Designing Coherent Instruction

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.

bPortfolio evidence 3

Students decorated boxes to hold their conversation cards so they can bring them along and utilize them in the community.


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.

bPortfolio evidence 1

Differentiated conversation cards to meet a variety of needs.

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.





Program Standard 2. Instruction – The teacher uses research-based instructional practices to meet the needs of all students.

2.1 Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques: Most of the teacher’s questions are of high quality. Adequate time is provided for students to respond.

Program standard 2 is a specifically vital aspect to an efficiently functioning classroom. The way that we engage our students in questioning and discussion helps to form our student’s contextual understanding of the content. I understand this standard to mean that the teacher uses research to form their techniques regarding discussion and questioning quality. One thing to be particularly aware of is the amount of time we allow for our students to respond to our questioning. In my special education classroom, this is something that I have become increasingly aware of. Sometimes, it feels like my students are taking a long time to respond but it is important to embrace the silence and allow students an adequate amount of time to think through their response. One way that you can prepare students for their expected contributions and responses is by giving them the class discussion questions ahead of time.

One discussion technique that I particularly liked learning about throughout EDU 4250 was the Jigsaw. Jigsaw is a research based discussion method that is highly collaborative and inclusive. The evidence provided explains the 10 steps of a Jigsaw discussion. First, you divide the class into groups and assign them separate parts of the material. After students have adequately looked over their assigned material, they share what they have learned with the other students. This is a great way to make students more responsible for their own learning and transfer the authority of knowledge on to the students. This process allows students to explore topics on their own and engage in organic conversation around their discoveries. As a result of learning this method, I feel confident that I have another tool to use within my classroom to engage students. As a next step, I look forward to gaining more tools to use in my classroom that are research based and encourage my students to engage in discussion and answer complex questions.

Jigsaw 1-2

Jigsaw 3-4

Jigsaw 5-6

Jigsaw 7-8

Jigsaw 9-10

10 Steps of Jigsaw (

Professional Practice

  1. Professional Practice– The teacher participates collaboratively in the educational community to improve instruction, advance the knowledge and practice of teaching as a profession, and ultimately impact student learning.

8.1 Participating in a Professional Community

Relationships with colleagues are characterized by mutual support and cooperation.

8.2 Growing and Developing Professionally

Teacher welcomes feedback from colleagues when made by supervisors or when opportunities arise through professional collaboration.

When working in a special education classroom, professional practice and collaborating with a team becomes even more essential. This standard, to me, stresses the importance of growing as a teacher through active collaboration and integration into an educational community. This also means that within a community, teachers and other educational providers can effectively listen to feedback or suggestions and apply that feedback when opportunities arise. Within my student teaching placement, continual collaboration and discussion occurs to improve our practices as teachers, instructional assistants, and service providers and to better the educational experience of our students.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a student’s IEP (individualized Education Plan) meeting. At this meeting, two of the student’s special educators were present, one instructional assistant, the physical therapist, the occupational therapist, the adaptive PE teacher, the speech therapist, a transitional specialist, her parents, and the student herself were all present at this meeting. We had a conference room overflowing with people there to support and give their suggestions for this student’s future progress. (As evidence, I have provided a copy of my notes from the meeting with the student’s name crossed out).

bPortfolio 3 Evidence

Notes taken within the professional collaboration at a student’s IEP meeting.

Within this meeting, the importance of standard 8 became increasingly important. Each one of these professionals had their own view of what was important for this student and different views on how these potential goals would be achieved. We started the meeting by expressing strengths that we have noticed about the student. This not only started the meeting on a positive note, but also put all the IEP team members on the same page. Occasionally, throughout the meeting, some of the team members would disagree and would come at a crossroads. During these times, these professionals needed to have the appropriate skills to take feedback and suggestions about their work. Taking notes on the input from others, like I did in my attached notes, ensures that you will reflect upon the feedback of others and apply suggestions as appropriate. When you collaborate and actively listen and respect your superiors and colleagues, you can better support your own professional growth and the advocacy for the achievements of your students.

Learning Environment

5. Learning Environment– The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account: physical, emotional and intellectual well-being.

5.1 Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport

Teacher-student interactions are friendly and demonstrate general caring and respect. Such interactions are appropriate to the age and cultures of the students. Students exhibit respect for the teacher.

