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Vol. LXII, No. 7
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
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Discussion of Classroom Practices Highlights Special Ed PTO Meeting

Ellen Gilbert

“There is no one way to do it,” counseled Special Education Supervisor Eileen Sanchez at the beginning of last week’s meeting of the Princeton Special Education Parent Teachers Organization. In the hour that followed, four teachers from the Princeton Regional School District demonstrated just how fine-tuned and varied they have made their efforts to reach students with special needs.

John Witherspoon Middle School Resource Room teacher Stephanie Ives discussed what Ms. Sanchez called “accommodation,” the “adaptation to the delivery of instruction or the method of student performance that does not change the curricular content or conceptual difficulty.” An example of this would be listening to a novel, rather than reading it. In Ms. Ives’s case, accommodation consists of creating a lesson plan for a novel like A Separate Peace that will engage both the general students as well as special education students in a combined classroom. While pre-teaching special education students and helping them with homework may give them a leg up, Ms. Ives likes to ask questions that challenge students at all levels to think about a book. In the case of A Separate Peace, for example, Ms. Ives, who said she often collaborates with teacher Dineen Permahos, asks students how each of them deals with conflict, after admitting that she herself “giggles a lot” when things get rough. By identifying similarities and differences among them, students gain greater understanding of the text and, in the process, get to know each other. Several teachers commented on the friendships fostered among general and special education students as a result of such classes.

Use of Technology

Jennifer Park, a special education teacher working with grades two through four at Johnson Park School demonstrated the concept of “modification,” or “changing the playing field” in inclusive teaching practices. Ms. Park uses a computer program called Graph Club to teach math skills to exceptional-needs students in a separate classroom setting. Graph Club, which has a vocal component and can be used with both English and Spanish-speaking students, enables them to explore, interpret, and print graphs by starting out with concrete examples, before moving on to graphing abstract concepts. Students using Graph Club wear headphones so they can work at their own pace.

Ancient World Culture

JWMS social studies teacher Justin Mathews and Cynthia Bregenzer, a teacher of children with autism, used a lesson on “King Tut” as the central example of their collaboration, which represented “parallel instruction.” Although content does not change in this approach, the conceptual difficulty of the curriculum is acknowledged with appropriate alterations. Ms. Bregenzer prepares her special students before joining Mr. Mathews’s class (encouraging them to be on “middle school behavior”), and ultimately guides them, according to their respective needs, in the creation of a funeral mask of King Tutanhkamun. Special needs students are, for example, offered more visual assists and given more time to complete their projects, while advanced students have the opportunity to incorporate shading and 3D elements in their work.

Questions from the audience, which consisted of approximately 40 parents, teachers, therapists, and staff, followed the presentations and focused largely on “who do I ask when I’m not sure what’s going on?” Ms. Sanchez and her colleagues agreed that the first person to approach should be a child’s case worker. At least one parent suggested that case workers are so busy with such large case loads that it is difficult to meet with them in a timely fashion. There was considerable agreement that high school, the most complex facility, is also the most problematic. Ms. Sanchez observed that some confusion may be due to the fact that special needs assignments are fluid; a child is not locked into any one track and there may be change from year to year.

Looking Ahead

Two upcoming events may be of particular interest to professionals and parents of special needs children. The Princeton Regional Schools’ Parent Speaker Series will present psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore on February 21 at the Princeton High School Black Box Theatre from 7 to 9 p.m. Her topic will be “The Social Curriculum: Five People Skills Every Child Needs to Know.” To register, for this free event call the Office of Curriculum and Instruction, (609) 806-4203 by Monday, February 18.

On Saturday, March 8, the Special Education PTO will sponsor a free Education Symposium at the John Witherspoon Middle School from 8:15 a.m. to 12 p.m.. Two workshops will be offered, and teachers and parents may register for either, or both. “Life After High School,” which concerns the planning of the learning disabled child’s college or post-secondary-school experience. led by Elizabeth Cohen Hamblet and Jane M. Sheehan, the workshop will run from 8:45 to 10:15 a.m.. After a break, Erin McGintee will discuss “Food Allergies: What Schools Need to Know.” For more information, contact Susan Pittenger,, or Marianne Carnevale,

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