Cardinal Stritch SEDU 550

Journal #1: Thoughts on preparing for a NEW year...

What information does a teacher have about student with special needs before the first day of class?

Teachers are privy to information located in student files. Information in those files typically includes previous and current IEPs, evaluation data (and test scores), academic report cards, attendance records and behavioral records. In some programs when students move schools (as often occurs from elementary to middle and middle to high school) , students visit the new school. Some programs plan transition visits to get students acquainted with new buildings and staff as well. In situations where students are moving grades but staying in the same building, teachers often hear of students before they have them in class.

What are the sources of that information?

* student files
* parent interviews
* teacher interview (email, phone calls, face-to face communication)
* word of mouth
* other students

How much does the teacher rely upon the comments of other teachers when getting to know new students?

I think it depends on the source and how well the teachers know each other and trust the judgment of one another. I believe that teachers do rely quite heavily on the comments and opinions of other teachers before meeting and getting to know future students. It is difficult, but teachers must try to be open minded when given this background information - waiting to form opinions until they get to know students for themselves. This can be difficult but I believe that students need the benefit of the doubt, especially those challenging students/

Give them a clean slate; let them start fresh!

If you could know only 2 specific characteristics of each pupil at the end of the first day of class, what would these be? Why?

*What motivates them?
*What are their long term goals/dreams?

I need to know what drives each of my students in order to motivate them to work hard and do their best. Finding out their long term plans helps me to keep them focused and on track. I can also tailor my instruction to incorporate student interest areas, making learning functional and applicable to their lives.

What information is most useful for managing pupils in the classroom?

I think it's important to find out those positive strategies to keep students focused and on-task: do they need preferential seating? are graphic organizers useful? do they benefit from requesting rather than requiring? is positive reinforcement and praise helpful?
Teachers need to learn about student goals and motivators to make learning applicable for students so that they understand why they are learning what they are learning and where they can apply the new learning in their own lives.

Journal #2: Views on Assessment

Are formal assessments important?

I interviewed two parents regarding assessment. Betsy is the mother of an 8th grade regular education student, Leigh is the mother of an 8th grade student who receives special education support and instruction. Both parents agreed that assessment is important to them and both admitted to using the data to compare their child to his peers. Leigh admitted that she takes this data information "with a grain of salt." Though she believes in the value of assessment, she said she expects her son to be below the average curve. The important thing to her, is that he shows improvement from year to year.

Do assessments reflect student learning accurately?

During my interviews, I was surprised to find that both parents believe that assessments DON'T necessarily show student learning effectively. Leigh was quick to name a number of factors that could contribute to testing failure (hunger, social issues, time of test, subject/interest area, sleep, testing environment/location, etc.). Betsy said that she didn't believe assessments accurately reflected the academic gains of her son, she believes that this growth can be more accurately demonstrated in the classroom and through activities rather than paper/pencil assessment.

How can formal assessments be improved? What would be a better way to measure achievement?

Both moms struggled to come up with a list of ways that assessment can be improved upon. Betsy listed limiting the number of students in the environment and offering more creative methods for demonstration of knowledge and skills versus pencil/paper assessment.
Leigh couldn't come up with better ways to assess student progress other than some type of checklist of skills for teachers and/or students to check off. She acknowledged that a system like this could not be consistent from year to year and teacher to teacher.
I found it interesting that although both parents refer to and depend on the results of formal assessment, neither parent necessarily put a lot of stake in the results. Both parents were clear that they hoped (and they checked for) growth in their student over time. Neither parent believed that assessment - the way it is implemented and utilized not - is necessarily beneficial for students and parents. However, neither mom had a great idea for improvement or replacement of formal assessment.

It does seem like Betsy values assessment much moreso than Leigh does. I believe that this is due to the fact that Leigh understands and accepts that her son is not in the proficient or advanced range. It seems as though Leigh looks more at her son and the improvements he makes year to year, whereas Betsy seems to measure her son up to his peers. I think this has to do with the fact that Leigh's son is identified as a student with a disability and Betsy's son is not. Leigh views assessments through that lens - as a parent of a child with special needs - comparing him to him, more often, rather than him to his peers.

Journal Entry # 3 - Grading and Testing

What information is used to determine a grade?

*student effort
*staff observation
*student work (completed in-class)
*homework, project groupwork
*in-class participation

Does all the information count equally?

No, I believe that student effort, improvement and participation should weigh the most on student grades. I do believe that a portion of student's grades should be calculated from homework assignments, test and quizzes, but I believe that the teacher's judgment and observations of student progress and demonstration of concepts should be more reflective of grades.
I believe that teachers use assignment, test and project grades to heavily weigh students overall grades because it's easiest to justify to parents, administrators and the community. By deriving grades from assessments, teachers can point to exactly what and how students earned the corresponding overall grade. This takes the objectivity out of grading.

What information do you provide parents and students about your grading system?

For my core self-contained classes I do give letter grades. These grades are given mostly in a subjective manner. I give students As if I believe they are working to their full potential; students that avoid participating in class and do not complete assignments earn Ds. I also grade daily work that I use to average into students' overall grades.
For the 'elective' classes I teach like Life Skills, Social Skills, Computers, I grade with S (satisfactory) or U (unsatisfactory).
I discuss my grading system with parents at the beginning of the year and annually at IEP meetings. I have not had any questions from students about grades, but they get the same information - at the same times - that the parents get the information.

How can a teacher help reduce pupils’ test anxiety while maintaining their motivation to do well on a test?

I think the best way to reduce test anxiety is to be fully prepared for a test - by studying. I believe that as teachers, we can help students by allowing them to use their notes or a study guide, providing a safe and quiet spot for students to test. I also think that students often seek comfort in knowing that they can give oral responses on assessments. Another strategy that may be helpful for test-taking would be the option for students to cross off a number of items on a test. This gives them some control, yet requires that they complete the assessment. I believe students do best when they feel comfortable and confident.

How should a teacher respond to cheating? Should all forms of cheating be treated the same way?

I believe that all cheating should not be treated the same way. Teachers should take cheating seriously and remind students of the seriousness of cheating, but I really think it depends on the student, the class, the task, etc. I think that students caught cheating should have to repeat the assignment, project or assessment. It may be helpful for the teacher and student to conference about why the student is cheating and come up with an agreement on how to proceed - signed by both parties.
I think it's important, however, for schools to have policies in place for cheating so that there is some consistency of consequences for students caught cheating. A policy that is consistent would prepare students for real-life when consequences are (fairly) consistent to a crime.