editing disabled

In today’s schools, the students that compose the average class population are becoming ever more diverse. Looking into a common general education classroom, one is likely to see students who are identified with needs for special education services, at-risk, culturally and/or linguistically diverse, and gifted and talented students. As part of my education at The College of William and Mary, I took several courses which helped to prepare me for working with the diverse population of students I am likely to work with throughout my career as a teacher.

The Diversity of the Student Population with Whom I have Worked:

We planted a tree on Arbor Day!

For my practicum and student teaching placement, I worked with students who belong to the Rawls Byrd Elementary School of Williamsburg, Virginia. At the time (1008-2009 school year), the school-wide population was composed of 69% Caucasian, 19% African-American, 7% Hispanic, 2% Native American, 2% Asian, and less than 1% unspecified students. Of these students, 31% of the students were eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program. Within my own classroom, I had twelve boys and seven girls. Three students were African-American and two were Hispanic. One student spent most of his time in a dedicated classroom for students with special needs. There were several other students who were pulled out of the classroom for services such as speech therapy, reading intervention, and gifted and talented services. One of the students was being being assessed for special needs services and displayed the characteristics of high functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, and another child in the classroom was medicated to treat his ADHD.

Beyond my experiences in the general education classroom, I have also worked with students in an entirely special needs school. At this school, The Children’s Institute in Verona, NJ, I worked as a one-to-one aide for a little boy with autism. The entire classroom population was composed of eight students with varying levels of autism and one child who was severely neurologically impaired. Several of the students in this classroom were additionally diagnosed with ADHD. The many of the students also received physical, occupational, and speech therapies on a regular basis. The children with whom I worked in this setting had special needs that were severe enough to restrict them from the general education classroom, but I feel that the exposure I had to working with this population gave me a better understanding for working with students with special needs in the general education setting.

How Students Differed in Their Approaches to Learning and How I Met Those Needs:

I see every child as being a unique individual with needs and approaches to learning which can vary greatly from their classmates. I have found that some of my students learn best through doing hands-on projects. These students enjoy using authentic materials and manipulatives. One lesson in which I feel I met the needs of these students was this math lesson in which students used items they typically use in the classroom to learn about using a balance scale. As can be seen in this photograph, the students weighed items such as a toy horse and a pencil on a balance scale with a partner.

I have also had students who are more kinesthetic learners. For these students, I have incorporated activities in my lessons that require them to move and pretend or act out the concept I am trying to teach them. For instance, when teaching my students about the parts of plants, I had them pretend that their body parts were different parts of the plant. Their feet were the roots, bodies were the stems, hands and arms were the leaves, and heads were the flowers. I also used physical activities in mathematics by having the students use their bodies like balance scales, making the lighter object rise in one hand and the heavier object fall in the other.

Some of my learners have been more creative, artistic, and visual in their learning. For these students, I have especially enjoyed incorporating a great deal of drawing into my lessons. Having a background in visual arts, I can draw very quickly and create rather accurate depictions of most things I wish to include while teaching. For example, in one lesson, I used drawing to engage several of my least focused students on learning about the value of money by drawing their favorite animal and the food the animal would need, as pictured below.


The students then got to interact with the drawings. I have also created graphic organizers such as this Venn Diagram which displays the similarities and differences between pennies and nickels. Additionally, I have also had students create their own art projects to increase their learning and understanding. In one lesson about the parts of plants, I had students make art works of a flower from roots to blossom and then label the plant. The photographs below show a student-colored plant parts diagram, an artwork created by one of my students for this project, and a drawing done by a student at her home to share her information from school.
I have also taught students who are very verbal learners. For these students, I have done things such as incorporating literature in as many lessons as I possibly can. In science, I have included trade books such as Gilberto and the Wind by Marie Hall Ets, We are Extremely Very Good Recyclers by Lauren Child, and Celebrating Earth Day by Janet McDonnell; in mathematics I have used Jenny Found a Penny by Trudy Harris and Weight by Henry Pluckrose; and in social studies I have used Otto Runs for President by Rosemary Wells and St. Patrick's Day by Gail Gibbons. I also talked out my thought process about different activities as I did them, and I encouraged students to use writing and reading in their learning in subject areas outside of language arts.

Some of my students also appear to have a more musical interest in learning. For these students, I found that songs are especially beneficial to their learning. During the morning calendar routine, I sing two different songs that help students to remember the days of the week. I also taught my students a song called “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” to the tune of “The More We get Together” to help them remember the three R’s. Additionally, I have used literature that is song based in my teaching. One such book was Earth Day Birthday by Pattie Schnetzler that is sung to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Besides the different learning styles in my classroom, I have also varied my teaching based on the ability levels of my students. In language arts, I have taught homogeneous groups of students so that students with similar needs could be taught at the same time. With these groups, I have held small group reading, writing activities, word blending, and phonics activities. I have also used homogeneous grouping in mathematics for some lessons in which I felt that the concepts should be taught to the groups differently and at a varying rate. However, I do not feel that homogeneous grouping is appropriate in all cases. For some lessons, I feel that creating heterogeneous groups is beneficial to all students. Those who struggle can seek assistance from their classmates while students who are more advanced get to deepen their understanding of concepts and share their insights by working with struggling students. In this science lesson, I used heterogeneous grouping to create teams of students in which each student got to display their strength and help their group. In this lesson, I held a magnet circus in which students had to read directions at different stations and then write or draw responses. I chose strong readers to read directions, strong writers to write and draw, and students who generally struggle more with these other activities to act as questioners for the group. In this way, the students could work together but each perform a job which was unique to their abilities. This photograph shows the different stations at which students worked during the magnet circus and the images below shows the student groups interacting at each station.


Collaborating with Others to Meet the Diverse Needs of my Students:

As part of my education at The College of William and Mary, I had projects on which I collaborated with learning/behavioral specialists as well as other personnel to meet the needs of my diverse students. For one student in particular, I worked with a lead special education teacher to review a full IEP and create this IEP At-a-Glance, which helped me to learn about and summarize this particular students needs and the accommodations he required. Additionally, I observed this student throughout the day as he attended his different classes and wrote this observation report. I learned a great deal about the needs of this student from doing this project which helped me to understand how to create activities that would motivate him and be appropriate for his learning. After discussing the student's ability level and interests with both my co-operating teacher and the special education teacher, I began doing research into peer reviewed articles to establish what sorts of techniques might be useful in helping this student succeed in school. I met once again with this student's special needs teacher and discussed with her ways to use the research I had found that would motivate this particular student. She described to me how well he worked for stickers from the Disney movie Cars, so I created the game pictured below and this accompanying lesson to help this student and others in my classroom with their counting and one-to-one matching. As part of the game, the student would move a spinner to find how many spaces to travel, and then have to count the sequential numbers along a path all the way to thirty. This game helped this student to not only improve his one-to-one matching, but it also helped him to learn numbers that he would skip and ignore while counting up to twenty.


I have also had the opportunity to consult with the special education teacher during outside playground times on a daily basis. Her students shared their recess with my class and another kindergarten classroom. In my classroom there was a student who was not currently labeled, but he was being assessed. Without an IEP, I sought the advice of the special education teacher about this student. She agreed that he displayed the traits of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, and we discussed the need for being very direct in instructions and handling behavior.