4. Content Knowledge– The teacher uses content area knowledge, learning standards, appropriate pedagogy and resources to design and deliver curricula and instruction to impact student learning.
4.3 Designing Coherent Instruction in the area of Learning Activities
All of the learning activities are suitable to students or to the instructional outcomes, and most represent significant cognitive challenge, with some differentiation for different groups of students.
Program standard 4 is incredibly important when designing instruction and activities for students to learn throughout various content areas. To me, this standard means that teachers should use all the resources and standards available to them to create a challenging, yet accessible lesson to all students. Sometimes, especially in special education, we need to focus on the differentiation of relevant materials to keep the work challenging for everyone. This means that small changes, and sometimes big changes, need to be made in the delivery and student engagement with the instruction to make the material accessible to individual students.
Currently, there are no life skills standards in the state of Washington. I could see that many of my students needed instruction around social skills and starting conversations. Because there were no official standards, I consulted with other more experienced life skills teachers and the speech language pathologist about ideas to implement in my life skills class. Because there are no set standards for this kind of class, I used my available resources to reinforce my planning.
I designed a social skills program for my students that is accessible for all of them. First, I had students brainstorm options of topics for how to start a conversation. This allowed my students to take ownership of what they were learning and make this project their own. We had several old mint boxes donated to us. I painted them black and had the students decorate their own box (as seen in the picture below). My students are all very creative and love any implementation of art into daily lessons. This made the project even more engaging and interesting to my students.
I made cards, based on the student’s contributions. These cards were differentiated to meet all my student’s needs. Most of my students can read, but some of my students cannot. This meant that I needed to make these cards double sided. One side of the cards has a written explanation of the topic, and the other side has a descriptive picture for students that cannot read the conversational prompts (see picture below). This differentiation allowed all my students to engage in the learning process, no matter their ability.
Lastly, I designed the instruction to become more and more challenging to students. At first, I allowed them to become familiar with the cards by sifting through them on their own. Then I paired them up with a classmate they were familiar with and allowed them to experiment with using the conversational prompt cards. Next, I instructed the students to use a particular topic card with a familiar partner to build a 5 minute conversation on the same topic the entire time. Lastly, I had students practice their skills with unfamiliar peers from the general education language arts class next door. This instructional design scaffolded the students’ learning to gradually make it more challenging as they became more familiar and mastered the content.
In the future, I intend to use all my resources, content knowledge, and standards when planning and implementing interventions and instruction. As a future strategy, when there are no standards in a particular content, I intend to do research and questioning experienced teachers and professionals regarding best practices in this area. I will continue to scaffold instruction as needed for individual students and differentiate according to student needs. In my future classroom, if I need to address social skills, I intend to reuse this lesson format if it is appropriate for the group of students I am working with. Regardless of which specific content area I am addressing, it is important to always refer to standards, pedagogical best practices, content knowledge, and the available resources.