Additional Qualification courses reflect holistic approach to teaching

By Leanne Miller

In 2000, nearly 5,000 teachers took an Additional Qualification (AQ) course in special education. Patricia Goldblatt, a program officer at the Ontario College of Teachers, notes that special education courses regularly have the highest enrolment of any AQ courses. The teacher says, "Teachers see special education training as vital to being a good teacher."

In 2003, new special education courses will start-a result of the College's 18-month review of the guidelines for all AQ courses. For the first time, teachers actively took part in the revision and writing process. Other stakeholders participated as well, including members of Special Education Advisory Committees, professionals from the Ministry of Education, parents and members of organizations representing disabilities and special needs.

As they worked, the writing team kept two important factors in mind: meeting the needs of both the whole child and the teacher and remembering the importance of advocacy for these students.

Revised Courses More Integrated
The major change to the special education AQ course guidelines is that all five areas of exceptionality are included in all course material. No longer are there core and elective courses focusing on particular exceptionalities.

According to Deirdre Smith, manager of the Standards of Practice and Education Unit at the College, this reflects the strong desire that teachers expressed for the courses to take a holistic approach and to ensure that teachers were exposed to all exceptionalities.

Teachers may still focus their research and specialist course work on a particular exceptionality.
The College has proposed adding five courses to the three-part Special Education AQ. Those courses would be included in Schedule C of Regulation 184/97.

All three parts of the new course guidelines will be released in January 2003. Part 1 will be phased in starting in January, 2003. Anyone taking Part 1 in the fall of 2003 will follow the new guidelines.
Part 2 and Specialist will be phased in over the next several years. However, some faculties of education may continue to offer these courses using the previous guidelines during the transition period in order to enable members to complete their course work under the old model.

The Special Education Teacher
The new AQ course guidelines reflect key descriptors of an exemplary special education teacher. None of the descriptors is new, as good teachers have always modelled these qualities:

Educated and reflective: Much information is available on exceptional students from research, best practices, parents and organizations. Teachers keep abreast of the deep and growing knowledge base, are aware of the acts and regulations affecting special education and integrate all this information into their practice.

Focused on the individual needs of students:
Teachers realize that every child possesses a unique set of abilities and challenges that must be addressed in the most appropriate and individual manner. At the same time, students receive an integrated education that encourages them to interact and learn from and with their peers. The focus is on the whole child.

The classroom teacher's enormous responsibility and challenge of educating exceptional children and ensuring that they receive positive learning experiences is best shared with other teachers, teaching assistants, professionals throughout the board and parents.

Advocate: Teachers, along with parents and the child, must advocate for what is best for each child. Teachers work to enable students to advocate for themselves and become independent risk-takers.

More Changes

Other changes to the AQ course guidelines include a clear description of learning expectations and alignment of course work with the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession and the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession. An individual project is a major component of each course.

Projects will involve high-level thinking, research and a demonstration of communication skills as related to a specific exceptionality or exceptionalities based on experiential practices introduced in Part I. Assessments may include performance or written assessments, written tests, oral presentations, portfolios or action research.

Special Education is now one of the seven mandatory professional learning areas for teachers. Each AQ course will give teachers four credits toward the required 14 courses of professional learning.

As part of the numerous changes made to Additional Qualification course guidelines by the Standards of Practice and Education Committee, the Council has also recommended to change the regulation that would require special education to be a core area in pre-service teacher education when it is approved.

This is currently the case at some faculties, including the University of Windsor, where pre-service students have a compulsory 16-week survey course in special education. Many of the stakeholders told the College to ensure that all new teachers are better prepared to meet the needs of students with learning exceptionalities integrated into their classroom.

As Goldblatt sums it up: "All teachers will benefit from these courses because they are based on sound pedagogy that is appropriate for all students."

In January you will be able to preview the new Special Education AQ course Guidelines by visiting the College web site

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