Posted: March 30th, 2022
Description of the Classroom
The observation took place in an eighth grade level social studies classroom consisting of twenty-one students from diverse backgrounds. The teacher is Latina. Not wanting to make any assumptions about ethnicity or culture, I asked the teacher about the demographics. The teacher stated that of the 20, 8 were female and 12 male. Three students were African-American, two were Vietnamese-American, two Indo-American, five students were Hispanic, two were Jewish, three were from mixed backgrounds, and four were white. Two of the students had IEPs, one of them was an African American boy and the other a white student. Each of the students with IEPs had specific learning and developmental disabilities. One of the Vietnamese-American students had been recently diagnosed with audio processing disorder, and accommodations were being made to move the student to the front of the classroom. The IEPs provided for specific accommodations and modifications to the content and instructional methods being used in the classroom.
Range of Disability Supports
There are two students in the classroom with IEPs, and one that also requires accommodations. However, each student has different needs. The teacher meets once per week with the counselor working with each of the students with learning disabilities. The meetings are designed to offer the teacher additional supports and guidance, while also allowing the students to report on their own progress. During the classroom instruction, the teacher makes accommodations in several ways. One of the students has dyslexia, and receives an audio recording of the class material. The teacher still asks her to write responses to questions, but does not use the same grading criteria as for the rest of the class. The other student becomes easily distracted and causes some disruptions. When asked about disability supports for that student, the teacher said that no instructions or guidance had been given to her, and that for the past three weeks has received assistance from an additional special education instructor in the class that offers one-on-one support as well as some assistive technology. Last week, a different special education assistant visited and sat with the student who has audio processing disorder. The student with audio processing disorder has since been moved to a place close to the teacher, and she receives additional take-home material she can review on her own outside class.
The special education teacher only worked with the one student during my observation. There was very little collaboration between the two teachers during the class itself. Only on one occasion, the special education teacher had to ask for some input from the teacher about modifying the lesson. However, the teacher said that every week they meet to discuss that student’s progress, and that once a month they meet with the parent. Although this is not a cooperative teaching environment, the school administrators do make sure that the students’ needs are being met through active collaboration between the two teachers after class. The teacher also told me that the special education instructor also works with the student with dyslexia, but that the main modifications to the lessons are reducing the verbal content burden that child experiences both with regards to deliverables and also to instructional design.
Culturally Responsive Classroom Management (CRCM)
Physical Setting: The seats were arranged in rows, but there was a collaborative learning assignment during class that allowed the students to work together in clusters. On the walls were inspirational sayings, some of which were posters but others were drawn by the students. The teacher has a large projection screen for displaying the slides and uses ample visual aids.
Behavior Expectations: The head teacher pointed out to me the list she made and posted clearly behind her desk. This list was of all the main ethics of comportment in the classroom. The first thing on the list was “do no harm.” Others included “respect others,” and “learn from someone who disagrees with you today.” One of the items on the list was, “It is OK to be shy.” The teacher said that she clearly outlines her expectations, and relies a lot on the students to create a strong normative environment.
Communicate in Culturally Consistent Ways: The teacher was adept at using culturally consistent communication, and altered her manner of speaking with different students. She used some Spanglish with the two Hispanic students. She aimed for a collaborative learning environment that stresses cultural values of social harmony rather than diverting to the dominant white American discourse of pure individualism and competition in the learning environment. The teacher recognized that cultural and individual differences might preclude some students from making eye contact or speaking up, whereas others were more outspoken. She said that one of the biggest challenges for the diverse classroom was not allowing the more extraverted kids to dominate the classroom, without pressuring the quiet kids to “be someone they are not.” To resolve this issue, the teacher used a variety of exercises including having the students work in pairs and groups of three. The small groups allow the shy students to participate more and have a “voice” in their learning. Also, the teacher sometimes briefly worked one on one with shy students to help them feel that they were being included in the discussion.
Caring Environment: The teacher is tri-lingual, and knows how to count to ten in a dozen languages. As such, the teacher is culturally aware and creates an inclusive environment by encouraging all students to learn about different cultures. As a social studies class, she is able to include diversity content in the lessons. The teacher also includes material that encourages discussions related to gender. One of the ways the teacher creates a caring environment is also by maintaining strong online presence, and solicits comments from students anonymously if they are being harassed or bullied.
Working With Families: At the beginning of each year, the teacher has an orientation party. Throughout the year, she meets with the parents one per month on their own terms, and also has email and text information for all the parents.
Interventions for Behavioral Challenges: The teacher has experienced many challenges, especially with regards to one of the students with developmental disabilities. With the help of the special education instructor, she has been able to maintain focus on the lesson, while giving the student with disabilities the attention she needs.
Comparing Two Classrooms
This classroom (Classroom B) was much better designed in terms of inclusivity and cultural responsiveness. Whereas classroom A was disorganized, classroom B was not. Classroom A did not have any inspirational slogans on the wall and there were no group learning activities. The teacher gave a lecture, and expressed annoyance when students were not paying attention. The teacher made sarcastic comments to several students, and also used verbal threats like “Do you want me to call your parents?” Unlike Teacher B, Teacher A did not learn any language other than English and ignored the students in his class that did not have a strong command of English. The teacher sat down most of the time, and did not walk around the room like Teacher B did.
In terms of accommodations, Teacher A had no students with IEPs so was not legally obliged to make accommodations. Still, he had a few students in the classroom with behavioral problems that might have been related to specific learning disabilities. Teacher A admitted that he did not interact with the parents much except for the ones that showed up for parent-teacher days. He said that there was nothing he could do if the parents did not show up, and that they have the opportunity to call him if they need to. Teacher A expects people from other cultures to conform to his standards of communication rather than adapting and meeting them halfway, which is what Teacher B did in this classroom. For these reasons, Teacher B and Classroom B was far more successful, and the students seemed actively engaged and happy during the observation.
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