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Case – Professional Practice

Practice Described
I was teaching Year 10 Applied Science class of 14 girls with a range of social and intellectual disabilities, modified content and instructions. After having spent a better part of the week talking about chromosomes and karyotypes and about the differences between these in males and females, healthy and abnormal types, I needed to know if we can move on. I thought building a karyotype and reading it to answer a series of related questions would be a great way to individually assess my student’s understanding of the topic (I was looking to gather some quantitative evidence of learning, to inform the quality of my teaching and future planning) whilst engaging them in a fun, hands on, cut and paste activity to which I allocated an entire period. I modified the content and gave my students clear instructions on what to do. 

I soon noticed that the task was proving to be much more difficult than I thought ­– in my head I begun assessing the situation and figuring out how to proceed – what will I do if we can’t finish in the 75 minutes I had allocated for its completion? I was getting a little flustered but tried to remain calm (my mentor's feedback) and decided that at this point it is out of my control and there is no point stopping the activity now.

Practice Explained
Although I thought I knew my students relatively well (at least well enough for having known them only a few weeks) I soon began realising that it takes a long time to truly get to know our students and how they learn. I was clearly aiming a little too high with this task, particularly in relation to asking them to work independently. I changed my intentions to not grade this assessment, and instead closely observe my students' attitude and get more involved in facilitating a collaborative learning environment. Despite my internal frustration about time constraints I simply encouraged effort and progress, and offered solutions to working faster and more productively i.e. by helping each other out and cross checking with others in the class. I asked the struggling students to join a friend and complete the task collaboratively if they felt working solo was too hard. I asked those who finished early to help guide others with finishing the task. I worked one-on-one to promote confidence and give guidance; I would roam the classroom, providing individual feedback as well as addressing the whole class.

Practice Theorised
As teachers we must interpret evidence of learning on day-to-day basis and make judgements about learning outcomes, hence assessment is invaluable in describing the quality of learning against achievement standards, provides both students and teachers with feedback, informs planning and delivery and makes links between learning and teaching. But how to best use assessment in a class with a range of learning disabilities? Upon reflection on my practice I realised in this particular class graded assessments were less of a value than reinforcing effort and providing recognition – this I think is vital in keeping students motivated to participate and succeed (Maslow 1943). Thus, the use of informal assessment cannot be stressed enough. It is especially useful as a diagnostic tool in so that it provides a more holistic overview of what the students know, where there are gaps or misunderstandings (Churchill et al. 2011).

I admit that this activity was a little beyond the girls ZDP (Vygotsky 1978), certainly for the given timeframe; I overestimated their ability to work independently whilst staying on task. Nonetheless, I feel my attempts show that I have high expectations of my students, which I think is vital to promoting excellence and success in the classroom. I learned that one must always exercise patience – after all, students with such a kaleidoscope of disabilities all have different talents and attitudes towards learning, progress at a different pace and achieve different levels of success.

Practice Changed
Weiner (1972, 1983) believes that reinforcement of effort ultimately pays of in terms of enhanced achievement. I certainly believe so too. Upon my reflection on this particular lesson I made a decision to always exhibit patient and respectful assistance with student learning. I promoted self-confidence via completion of modified tasks to challenge and allow students to take risks without a prospect of failure – I would thus not mark the students’ work and merely give them E for effort with a smiley face. I would recognise and appraise effort, progress and success to motivate and inspire.

Instead of looking to individually assess I could have had the students work in pairs for this activity and assess their collaborative efforts. Or we could have worked together to make it a class project – assessing teamwork and participation by direct observations. The essence of the activity would have been retained. It would have been equally representative of what the students learned and took away the strain of having to work independently which can be difficult for students with any forms of disabilities.


I believe this case demonstrates my intentions to assess student achievement, performance and attitudes to learning in line with their skills are capabilities, differentiate teaching to meet specific needs of my students and support their full participation. It relates to professional knowledge, as well a professional practice. The following VIT standards support my case:

1.1 Physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics of students: use teaching strategies based on knowledge of students' physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics to improve student learning.

 Differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities: Develop teaching activities that incorporate differentiated strategies to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities.

 Strategies to support full participation of students with disability: Design and implement teaching activities that support the participation and learning of students with disability and address relevant policy and legislative requirements.

3.5 Use effective classroom communication: Use effective verbal and non-verbal communication strategies to support student understanding, participation, engagement and achievement.

4.1 Support student participation: establish and implement inclusive and positive interactions to engage and support all students in classroom activities.

5.1 Assess student learning: develop, select and use informal and formal, diagnostic, formative and summative assessment strategies to assess student learning.

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