Special Needs Students in the Art room: A Journey by Doris M. Guay
This summary about the article, " Special Needs Students in the Art Boonl: A Journey by Doris M. Guay".
Three short stories introduce the reader to student diversity and the possibilities for learning in art education. Each provides a path to understanding some of the constraints encountered as well as the creative discoveries made by the art teachers. These real teachers have contributed their classroom stories and allowed me to observe, question, and record their classroom events. Two of the classrooms described in the stories integrate children with disabilities. The third is a separate class, composed solely of students with severe and multiple disabilities. As the reader encounters these teachers and students through their stories, it must be remembered that an individual's concepts of disability and their approaches to teaching students experiencing disability depends on their own experiences, personal and professional, successful and unsuccessful, as well as on their "physical, mental, and emotional knowledge" (Metcalf, Gervais, Dase, & Griseta, 2005). The teachers, paraprofessionals, and students in these stories are real. The situations and conversations are real. Names.
1. Ms. Carrolle's story.
Ms. Carrolle teaches in a suburban city middle school located close to a large city. Thirty five percent of her students live below the poverty level. Each year, middle school students in Carrolle's classes must complete seven studio assignments within a 9-week term. For a number of years, Carrolle has struggled with many students in each class who have a variety of special needs. After numerous explorations, she concluded that curriculum flexibility, individualization, and invitational, rather than required, group collaboration were keys to her students' diverse special learning needs.
Assignments in Carrolle's classes begin with a teacher directed introduction. Her discussion includes visual and verbal interaction about the meanings and functions of art. She grounds each assignment by engaging the students with a number of artworks. Carrolle designed this strategy to expand the students' awareness of a range of possibility within each studio assignment. For example, a sculpture assignment begins with a game of "yes, no, maybe it's art" with contemporary artworks that break the modernist stance of art. The visuals challenge students' knowledge, experience, and definitions of art. After further questions that invite speculative thought and interpretation, Carrolle relates information about each work. She concludes a short lecture with, "Why do you think (this artist) created this?" and a couple of questions that tap into the young teen artists' personal experiences.
The students in this class brought many instructional challenges. Six had either learning disabilities, behavior and motivational problems, or mental retardation. One "at risk" student, who had not been assessed with a disability, also required time and attention since he was frequently absent or suspended due to his behavior problems. In addition, two or three students from a class for students with multiple disabilities joined the class two days each week and were invited to participate when possible. A paraprofessional from their special education classroom usually accompanied them. The diversity of the students' instructional needs challenged Carrolle's organization and commitment. However, she solved many problems by individualizing the lesson.
Individualizing the assignment allowed modification. Only the last assessment criterion was directed to facial representation. Several students with less developed art skills were encouraged to represent the person of their portrait in alternative ways. Montaged objects could represent interests or personality traits metaphorically in a sculpture. Pictures cut or assembled and glued could do the same thing two-dimensionally. Since representational drawing was an objective of the project, the third assessment criteria became: portraits, including sculptural portraits, must include some area of drawing from life. One student with mental retardation painted a sealed box black. She sat by the window and drew and painted a tree on the cover of the box. She said that her black box represented her secret side and the tree was because she was strong.
The class size and the need to keep track of all the individualized studio directions for each student's project remained a major challenge for Carrolle. But, the "" Artist Intent" statement, maintained by each student (some with the help of the paraprofessional) or student group was available at all times. It allowed Carrolle to quickly recall the students' ideas and ask questions or provide feedback. Motivational problems were to a great extent solved by student groups keeping each other on task and by the students' own ideas which engaged their energy and imagination. Carrolle could even leave the room and the work continued. (Case taken from field observation notes and audio tapes, Spring, 1999.)
2. Ms. Kerry's story
In a medium-size urban city, Ms. Kerry, an elementary art teacher in a building with an 84% poverty level, struggled with classroom management. Her art classroom was located on the stage of a multipurpose room. Although it was separated from the space used for physical education by a folding solid door, the noise from the nearby class still filtered in. Kerry's third grade class included three students with special needs. One boy, with learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), interrupted her explanations and demonstrations. He frequently talked out or physically annoyed his neighbors and set a disruptive tone for the whole class. Discussions with Kerry revealed that she tried to maintain student attention. But the disruptions of the boy with impUlsive behavior encouraged other students to engage in similar vocal and inattentive behaviors. It was most stressful and she felt discouraged. In an interview, Kerry revealed that she had attempted to solve the behavior problems
This was not Kerry's first year to experience difficult social problems in her classroom. She revealed that she had tried "many things" to no avail in a previous school where children would "curse, argue, become argumentative ... [and] nasty to each other ... often because of ethnic, racial, and special needs" differences.
