Professional Learning Portfolio

for Special Education

My Context of Special Education

The area of Special Education covers such a broad range of diagnoses and exceptionalities that it can be daunting to choose one specific area of interest to study. After much thought and consideration, I have chosen to focus on areas of need and accommodations and modifications within the context of Learning Disabilities and Gifted LD. I am hoping this portfolio will be used as a quick access guide for information and resources for future use in the classroom.

Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck Ph.D. is a professor of Psychology at Stanford University and is the leading psychologist behind the growth mindset learning approach. In a nutshell, people who exhibit a growth mindset believe that their most basic skills and talents can be developed through dedication and hard work over a period of time. The abilities each person has is just the beginning and these provide a starting point for future success.

Carol writes, "when students learned through a structured program that they could “grow their brains” and increase their intellectual abilities, they did better. Finally, we found that having children focus on the process that leads to learning (like hard work or trying new strategies) could foster a growth mindset and its benefits. "

Carol also reminds us to be watchful of certain misconceptions that surround teaching all our students to have a growth mindset, most notably, "A growth mindset isn’t just about effort.Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve."

This is a mindset that I feel that all educators MUST truly believe in order for us to help our students, not just the students with noted exceptionalities, but all of our students. All of my students are exceptional for their own reasons, and it is my job to help them find strategies they will be able to use for academic, social or emotional success.

Here is a link to Education where I found the quotes from Carol Dweck -

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Types of LDs as defined by Learning Disabilities of Ontario

LDs take so many forms, and vary in intensity so much, that it is not simple to list them all, but there are some broad categories which they all fall into:

LDs that affect organization and Focus:

A series of executive functions allow us to do things like plan, predict, organize and focus. LDs that interfere with these things can interfere with how we manage our lives and physical space. ADHD, which does affect executive functions, is coming to be seen as an LD because of this.

LDs that Affect Social Life:

We learn how to be socially successful, even though we don’t notice that we’re learning. So LDs that make it difficult to interpret facial expressions, body language, or tones of voice can have a real impact on a person’s social life.

LDs that affect Physical Interaction With the World:

Again, without knowing, we are constantly receiving information about our surroundings and about our bodies: our balance, coordination, and movement are all based on this information. So an LD that interferes with how we understand that information can cause a person to be uncoordinated or “clumsy.”

LDs that Affect Academics:

Difficulties with spelling, reading, listening, focusing, remembering and writing can all have an impact on all areas of school-subjects.

Learning Knows NO Bounds!

Possible Areas of Need for Students with Learning Disabilities

Below is a list of possible student needs for children with a learning disability. This list was taken from Teacher's Gateway to Special Education. On the website, each area of need is a direct link to a list of teaching strategies The link to the website is:

Possible Areas of Studnet Needs:

Anger/Frustration Management Skills

Attention Skills

Assistive Technology

Executive Function

Fine Motor Skills

Listening Skills


Metacognitive Skills

Non-Verbal Reasoning

Organizational Skills

Phonological Processing

Processing Speed

Self-Advocacy Skills


Sequencing Skills

Task Initiation

Time Management Skills

Verbal Ability

Visual-Spatial Processing

"Teaching strategies are adaptable across the Elementary and Secondary Panels"

Universal Design for Learning and Differentiated Instruction

As we learned in Module 2: Communication Exceptionality - Learning Disabilities, Universal Design and Differentiated Instruction (DI) are two ways to address the students' unique needs with Learning Disabilities. In the text, Inclusion of Exceptional Learners in Canadian Schools by Nancy L. Hutchinson, she cites a list of "eight important aspects to to keep in mind when planning teaching and activities so they will be accessible for all:"

1) Classroom climate follows from practices that value diversity and inclusiveness

2) Interactions among students and between students and the teacher are built on communication that can be understood by all.

3) Physical environment and products are available to all and safe for all.

4) Instructional standards hold high expectations for all and provide a high level of support for all.

5) Instructional methods are varied and ensure accessibility for all.

6) Information resources and technology (e.g., course materials) are engaging and flexible so they can be understood by all.

7) Feedback is provided regularly.

8) Assessment of student progress is frequent and adjusted so all can show what they know.

