One
of most dominant barriers to the success of my CRI students is the ableist
attitude that people with disabilities are not as intellectually capable as
others (Hehir 2007, 13). This assumption manifests in rote learning tasks,
damaged self-perception and self-efficacy, and low achievement (Hehir 2007).

So, I will start teaching them with the expectation that they will meet high,
challenging standards of excellence. I will also design opportunities for
heterogeneous cooperative groupings, which would tackle the stigma that the
General Education students may be aware of by provide the CRI students and the
General Education students a chance to interact and learn together (Santamaria
2009, 11).

Next,
I need to get a better understanding of the nature of my students’
disabilities, so I can better respond to them (Hehir 2007, 12). Then, I will
begin altering the other environmental conditions responsible for “disabling”
the CRI students in my art classroom. One of these literal barriers is that
they sit at a separate table in the back of the classroom. Back there, they are
hard to reach and easy to forget. By moving where they sit, I can make it
easier for them to access classroom resources, including my instructional time
and focus. Another barrier is that their paraeducators do not receive any advance
notice about what the students will be learning and doing in Art 1 each day.

The paraeducators are invaluable resources for individualizing and scaffolding
instruction, because they are highly knowledgeable about the CRI students’
needs, so if I give them a copy of the unit plan, lesson activities, and list
of resources in advance, they will be better prepared to support these
students. A third barrier I can address is the lack of sufficient time to
always adequately engage both the CRI students and the other students
simultaneously. To reduce the impact of this barrier, I will prepare a packet
of skill-building worksheets so that the CRI students can still be engaged and
learning even if I do not have the time to work with them individually—and vice
versa for the General Education students. 

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Several
CRT- and DI-derived practices will also help me make their education more
equitable. When designing units, I will purposefully introduce art by artists
representing the CLD students in the CRI program and encourage conversations
about their individual cultures (Ford, Stuart, & Vakil 2014, 58). I will
scaffold instruction, which means providing students with different levels of
support, according to their need, so that they complete a task independently. I
will do this by presenting new vocabulary in multiple formats (contextualizing
and paraphrasing definitions, word walls, personal dictionaries, concept maps,
and word games); offering multiple forms of text (print, visual, auditory);
providing opportunities for guided practice and models of completed
assignments, which is something art educators generally discourage to avoid
limiting students’ creativity; and implementing ongoing progress assessments
that will allow me to determine who needs which type of scaffolds (Ford,
Stuart, & Vakil 2014, 58; Santamaria 2009, 6). As mentioned, I will also
use cooperative groupings, which are both CRT and DI best practices (Santamaria
2009, 5).

I
will also use UDL strategies. These practices are intended to allow any student
to easily access curriculum content without extraordinary supports (Hehir 2007,
14). They offer students multiple means of expression, representation, and
engagement (Kirby 2016, 187). One UDL strategies I will adapt is being more
flexible in terms of enabling my CRI students to do what works best for them to
express their achievement of lesson objectives. For example, I will welcome
oral artist statements in addition to written ones. I will also provide more
opportunities for student choice: instead of me deciding what works best for
them, I can support them as they decide what they need to create what they
envision. This will not only direct me in how to better support them in the
future, it empowers them to be advocates for their educational needs (Hehir
2007, 13).

I
struggle to weigh the potential advantages and consequences of implementing all
of these strategies with all of my students, not just with the CRI students. On
the one hand, offering all the students the chance to, for example, use visual
texts instead of written; to see a teacher example of the completed assignment;
or to answer questions orally instead of in writing would reduce the labelling
and ensuing stigmatization of the CRI students. It would enable all students to
access the support they need to maximize their chances for academic
achievement. But, on the other hand, it also reduces the level of challenge my
students need to meet, according to country standards, and the amount of energy
I can expend on my CRI students. Though I believe that all students are equally
deserving of individualized instruction, it would be unfair to act as though
all of my students need it as much as the CRI students do. It would perpetuate
educational equity, as the CRI students would not be able to fully access what
they need—and their needs are more acute. I hope to develop a way to strike
this balance as I continue teaching.

Disability
is a social construct, just like race, gender norms, and the demand for English
fluency, and other labels are. These constructs are invented by society’s
dominant power to marginalize nondominant groups, and this marginalization can
be perpetuated by the educational system (Kirby 2016, 177). Failing to address
issues of educational inequity can have long-term consequences for students who
fall into society’s nondominant groups. For example, in 2012, 60.4% of students
receiving special education services did not graduate with a standard high
school diploma—and even those who did struggled to secure employment,
enrollment in postsecondary education, and residential independence (Kirby
2016, 181). Though students with cognitive disabilities need a top-down
transformation of their education, individual teachers can take small steps
towards making their every today educationally impactful.

 

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