Blog for Critical Reflection #4

This blog is a summary of a critical reflection I completed for class.

Language deeply affects learning in South Africa and has a great influence on students’ schooling. The language of learning and teaching in the classroom becomes English in fourth grade, unless the school teaches solely in Afrikaans. Bilingual educational programs and further English education for teachers are options that may help students learn English. Trauma can affect students’ learning, which would be caused by experiences like poverty and neglect at home. Large classrooms do not allow the teacher time to help the students who may need it.

By looking for what we can learn from the South African educators, students, and families, we will have even more openness to them and their culture. I plan to ask them questions and hear their perspectives on education. As a class, I hope we honor them while we are there.

Bike Tour in Soweto

We started off our Friday with a bike tour of Soweto, an area of 41 townships (cities). Soweto has a population of about 2.5 million people. The area has houses, apartments, and informal settlements. We rode past a several apartments that our tour guide said were unoccupied. They were right next to an informal settlement. Our tour guide informed us that the government built them but that they are too expensive for anyone to afford.

Right as we were passing through the same informal settlement, a few of the kids came and jumped on our bikes to ride a bit. They greeted many of us with “sani bonani,” hello!

In 1976, legislation passed that required Afrikaans to be the medium of instruction in schools. 20,000 students protested through a march in Soweto. During that march, the police fired on them and 176 students died, though some estimate up to 600 died. There is a memorial dedicated to those students in Soweto.

Lion’s Head

On Sunday morning, we got up early for a sunrise hike! We hiked Lion’s Head, which is a peak next to Table Mountain. We met up with one of the girls we became friends with at the conference. Lion’s Head peaks at 2,195 feet. The base of the hike was higher than sea level but it was still a lot of elevation gain to hike to the peak! It was beautiful and a lot of fun.

I had never done a hike where you need chains to help you get up. It was cool to do but I found that I couldn’t turn around at the rest area when doing the chains. Cape Town stretches out in front of you when you turn around, and I discovered I do better with the view when I have more square footage under my feet when I look out! 

We all said goodbye to each other and went our separate ways in the late morning on Sunday, except for those of us staying in Cape Town a little longer. I went to Hillsong Church after we said goodbye that morning and I later met up with my classmates at the house we rented. Hillsong Church is a big church and I enjoyed the the service. The next day I left to fly to Israel for a long layover and then on the the US!

Market Day

During the second free day we had to tour the Cape Town area, we went to a couple markets where they sell all types of food and have shops for small businesses. My friends and I tried a lot of different types of food there. I had a chicken seaweed wrap that was really delicious and also had macaroons. The next market we went to, we tried South African chocolate and a few other things.

Cape of Good Hope

We took a bus tour of the area south of Cape Town the day after the conference to explore more of the area. It started with a 40 minute boat ride not very far south of Cape Town. We went to see seals who inhabit a small island.

We next traveled south to see the South African penguins’ nesting area on a beach. They were cute and fun to watch with their young. They were very protective of their nests when a seagull landed in the midst of them to try to snatch an egg. Thankfully, the seagull did not succeed! 

We traveled to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. It was a beautiful area that we biked through to enjoy the scenery. There is a lighthouse at the top of the point near the cape that was actually built too high up! The marine layer covers it sometimes and blocks its light. They built another one lower for the ships rounding the cape. 

The next part of the tour was my favorite. We went for a walk that wound along the top of the cliffs and ended with a steep set of stairs that lead to the tip of the Cape of Good Hope. A common misconception is that the cape is the southernmost tip of Africa. It is the lowest southwestern tip! There is another area that is actually more southern than the cape. We later saw an osterich as it crossed the road. 🙂


DISES Conference- Day 3

Inclusive Education in Guatemala

Alfredo Artiles from Arizona State University spoke about the definition of inclusive education, research in inclusive education in Guatemala and the barriers and challenges found there. I found it interesting to hear more about the education in Guatemala and the struggles and challenges of practicing inclusive education there. 

