Building a Curriculum for Those Who Learn Differently

Overview

Sophia is a bright young girl with Autism, and as such she learns differently and at a different pace. During the summer months when she is not in school, like many children,  Sophia regresses, losing knowledge and skills gained during the school year. For the Summer of 2014 in order to prepare Sophia for 6th grade I developed a curriculum to support her learning and growth.

Importance

I believe that every child is capable of learning, in working with Sophia I was able to enhance my own skill and understanding of the various methods and tools that can be used to help those who learn differently. Of greater importance was the knowledge and skill Sophia gained to enter the sixth grade and successfully learn along side of her peers.

Task Accomplished and Skills Gained

Tasks:

  • Map a plan: This included discussions with Sophia’s ABA paraprofessional, her 6th grade teachers, the Director of Special Education and her father, in order to ascertain Sophia’s strengths and weaknesses within the general curriculum and what she would need to know for sixth grade.
  • Research: To best support Sophia and develop an appropriate curriculum required intense amounts of research within the following areas: learning theory, behavioral therapy, curriculum design, common core standards, as well as subject area research in 6th grade Math, Science, English, and Humanities.
  • Develop a Curriculum:
    • Setting Goals: Designing the curriculum started with these goals in mind:
      • Math: mastery of times tables, long division, and basic fractions. Continued efforts towards basic mathematical word problems.
      • English: Comprehension and Linear writing. (This would include history and humanities readings).
      • Science: Labs and experiments to keep learning fun.
    • Designing Lessons: Using the common core standards and multiple learning theory modes I completed daily lesson plans:
      • Remedial Math: work where Sophia could gain confidence and mastery in material that was familiar. Sophia would complete the work alone. Worksheets were provided daily.
      • Writing Skills: were approached by providing Sophia with a picture. She would than provide a paragraph about what that picture was saying. We would review together to work on her linear story telling, i.e. a beginning, middle and end.
      • Reading Comprehension: Sophia would be provided with short articles, stories in all subject areas. We would read these together and I would ask her questions that would help her connect the material she was reading to the world she understands.
      • Break Time: Every child needs a break, especially those who are on the Autism spectrum. Breaks were incorporated into the plan to give Sophia time to process the material and as a way to release any stress and excess energy.
      • Introducing Math Concepts: In the afternoon Sophia would be given more complex math problems and concepts. This work was done together so that I could  directly observe behavior and understanding of the material.
      • Reading: To keep the learning fun we would read together as a family in the afternoon. Sophia, her father, and myself would read aloud passages from a book and then talk about what we had read. We also incorporated field trips into this reading in order to promote comprehension of the material and make reading fun and accessible.
      • Science: This was not daily. Science is Sophia’s strongest subject. So to keep the curriculum fun and engaging science was included so that Sophia could have a more hands on approach to science. Several times weekly her father would work on labs and experiments with Sophia.
    • Flexible Teaching, Paced Learning & Embedded Assessment: Each day I would work with Sophia guided by the lesson plan for the day. I would closely observe her behavior, her understanding and progress with the material and make notes as we worked. I assessed her understanding daily through the discussion and correcting of her papers, along with weekly math exams to check her mastery of the material. I promoted independent study whenever possible to help Sophia with her confidence as well as introducing coping mechanisms to assist with her stress and frustration. At the end of each day I would adjust the following days plan according to how the work that day went. Flexibility was explicitly built into the curriculum.

Skills:

  • Community Planning: Working with the ABA paraprofessional, Director of Special Education, various fifth grade teachers, and Sophia’s father to assess Sophia’s needs and goals for learning.
  • Curriculum Design: Researching and learning how to design an effective and flexible curriculum for students who learn differently.
  • Teaching, Learning and Assessment: Working directly with a student, guided by an individualized curriculum, flexibly daily learning plans embedded with assessment to support student learning outcomes.

Lessons Learned

There is no such thing as a perfect plan. Indeed the best possible plan is one that includes wide margins for change and adaptation. As I move to develop a new curriculum for the Summer of 2016, I will keep this flexibility built into my design. Further I will keep the research current with the added element of including Sophia in the setting of goals and establishing a rhythm of learning that best promotes her success and allows her to take control and accountability for her own learning!

Impact

The impact of this experience for me has been personally enlightening, I have learned about planning and crafting a curriculum, how to work with a special needs student and balance the need to push her beyond her comfort zone and simultaneously build her confidence by mastering content she is familiar with. Further, I have been able to apply my own learning into direct practice and stretch my understanding of what it means to teach, learn and assess.