Clarifying Roles for Paraeducators in the Art Room.
--The paraeducator can be an invaluable asset in our efforts to educate and to manage a classroom of students with diverse abilities.
--To appropriately use the skills and knowledge of a paraeducator, we need to communicate with clarity, to train, to mentor, and to supervise and manage their work.
Change as a Challenge
Art teachers have traditionally been isolated, and thus autonomous, within either their art classroom or the classrooms they visit with their art carts. The movement toward more inclusive education for students with disabilities, even severe disabilities, however, has changed this isolation. Today, many children with disabilities are accompanied in the art classroom by an adult, a paraeducator, and the presence of a paraeducator in the art teacher’s classroom brings the art teacher new responsibilities. Art teachers are now expected to mentor, to collaborate, to problem solve with, and to supervise the paraeducators in their classrooms. These expectations are added to the usual tasks of planning, teaching, and managing students’ learning and behavior.
Art teachers have been thrust into an extended leadership role, one not just with their students, but with other adults, both professional and paraprofessional.
Leadership is “multifaceted, visionary [and] communicative” (Guay, 2003, p. 38). Leadership requires the appreciation and recognition of the diverse abilities, cultures, religions, and educational and personality differences of all individuals.
Paraeducators in Schools Today There are over 950,000 paraeducators working in schools (Gerlach, 2004). ‘The paraeducator as she (over 90% of paraprofessionals are female, Morgan & Ashbaker, 2001) is currently titled in special education literature has been and sometimes may still be called a teaching aide, an instructional assistant, a paraprofessional, or a variety of other titles.
Communicating and teaming with a paraeducator and other professionals in our school system is, however, a new experience for most of us. Until recently, neither teachers nor paraeducators received the training essential to their roles and responsibilities to each other.
A Brief History of Change in Paraeducator Roles and Responsibilities
Pickett (2003) dates the use of paraprofessionals to the early 1900s. At that time, the surge of new immigrant children brought needs that were met in the urban centers of America by the hiring of paraprofessionals for settlement house classes. The use of and need for paraprofessionals continued to grow during the depression, New Deal, and after World War II. World War II also created a shortage of teachers, a need that was intensified by the efforts of parents of children with disabilities to place their children in public schools. Along with the need for more teachers came a need for paraeducators who, at that time, were often called teachers’ aides. The role of paraeducators has significantly changed from the clerical and non-teaching assignments that released teachers from so-called “busy work” in the 1950s, “60s and ‘70s. In the 1980s and ‘90s, paraeducators assumed the responsibility to implement learning strategies that were identified, designed, and assessed by classroom teachers.
The role of paraeducators has significantly changed from the clerical and non-teaching assignments that released teachers from so-called “busy work” in the 1950s, “60s and ‘70s. In the 1980s and ‘90s, paraeducators assumed the responsibility to implement learning strategies that were identified, designed, and assessed by classroom teachers. They provided immediate feedback and reinforce- ment to students engaged in these learning strategies (D’Aquanni, 1997).
With the passage of Public Law 94-142, The Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (renamed The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, in 1990), these efforts paid off. This legislation assured the availability of a free and appropriate education for all children and young people with disabilities. It also recognized the importance of “learner-centered instructional services to meet the needs of children and youth with diverse ability levels, learning preferences, and other special needs” (Pickett, 2003, p.10).
Legislation during the 1990s and early 2000s brought about a surge in the employment of paraeducators. These laws stressed the need for professional development that would enhance paraeducator knowledge and skills. The reauthorization of IDEA in 1997 placed an even greater emphasis on the role of paraeducators as participants in the instructional process. It also emphasized the need for appropriate training and supervision. Research in art rooms, however, shows that in-service or preservice training of paraeducators continued to be a hit or miss proposition (Guay, 2003). Currently, the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Act (NCLB) provides that paraeducators have a secondary school diploma or its equivalent, and have completed at least two years of study at an institution of higher education or obtained an associate degree.
Changes in Art Teaching
-- Art teachers have accommodated students with a broad range of abilities and disabilities and diverse languages and cultural backgrounds.
