Friday, January 20, 2012

What Should We Focus On?

As we move forward in thinking about how to expand inclusive experiences I find myself jumping back and forth between thinking about the concrete (supports, strategies, modifications, adaptations, assistive technologies, role of learning assistant, peer supports...etc.) and the abstract (the philosophy behind inclusion).  I recognize that different teachers could implement the same list of strategies in different ways and that this would impact how effectively my students would be included.  The underlying difference would be the mindset related to what the education of students with special needs should look like.  It goes back to mindset.  To

I recently read an the article "Professional Development  Needs and Practice Among Educators and School Psychologists" by Timothy J. Cleary and was fascinated by a few of the quotes in the article.  Part of it is because as our province starts to make this shift there seem to questions around coding, assessments and interventions.  The "what should we be doing about testing" question seems to be floating around these days.  The author of this article examined what type of testing is beneficial to inform teaching practice. 
"All participants were asked to read two reports. The first report delineated information about a student’s motivation and self-regulation processes, whereas the second report detailed data about the student’s cognitive abilities and academic skills. The primary finding was that the teachers reported motivation and self-regulation assessment data to be significantly more useful than the cognitive ability/academic skill report for enhancing their skills across multiple roles, such as developing instructional plans and enhancing the quality of school-based team meetings and consultations with school psychologists. Collectively, research has shown that teachers are highly interested in learning more about student motivation and self-regulation and perceive such information to be valuable to both students and to their teaching skills." (page 80)
The last five words of that quote seem to be pretty significant.  I think, for the most part, people believe cognitive testing results to be a fixed indicator of what a child is capable of and it seems to me there is the potential for the numbers that come out on these tests to be self-fulfilling.  On the flip side, there is a general belief that we can have an impact on things like motivation and self-regulation can be changed.  There are varying opinions on what is the best way to impact these but the fact remains that we generally see it as something that we have some control over.  Starting from a list of numbers that we believe we can impact seems a better place to begin from.

The article suggested two assessments and says "collectively, these scales target a wide range of regulatory processes, such as strategy use, goal setting, and planning, as well as motivation beliefs, such as self-efficacy, interest, and achievement goal orientation." (page 83)
Having this information as a part of a student profile can go a long way both in empowering a student to understand themselves as a learner and also giving a teacher direction on how to help a struggling student.

What do we value? What focus will best result in supporting student growth, learning and success?  What components of a learner profiles will ensure that the teachers and professionals see a student with a growth mindset? 

It seems that with students with special needs we do some things that tend more towards trying to figure out a student's capacity rather than their potential.  But we don't really know anyone's capacity as it is so dependent on the things we do and the environment that the student is in.  If we added this type of testing to the learner profile that highlights a student's learning style and their interests and strengths it seems we would have a great place to start from in figuring out how to support a student.  I would venture to think it might even result in thinking about how we can support students in the general education classroom.  Cognitive testing alone seems to result in a mindset that can overemphasize remediation and isolation (note: students can be isolated and still be physically present in a classroom).  I'm not saying remediation is not necessary - just saying that I think there is a huge need for re-balancing how much is needed and thinking through what the correct balance is between remediation and compensation (and particularly thinking through this at various grade levels).  We don't live in a world where there is only one right way to do something.

As nice as it would be if including my students just came down to a list of strategies, it just isn't that compartmentalized.  Effective and authentic inclusion can only happen as a result of a shift in mindset. So the question for me is still what practices help shift mindset?  Would starting from a profile with a different focus result in a growth mindset and different practice?  More importantly - would this then result in increased participation, engagement and achievement in general education classrooms for both both students with and without special needs?

Cleary, T. J. (2011). Professional Development Needs and Practices among Educators and School Psychologists. New Directions For Teaching And Learning, (126), 77-87.doi:10.1002/tl.446

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