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The Singapore education industry has definitely taken its shape of different outlook since the Government envision an open and inclusive approach towards all Singaporeans, young and old, disabled and able-bodied, with the belief that every Singaporean matters (Ibrahim, 2004). Hence, the integration of special needs and disabled children into mainstream schools called for all teachers to acknowledge, reposition their pedagogy, to be trained and readily accept and accommodate the needs of every child in the classroom, including special children. This shift hopes to create a society with a heart, where people are willing to think, act and live in ways inclusive of others whom they are not typically and traditionally used to (Lim, Thaver & Slee, 2008).
Personal pedagogy about an inclusive classroom
According to Lim, Thaver and Slee (2008), a personal pedagogy for inclusiveness refers to a teacher's "head, heart and hands", to use an apt metaphor, and therefore necessitates a personal journey within to make the connections between who he is, what he believes in, and what he is like in the classroom. I believe that teaching in an inclusive environment is to provide my students a learning space that is safe for every personal growth, promoting creativity and freedom to think and explore knowledge. Students' academic and non-academic aspirations should be supported. Every student is unique, it is important that I have differentiated teaching instructions that meets any learning differences, capabilities and interests. Thus inclusiveness in the classroom extends to every student respecting their teacher and peers; embracing all differences and adopting the right behaviour to learn from one another in every possible harmonious way.
By adopting an authoritative style, I am balancing my professionalism as a teacher and expectations of students, both behaviourally and academically. Behavioural management concerns students' discipline during lessons and getting work done on time. I believe that when students are given autonomy to decide rules and routines for the classroom, they are able to understand and take ownership for their own behaviour thus facilitates students' character development. Whilst a defiant student breaks any rules intentionally even after a remediation, it is advisable that I deal with student through a conversation as an alternative to punishment. Through dialogue, I will understand the reason for such behaviour and giving opportunity to my student to acknowledge that a rule is broken.
Further, my students are given an equal standing of their expectations on me. This is explained by exhibiting my attitudes, values and beliefs as an exemplary teacher who displays care, concern, and understanding towards my students. On handling students with disabilities, it is important that I become a role model by setting a good example, which in turn my students will hopefully emulate. Hence, establishing rapport with students and between students themselves is vital in achieving a vibrant teaching and learning culture.
Where rapport and behavioural management is in check, my priorities includes the differentiation instructions within an engaging and meaningful learning setting. Students of different abilities and learning needs shall experience equally appropriate ways to absorb, use, develop and present concepts as a part of the daily learning process. With differentiating instructions, students will take greater responsibility and ownership for their own learning, and provides opportunities for peer teaching and cooperative learning. Effective communication is essential in gaining support of class as a whole on working together cohesively and harmoniously with students with disabilities and special needs.
As a 21st century teacher, I should adopt varied teaching methodologies to suit students' multiple intelligence. In preparation for differentiating, I will diagnose the difference in readiness, interests and learning style of my students, using a variety of performance indicators. Creating lesson plans involves the language department's directions and curriculum requirements and ensuring technologies learning aids are suitable. At end of every term, an assessment of teaching goals and objectives is carried out with implementation of work review and reflection. This is essential in putting the teacher in check with earlier objectives set and readdressing any planning that needs adjustment the following teaching term. Others include initiatives to attend teachers' sharing and workshops to keep abreast of current developments.
Reasons for adopting the personal pedagogy
Times and pedagogical directions have greatly impacted vast changes in the education sector. I have seen much difference during contract teaching as compared to my experiences as a student. My reasons in adopting such pedagogy will be described and supported by psychology theories and concepts as follows.
Teaching style and rapport
I remembered my ex teacher as someone whom adopted an indifferent approach. He had little interaction with students, hardly demonstrated care and there was no teachable moment in his lessons. This is clearly a negative teacher to student relationship. Where an inclusive classroom is concerned, establishing rapport is the core in creating a good culture for learning and teaching to take place. As advocated by Maslow (1968), a student's need for love, affection and belonging is ranked after psychological needs and safety is served. A teachers' role is to demonstrate care and concern for their students and motivate them, which helps build up the confidence in them especially so when the student faces any difficulty in the classroom. Building rapport indicates that the teacher takes interest in believing his students' capabilities, listening to any concerns or problems that a student is going through, enthusiasm of teaching in classroom that everything else that is associated with fostering a positive teacher and student relationship. Jones (1998) suggested ways to create rapport and such examples includes creating opportunities for interaction and relationship-building among students. When rapport is established, behavioural management can then be communicated, taught and acknowledged by students.
Throughout history, advocators of behavioural management attempted to rectify behavioural problems. Based on Skinner (1948), there are assumptions that students are not able to self govern their behaviour and must receive guidance from teachers (i.e. specific rules) to behave appropriately. The teacher is required to alter the environment for a desired behaviour to happen, praises any good behaviour and ignoring any inappropriate ones. This centred modification has its disadvantages for a student whose misbehaviour caused on the home front or society and thus disallowing them to stamp their own behaviour. In addition, extrinsic rewards (praises) are temporary and undermine intrinsic motivation. In support of Skinner, Canter's assertive discipline (1988:89) brings about a similar behaviour management that negative consequences and punishments deter bad behaviour is much relevant to my experience as a student. However, such disciplinary actions have embarrassed students and some have gone to further rebellion.
