The primary focus on my field placement was on Sam* (pseudonym), a nine year old boy with mild quadriplegic spastic cerebral palsy. Sam lives with a large extended family and has parents of non-English speaking background, however, like his older sisters, Sam has attended regular school classes since Kindergarten, with the support of part time teacher’s aide. My attitude is that his inclusion in the regular classroom is successful, and competently caters for his physical disability. However, I also believe that Sam would benefit from the implementation of some strategies to promote social acceptance amongst his peers.
Sam’s desk appears like others in the classroom, yet it has adjustable legs. Placed on his desk is a plastic slant-support with a clip for holding in place worksheets and books. Attached to his chair is a wedge-shaped cushion to promote good posture. All of Sam’s worksheets are also enlarged to an A3-sized photocopy. These are all low-tech, easy to implement accommodations which make a big difference for Sam without other students feeling as though they are “missing out”.
In previous years, Sam has had the use of a keyboard with a small screen for writing up his work; however, this year he has made the shift to using a normal computer when writing up long passages. The school is currently investigating the possibility of buying a special keyboard to use with the computer, or providing some training for Sam to help him learn how to use double-functions such as making a question mark. Such accommodations will become increasingly necessary as Sam progresses towards constructing more advanced text types.
In addition to the regular classroom teacher, Sam has a teacher’s aide (special) who spends five and a half hours a week with him, over four days, particularly focusing on speech and reading skills, whilst also assisting in classroom activities. The school’s Learning Support Teacher also coordinates twice-annual meetings with Sam’s parents to discuss his progress.
Curriculum Adjustments/ Special Activities
Sam’s physical disability, although relatively mild, causes him some difficulties with completing tasks. For example, his fine motor skills are quite well developed and he shows great skill in sketching, however his handwriting is slow and laborious. For this reason, adjustments have been put in place for activities that require extended periods of writing, including allowing Sam to type and edit his narrative on the computer, and providing a photocopy of a text that other students copied and edited off an overhead transparency. In these examples, Sam is addressing the same curriculum concepts as his peers, simply through a different medium of written communication.
The teacher’s aide spends about five minutes at the beginning of each session with Sam working on pronunciation of different blend sounds, which Sam has difficulty with due to a speech impediment related to his cerebral palsy. Long periods of absence, caused by Sam’s asthma, have had an impact on Sam’s development of reading and comprehension skills, which the teacher’s aide attempts to reconcile with extra activities and practice. His aide has noticed that as Sam has gotten older, he has become more uncomfortable completing his speech and reading exercises where his peers can see him. Therefore, they leave the classroom to complete these tasks, before re-entering to reengage with whole class activities.
Other adjustments included minor allowances during a catching game, where other students were required to catch a hackey-sack with one hand only, whilst Sam was allowed to use two hands.
Instructional Strategies Observed
Most instruction observed was direct teacher instruction, however when students work in small cooperative-learning groups, Sam is paired with another student who writes notes, or is assigned a role within the group that doesn’t require him to write much, or provide lengthy oral presentations.
Many different instructional strategies are used by the teacher’s aide when working with Sam. During reading and speaking tasks, accuracy is prioritised over speed by encouraging Sam to slow down. Speech tasks are also embedded in other learning experiences, such as asking Sam to verbalise the mathematical processes required to complete numeracy problems. This also encourages metacognitive thought processes. Although not necessarily intentional, the student sitting next to Sam when the Teacher’s Aide was present also benefited from the prompts and cues that were given to Sam.
Classroom Management Strategies Observed
Sam’s motor skills allow him to walk unaided. However, he does walk awkwardly, so to avoid collisions, rows of desks are separated by a wide aisle. Similarly, Sam can walk up stairs but he finds this very tiring, so the classroom is located on the ground floor and Sam is only required to walk upstairs, for library, once a week. Sam’s tote tray is positioned at waist height for easy access, and his desk is positioned near the floor seating area at the front of the room, so that Sam can remain sitting at his desk whilst his peers sit on the floor.
The timetable of daily activities is constructed carefully so that the activities that will be the most strenuous for Sam are conducted when the teacher’s aide will be present to assist him, for example, planning class testing to occur when the aide can scribe for Sam. Other forms of physical assistance provided by the aide include holding pages in place, rubbing out writing when instructed and holding a ruler so Sam can draw lines.
Behaviour Management Strategies Observed
The class rules are designed to promote respect and compassion, and all students in the class are knowledgeable about these rules. On an individual level, both the teacher and the teacher’s aide express no problems with Sam’s behaviour, and explain that, except when overly tired, Sam is enthusiastic to participate in learning tasks. This demonstrates that tasks are pitched at an appropriate level, providing a challenge whilst not over-extending his abilities.
The teacher also claims that in the past she hasn’t had any problems with other students displaying negative behaviours towards Sam. Yet, during one observational visit, another student in the class expressed his opinion that Sam should have extra allowances made when playing a buzzoff-style game of multiplication problems, stating that Sam’s speech problems would cause him to speak slower, and then proceeded to imitate Sam. As the teacher is not used to such remarks from other students she responded with an off-the-cuff remark that the student in question lacked listening skills and therefore shouldn’t be criticising someone else’s communication. The teacher later expressed that she had never had a discussion with the class about Sam and the effect of his disability on his participation in the classroom.