For this the teacher hands each student a card with a picture of the center they are to go to first. The three centers are speech, technology and independent work with the teacher. Most of the time there is one student per center, except for the morning classes where there may be two students per center. The students spend fifteen minutes in each center and rotate through all three of them. After the first round of centers, the kids are ready for their scheduled recess time.
When the students return from recess there is another circle time consisting of another song and a story. There is always a SMART Board activity to go along with the story. Usually the students will take turns to identify the animals or colors that were discussed in the story. At this point the teacher divides the students for another round of centers. There is a center for a combination of speech and snack time, technology, and independent work with the teacher.
After the second round of centers, the students have a short play time, one final circle time with goodbye songs, and then pack up and leave for the day.
Mrs. Kim has been teaching children with special needs for 18 years, so she has a very strong grasp of which strategies are effective for her class and which strategies are better on paper. I doubt that in the ten hours I spent in her classroom I was able to pick up on all of her teaching strategies, but the few I did notice were fine-tuned and effectively executed.
To begin with, the routine appears to be the most effective teaching strategy in Mrs. Kim's classroom. Every student benefits when there are set routines in place, and even more so when the students have special needs. Having set routines in place can eliminate confusion for students. When a student knows what is expected of them, the teacher spends less time instructing and more time teaching. Having said that, I do not expect anyone to walk into this class and see every student quiet and on-task, that would never happen in any classroom for three to five year old children. Mrs. Kim is working extremely hard everyday to prepare these students for kindergarten and beyond.
Dividing the students into centers is another effective strategy utilized in this classroom. Every student has an I.E.P. with their own list of goals. By dividing the students into centers, the teacher is allowed one-on-one (occasionally two-on-one) time to assess each student's progress towards their goals.
During each circle time Mrs. Kim uses the same songs every day of the week. These simple songs usually teach some concept such as the alphabet, body parts, actions and colors. Music has a profound effect on students and their ability to learn. In fact, while I was observing in Mrs. Kim's class I got to hear one of her students who never speaks actually speak. He said "clap, clap, clap" which are lyrics from the Open Shut Them Song.
I noticed that during Speech there were a lot of pictures used.There were pictures for everything not just concepts like animals and colors. For example, I watched one student point to three pictures. Each picture represented one word. He told the para, "I want bubbles." Of course after that the para blew some bubbles for the student to pop. The next time he pointed to four pictures and said "I want more bubbles." I couldn't explain the science behind this method, but it did seem to be an effective strategy.
Thoughts and Ideas
The ten hours I spent observing in Mrs. Kim's classroom were incredible. This experience has made me realize that special education could be my calling. I can see myself as a special education teacher. I know that it means earning a Masters degree and I know that it would be a challenging and exhausting job. However, could there be a more rewarding and exciting job? Mrs. Kim gets to hear these kids speak for the first time, discover new things and grasp new concepts for the first time. I can't think of anything more rewarding than being able to help children with special needs for a living!