I believe that a student will naturally exhibit inappropriate behaviour when his or her needs (Maslow) are not met. According to Dreikurs (1976), students misbehave because such needs (like attention, power, revenge or inadequacy) are not fulfilled and the teacher should be proactive in attending to those needs. Dreikurs further emphasized that discipline problems can be prevented through the use of class discussions and applications of logical consequences.
Learning trajectory for students with difficulties
With primary focus on students with difficulties, there is a need for teachers to consider a pedagogy that is highly personal for "whom the learner is to become" (Lim, Thaver & Slee 2008) and that is heavily based on facts and details. The traditional learning strategy produces peak learning outcomes at time of assessment, but what is learned quickly dissipates after that. When I was in primary school, I was a student with a learning difficulty. Most of the lessons I went through were monotonous for learning, and great emphasis on memory work. It was discomforting that I did not learn anything meaningful. Therefore, my learning experiences of "the other" has caused the "pit" (Butler, 1996) and believed that my ex-teacher was indifferent towards his students' performance and well-being in the classroom hence my reasonably average results for PSLE examinations were not a surprise. Based on that, it is essential for me, as a teacher to carefully consider the learning trajectory and strategies for classroom teaching especially one that involves any special needs.
Creating an inclusive learning environment
On a given academic year, I am likely to be in charge of a class which may consist of a student with special needs and other mixed ability students of different learning needs whom all originate from different backgrounds, cultures and interests. There are several components within Stice's (1997) model that a teacher should take note of in creating an inclusive learning environment consisting of special children.
Understanding students' profile and Classroom setting
Understanding profile of students prior to start of school term, like a student's condition, family background via referring to any history or current siblings studying in same school may help in getting a head start in building rapport with students. Hence, with the understanding of students, I can proceed with a site visit to my assigned classroom and design a suitable learning environment depending on those needs or difficulties. The teacher should put in place the following where necessary:
Arranging for a classroom on the ground floor for a student with physical disability. This is to ensure classroom layout can accommodate student's wheelchair.
Placing student with hearing impairment in proximity to teacher. The teacher has to make rigorous effort in monitoring the student and ensuring they are able to enunciate the teacher's words.
For students with low-attention span (e.g. ADHD), teachers would minimise or remove potential sources of distractions by, placing their seats away from classroom's door or windows and making sure that during lesson, their tables are clear of all materials except for those to do with lesson.
Creating "time out" corners to accommodate students with behavioural problems. This enables problematic students to regulate own behaviour till they ready to join the rest of the class.
As it is crucial to establish a desired tone within first 2 weeks, teacher should carry out these strategies that are both socially and academically inclusive.
As an authoritative teacher, I will present myself as a warm yet firm personality to my students by greeting in a gentle tone and a smile, addressing them by their names and do a self-introduction about myself and the things I love to do during my free time. This will be followed by an introductory activity planned to let students become acquainted with teacher and with their classmates on the first day. Within the same week, it is crucial that I learn my students' names, for example by associating their faces with their names or by having students wearing colourful name tags. Other means to foster positive relationships in classroom are:
Teacher participating in students' physical education activity or eating with students at recess time
Teacher helps students to understand nature of their peer's disability, by teaching them how to manage him, at same time providing opportunities for them to express any concerns, and suggest ways to problem-solve and support child with special needs.
Parental management is also important, that is establishing contact with parents through mailed personalised letters and having them filling out particulars about themselves and their child. This letter serves as a form of communication channel for teacher and parent, to find out some important matters concerning child i.e. health or behavioural matters that teacher should know of.
Rules and routines
With regards to rules and routines, the teacher will involve students in the discussion of rules by asking them to name specific behaviours that everyone in class accepts, is comfortable with and must practice in order to create good climate for learning. The discussion shall take place during the first two days of class, strongly emphasize them the first two weeks and consistently reinforce rules thereafter.
To the best of my ability, I try to encourage discussions from my lessons that will allow my students to use their prior knowledge and current level of skill and understanding, taking into account the different backgrounds and learning levels that are in my classroom each day. However, I must also be realistic to know that my style of teaching will not be able suit every child in my future class, but it is very important for me to quickly adapt my teaching methods to meet their ever-changing needs. Whatever problems or obstacles I had faced during my student days, I try to not let history repeat itself. My role as an educator is to guide these young minds to a final goal during my curriculum and lessons. It is in this conducive environment where truly great, teachable moments occur. A truly worthwhile experience is one in which all students actively play a role in the development of their classmates.
No one is born to love being taught in a classroom. As Albert Einstein once said, "It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge". A teacher's purpose is not to create students in his or her own image, but to develop students who can create their own. (2165 words)