Tuesday 21 January 2020

Including All Learners at Middle School - Practices that Make a Difference

How can a Learning Support Teachers help classroom teachers include ALL learners at Middle School?

What happens when we start with student’s strengths?

I have been a Learning Support Teacher (LST) for over twenty years and have experienced a large shift in the educational community striving for full inclusion, which is the practice of including students with special needs in the regular classroom.  

In my current position as a Learning Support Teacher at Middle School, I support teachers in meaningfully including all students in the classroom.  So much of my job entails embracing the diversity in our classrooms by building a culture and framework that supports a safe and inclusive school community. Often, our learners that are vulnerable experience inequity in the education system through barriers to their learning.  With this in mind, strength-based practices offer a responsive approach to inclusion that reduces and removes barriers and ensures everyone has a sense of belonging, well-being, and access to learning in a safe and inclusive school community. 

Rather than removing individuals to special programs or segregated classrooms, we need to work on developing practices that connect those learners to the curriculum by addressing obstacles that might be impacting student learning and creating classrooms where students can use their strengths. Looking through our TADL data over the last 10 years, getting to know students and using their strengths in teaching and learning has made a big difference for kids.   The belief is EVERY child has strengths inside them and as educators it is our job to bring this out.  It is important to keep the learner at the center of our work.  Additionally, the more we know about our student's strengths and passions, the better equipped we are at building relationships and engaging our students.  
Here are some ideas for learning about student strengths that I have used in the past:
1. This is Me is a great way for students to share information about their strengths and interests.  (Schnellert and Brownlie)

2.  Student Profile - Shelley Moore also shared a one page student profile with our Inquiry Group.  It is written from a strength based approach from the student perspective.  I interview students that have IEP’s before his/her IEP meeting and the student shares this at the IEP meeting.  If the student is struggling sharing, we share it together or I share it with permission. If a student is unable to provide this information, family members can also be interviewed.  I found this approach to IEP’s helped inform the team about the supports a student would benefit from as well as gave student voice to the planning document. 

3. The Important Book by Margaret Wise -
The Important Book uses rhythmic words and vivid pictures to talk about what is most important about many familiar things -- like rain and wind, apples and daisies.  Students can use this frame as a way share their passions and interests.

4.  Identity Pictures:  Here is some examples f of students writing or collaging their strengths and passions as an art project.  The teacher took a picture of each student and photocopied them for students to use as an outline if they choose. Student strengths, passions and areas of interest fill their portrait. Students share their interests with each other as a way of connecting and getting to know each other.

Honouring how youth learn and creating an environment that promotes strengths values a child’s physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual development in a way that creates an inclusive environment for all students.
For more information listen to this TedTalk by Chris Wejr on Strength Based Learning.  In this talk he tells about a some of his experiences early on in his career.

Blog post by:  Janice Moase, KVR School

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