We have tackled issues as the need arose, adjusting, adapting, and solving problems. Today, we have been given another role. We are asked to plan for, communicate with, and direct and supervise adults assigned to our classrooms. Currently, we create comprehensive art lessons that meet local, state, and national objectives for student learning and often organize our curriculum to support and supplement the curriculum of other disciplines.
-- In addition, school districts may require teachers to not only write instructional, curricular, and assessment plans, but to include modifications for students with more diverse abilities as well as plans for their paraeducators. These changes in working conditions and the added demands they bring can both challenge and frustrate even the most dedicated teachers.
--Art strategies and approaches to teaching continually change. When challenged to create comprehensive art lessons, we read, research, and attend workshops and university classes. When challenged to design instruction for a diverse student population, art teachers observe, research, consult, and collaborate. If asked to organize our curriculum to support and supplement the curriculum of other disciplines, we study art past and present to connect art to language learning, social studies, math, science, and life in general. We design units that let us make connections without diminishing the vitality of our art
The paraeducator can be an invaluable asset in our efforts to educate and to manage a classroom of students with diverse abilities. But, to appropriately use the skills and knowledge of paraeducators, we need to communicate with clarity, to train, to mentor, and to supervise and manage their work.
The paraeducator can support student learning by:
-Carrying out individualized instruction,
-Implementing teacher designed management programs
-Recording data about students’ performance. (Steckelburg & Vasa, 1988)
Giangreco (2002) warns that vigilance is essential so that we do not provide students with disabilities “the bulk of their instruction from paraprofessionals, while students without disabilities have ongoing access to qualified professional educators” (p. 2).
Contrary to Giangreco’s warning, Guay (2003) found that paraeducators did provide the bulk of instruction for students with disabilities in almost all of the art classrooms observed. To change this practice requires art teachers to:
-Plan for our students with disabilities
-Train and mentor our paraeducators
-Plan and carefully choose the tasks our paraeducators
- Monitor the interaction of students and paraeducators
-Teach and provide feedback to students with disabilities
Training for Paraeducators
Paraeducators bring a diversity of knowledge, skills, and experiences that determine how they will respond and act in the classroom. While they may have training in assisting students with reading and math, they usually do not have training in art. They may know little of the place of art in the education of students.
Council for Exceptional Children Training Standards
The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) published their standards document (2004) as a tool for paraeducator training.
- It outlines knowledge and skills for all beginning special education paraeducators and defines a paraeducator code of ethics.
--The CEC document also provides a detailed format for the evaluation of paraeducator training programs
Information about special education and students with special needs written for paraeducators can also be applied as information needed by art teachers of students with special needs. The CEC standards not only train and assess paraeducators but can guide reflection as art teachers self assess their personal knowledge, understanding, and skills.
The Art Teacher, Paraeducator, and Student: An Effective Team
-There were, in this special art classroom, so many options that even the limited expressions of children using the simplest techniques and materials become meaningful art.
Their teacher spoke with pride as he told stories of students and parents returning to see him and speaking of remembered art studio projects.
- Working with paraeducators requires planning, mentoring, supervising, and communicating, and cannot be left to chance. Paraeducators are hired to “increase instructional quality and time for students with disabilities and to assure safety.... They make inclusion feasible but they change the teachers’ role” (French and Chopra, 1999, p. 66). Yet, research in many art classrooms reveals that individual paraeducators, observed over a period of time, either facilitated or denied art learning to students with special needs (Guay, 2003). Depending on their education, training, and particularly their supervision, they were either extraordinarily helpful or a concern to the art teacher. With appropriate understanding, training, ongoing communication and supervision, paraeducators can be invaluable as they give time and assist and support instruction.
Responsibilities of Art teachers:
-Art products take many forms and each must be respected as the learning and achievement of the student at a particular time and developmental stage.
-As interaction and communication increase, paraeducators come to an understanding of the nature and objectives of art creation and the strategies art teachers use to develop skills with various media.
-They learn that look-alike projects are no longer the ideal and substitutes for student art work are no longer valued.
Training Paraeducators for the Art Classroom
Although paraeducators work in the art classroom, special education departments define paraeducators’ primary role responsibilities and generally provide their primary supervision.