Virtual Reality to Teach Teachers

East Carolina University uses a virtual reality program called Mursion to practice how to respond to scenarios in the classroom. They presented a poster on it in the morning. It looked like a valuable tool to teach future teachers behavior management skills in the classroom. 

Strategies for Communication for Students with Complex Needs

Alexandra Da Fonte uses the Dynamic AAC Goals Grid-2 (DAGG-2), which is a resource that presents a systematic way to determine an individual’s abilities and plan for them. I wondered how many people use this resource in their special education programs. 

Helping Students Communicate

As a continuation from the previous session, Alexandra Da Fonte reviewed the different steps to helping students communicate using AAC. They use feature matching to identify how to match their communication to technology assistance. A teacher evaluates a student, determines supports including assistive technology and then completes instructional planning. When doing the latter, identify meaningful contexts for communication with the student and provide effective means for the student to communicate. Use aided language simulation. 

Education and Legislation in Israel

Thomas Gumpef from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem spoke to legislative initiatives in Israel and their effect on inclusion. There are high work loads and big class sizes in Israel and low teacher salaries. About 11% of students are identified with special needs in Israel. There are others with special needs because parents need resources to have them identified as with special needs. 

Transitions After Secondary School

David Test is a teacher at a culinary school in South Africa. He presented on how they train their students with special needs. Their methods are hands-on and very interactive. They have life skills classes for them in addition to their culinary classes. What I took away from this session is how hands-on learning was valuable in his classes for students with special needs and could be useful in my own classes. 

DISES Conference – Day 2



We spent time planning for our presentation later in the day during the first session of the day.

Math Strategies

Jugnu Agrawal, Lisa Morin, and Silvana Watson gave strategies to support learners with learning disabilities. They said explicit instruction is key for students. The three methods of instruction they suggested are concrete, representational, and abstract. All three methods should be seen by students along the way, but the first step is to teach using manipulatives in the concrete method. You then move to representational and then to abstract. Not everyone needs all three phases. They pointed out the plainer the manipulatives are, the a better they are. I like using manipulatives and representational methods to teach math. This session gave me an overarching look at teaching the methods. 

Building on a Theme in Math Classes

Dannette Allen-bronaugh, Clara Hauth, Catherine Creighton-Martin, Yojanna Cuenca Carlino planned and lead a presentation on themes in math classrooms. Clara Hauth from Marymount University in Virginia presented on how incorporating theme into the math classroom increased motivation and excitement in the classroom. The students went on a cruise in the Caribbean where they completed adventures and games on each island. This was a month of review before standardized tests. I am really interested in incorporating a theme into my classroom and was brainstorming this idea even before this session. My idea is to have students travel around the world throughout the year studying different things in different countries that relate to the unit we are on. We can incorporate music and food from that country into the classroom. 

Executive Functioning Deficits and Strategies

Students from Marymount University in Virginia presented on strategies for students who need practice with executive functioning skills. They suggested giving students a schedule, practicing alternative behavior and using assistive technology. It was helpful to hear more practical strategies to use in my own classroom. 

Changemaking Event – University of San Diego

Our class presented on the Changemaking process that we engaged in with Marymount University and South African educators. We explained the process of emailing to get to know one another, convening Friday to discuss, presenting our challenges and solutions on Saturday, and pledging what we would like to do in the future. 

Inclusive Practices in Zambia and Zimbabwe 

This session was by Lindiwe Magaya and Florence Muwana, who are from Africa and are US-based. Resource students in Zambia and Zimbabwe are often in separate schools from general education students. Some people there believe that a child has a disability because of a parent’s actions in the past. There is not much parental advocacy for children in schools and there is a lack of funding; however, there are resource centers that provide services for children with disabilities. They found that ways to work towards inclusive practices is have research, research mobilization, international collaboration, administrative support, and parental involvement. A few people in the audience said they would like to collaborate with them. 

