EDUCATING CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS IN AN OVERCROWDED CLASSROOM
©GLOBAL ENRICHMENT SOLUTIONS, LLC
When people discuss overcrowded classrooms, they are usually referring to a large number of children in the classroom. This discussion will focus on the overcrowding of the classroom with adults.
I recently had the opportunity to visit a child, for whom I advocate, in his classroom. Let me provide you with the setting. His classroom is a “self-contained” classroom with a sign on the door that states “Multiple Disabilities”, in an elementary school in an urban school District. The school district serves about 70,000 students in their school system. The diagnoses for the children in this classroom are intellectual disabilities, speech disabilities and behavioral issues. The children are five to eight years of age.
When I went to visit “my child”, there were eight students in the classroom with five adults. One head teacher and four “dedicated aides” What are dedicated aides and how did they get to this classroom? It is hard to find a job description for “dedicated aides” and the ones employed by this system have no job description. “Dedicated aides” are essentially “an instructional aides who works one on one with a student with special educational needs”.
The decision at the IEP meeting determines the assignment of a "dedicated aide" (see article of December 15, 2008). Many dedicated aides assigned to children are the result of an attorney request, but in this classroom, the teacher had requested each dedicated aide, and she was in the process of requesting another dedicated aide. Do dedicated aides receive training and is it adequate? Often not much, in this school the “dedicated aides were not included in the same training as instructional aides until a special education coordinator made the request.
These dedicated aides are working with children who have special educational needs. In this school system, do they meet the standards of NCLB? This is what IDEIA 2004 states in their alignment with NCLB:
Section 300.156(b)(2)(iii), consistent with section 612(a)(14)(B)(iii) of the Act, does specifically allow paraprofessionals and assistants who are appropriately trained and supervised, in accordance with State law, regulation, or written policy, to assist in providing special education and related services to children with disabilities under the Act. However, this provision should not be construed to permit or encourage the use of paraprofessionals as a replacement for teachers or related services providers who meet State qualification standards. To the contrary, using paraprofessionals and assistants as teachers or related services providers would be inconsistent with the State's duty to ensure that personnel necessary to carry out the purposes of Part B of the Act are appropriately and adequately prepared and trained. Paraprofessionals in public schools are not directly responsible for the provision of special education and related services to children with disabilities; rather, these aides provide special education and related services to children with disabilities only under the supervision of special education and related services personnel. We believe the provision in Sec. 300.156(b)(2)(iii) sufficiently ensures that paraprofessionals and assistants are adequately supervised and further clarification in these regulations is unnecessary.
The majority of these “dedicated aides” do not meet the requirements of IDEIA 2004 or NCLB. These requirements state that supervision is required. In this classroom, when I asked the question “who was in charge?” the teacher indicated that she has no say in what the “dedicated aides” do. She indicated that the coordinator of special education was responsible for the aide. Of course, the special education coordinator indicated that teachers take the lead for their aides. DRAMA!
Let me provide you with a description of the work of the aides and the atmosphere of this overcrowded classroom.
The aides sat next to the student to whom they were assigned. When more than one child and aide were at a table, the aides engaged in social conversation with each other. Two of the aides left the classroom and returned with sodas and chips, which they drank and ate at the table with the students to whom they were assigned. One aide would verbally disagree with the teacher when she presented instructional information to the students. Most of the activities were performed one on one with instruction by the teacher or through worksheets provided by the aides.
When the teacher conducted one on one instruction with “my child” the “dedicated aide” did not come to the table. This would have been an opportunity for the aide to model the teacher’s presentation of material, thus providing some level of training.
“My child” was to be rewarded with a smiley faces for appropriate behavior. Smiley face stickers were to be placed on a chart. I had observed for an hour and noticed that “my child” had not received any smiley faces. I asked the teacher about this and she indicated it was the job of the dedicated aide to give the smiley faces. The teacher then gave the aide an index card . The aide drew a tic tac toe squares and drew in smiley faces across the chart, then showed them to ME. UGH!
Many more things that occurred in this classroom were extremely inappropriate in terms of social development and education.
What does all this mean? What happens and does not happen in the overcrowded classroom ? Children have limited interaction with each other as a cohesive classroom where discussions take place, problem solving and group learning occurs. The students are often sitting with their dedicated aide and they are stopped from engaging with other children by the dedicated aide. When these things occur, children do not learn to negotiate or interact with their peers.
When the students do interact with one another behavior problems may occur because they have not learned or practiced the skills of negotiating and turn taking. Children are learning in a parallel play situation but they will never move to the level of interactive play.
Should children not have “dedicated aides”? Children should have “dedicated aides” when it is warranted and that decision should be determined based on a number of things. A classroom observation should occur prior to a teacher request for a dedicated aide. Following the observation, the teacher should be provided with alternative strategies to work effectively with the child. Then after a short period if a “dedicated aide” is still required based on the documentation of the implementation of the strategies, then one should be provided. The decision should be based on parent input, teacher input, and clinician input and classroom observation. Prior to the assignment, the dedicated aide should be trained in topics related to child development, educational instruction and the development of the child to whom the aide is assigned. Furthermore, aides need training in how to work with the classroom teacher and how to support the child in the classroom environment. The aide should be trained in how to support the child so he/she can be included in the classroom not excluded.
If “dedicated aides” are to enhance the learning of the child they must be trained, supervised and must meet the requirements of IDEIA 2004 and NCLB . As stated in the article of December 15, 2008 school systems and teachers must remember the intent and spirit of the law.
 Section 300.156(b)(2)(iii), The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004)