Based on Burger & Chang (2009), Katz (2012,p. 15)

This list is valuable for me to have close by for easy access. It serves as a reminder of things teachers need to be mindful of when planning a unit or specific lesson. We may think we use all eight steps in our planning, but it is easy to leave things out because of the business of classroom life in the Elementary Panel.

Hutchinson makes note of the use of UDL and DI in combination to reach the needs of all learners in our classroom. She states, "UDL encourages teachers to make a class profile and then plan from the beginning to provide means and pedagogical materials that meet the needs of all students," and that "DI helps teachers to make similar student-centered decisions at the student level to address specific characteristics, experiences, backgrounds, skills, and difficulties." ( Hutchinson, pg. 8)

These next ten principles developed by Hutchinson are an easy and functional way to make sure that we are differentiating our tasks for our students:

1) use respectful tasks; consider the perspective of all students.

2) make groupings flexible, purposeful, and short-term.

3) Use heterogeneous groupings.

4) choose multi-level tasks so everyone is reading something they understand.

5) offer various response formats that enable everyone to respond meaningfully and offer choice.

6) Demonstrate how students can make connections between what they know and what they are learning.

7) Model strategies, that is, make the invisible visible, to students who will not develop those strategies on their own.

8) Consider student interest and try to engage everyone; offer choice.

9) Begin where students are and ensure that everyone learns and recognizes they are learning.

10) Develop diverse assessments that show you and the students what they have learned.

These two lists together, have given me a more solid understanding of how to plan, teach and reach the needs of, not only LD students but students with and without exceptionalities.

Bridging the Gap of Communication...

In the article, Dear Teachers, Dear Parents; How to Bridge the Communication Gap, Angela, the author talks about the importance of communicating with parents of students with special needs as communication is the link between what happens at school and what happens at home. She writes, "in fact the relationship is like two sides of the same coin. The student is the coin. Flip one way, the child is at school. Flip another, the child is at home. BOTH SIDES are responsible for communicating. Hopefully everyone has the student’s interests at heart. " I had not thought the relationship between home and school in the same way.

Communication in my classroom is mostly through d2l, where I post curriculum expectations, what's happening in the class, pictures, videos, strategies and other 'good stuff' from the Fab 4s. Parents have access to 'see' what's happening in our class at any time. To extend the communication piece for students with special needs, I have used communication books if that is the preferred method for the parents. Communication books can be difficult to keep up with depending on the level of activity during the day; however, parents still need to have a glimpse into thier child's day.

It is important for studnets to know what you are communicating and how often you are talking with their parents. An interesting strategy to try would be through the use of student and teacher generated voice memos on SEA equipment, or emailing a voice memo to the parents at the end of the school day. The student can tell one thing they were successful with through the day and the teacher can add some detail to the message. That way the student can feel accountable for thier time at school and have those feelings reinforced with teacher feedback. The parents can also send a voice memo back to school the next day with any questions or concerns they may have. In partnership with the voice memo the student can use an agenda for paper communication from both the class and the school.

In the article, the author, Amanda discussed the use of "sunshine" calls. She states, "

these are phone calls the teacher makes in the early days of school to let parents know what a great job their child is doing in whatever area they are doing...the whole point is to keep it positive and open that door to communication." This idea really resonated with me, becasue so often we are communicating the difficulties and having courageous conversations with parents and often we forget to discuss the happy and successful times. This strategy would certainly work to open the door to positive communication between the home and classroom.

Important Information for IEPs

Before I took this course, and previous to this school year, most of the IEPs that I have worked with have been completed by the Special Education Resource Teacher with the exception of the individual learning expectations for core and content subjects. I had not compiled a list of strengths and needs nor had I written annual goals. Based on what I have learned during this course, there are several pieces that contribute to writing a high-quality IEP based on student needs.

You will need to gather all personal information regarding the students including medical history that pertains to the identification of the exceptionality and may impact the planning of the IEP. It is important to note IPRC information as will in the IEP.

In the Assessment and Reports Section, information included should be relevant and recent with descriptive terms as opposed to percentiles or scores, a recent SERT assessment and gathering observations to generate a list of student strengths and needs that give a clear picture of the student as a learner.