It was Kerry's collaboration with this author that caused her personal reflection and self-assessment. The personal perception of having problems can initiate both reflection and problem solving behaviors. In Kerry's school, a building "intervention specialist" was available to help. This special education team professional could provide problem-solving services and act as a temporary coach or mentor. To receive the help that was available to her, Kerry had to proactively seek the needed assistance.
Whenever a teacher senses something is wrong or feels as stressed as Kerry did, he or she should seek assistance. The ears, eyes, and mind of a trusted peer or a non-evaluating school leader can help to define, rethink, and plan strategies, and to coach as needed. I
Ms. Kerry could be helped to solve her management and discipline problems and to provide a positive learning environment for all students. (Case taken from field observation notes and audio tapes, Spring, 1999.)
3. David and Becky's story
Ms. Brady's special education class was in a suburban high school with less than a three percent poverty level. Her students had not previously had access to art education classes in the high school building. They came to the high school from a number of school districts and from a residential nursing facility. The students had multiple disabilities and in their other settings, had not been given many decision making opportunities. Brady's eight students had severe and multiple disabilities including mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and autism.
Students in Brady's class required a renewed look at curriculum and instruction. The primary focus of the high school's general education art classes, to develop two dimensional mimetic drawing and design skills, was an inappropriate curriculum for these students and they would not be able to participate. Fortunately, Brady received some help. Through a required course at a nearby university, David and Becky, preservice field experience students, were assigned to teach art to this class of students with severe disabilities. Adhering to their university instructor's course guidelines, they were able to engage students who were nonverbal in a comprehensive art curriculum that focused on themes from contemporary, multicultural, and cross cultural artworks. David and Becky learned to understand the students' eye, vocal, and facial communication. They also learned to engage students with questions that required "yes/no" signals and "show me with your eyes" answers. David and Becky introduced each lesson with artworks to explore their thematic possibilities.
In preparation for their lessons, David and Becky researched their unit ideas and prepared stories and questions to engage the students. For example, the lesson based on the two works of Judy Chicago asked comparison and "yes/no" questions. "
Students learned, through the unit that focused on the artwork of Andy Goldsworthy, that some artists show us nature as it is or can be. Some artists change what is or can be, creating and making special (Dissanayake, 1988) in ways that are not real and could not ever be without the hand of an artist. After telling about this, questions encouraged careful looking. "Look carefully at both of these artworks. Which artist shows us a fall day as we could see it when we go outside?" Stop me by saying "yes" when I point to something that tells us it is fall. "Now, which artwork shows us how an artist can change nature or use nature to show us something beautiful that we would not see without the artist's work?" "Which artist do you think helps us to see nature in the most special way?" Students could select either work.
Through their questions, Becky and David encouraged visual engagement, and revealed student experience and understanding, which sometimes surprised and sometimes disappointed
Every studio project included the students' own ideas and mark making. As the classroom team leaders, the preservice teachers provided a written handout to each of the day's assistants and quickly discussed it with them before beginning each lesson. The handout included the planned objectives for student engagement and learning. It was found that a firm and assertive stance with the paraprofessional assistants was necessary to assure that, to the extent possible, these high school students chose their own ideas and aesthetic organization. The opportunity to make these choices was deemed most important and supported by their special education teacher.
Each of the preceding stories describes a reality of art teaching in a classroom including students with multiple disabilities. These stories represent possibilities for art teachers who face similar constraints. Some teachers have worked past the constraints to transform their teaching and learning environments. In the cases described above, the first teacher was personally confident as a learner. The pre service teachers became more and more confident in their own abilities as well as the abilities of their students. The second teacher described, through reflection and interaction with the author, became aware of her need for assistance
Myungja Anna Koh