As in many classrooms, my student population is diverse. My curriculum will be designed for students in ninth grade who come from various cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. I have chosen to tailor my curriculum to a heterogeneous group of special education students because the student populations that sit in front of me each year are unique.
The goal of special education is to provide learning experiences, which allow the student to access the general education curriculum through specialized instruction. For this reason, special education students will be the focus of my work when designing my unit activities. Building student success and confidence in the general education classroom will be a primary focus in planning (i.e. readability, graphic organizers, etc.). The diversity of my target audience will be used to enhance the curriculum and increase student awareness of identities that differ from what they are familiar with.
Special education programming is tailored to meet the specific needs of each individual student. In New Haven, and more specifically at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, we services students with a variety of disabilities. Some students have specific learning or intellectual disabilities in the areas of reading, writing, and mathematics. Others have issues with attention and hyperactivity or social-emotional disturbances. Next year, my caseload will consist of students with individualized education plans or IEPs to address many of the aforementioned learning needs.
Given the diversity within my caseload, I will be designing a curriculum that can be implemented within the general education setting in a co-teaching model and in the resource room. This will give me the flexibility to support students within their English classroom to address reading, writing, and study skills goals, and also build classroom community and discussion in the small group resource room setting. To do this, I will be using
, a novel by Sherman Alexie, and selected short stories, excerpts, poems, and artwork. The aim of the curriculum will be to build an understanding and appreciation for those who are different from themselves and in turn, a better understanding of students’ own social identities and how they fit into the world around them.
As the class begins to better understand themselves and how they fit into the school culture at Co-op, we will engage in activities and readings that highlight differences as strengths. Often times, special education students are labeled as ‘other’ and carry a stigma that can alienate them from their peers. It is my hope that the students can begin to dissect their own social identities and gain confidence and power over their own perception of what it means to be labeled “disabled.” There is so much more to each individual to celebrate and explore.
It is my epistemological belief that knowledge is the result of all experiences and is not limited to that which is gained in the classroom. Teachers and students as well should understand the importance of students’ ability to apply knowledge in a variety of ways and settings. While teachers are obligated to teach the required state content standards, teachers should teach students to develop skills such as how to compare and utilize primary and secondary sources to develop personal narratives and how to utilize graphic organizers to structure their writing, allowing them to gain first-hand experience with accountable talk in a variety of ways through either authentic or simulated activities. These skills and content will directly support the overarching goal of my curriculum as well as build their communication skills and confidence.
Looking at my unit from a larger scale, I want to be sure that students with disabilities understand that they are not broken or “stupid.” I want them to embrace their difference and find strength where others may see weakness. As my students begin to understand what identity is and how it is constructed, they will begin to recognize what makes them unique; I ultimately want each student to understand that although they may come from different backgrounds and learn differently than others, they are still unique and valuable members of our school community and greater society.
Through leveled readings, modified assignments, and supplemental activities both in class and in small group, I want to give all of my students the tools necessary to participate in the general education curriculum and have their thoughts and opinions be heard by the larger classroom community. Too often, special education students lack confidence to engage in classroom discussion. I want them to feel valued and know that their contribution and voice are important. It is my hope that through the analysis of Zits, the main character in
, and supplemental literature focused on identity, all of my students will begin to define their own identities.
Self-confidence and having a positive sense of self are critical for the development of functioning, unique, and contributing members of society. The stigma of special education can be damaging to high school-aged students and I want them to feel valued and important. The English I literature selection,
, will provide a platform to begin exploring each others’ differences and ultimately find strengths in them. Tolerance and acceptance will be at the heart of my unit.
Wiggins and McTighe (2005) define an “enduring understanding” as information that answers the “so what?” question; it endures, “over time and across cultures because it has been proven so important and useful” (pg. 136). This is a crucial question that all educators must ask when developing curricula. “Why am I teaching this and what do I want my students to get out of this?”
Before learning experiences and assessment can be developed, a curriculum maker needs to be able to answer this question. As a special educator, I often have conversations with general education colleagues who are struggling to deliver content to some of my students. Sometimes it is just a matter of providing the appropriate accommodations to allow the student to access the material. Other times, the teacher needs to modify the assignments to address the enduring understanding of their unit. What is the one thing that this particular student cannot leave your class not having learned?
For this unit, I want to ensure that all of my students understand that we all have different experiences and characteristics that make us who we are and in turn, make us different from other people. Through the exploration of the different areas relevant to identity, students will begin to define themselves and understand others; empathy will be at the crux of this unit.