DISES 2018 Conference – Day 1

066C54B7-8D39-41FB-8A39-1868774C2CC3We attended an annual conference put on by the Division of International Special Education and Services (DISES). It was for three days in Cape Town. I wrote summaries here of each session I attended.

Cultural Considerations in IEPs

The first session went over how to include cultural considerations in IEPs and was lead by a professor at Washington State University. The recommendations included getting to know families, considering their diverse beliefs and goals, and defining what success means in their eyes and in the school’s eyes. To make this feasible in South Africa with large class sizes, students can share about themselves and the teacher can check in with them when possible throughout the year. 

Curriculum Adaptations for Resource Students 

The second session was about curricular adaptations across content areas and was from a team from the University of Northern Colorado. They completed research that found that the best supports for resource students were to have lessons be tangible, student-centered, and blended with classroom materials and instruction. I had already desired to make math tangible for my students, and this supports that it will support resource students.

Teacher Assistants

The third session was lead by Ritu Chopra from the Division of International Special Education Services. She reviewed the role of teacher assistants (paraprofessionals), their challenges, and how to work well with them in the classroom. Her suggestions were to provide an orientation for paraprofessionals, define their role, create instructional plans, provide feedback, give training, and advocate for administrative support. Paraprofessionals sometimes think it is a reflection on them if the student does not do well and at times complete assignments almost for them. They need to let students do things themselves and give them independence. I would like to follow her suggestions in the classroom and collaborate well with them in my classroom. 

Parents of Students with Autism

I attended a session by Catherine Thompson that addresses what parents of students with autism think about and go through. A few facts I learned about students with autism are that they will often not play with their toys and will line them up, they tend to thrive in structured environments, and a majority of students with autism are high-functioning. Many parents in the US will supplement aide at school with private therapy. Parents will often will implement multiple interventions simultaneously, often because interventions can be very effective before the age of six. Catherine Thompson’s research with her team said that parents felt like equal team members in the IEP process and felt their IEP would meet their child’s needs, though they did have an overall negative perception of the IEP process. This session gave me a greater understanding of parents’ perceptions of interventions for their child with autism. 

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

This session was about UDL strategies to differentiate instruction for students around the world. They are multiple means of engagement, of representation and of action and expression. These are valuable practices in the classroom and will help both my resource and non-resource students. 

Inclusive Education as a Localized Project in Malawi

Myriam Hummel presented the results from a project titled “Research for Inclusive Education in International Cooperation.” The three areas of tension they found in Malawi are between special needs education and inclusive education, the policies and the realities of the schools, and the traditional orientations, demands of daily living and formal education. I learned there is no one-size-fits-all solution and the tensions are complex. I have noticed that tensions are complex in education and that communication and knowledge are key to solutions in and out of the classroom. 


Private School Tour

Leboni II is K-12 private school for high scoring students that we visited after the Monday morning safari. The school was planned and built through the foresight of two successive Hosi kings. It was built in 2012 and has a beautiful campus. I enjoyed finding out about their community project and collaborative learning. I found out they have three honeybee hives on campus from a collaborative math, science and history project. There are about 770 students from the local and surrounding communities and a few students from other countries. Families pay tuition on a sliding scale, dependent on what they can afford. 

When we left Leboni, we headed straight to the airport to catch our flight to Cape Town. 

Safari Days

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We went on a safari Sunday afternoon/evening and Monday morning, for about 2.5 hours each. The countryside here is beautiful, and more similar to inland Southern California than I expected! We saw giraffes, zebras, impala, wildebeests, rhinos, a hippo, kudu, jackals, and pumba. Kudu was kind of funny to see because I’d eaten a kudu burger the night before. We didn’t think we were going to find the lions, just when we saw two adults and one junior across a lake. 

On Monday morning, we went on a second safari and we saw a leopard sitting high up on a rock napping. They’re hard to see so we were lucky to see him! We also saw an entire herd of elephants emerging out of the bush! One of the two baby elephants looked funny walking with its trunk up the entire way. 🐘😄 They got a drink of water and then moved on. 

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