Beyond the generalized training provided by school districts and special education teachers, paraeducators need orientation to art education and to the objectives and learning strategies of art. It becomes the art teacher's responsibility to provide that orientation. Planning and working with a paraeducator can stimulate the art teacher's curiosity, and that curiosity can produce training questions that need answers.
Those questions and answers become the foundation for designing art specific training and art specific supervision for a paraeducator. As art teachers, we can list our thoughts, questions, and concerns as a starting place for discussions with the special education supervisor of a paraeducator.
Teaching Paraeducators about Art Education
--Paraeducators will require training to help (and allow) students to make their own marks, express their personal ideas, and to value the students’ creative production. Like other members of our communities, paraeducators need information about the values and objectives of art programs in our schools. They need to understand that by creating art, the students tell personal stories and reveal personal ideas through their subject matter choices and media manipulation. Training for the paraeducator may include help reading those meanings and understanding how subject and design choices can communicate ideas. It is time well spent, because paraeducators who develop skills looking at and really seeing the content of works of art can assist students to communicate in their own art.
Over time, paraeducators may also understand that the definitions and appearances of art change through time and vary by culture. But, with the assistance of well trained paraeducators, even students with severe disabilities will find art works they like. They will relate their ideas to those of professional artists if given an opportunity to see and think about art. Art jogs memories, stimulates senses, and energizes lives.
It appeared that many of the observed paraeducators believed that art was solely the accomplishment of a project that would look similar to a teacher model or to the work of another student in the class. The production of look alike or attractive media products was primary to most paraeducators. This caused them to destroy or discard the work of students with disabilities, substitute their own work for student work, and/or rework the art created by students with or without their knowledge.
Many paraeducators may themselves have experienced an art education very different from that of today. Their own understanding of engaging students in thought and individual response may be limited. But, paraeducators who were appropriately oriented to the goals of art education, with specific knowledge of the art teacher's objectives for the students they accompanied, were more likely to encourage independence and choice-making.
They provide in-process assistance and feedback both to students working with paraeducators and to the paraeducators. This valuable interaction provides both a better understanding of a student's abilities and constraints, and appropriate planning for future assignments. Yet, observations of paraeducators in art classrooms found that art teachers typically communicated very little with either the paraeducators or the students they attended (Guay, 2003).
Planning the Environment and Assignments
If the paraeducator is not solely assigned to one student, we can make choices of assignments and responsibilities, either on a long term or a daily basis, to meet the needs of students with special needs. A paraeducator can assist the teacher and general education students as long as the needs of students with disabilities are not neglected. Whatever the task and placement choices, discussing them with the paraeducator in an “atmosphere of respect, recognition, and open communication” (Gerlach, 2004, p. 29) will make teaching a class with an extreme diversity of ability and experience easier.
An appropriate integration into the classroom setting is essential to learning. Research (Giangreco, Edelman, Luiselle, & MacFarland, 1997; Guay, 2003) found that paraeducator proximity led to their “unfettered autonomy” (Giangreco, et al., 1997, p. 10).
Paraeducators who were permanently seated next to students with disabilities interfered with both student to student and student to teacher interaction. Their very proximity increased the student's dependence, taught helplessness, and disempowered them. Consequently, students with disabilities usually allowed the paraeducator to decide their approaches to art and choices of design elements and media.
Planning for Learning
An art teacher’s primary task is to plan units of art learning for students, both typical and those with disabilities. The learning objectives that “align curriculum content with learning and performance standards developed by the state or local agency” (Gerlach, 2004) and professional agencies are first established. Then a determination can be made as to whether and how these objectives need to be adapted or modified for students with disabilities.
Focusing on a student's abilities will allow the art teacher to design objectives, tasks, and methods to communicate understanding.
Responsibilities for Paraeducators
Considering content, media, ideas, processes, and products, the art teacher explores how the paraeducator can assist and support instruction.
- Paraeducators can ask guiding questions of students and write down the student’s ideas. This information can help art teachers design studio adaptations and modifications and to individualize assignments.
-As a team, both are needed for maximum possibility. Content Responsibilities Content, what the student learns, includes learning to use media and tools, to read meaning, and to organize ideas. Paraeducators clarify assignments and maintain task orientation. They assist students to learn prerequisite skills, skills others in a class may have previously mastered.
