Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School is located in New Haven, CT. It is an arts-focused magnet which admits students through a lottery system each spring. Currently, 650-700 students attend in grades 9-12. Within Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, more commonly known as Co-op, students are grouped based on their selected arts focus. The arts that the students can chose from include theater, chorus, band, creative writing, visual arts, and strings.
Each art is like a miniature family with our school. Our student artists partake in 90 minutes or more of art instruction each day. Throughout the year, students produce beautiful works of art which range from sculpture to theatrical performances to spoken word poetry slams; each artist’s endeavors are showcased in many ways.
Although the arts are a huge part of our learning community at Co-op, the academic rigor and high expectations of our humanities curricula are also an integral part of each student’s journey from freshman to senior year. Each year, the population of special education students has grown larger. When I began at Co-op in 2011, I worked with roughly 15-20 students. Since then, my caseload has increased in size and variety, meaning I work with more students who have a wider array of disabilities. In the upcoming school year, my caseload will have approximately 25 students on it. I will be teaching two resource classes with between 8-12 students in each. It is important to note that not every special education student requires a resource class in their schedule to meet their specific learning needs.
In the resource room, we work to support the students in the achievement of the goals developed in their IEPs and also help them stay on track with academic assignments from their other classes. I will also be supporting my students within their English I classes, working closely with the general education teacher to ensure that all of the special education students can access the curriculum. English classrooms in New Haven can typically have up to 28 students in them. These two classroom settings, though vastly different in terms of size, structure, and assessment, will be the stage for the implementation of my curriculum.
Role of Student in the Curriculum
All of my students have strengths and weaknesses. Some have difficulty decoding grade level texts but can make connections and inferences about a novel read aloud to them that some of their peers cannot. Others are proficient or advanced readers but struggle with anxiety and sharing ideas in a whole group setting. In this particular unit, I will be focusing on individual student strengths to access the general curriculum.
Students will be engaged in discussion both in small group and whole class. They will be asked to show understanding and mastery through multiple avenues. Due to the varied strengths and weaknesses of each student, I will be creating a bank of learning experiences for the resource room to help my students begin to think about what identity is and how they form their own. They will be required to complete the final performance task for their English I class and will be graded based on the goals and objectives in their IEPs. Students will be graded on their engagement with each learning experience and their participation in both small group and whole class discussions.
Role of Teacher in the Curriculum
One of the luxuries of being a special education teacher is that I have the flexibility to tailor my curriculum to meet the needs of my students. I see many opportunities to building a curriculum around the construction of social identity through literature because it lends itself to the implementation of socio-emotional and transition IEP goals and helps provide a pathway that builds confidence, critical thinking skills, and global awareness. Incorporating reading and reflective writing activities into the unit will also address key academic benchmarks. My overarching goals of the unit would target students’ self awareness and the development of their own social identity and how it impacts their relationships and actions. My enduring understanding is focused on understanding the concept of empathy and connection through differences.
Aside from making the obvious connections to the curriculum within the resource room and the individual goals on the students IEPs, the ninth grade English I scope and sequence connect many of the topics and ideas expressed previously. Through the use of memoir texts and narrative writing instruction, the ninth graders explore the other and share their own stories to help better understand themselves and their new classmates. This first unit in the English curriculum provides many opportunities for special education students to explore their own identities.