We 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.
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.