5.2 Managing Classroom Procedures through Transitions

Transitions occur smoothly, with little loss of instructional time.

5.3 Managing Classroom Procedures through Performance of Non-instructional Duties

Efficient systems for performing non-instructional duties are in place, resulting in minimal loss of instructional time.

5.4 Managing Student Behavior by Establishing Expectations

Standards of conduct are clear to all students.

5.5 Managing Student Behavior by Monitoring

Teacher is alert to student behavior at all times.

To me, this standard stresses that a healthy, safe, and encouraging learning environment is extremely important when creating classrooms that foster student success.  We must create a relationship of respect, manage student behavior effectively, and master transitions and non-instructional time. There are many aspects of building a classroom that supports student’s physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being; one of the most important ways of ensuring that this happens in my classroom is by managing student behavior. In my placement classroom, we utilize daily behavior charts to help students keep track of their behavior. First, we discuss our expectations with each student that is in need of a behavior modification. This is an integral part of ensuring that behavior improves. As teachers, we can only expect our students to progress if we communicate clearly with them about what we expect. Our expectations with the student are shared during IEP meetings and when they receive their behavior chart every school morning.


In addition, to ensure that the classroom environment is preserved, we must stay attuned to the behavior in the classroom. There are 3 key features of behavior management that must be maintained in order to achieve a well-functioning behavior plan. First, we must make sure that we are paying attention to student behavior during class so that we can acquire useful data. If we don’t collect data, we can’t accurately assess a student’s improvement. Secondly, we must push students that are capable to be self-monitors of their own behavior. Once students have a good model of how you monitor their behavior, then they can start playing an active role in assessing how they are acting each day. Lastly, we should ensure that all rewards and monitoring systems are faded out gradually as a student improves. This ensures that students do not remain reliant on the extrinsic rewards and gradually turn towards more intrinsic rewards.

Point Sheet

Example of a completed student’s daily behavior point sheet.


Behavior is only one aspect of creating and maintaining a healthy learning environment. By eliminating problem behaviors, we not only help the student engaging in them, but we also help all students in the classroom have better focus and motivation throughout the school day. As teachers, we must ensure that the classroom is a safe, healthy, and encouraging environment where all students can learn.

Differentiating Instruction

Program Standard 3: Differentiation – The teacher acquires and uses specific knowledge about students’ cultural, individual intellectual and social development and uses that knowledge to adjust their practice by employing strategies that advance student learning.

3.1 Demonstrating Knowledge of Students

Teacher recognizes the value of understanding students’ skills, knowledge, and language proficiency and displays this knowledge for groups of students.

3.2 Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness in Lesson Adjustments

Teacher makes a minor adjustment to a lesson, and the adjustment occurs smoothly.

3.3 Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness in Persisting to Support Students

Teacher persists in seeking approaches for students who have difficulty learning, drawing on a broad repertoire of strategies.

This program standard is particularly important for special education teachers because we have students that are all across the board regarding their ability levels in the same classroom. I understand this standard to mean that we need to get to know our students really well in order to effectively teach them in a way that will be meaningful for them. Differentiation happens at various points throughout instruction. First, we need to get to know our students, not only through a series of assessments, but also personally learn which environments our students thrive most. We also need to keep ourselves flexible to make changes that may be needed throughout the sequence of the lesson. Lastly, we need to reflect on our teaching and see how we could better address the unique needs of each student.

When I began to plan my mathematics unit on early numeracy and “greater than, less than, or equal to”, I knew that I would need to incorporate a significant amount of differentiation to account for the widely spread ability levels in my classroom. Through pre-unit assessments and interviewing and questioning my students, I found that I have some students that have good number sense and are able to add and subtract effectively, I have students that have very low number sense and no one-to-one correspondence, and I have students everywhere in between. In preparation for this lesson, I also looked through each of my student’s IEPs to get a better sense of where they are at mathematically. I have gotten to know my students throughout the course of my student teaching so far and I am familiar with specific environmental and instructional accommodations that they each need.

Group 1

Group 1 from the math lesson drawing circles on the board in different colors for each of their given numbers and comparing which group has more or less.


