by Connie Cave

Connie Cave's Secondary Education Portfolio

Individual Student Needs

Lessons Adapted to the Needs of Individual Students

 I begin this portion of the portfolio with a smile.  If I were forced to characterize my student teaching experience using just one word, adaptation would be on the list of  the final three.  The adaptation of lessons to accommodate student needs was systemic to my experience.  Two out of my three history classes were collaborative where I teamed taught with the special education teacher.  These two classes had between 5 to 6 students each who had various learning disabilities. My collaborative teacher helped me to understand the needs of the students and made helpful suggestions.  In addition many of my students throughout my five classes had needs based on English as a second language.

Most procedures within the classroom were based on the needs of accommodation.  Those accommodations began with the seating chart and carried through to the design and administration of the last formal assessment on the last day of school. Students challenged by weak attention spans or distractibility were placed in locations that would help them to stay focused.  Verbal cues and gentle reminders to come back to task were part of the everyday procedure.  The pace at which the class operated was determined  by the need to keep the flow going and not getting stuck on the same activity for too long. 

Many students needed special considerations at test time.  There were no unannounced tests, unless the class was lazy.  All tests and quizzes were given at the start of the class and none were timed.  The students were allowed to take as much of the class period as needed.  Some students chose to test in the testing center and some did on occasion need extra time to complete their tests.

Instructional strategies had to keep all the special needs in mind on a daily basis.  We had students who learned best through visual methods rather than auditory.  As a result a great deal of emphasis was placed on teaching with visual tools.  Many videos and video clips were presented.  Many still pictures and outside books were shared with the class during lecture and work times.  Always, the overhead or the blackboard was used in every way possible to support the lessons.  The transparencies  for text and images were used on a regular basis.  Much effort was given to frontload any new vocabulary at the beginning of each new lesson. The overheads were always left up for people to finish who needed extra time.  Some of my students needed typed copies of the overhead transparencies to work with and those were made and handed out quietly.  

Much use was made of portfolio assignments in the history class, so that people had an opportunity to showcase their strengths.  We had some people who were talented in art and others who were into poetry.  Some students had a great love of music and were able to explore those topics.  A wide list of acceptable topics was given for each portfolio styled assignment, so that students had an excellent chance of being able to work on assignments that they would find interesting and enjoyable. I did find it hard in the beginning to design rubrics that would allow for differentiation.  Once, I decided to make the passing grade translate to doing the basics for the assignment  than it became much more consistent in its application across wide ability lines.

My students were also asked to give verbal presentations as part of  their portfolios.  For many of my students this was a particularly difficult challenge.  I wanted to provide them with a safe environment in which to practice that skill.  Since many of the students were very much engaged in their topics, this was something that many were able to do. Many of the students performed above their expectations, and that was a great confidence builder.  For those who needed extra encouragement to get through the assignment, that was offered.  Everyone was allowed to "take a breath and start over." There were many comments about how the topics were better understood after this student or that student had explained it.

In my ten weeks at my student teaching assignment I felt like the classes grew in their sense of community.  I think everyone had grown comfortable in asking for their accommodations.  The meaning of words, the correct spelling for words, asking for repetitions of what was said were all asked for without hesitation.  In our debriefings we were always careful to ask if anyone ever needed something explained in a "different way."

I also had some challenges specific to the accommodation of  a specific student.  Sadly, one of my student's mother was in her final illness and subsequently passed away.  It was my job to help this person to keep up during his mother's illness and to help him catch up when he returned to school full time.  He was able to do so, and was able to go on to pass his civics course and graduate high school.  Another student was off for maternity leave and I had to help her stay caught up and to catch up with quizzes and tests when she returned just a few days ahead of graduation.

A great deal of energy was expended in trying to meet the special needs of my students who were among those failing my classes when I arrived.  In most cases the students were failing, not because they tested poorly, but because they had neglected to complete their assigned work.  My cooperating teacher did not tolerate late work or allow students to make up past the assigned make up period for illness. Many of the students appeared to have gotten themselves into such a large deficit that they couldn't see their way out and just quit trying.  Because I was new to the classes, I could initiate some new policies of my own.  I started a policy of allowing homework to be turned in at week's end and taking any Friday assignment through the next Monday.  Since it was important for their chances to improve on test performance too, the homework seemed like a good place to start at "getting it right." They were allowed to go back to the start of my teaching and pick up the missing assignments from that time period and then everyone had to start fresh with the new rules.

I moved from this strategy to one which would allow for more frequent grading of more assigned work.  This allowed the weak students an opportunity to bring up their cumulative scores in a meaningful way with renewed effort and commitment. We also initiated a study guide day for every pre-test date.

Several of the students saw this as a genuine opportunity to correct a bad situation and did the extra work and put out the extra effort to bring their grades up. The increased overall class averages from April 1 to May 31 are a testimony to this fact. The number of students who were failing on April 1 was cut in half by May 31. The students took pride in their accomplishment and rightfully so.