As part of my training to become a secondary math teacher, I have a requirement to visit many different kinds of classes, including special education. Yesterday, I visited a middle school in a neighboring town that had a program with several "self-contained" classes that are attempting to teach the 10 students "functional skills" in reading, writing and math.
The two classes I observed each had 2 very severely handicapped students, 3 of whom could walk, but none could speak or even control looking at us very well. The teachers said that the one who could not walk was actually quite intelligent, so he was outfitted with "yes" and "no" buttons that he could operate my moving his head to the left or right. He did appear to enjoy being part of the class, however. In his class there was some effort to have these students participate in class, including holding their hand to trace letters. But this seemed quite hopeless to me, because they were looking away. One student was mostly confined to a sort of playpen in the classroom, because he was too disruptive in the classroom. Unfortunately his little pen took away valuable space that might have been used as a cozy reading corner like the other class enjoyed. The teacher was frustrated that the time she had to spend with this student, i.e. feeding him, could have been used to work with the more functioning students. I was surprised that he did not have a one-on-one aide, as did several students in the other class.
Otherwise the children were learning to read or at least recognize important signs (like Exit, Men and Women - for restrooms, etc.) They practiced the months and days of the week again and again, and learned to tell time and count. The practiced copying letters and some even got to write cursive.
We participated in a special PE class for them, where they could run, kick, throw and catch a ball and even try to hit with a bat. The students were also expected to do some chores, like wiping off tables and collecting toys and trash at the end of the day, all part of their functional learning.
The one class displayed clearly the daily schedule as well as the state requirements for these children's education.
One student was advanced enough that he started school chorus yesterday, and will be able to go to cooking later on. I understand that when they reach high school age, they will also have special classes, but move from one subject to another, just like their peers. I hope to visit such a class as well.
A couple of these students were autistic, and at least one has considerable intelligence, but barely talks. I expect that I will be seeing some students like him in my high school classroom, which is why we are expected to observe these classrooms.
I asked about how these students are assessed. For one thing, the each have an Independent Educational Plan, which requires annual reevaluation. Otherwise there are standardized tests, the CAPA and the Brigance screens, where the teacher observes and interviews the students to determine their level (not a grade!)
I admire these teachers for their dedication and hard work helping these children become functional adults. One teacher told me how delighted she was with one student who had learned to read during the past year, and the heartbreak with another, who had been kept at home until this year, missing some of the training that might have been able to move him further than he is now.