Because of the wide range of my students, I separated the students into three groups based on their respective ability levels. With the first group of students, I gave them each a card with a number on it. They used blocks to count out their number and then worked as a group to compare which student had the most blocks and which student had the least blocks. I soon realized that the blocks were too distracting for these students, so I decided to tweak the lesson a little bit on the spot. Instead, I had students come up to the board and draw out circles for their number card, each in a different color, to practice their one to one correspondence skills. I found that being flexible in this situation allowed my students to get more out of the lesson and they were able to pay more attention to the task. Reflecting on the lesson, In the future, I would further differentiate by not using blocks for students that cannot handle them.

Group 2

Groups 2 and 3 working on counting money and sorting which amounts are greater or less.


The next two groups of students were working on the same task, counting up coin amounts and putting them in order from smallest to largest amount. I differentiated these groups by putting the students that have more trouble in a smaller group with more one on one attention from an IA. I thought that this would allow them to be more successful in completing the same task. While these students did benefit from a smaller group setting, I quickly learned that the task was still too difficult for them. They were relatively successful in counting the money, but it was too hard for them to compare 8 different groups of coins. Reflecting on this lesson, in the future, I would start by having the intermediate group compare only three groups of coins. The highest functioning group was challenged, but successful in comparing and ordering all eight groups of coins. I think that this task was at an appropriate level for them.

Family and Community Partnerships

Program Standard 7. Families and Community: The teacher communicates and collaborates with students, families and all educational stakeholders in an ethical and professional manner to promote student learning.

As educators, it is important to form an alliance with our student’s parents and community so that we can work together to help our student’s succeed. Of course, when we are ensuring and encouraging the involvement of parents in the classroom, we need to be sure that we are sensitive to their culture and their own individualized goals for their child. Understanding how to appropriately converse with parents and family members will help us preserve a professional and ethical relationship.

Parents, family, and community members are invaluable sources of information and resources to promote all of our student’s learning. In most cases, the parents of our students will know them best and when we form a supportive partnership with them, they can be a useful tool in helping their student succeed in and out of the classroom. In Behavior Management: Principles and Practices of Positive Behavior Supports, John Wheeler and David Richey explain different types of family involvement that are vital to implement in the classroom (Wheeler and Richey, pg. 46). I have included a chart from the textbook as evidence (Wheeler and Richey, pg. 49). Family Involvement TableFor example one way that parents may have a presence in the school is by making sure that their child is safe in your classroom. We can provide families with different opportunities to volunteer in the school environment. Parents may also find their role in assisting their child with their homework and personally supporting their child’s education at home. Regardless of family interest, we must acknowledge that it is our job to foster effective communication and find ways to collaborate together. There are many different opportunities for us to professionally connect with family and community members in and out of the school environment to collaborate and work together to better and diversify every student’s education.

Works Cited

Wheeler, John J., and David Dean. Richey. Behavior Management: Principles and Practices of Positive Behavior Supports. Boston: Pearson, 2010. Print.

Learning Environment

SPU Program Standard 5. Learning Environment- The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account: physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being. 5.1 Component 2a: Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport.

It is vital for all teachers to create an environment that encourages active participation of our students to reach their full potential for learning .In special education we need to pay extra attention to the unique needs of our students when planning and arranging the classroom environment. There are certain physical needs that must be accounted for. For example, when we are accommodating students with physical disabilities, we must ensure that there is enough space between desks and tables that they can adequately maneuver about the classroom. These needs must be met on an individual basis. We must also take into account the emotional well-being of our students. For our students in special education, sometimes we need to make extra strides to make them comfortable in this space. This may mean that we provide a sensory wall or a calming corner in our classroom to ensure that our students feel safe and comfortable. We may also have to be aware of how our students react to certain sensory inputs to make sure that our light is not too harsh, or the walls too distracting, or that the class is too loud. Because our students all have special and unique needs, the environment of a special education classroom will vary from year to year. As teachers, we also need to develop a respect and rapport with our students. If our students feel cared for and comfortable with us as their teachers, it will make the classroom a better place to learn. Reflecting on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we must first ensure that our student’s basic needs are being met. If our students feel safe and loved, then we can focus on the academic and intellectual development of our students through our instruction and curriculum


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs