I still have a number of reservations about the philosophies behind the course, which I talk about below. My reservations can be summed up by a line from Diana Trilling (written in 1981!): "[T]he young are only as virtuous as they grow up to be and . . . the educational process doesn't improve their future prospects by flattering their present moral capacities." Add "writing and grammar" after "moral" and that's exactly what I believe.
My research paper for the course can be found at Papers. It deals with language transfer issues in grammar courses.
Now I'm ready to teach in the fall!
"Educating the Exceptional Student in the Classroom" has been an insightful class. I still have mixed feelings about the philosophies of inclusion, accommodation and differentiated instruction; however, I find the processes embedded in these philosophies very helpful.
As I stated in my first reflective paper, I admire the principle of inclusion. Through this course, I have realized that inclusion does not mean lowering standards or giving students a free ride, but I still wonder if the demands of inclusion may lead to lowered standards. Teachers will spread themselves too thin. In an effort to meet everyone's needs, fewer and fewer demands will be made. As I suggested in my first reflective paper, collaboration can ease the burden of multiple needs, but collaboration itself involves extra work and (often unavailable) time. Without a structured plan (which, to be fair, the IEP requires), accommodations, rather than being temporary aids, can become barriers—engrained into the classroom culture and anticipated/expected by students.
My worries stem from my experience as a college adjunct. I am often unsettled by how much accommodation my students expect and how unready they are for working life or, even, academic application. When I, following procedure, release them from certain obligations, I wonder, "Am I really helping?" Or, rather, am I making the transition to "the real world" that much harder? In the "real world," grammar mistakes turn off potential employers; deadlines must be met; continual absences result in being fired; fellow employees don't fill in the blanks or do our work for us.
I'm harking back to my initial reservations regarding IDEA. Where is the line between assisting someone and preventing that person from individual growth and personal understanding? In a conference for English teachers, one professor remarked that some of her most fruitful learning experiences occurred when she failed. How, she wanted to know, can we give students similar experiences? (And where is the line between forcing kids to fail and allowing them, for their own good, to fail?)
Again, I do not believe that the philosophies of inclusion and accommodation automatically prevent learning and growth. Scaffolding, or modeling, provides a student with completed steps that are removed as the student progresses. If I want to teach students how to recognize and correct run-on sentences, I should first "model" a run-on sentence and show how it can be corrected. Eventually, the students will no longer need the model. That is the ideal.
Students suffer if the scaffolding is never removed. Likewise, students suffer if they are never required to process information outside their learning styles/comfort zones. Fewer and fewer of my students have been drilled in grammar (the older ones, yes; the younger ones, no), such as sentence diagramming. As I discuss in my research paper, grammar drills are not (necessarily) the best way to learn a language, but, in the absence of other approaches, they are better than nothing! I wonder if the current emphasis on context (provide a reason and application for every skill) has produced students without any groundwork in basic skills (and consequently an inability to build on those skills). Is my students' lack of readiness typical of twenty-year-olds or is it the result of inclusion, accommodation, and differentiated instruction applied inaccurately and/or hurriedly by overworked teachers? I don't know the answer.
Despite my reservations, I admire the intentions of inclusion, accommodation, and/or differentiated instruction; not all kids learn the same or at the same rate. Teaching is a creative process that involves constant re-evaluation: Is this lesson working? Could it be better? Who will understand it? How many students will it reach? Ultimately the teacher's job is to communicate, not simply to present information and hope the students got it. From this perspective, "Educating the Exceptional Student in the Classroom" has been helpful and enlightening, not to say engrossing! I particularly enjoyed the assignments that involved problem-solving. Analyzing extant lesson plans forced me to imagine a classroom of multiple responses and abilities. Creating my own lesson plans forced me to tweak old ideas, to examine how a lesson flows and where I can involve students more. Professor Soderstrom has also modeled approaches that I find useful, such as the outcome rubrics. I have always found it difficult to communicate progression and achievement to my students. The rubric is a possible solution.
The lesson plans also provided a useful model. I now use the same layout for my grammar and composition lessons. The "Pre-requisite" section helps me pinpoint exactly what each lesson should build on. If I haven't covered the pre-requisites, perhaps I should alter the lesson plan! I also enjoyed creating the WebQuest. I devised an interactive document that I hope to use when I teach on-line this fall. Again, the activity involved problem-solving: Can students follow the quest? Understand the main points? Are the websites accessible? Readable? Usable?
In the final analysis, I consider usability the key factor in teaching. Usability is also the aim of inclusion, accommodation, and differentiated instruction. Does a lesson enable the student? Does the student have the necessary skills to succeed? In the past two years, I have seen a welcome change in English composition courses in terms of usability. Rather than focusing on output and literary writing, the focus is now on portfolios, revision, and clear communication. Today's employers don't always require literary analysis, but they do require professional prose.
From this angle, I am entirely in agreement with the philosophies covered in this course. I only hope that I and other teachers can employ the philosophies responsibly.