CFE Reflection #2: Making connections
Sad turn of events
This week during my CFE, I had some upsetting news about the mental health website my class worked on since January. We were unfortunately told not to publish the website in order to ensure the safety of the entire classroom community. This was indirectly related to the mental health of some of the students in the classroom. Yesterday we had to share the news with students and they were very disappointed, as was I.
However, I want to focus on the positive and help my students focus on the positive as well: we learned SO MUCH and that will stay with us forever, even if the results of our work don’t. Also, we were able to turn the unfortunate turn of events into a learning opportunity by explaining about why it happened. This was of course a very delicate conversation and some of the details were omitted, but in the end it went well.
This has been a huge professional learning experience for me. Coming to understand that anything related to mental health is something that I should approch with extreme caution. And also the protocol for anything mental health related, in terms of when and how to engage with the counsellor and youth worker. Lastly, the biggest learning for me was about not getting attached to projects or products that I do with students. It’s the process that matters in the end.
The other big topic of this week was continuing my resource work with Kelly Novak, which included:
- Altering a test after learning how to make it more inclusive
- Sitting in on an IEP meeting with one student in my cohort
- Scoring writing samples for end of year EAL assessments for report cards
- Getting help for two students (starting the process of determining whether they need a designation)
Adapting a test
This week I had my final unit test for social studies. I had created the test over a week ago, but after working as a resource teacher for the science test last week, I had decided to alter the test. Rosella mentioned that students with learning challenges often give up before they even start a test if it is too hard. She likes to make the first questions easy and inviting, usually multiple choice, to encourage students to try.
So I adapted my unit plan test and added a page of easier multiple choice questions. Unfortunately, I was rushed and I don’t think I put enough care or thought into this as I would have liked. I think next time I want to build a test from the ground up with this concept in mind, rather than adding onto it after the fact. I really like the idea of being able to include all students in the assessment.
The IEP meeting I sat in on was for one student who is going into grade eight next year, so leaving our elementary school. That student has a learning disability. He was included in the meeting, as well as the student’s parent, Kelly, the resource teacher, and of course also the teacher, my co-teacher, Rosella.
I was surprised at how indepth the meeting was. They reviewed his progress over the year and where he had grown in meeting his IEP goals, which are a formal list of goals that was created at the beginning of the year. They also reviewed what they had learned or noticed about his learning process, and what strategies were working for him. This particular student gets overwhelmed if an assignment or project has multiple steps. He tends to give up before trying, so they learned that chunking things up into small steps helps him get to work.
I was happy to hear the parent of this student engaging actively during the meeting, and talking frankly and openly with teachers. It was clear that they had all established very positive relationships with each other. I think this is part of the reason this student has done so well in our cohort this year. There are other students with challenges whose parents do not cooperate with teachers, and this makes it very difficult to make progress on implementing change in the students academic life.
Scoring writing samples
I also had the pleasure of learning from Kelly how to score writing samples, and the process involved around how immigrant students get help from the Ministry of Education. It’s a very complicated process that has a lot of documentation around it, similar to the documentation in an IEP.
Part of that documentation is to determine whether students will require another year of EAL support, or whether they have “Bridged” into the regular stream. This process involves scoring the students oral, reading and writing level. Kelly does this at least twice a year, at the beginning and at the end. We reviewed the writing of a few students together, and Kelly gave me two student’s rubrics to score who were in my class this year.
I was able to compare the beginning of the year writing from the end of the year, and remarked how much they had grown. However, it was clear they still needed EAL support for grade eight.
Getting help for students
Two of the students in my class do not have designations or IEPs, but the first one requires a lot more support than is humanly possible for one teacher to give, and the second one submits work that is far below grade level despite working very hard on it.
Everything came to a head when the first student had a very bad day. My School Advisor, Pat, decided it was time to have “that” conversation with the parents. I was not present for that conversation, but I was part of the process for determining whether it should happen. No parent wants to hear that their son or daughter might have a learning or social/emotional or neurological issue. However, at a certain point, it’s best for everyone involved that the student get more support.
The only way to get more support in our current system is if that child gets a ‘designation.’ I really don’t like that term. I don’t like the entire concept. I do understand that systems need paperwork and accountability, so of course we need to keep track and labels are a part of that. I just dislike the fact that children need to be singled out that way, instead of just offering the whole class more support. For example, smaller class sizes or each class having an SSW.
The conversation went well in the end, and the parents agreed to go ahead with getting their child evaluated. This was a big relief to all of us because that student will be in the same class next year.
Student #2 on the other hand is going into grade 8 next year, and it somehow happened that she managed to slip under the radar all year. I guess she had been evaluated a few years earlier, so perhaps that’s why. However, after I showed some of her work to Kelly, we both agreed that there was something wrong. The student puts a lot of effort into her work, and yet it is at a grade two or three level.
Kelly agreed and said we could administer some simple tests to check her decoding skills. This could be included in her grade eight package so resource teachers in high school would know to keep an eye on her. I’ll be administering those tests next week withe Kelly. It’s called a “Nonsense Word Test” which sounds strange, but it’s basically a spelling test for nonsense words. You say the nonsense word and get the student to write it. Or you ask them to read the nonsense words and time their ability to read them.
This week felt like I was making a lot of connections between my work as a classroom teacher and now this resource side of things. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have this experience because I’m sure it will make me a better teacher.
And, oh yeah! I got hired by Delta School District yesterday!