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Resource Room - Tips for a working model


Susan Jones, M. Ed. 2/99

1. Be Prepared. Before you meet the students, examine their IEPS to figure out how you're going to meet their needs. This may mean being aggressive in being allowed to find out the students in your courses -- you are *not* a regular education teacher who knows that you'll be teaching "Physical Science" fourth period with a predetermined school system's curriculum. You cannot really plan anything until you've seen the individual needs of your students.

Take a good look at those IEPs. If three students with emotional problems need a place to unwind, it will be impossible for you to simultaneously provide an "undistracting environment" for LD/ADD students to complete tests or assignments. If three different students need individual or small group remediation for different subjects, and the IEP states that each student will get "50 minutes a day" of that service, you may be overtaxed in your lesson planning and may find it hard to claim that you are complying with the IEP. Before it's December and you realize "things aren't working," anticipate these kinds of conflicts. Make room arrangements, paraprofessional schedule arrangements, student schedule or IEP changes, or other adjustments if need be.

2. Establish communication routines early and thoroughly. Connect with the students' other teachers, and get creative in figuring out a way to establish regular communication with a minimum burden on either of you. One of the great frustrations for a resource room teacher, the student and parents, is finding out that a student has done poorly in a class when it's too late to do anything about it. Don't hope that a system "will evolve," or assume that if you haven't heard anything, that everything is fine - even if the student tells you it is.Have a system in place and give the student positive feedback early, instead of waiting for someting negative and reacting to it.

3. Be Proactive.Decide how you're going to evaluate student performance -- and tell them on the first day of class. Just as the IEP has "measurable progress," insist that your students learn and do measurable things in your class. Provide a chart for weekly or daily grades and do what it takes to make sure that your students are getting something out of resource class -- and can see what they've gotten.

3. Be Provocative.Expect your students to learn from school. Some of your students will be very adept at avoiding responsibility; many have very low expectations. If you can't make the connection through their regular classes, provide other things for them to learn in your class.

4. Avoid the "enabling" trap. "Matthew effect" is the phrase used to describe how students with mild handicaps get further and further behind their peers, as "the rich get richer, the poor get poorer." Resource rooms, unfortunately, can aggravate this tendency. When a student is being 'helped' through assignments and tests, and not held accountable for actually learning the material in them, then only the appearance of learning is happening. Other students will be learning content from that same assignment and integrating what they learn into what they already know. Too often the "helped" student learns that school is a place to make people think you're doing what they want you to, that other people learn but you don't, and that you need to be shepherded through your classes. Often, assignments can be creatively modified to make them meaningful, without simply reducing the quantity of work involved.

5. Avoid the "give them a fish" trap.Teachers in middle and secondary school often assume that if a student hasn't learned basic skills in reading and math by that point, that it's not worth investing any more time in learning those skills. The student may be assigned to the resource room to compensate for the reading the student is assumed to be unable to acquire. This is a gross injustice to the child. Middle school students, high school students, and adults have been successfully taught to read.

Unfortunately, the older the student, the more intensive the program needed and the longer it will take to make gains. It's highly unlikely that this instruction can be successfully accomplished in a resource room setting. If the primary barrier to a student's success in other classes is a specific skill, especially in middle school, then placement in the resource room may not be appropriate, although it is common. Meeting with the parent(s) and others on the IEP team and finding a way to teach the student those skills can be the difference between a future college graduate and a future illiteracy statistic.

Learning Activities for the Resource Room

These activities are for students who "don't have nothin'" or are "going to study." Depending on just how much structure the students require, you may assign point levels to various tasks (which can be individually adjusted) so that the student knows how much s/he has to complete to achieve a certain grade on a daily (or more frequently if necessary) or weekly basis. If students keep an ongoing notebook of their resource room work, they can see progress, especially if they do a lot of work in one area.

Learn to study. Instead of "looking at notes," there are many active ways to study. Student can be graded on things such as illustrated flashcards for words they're learning, or paraphrased notes, or oral quizzes on the material they reviewed, especially if you can give a quiz after fifteen minutes of active studying. The Study Skills Database from Muskingum College has many, many ideas.

Practice basic skills. That doesn't sound too exciting, but often students would pick out one of my "basic Math review" sheets -- and since they couldn't do the same sheet twice, they ended up doing progressively more challenging work but staying at their "comfort level." A good secondary spelling program can also help -- if a student learns the "i before e" rule all of his teachers may thank you!

Learn something else of interest. Some students will work on an independent 'project' in a subject of interest -- especially if they are provided with structure and feedback throughout the process. Find out in advance about upcoming projects and give the student the chance to get a jump on assignments that can otherwise be overwhelming. I have had students who decided they wanted to learn all the states and capitals, and scheduled the number they were expected to learn each day; others used blank maps and atlases to learn where countries were. Another student did an extensive report on the nine planets - that wasn't copied from the encyclopedia. It's amazing what students will do when they have choices and expectations.

Learn to keyboard. Keyboarding is a tangible, marketable skill and one that can be learned relatively independently. Odds are reasonably good that there's at least one old typewriter or computer suitable for learning to keyboard somewhere in your building or school system. many keyboarding programs (software and book form) and products which have been used successfully with people with learning disabilities and/or motor skills challenges.

Learn from commercial comprehension materials. There are many, many products designed to appeal to "at risk" or "reluctant" readers. Be aware, though, that often the reading levels of these materials is still beyond the independent reading levels of your students. Don't add to the humiliation by giving a student "special" materials -- that they still can't read. Look for materials that actively engage the students. Vocabulary exercises on this site may be appropriate for some students. Weekly Reader has an "Extra" magazine for middle and secondary special needs students that has many activities and interesting articles. At least as I write this, you can go to, click on the "news " tab, and type in a word such as dyslexia, and students can read and summarize current articles - and learn how the media perceives people with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder.

Learning Materials for the Resource Room

Student Dictionary - these dictionaries have definitions that make sense to students. Collegiate dictionaries tend to have definitions which you still have to "translate" into comprehensible terms. Students who had been unwilling to work independently on vocabulary or learning terms for other classes often change their attitude when it becomes possible to do the assignment.

Supplies are negotiable. If you are not going to have a way to supply them, you will have to deal with students who do not have the materials to complete their work. Some teachers have been known to require a shoe as collateral.

Always have appropriate activities available, and students are more likely to accept that their choice is *what* academic work to do, not *whether* they do academic work. While I'm not a big fan of word searches for learning content (most of my students did not so much as read the words, much less think about what they meant), they are an option (I assigned a low point value to them).

If possible, get copies of the texts they use in other classes, or other books on those topics. You can have the students apply study skills learned in your class to materials they may be held responsible for learning. If you want to discourage them from relying on you to provide the books when they could and should bring them themselves, you can stipulate that if they use your book, they must do your assignment. As with bringing other supplies, though, you may wish to choose other battles.



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