Determine the relevant instructional, environmental and assessment accommodations required for student success. Edugains exemplars show that accommodations should not be numerous and need to be readily available to the student.

Annual Goals: this is a very important part of the IEP as it gives that parent a measurable benchmark for their child to work towards for the end of the school year. The Individual Plan: A Resource Guide states that:

"Annual program goals for mathematics and language should be expressed as observable, measurable outcomes. For example: • “In mathematics, [the student] will complete half of the Grade 3 expectations in each of the five strands.” and “In reading, [the student] will improve decoding and comprehension skills to the Grade 4 level, as measured by an informal reading inventory.”

The Learning Expectations are crucial when planning for a student's success. It is important that teachers set attainable goals and to keep the students on track for the provincial standard. For this section of the IEP, I think that following the S.M.A.R.T Goals will help teachers to focus in on the expectation they would like the student to achieve. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound.

I have learned that the IEP is crucial to the student's success in the classroom and following a specific model will help me to write specific and attainable expectations in an IEP. One of the most important aspects of IEPs that I have become to understand is that an IEP is a working document and most parts can be modified at any time as we get to know and understand our student's needs throughout the school year.

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My Learning Journey Thorugh SPEC ED. Part I

When I look back to the beginning of the course and reflect on my personal learning goals; understanding how Special Education works in Wellington Catholic and to expand my knowledge of exceptionalities as they pertain to my school population; I realized that I have developed a clearer understanding of the IPRC process, assessment, and writing IEPs within my Board. What I struggle to understand or to make sense of, are the differences in processes between school boards in the province despite clearly developed expectations laid out by the Ministry of Education. Sometimes being in a small Board and attending PD sessions with employees from the larger surrounding Boards, you realize how hard it is to have the same supports, programs, or resources as the larger Boards do as a result of our size and allotted funding. I suspect that it is similar throughout the country.

What I have gained is a broader understanding of the various roles within our school and Board that are available to access for support of our exceptional students as well, as how important it is to communicate and meet regularly with your school team regarding behaviours, observations, and assessments of students. When planning for a student, it is also important to keep communication open with parents. Although I think my communication with parents, is average, I find often find it difficult to communicate more often with parents of a child with exceptionalities. Normally, if the parents are very involved, I will take a cue from them and keep the communication constant. When the parents are not involved and tend to take a step back, I will do the same thing as it can be emotionally draining speaking with parents that are not wanting to communicate often with the school/teacher.

The second piece to my personal learning goals was to expand my knowledge of exceptionalities pertaining to my school population. Over the course, I have taken an interest in Learning Disabilities as well as Gifted LD. Most of the students that have been identified in my school, have a learning disability. The information that I have researched from this course has proven that despite a learning disability, students can be very successful in their adult lives. During this course, I was lucky enough to attend Solutions for Learning Conference sponsored by the Learning Disabilities of Ontario (ldao) and attended a breakout session led by DJ Cunningham C.E.O. of LEARNstyle, an Ontario organization devoted to helping people understand their learning styles and using assistive technology for success. I was truly amazed and inspired by this individual who is so successful and has struggled throughout his life with a learning disability. His personal story is amazing, and I am sure it mirrors other people's experiences throughout their learning journey. " At LEARNstyle, enabling individuals with learning barriers through training in assistive technologies is not just our expertise and our business, it is our PASSION. Our team builds relationship based service." ( If you have the opportunity, please check out this website, there is very useful information here to be utilized in helping our students to determine how they learn the best.

I am looking forward to furthering my knowledge base withing Special Education with SPEC Ed. Part II. One aspect of this course I know to be challenging was the online format. Although I enjoyed the content, I did not enjoy discussions through written format. As an adult learner, I know that I will get more from a course taken in person as it has a personal component that I find very appealing. Being in person will give me an opportunity to have engaging conversation and really delve into exciting topics. Having said this, I am grateful for the excellent course that was developed by Jim Raso. The topics were very engaging and worthwhile - all modules and subtasks were relevant to my daily work and I am walking away with plenty of useful and applicable knowledge.

Learning Via Your Style | DJ Cunningham | TEDxYouth@Toronto

About Me...

Julie Borghese

Grade 4 teacher

Wellington Catholic District School Board