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With the Singapore government actively exhorting its citizens towards inclusion, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has also looked into providing resources to integrate children with special needs into the mainstream school system. This includes an initiative implemented five to six years ago to train special needs officers (SNOs) and teachers in special needs (TSNs) who are deployed to mainstream schools to help support children with special needs (Yeo, 2009). The call for mainstream schools to be more inclusive of children with special needs is still at its infant stage. However, teachers have to anticipate that numbers will increase and be equipped with relevant knowledge and skills.
To construct my personal definition of inclusiveness, the origins of the term "inclusion" has to be first understood. Inclusion stems from Special Education which caters to children with special needs i.e. learning or physical disabilities. However, my personal definition of inclusiveness does not only refer to children with special needs, it also includes regular students who may not have learning or physical disabilities but have other needs as well e.g. diverse learning styles.
In line with my definition of inclusiveness, my personal pedagogy of inclusiveness includes acknowledging that each child brings to class his/her own unique identity, background and history, and responding effectively to their individual needs. All these attributes will affect the learning and teaching process. The following points are my beliefs that helped shape my personal pedagogy for creating an inclusive environment:
Belief that every child is unique and has potential
I believe that every child is born special and has potential. Each individual will have varying amounts of intelligence e.g. visual-spatial, verbal-linguistics. They should be given opportunities to build on their strengths which will help them learn more effectively.
Belief in fairness
Being inclusive is not only about treating everyone equal; fairness also comes by differentiating learning styles and accommodating to everyone's needs. E.g. a child with autism will need visual aids to help comprehension. When the teacher gives verbal instructions, regular students will be able to understand instantly but for the autistic child, the teacher will need to individualize instructions with visual components to support his learning.
Belief in teaching life lessons and values
Besides helping students to excel in their studies, I believe in the importance of teaching values. School is not just a place to deliver knowledge; it is also the place to prepare all students for society. I was inspired by the video presented in class which featured Peter, a Down-syndrome child, who was enrolled into a mainstream school in USA. After seeing how Peter had frequent outbursts when he first came into the classroom e.g. kicking his peers and making unnecessary loud noises, I was skeptical that things would work out for him. Indeed, the initial stages were very challenging, but at the end of his third grade, Peter had learnt to work and interact well with his classmates. Likewise, his peers were able to relate well to him and some even became his best friends.
In Singapore's context, Singaporeans with and without disabilities have had limited opportunities of interaction and bonding due to the dual system of mainstream and special education (Quek, Wong & Tay, 2007). With an increase in children with special needs in the mainstream schools, there will be challenges to building a caring and supportive classroom environment. However through this, more 'teaching moments' are incidentally created to teach values.
Belief in teacher's attitudes
I believe that the teacher's attitudes are very important in determining how he/she interacts with the class. Every teacher has his/her own set of values and beliefs regarding special needs due to social interaction and previous experiences.
Although I have not had many encounters of peers with special needs in the past, I would like to look at the difficulties of my students not as limitations to teaching but as learning opportunities to improve my effectiveness as a teacher.
Belief in sports as an inclusive learning environment
During my enrollment into NIE, I chose PE as my first academic and teaching subject not just because of my love for sports but also the belief that sports is for all, a universal language that brings people from all walks of life together. In a way sports in itself creates a natural environment of inclusion for children of diversity. The participation of sports also teaches values such as self-discipline, teamwork, perseverance and forges friendships.
Discuss the reasons for adopting this personal pedagogy by making reference to:
Your own personal classroom experiences as a student, and
Coming from a typical neighbourhood school, my class contained students of mixed abilities. There were students who were academically driven, unmotivated and emotionally affected due to family background. This wide spectrum of students proved to be a challenge for my form teacher. She showed that she valued each one of us by remembering our birthdays and showered us with chocolates and cards. Being our form teacher, she took the initiative to find out about our progress in other subjects from the various subject teachers.
During class, she was not biased towards better students and included weaker students by calling upon them, giving specific instructions and encouraging them. She advocated peer teaching by pairing students up so that they can learn from each other. Personally, I have benefited from this learning style as I learnt more through helping out my classmate and vice versa. For students of higher ability, she would challenge them in higher order thinking. She was responsive to the individual needs of the class and practiced differentiated learning.