They assist with simpler creating processes or media to reach a parallel end, but one that might be taught to a younger or a less skilled student.
-Paraeducators may supervise the retrieval of special media or set up and assist in their use as needed. They might design or secure adaptive tools designed by teachers or therapists, so students can manipulate them to create marks.
-Paraeducators, asking appropriate questions, can remind the student(s) of both the sequence and task requirements. The paraeducator, working one-on-one, can give the student a close-up look
As specified by the teacher, the paraeducator may ask a student to point to or name subject matter or design elements.
At other times, carefully worded questions may help the student speculate about the artwork’s story and meaning.
For art learning to take place, art teachers design student engagement strategies. One-on-one, individualized learning strategies are accomplished by paraeducators.
However, a continuing concern about paraeducators with single student responsibilities is that the paraeducator must understand when to intervene and when not to intervene.
Some students will only need additional time or occasional reminders to accomplish learning tasks designed for the inclusive class as a whole. Others will need these tasks broken into smaller steps, modified for partial participation, or even completely changed.
A paraeducator may be needed to explain tasks in simpler language, to re-demonstrate a process, to ask interpretive questions and record student responses, and/ or to give prompts or reminders through questioning.
Assigned to work with one student or a small group of students, paraeducators can break learning strategies into smaller tasks and provide clear and immediate feedback as each small target is met.
- Art products are varied. Products are those things that can be assessed or evaluated. Products reveal student learning. The products of art education include oral contributions during discussion, oral and written reports, exhibits, and visual works of art. Under the supervision of a paraeducator, students can research on the web, in libraries, in art books, in magazines, and with peer, family, or neighborhood questionnaires.
-Students can create pictorial, audiotape, or videotape reports. They can curate, design, and hang exhibits. Art teachers set the standards for and means to assess student learning.
-- Classroom and Student Behavior Management Responsibilities Role model. Gibson and Boezio (n.d.), in a manual developed to train paraprofessionals, consider the paraeducator to be a role model for students, a person who maintains appropriate and professional conduct at all times, a person who guides, advises, and lends an ear.
--Students often grow quite close to paraeducators and are greatly influenced by them.
-Paraeducators model appropriate behaviors and teach social skills to both students with disabilities and to classroom peers.
Paraeducators can help typical peers assist and connect with students who have disabilities. They may quietly reprimand a peer whose interactions are teasing or negative. As a role model for students, paraeducators can show enthusiasm, a delight in learning, and an acceptance and positive attitude toward meeting challenges.
The presence of a paraeducator who expects student accomplishment is indispensable to student behavior and learning.
Paraeducators are frequently trained to observe and record student behaviors. Their anecdotal records, based on observations, can assist professionals to understand the function or purpose served by a student’s challenging behaviors.
Paraeducators can also identify more appropriate behaviors which will provide the student with the same outcome (Gibson & Boezio, n.d.). The information, knowledge and understanding of classroom behaviors (their precedents, concurrences, and antecedents) can help school professionals analyze challenging and inappropriate behaviors and develop management strategies to deal with them.
With knowledge of procedural safeguards, the paraeducator may be trained to use special behavioral management strategies: including using positive reinforcement; modeling appropriate behaviors; using proximity management; and when appropriate using time out (Gibson & Boezio, n.d.). Art teachers may have in place management systems designed to foster the values, beliefs, and needs of art education. The paraeducator can monitor, assist students, remind, and make appropriate intervention choices. Special management systems must always fit the legal structures that guide special education.
In art classrooms, transitions are critical. Discussion groups, visual viewing, demonstrations, set-up and clean-up can all be times for misbehavior or disorder.
Paraeducators learn to supervise transitions and assist students to organize their artwork and group work. They supervise students with disabilities as the students set up their work area and clean their area when class ends.
Paraeducators encourage student responsibility and not do tasks that the students can accomplish themselves. Their reminders are, however, sometimes necessary to help students focus attention, stay on task, and manage their time.
Each situation is different and must be addressed with a focus on learning for all students. To break cycles of unwanted behavior, the assistance of another special education team member may be needed.
-An art teacher's proactive pursuit of assistance is an important step in discovering and solving behavioral and instructional problems.
