Classroom Description and Observation Focus
The observed self-contained class consists of 9 students, 6 boys and 3 girls, mixed with grades kindergarten through the second grade. All the students are taught based on the IEP (Individualized Educational Program). The ground for the IEP is learning disability (nonverbal learning disorder).
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Two students, a boy and a girl, also have hearing disability (hearing impairment). The learning process is conducted by one special ed (certified) teacher, and one instructional assistant. The hearing device (telex) is used by students with the hearing disability.
The object of my observation was the learning process, the interpersonal relations and communication within the classroom, and the daily routines. The aim of my observation was to analyze what challenges the students’ special needs create for their learning, and how the learning process is adapted to them.
How is space arranged in this classroom?
The classroom is large, and students have enough space to move comfortably. There is a special space where the children can have rest and play between the lessons. The students sit at the large group table situated close to the whiteboard.
The students who have hearing impairments sit closer to a speaker’s place. During the lesson, the teacher works near the whiteboard and sometimes joins the students. The instructional assistant sits together with the students with the hearing disability.
How is space arranged in the yard?
The school has a well-equipped play yard where children spend time after lunch. The students are allowed attending the yard with their Instructional Assistant only.
Is the classroom safe and healthy?
The classroom seems to be safe. It is a bit dark due to its location, but the light is turned on when necessary. The furniture is well-arrange and gives the students an opportunity to actively move in the classroom. Students have their own bathrooms located inside their classroom.
What kind of materials are available to the children to encourage learning?
The classroom is equipped with a whiteboard and a projector. The teacher actively uses the classroom space to encourage the students’ interest in learning and creative work. The walls are covered with the thematic boards where students are expected to share information and demonstrate their works.
There are the Social Studies board and the Science board. The students are weekly assigned to prepare interesting information relevant to the lesson topics: a table or a scheme, a drawing etc. There is a wordwall and a set of educational games in the classroom.
What kinds of classroom routines do you notice?
The classroom routine is not noticeable. Between the lessons, a class leader assigned weekly is expected to observe the order in the classroom and the students’ discipline. The boy who had the responsibility of a class leader during my observation was not able to cope with his task.
During the lessons, the discipline is quite difficult to maintain. Due to the students’ learning disorder, the teacher is often interrupted by the children who do not stay focused or are just annoyed by their inability to understand a speaker. Sometimes a student leaves his/her place, and the teacher has to ask him/her to take his/her seat.
How is the day scheduled?
The students arrive at 8:20-8:25, and the lessons begin at 8:30. The day schedule is posted on the wall. The students had the following lessons: Reading/Language Arts, Science, Social Studies; the lunch/recess was at 10:45/11:30 pm. Then, the children had Math and Health.
Who talks to children? How and when?
Due to nonverbal learning difficulty, students experience difficulties in communicating with the teacher and with each other. The teacher offers the teamwork tasks cautiously, as cooperation seems challenging for them.
Between the lessons, it seemed that the students communicated within settled groups: they preferred to talk to one or two friends and avoided communication with the rest of the class. Two students with the hearing impairment mostly talk to each other.
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Despite communication difficulties, it is noticeable that the students have communication needs and are glad when the teacher initiates a conversation. During my observation, the teacher talked to the students between the lessons, and the students seemed to enjoy the conversation.
What levels of play are different children engaged in?
During the lessons, the teacher actively uses games to present the new material and improve the students’ skills. On the one hand, this impacts the discipline in the classroom, and the teacher often has to raise the voice.
On the other hand, a game helps to draw and keep the students’ attention. The teacher uses the “teacher vs students”, “teacher vs a student”, “a student vs a student” formats and avoids offering the “students vs students” games.
Between the lessons, the students play in small groups. They are offered the educational games but they prefer to develop games on their own.
Describe an instructional activity observed
The topic of the Science lesson observed by me was “Who eats what?” (nutrition in the wild nature an in the human society). The aim of the lesson was to introduce the notions of a herbivore, a predator, a mammal, vegetarianism, a food chain and oth.
One of the activities was the collective brainstorming. The teacher asked the class about different animals, and the students were expected to say what each of the animals eats and define whether it is a herbivore, a predator or omnivorous.
Using the projector, the teacher showed the students the essence of a food chain. After than, the children were given a list of the animals and had to compose a food chain in teams. The teamwork was difficult to manage, as students did not want to cooperate and broke discipline. One girl started explaining that she felt sorry for the fact that animals eat each other.
Describe how the children’s socio-emotional needs are met
The students of the observed class have very specific socio-emotional needs. On the one hand, they have difficulties in acquiring knowledge and skills, cooperating, communicating, speaking in public and expressing their ideas. On the other hand, they concern about their performance and achievements. The children are afraid of criticism, as well as of being a poor achiever.
The teacher demonstrates patience and understanding during the lessons. She actively encourages the students and compliments them. However, she has to raise voice to maintain discipline, though avoiding using the intonation of anger.
The teacher does not explicitly force communication between the students understanding it is difficult for them. However, she puts effort in creating friendly relations between them. During my observation, she had a conversation with two children who then continued talking to each other.
How does the teacher manage the classroom?
The teacher maintains lively and creative environment in the classroom. She encourages the students to share ideas and actively participate in activities. The assistant helps the teacher to conduct the lesson successfully.
The lessons are lively and intensive due to the students’ energy. They are quite well-motivated and willing to take part in classroom activities, especially when they can learn and have fun simultaneously. The teacher uses compliments and jokes to maintain the students’ spirit.
She raises the voice when the discipline is broken, but then tries to draw the students’ attention and involve them into the work very quickly. She reacts on the students’ mistakes and questions very carefully in order to not insult them.
How are different children learning?
The nonverbal learning disorder has diverse symptoms that impact the learning process. However, the students of the class have a range of common problems, such as bad attention, emotional instability, difficulties in communication and comprehension of a speaker, problems with sharing ideas, and other. Most students cannot concentrate when the teacher is presenting the new material.
They also lose interest when the information seems difficult for them. However, they often feel shy to ask a teacher for additional explanation. I also noticed that for many students, it is difficult to begin working on a task, but when they get involved into the work they feel better and demonstrate diligence.
How does the teacher differentiate for children of diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds?
During my observation, the teacher did not focus on cultural background. However, I saw the materials devoted to different nations’ costumes and traditions on the wall; thus, the children had the lesson devoted to cultures.
How does the teacher differentiate for children who have difficulty learning or appear to have disability?
The teacher adapts her teaching style to the needs of the students. She uses simple words and quite short sentences when explaining the new information. Her mimics, intonation and gestures are very expressive, which helps keep the students’ attention. She helps a child to begin working on a task when she sees that he/she is embarrassed. The teacher often addresses the children with the hearing impairment so that they do not feel separated from the rest of the class.