I became very active in sports during secondary school due to immense exposure to sporting activities during physical education (PE) classes. Though shy, I was given opportunities to lead sports events and inter-house games. Even though I did not display strong leadership capabilities, my PE teacher still saw potential in me and appointed me as a leader. This greatly built my confidence in interacting with people. My teachers also joined in inter-school games to allow them to build rapport with the students. In a less formal setting, students tend to open up more to the teachers. These teachers could also observe how their students behave in a different setting. The value of sport was tremendous and it has shown me how sports could bring different people together, creating an inclusive learning environment.
Relevant concepts, theories and materials introduced in this course.
Two concepts that guide my personal pedagogy are the model for creating inclusive learning (Khaw, 2010) and Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences.
The model for inclusive learning states that by understanding the needs, characteristics and background of the child, a teacher can help create an inclusive environment through various aspects including collaboration, improving behavior, self-esteem and instruction, and structuring learning environments.
This model helps to guide my personal belief that when I see every child as a unique and special individual, I would make the effort to understand and be responsive to their needs. In addition, my understanding of Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences has led me to acknowledge that every child has a potential to excel. Gardner identified nine intelligences existing in varying amounts in each person's brain. These multiple intelligences have to be nurtured so as to strengthen them. With reference to this theory, it means that I can include every learner by structuring learning activities that allow students to focus on strengths and demonstrate multiple ways of understanding. The opportunities to display their strengths will increase their self esteem and hence have a more positive attitude towards learning.
The model also talks about behavioural management to meet the needs of individual students. My personal belief in teaching life values and having positive teacher attitudes evolved from this aspect. A teacher will be seen as a role model with the desired behaviours. My values and beliefs will affect the way I interact with my students and contribute to appropriate behavioural strategies to building a caring classroom environment. A caring and supportive learning environment where students feel a sense of belonging is important to promoting inclusiveness in the classroom.
Describe the profile of a class that you are likely to be in charge of at the beginning of the school year. With that class in mind, based on your personal pedagogy, what will you do to create an inclusive learning environment in that new class during the first two weeks?
The profile of a class I am likely to be in charge of at the beginning of the school year is a secondary one express PE class in a typical neighborhood school. The class is of mixed abilities and may have students with challenging behaviours.
For the secondary one students, they will not only be new to the school but also strangers to their classmates. During the first PE session with my class, the most important thing to start off a new year is to greet the students warmly and build rapport with my students in order to understand them better. It is crucial not to allow my previous perceptions or experiences from other classes affect my attitude towards each individual. Establishing rapport includes making sure that I have a name list, possibly one with their faces attached to their names. Knowing some of their names beforehand and calling them in class will help the 'break the ice' faster. Students will get the impression that you are prepared and eager to get to know them.
I will start with games to get them interacting with each other, e.g. forming groups: when a number is called out, students will have to form into groups to which the number was called. By calling out different numbers, students will get into different teams each time and get used to working with their classmates.
When this activity is on-going, I will observe how the class climate is and how the students are responding. It is important to modify quickly or repeat instructions if students are not responding well. For example, if there is a difficult student who is always inattentive and tend to be disruptive when I am giving instructions, I can engage this student by asking him questions or help to demonstrate certain skills. This is to divert his attention to keep him occupied rather than give him time to create disturbance in the class. When he manages to be on task or display a moment of cooperation, I should praise him to reinforce such good behaviours.
I will have to anticipate that there may be students who will not be properly attired or students who come late for class on purpose. Therefore, rules to prevent such behavior will be stated at the start of the class, so that such behaviour will be minimized to prevent loss of teaching and learning time.
I will address these issues, explaining the rationale behind them and ask the students to give consequences if they do not adhere to the rules. This is to allow them to take ownership and responsibility for their own actions. E.g. Students can suggest that their playing time will be shortened if they come late for class. In this way students who want their playing time will chide those peers who tend to be late. In order to be accepted by the class, they will be compelled to be punctual. The values of punctuality and responsibility are also being taught incidentally.
During the teaching of sport skills, peer teaching and evaluation can be used to enhance learning. Students will be paired up during practice time to evaluate and correct each other's mistakes. Students can also come up with their own checklist or even record their peers' performance to help with evaluation. In this way, students take ownership of their own learning. If the class has children with special needs, peer teaching will provide opportunities for students to voice out their concerns and recommend solutions to support the children with special needs.
My lessons will be planned such that during the final weeks of school, the students have to organize a sports carnival to display what they have learnt. The idea of a sports carnival is to involve all diverse learners in the class and focus on nurturing their multiple intelligences. Students can participate in different roles during the carnival e.g. umpiring, publicity, team manager. During the first two weeks, information about the sports carnival will be disseminated so that students form groups to work on an aspect of the carnival (group learning).