Problem Solving and the Role of Intermediary
As previously mentioned, paraeducators bring to the classroom their own life experiences and their experiences in other classrooms. They bring knowledge, insights, and understanding to their position. Asking their thoughts, opinions, and concerns about the classroom demonstrates that they are valued and their feedback provides another way to assist the art teacher.
- Possible actions to solve problems may be discussed by the art teacher and paraeducator together, or by the special education team. In fact, the paraeducator may become the intermediary and bring a behavioral, curricular, or instructional problem back to the special education teacher.
Written observational notes, art teacher questions, and ideas may be brought to the special education team, a special education teacher, or a therapist. The intermediary role of a paraeducator results in a more efficient and timely resolution of concerns or problems.
--Through experience, observation, communication, and teamwork, paraeducators promote mutual problem solving.
Effective Communication and Problem Solving with Paraprofessionals Communication builds positive relationships. Appropriate training, mentoring, and supervising are all processes of communication.
Successful communication results in a mutual understanding of what information was given and what was heard. (pp. 219-220) In art settings, students and paraeducators arrive together amidst the hustle of transition between the art teachers’ many classes of the day. Despite the rush and numerous tasks attended to between classes, finding the time to establish a positive relationship with the paraeducator is essential. Morgan & Ashbaker (2001) define communicating and working with paraeducators as “creating a vision” of what the teacher and paraeducator can achieve working together for student learning. They consider it “a vital element to classroom efficiency”
Finding Time to Communicate
Finding the time to communicate is also a creative endeavor (Morgan & Ashbaker, 2001).
-Morgan and Ashbacher recommend teachers and paraeducators talk to each other whenever possible, remind each other through notes, exchange emails, take advantage of brief moments in a lunch line or other times when social conversations typically dominate, and even use driving down-time to call the paraeducator from a cell phone.
Teachers and paraeducators who understand the importance of communication can use both brief, planned, and accidental moments to discuss observations, needs, effective practices, and to compliment and ask questions.
--In the art classroom, a paraeducator feeling of safety is increased by a climate that invites questions and encourages bringing concerns to the teacher. Those concerns may regard the student's health or behavior that day, or the art learning during the previous art class.
-Questions may relate to art processes, methods of engagement for students with disabilities, the paraeducator’s personal involvement in the classroom setting, and generally, the work students should be doing in an art class.
- In short, the paraeducator needs to feel psychologically safe in the art classroom. Personal regard. In addition to increasing feelings of safety, Tabor (1997) tells us that it is through on-going communication that individuals come to feel regard. Regard is communicated with thoughtfulness and personal consideration. Even in the face of many training needs, the paraeducator must feel valued. Each brings a unique style, knowledge, and strengths to the classroom. Regular recognition and acknowledgement of those strengths contribute to the feelings of regard essential to a positive relationship.
Mutual trust. Tabor’s (1997), final point is that effective communication and problem solving is based on a mutual trust in one’s self as a learner and in the process of learning.
Learning is a process not an event.
The paraeducator and the art teacher constitute a team that works to enhance student learning in art.
-Listening is a primary way of getting information as well as a means of conveying interest in the messages of others.
-Good communication involves the “we” rather than the “I” It involves an art teacher in respecting, mentoring, asking, and listening.
From our diverse and various experiences, viewpoints and needs, art teachers have much to contribute. As art teachers, we currently lead in our classrooms.
We plan for, collaborate with, mentor, and supervise students. Extending these leadership roles to working with other adults in our classroom and into other school and/or district contexts is a natural development. Leadership is knowing and using district resources, sharing our understandings, delegating, and collaborating. Leaders feel secure in themselves as learners and invite feedback, even if it may be critical. To be leaders, we must know our objectives and work toward their fulfillment. We must share responsibility, advocating, supporting, and mentoring others who help us fulfill these objectives.
Cohan (1990), in his work, The Art of Leaders, gives us an important motto: “See and be seen” (p. 50). This motto applies to our involvement not only in our classroom, but, also in our school, and our community contexts where we continue to advocate for rich art education programs and the need to build these for all students. Seeing and being seen allows us to know what is going on, to see needs and meet those who can help. Seeing and being seen helps us discover problems and uncover opportunities. We praise, recognize, and correct.
Myungja Anna Koh