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Commitments

 

Shawn is a student with a learning disability in Linda Thompson’s middle school, multigrade class. Although he has been recommended for a self-contained class for emotionally handicapped students, his mother has vehemently refused such a placement. In an attempt to help Shawn bring some of his negative outbursts under control, Mrs. Thompson enlists the aid of the entire class. The class agrees to an activity which requires each student to make a personal commitment to change some aspect of their behavior. Everyone hopes that Shawn will participate and be motivated to improve.

 

Mrs. Thompson walked into the crowded room of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. "Everyone, please find a seat so we can talk for a few minutes," she began. The other three team teachers filtered in and stood in the back. The class began to settle down. Mrs. Thompson had a great rapport with her students and they usually responded to her requests. "As you guys are well aware, Shawn has been having some trouble controlling his in class behaviors lately, and we just finished talking to him at a meeting with his mother and some other teachers," she continued, having to raise her voice just a little to be heard over the whispers. "I have arranged for Miss Parker to take Shawn for the rest of the day so we could talk. We…" pointing to the other teachers in the back of the class, "really value your opinions and are interested in your ideas on how we can help Shawn."

"Shawn’s a real pain in the butt, Mrs. Thompson," one of the boys in the back called out as others laughed, "What can we do about that?" he asked.

"I realize many of you feel that way and not without good reason," responded Mrs. Thompson. "But Shawn will continue to be part of our class, so we need to decide if there is anything we can do to help Shawn gain control."

"We can tie him up and gag him," whispered one boy to another, sitting close enough that Mrs. Thompson could hear. She sent them a disapproving glare.

"How about if we just tell Shawn as a group that we won’t put up with his stuff anymore," suggested one young girl in the front.

"That is certainly an option, Michelle. How would you go about doing that?" asked Mrs. Thompson.

"I would just tell him to stop acting like a jerk because no body else can get their work done when he throws his little tantrums. And if he doesn’t stop, then the class can decide on his consequences," Michelle added as the class listened.

"Thank you, Michelle. I think you have some good ideas. Does anyone else have anything to add or a different idea?" Mrs. Thompson questioned as she looked around the room. One hand popped up in the back of the room.

"I like Michelle’s idea," responded the 8th grader as he lowered his hand. "We should make him listen to us and tell him exactly how we feel, that we won’t put up with his attitude anymore," he continued.

"Tomorrow, why don't we each make three personal commitments to change and share them in class? That way Shawn doesn’t have to feel singled out," Mrs. Thompson suggested. "We will each have a chance to respond to each other’s commitments. When it is Shawn’s turn, perhaps some of you would be willing to speak up." The class agreed to Mrs. Thompson’s suggestions and the teachers set apart some time the next day for everyone to participate.

Linda Thompson loved the flexibility that team teaching in a multigrade classroom afforded her. She had been at Willow Middle School for close to 15 years, 13 of which were teaching 6th-grade social studies. When Willow decided to try the multigrade program at the beginning of the year, she jumped at the chance to team teach and work with older students. Also, in conjunction with the decision to try a multigrade program, the administration felt that students with learning disabilities should be included full time in the general education classroom. Since Shawn had been included in Mrs. Thompson’s 6th grade class for part of the day last year, she was familiar with his needs. Therefore, the decision was made to place him on her team. At the time of the decision, the team was assured that  they would receive consultative services. Janice Parker, the learning disabilities specialist would also help them modify instruction and evaluation for their students with learning disabilities.

One of those students was Shawn Bishop. He was small for a 7th grader, but made up for it with his attitude. If Linda Thompson could choose one word to describe him it would be "scrapper". With long disheveld hair and wrinkled and unwashed clothing, he stood out from the other students. This made Shawn a frequent target for teasing and ridicule, to which he would respond with loud, disruptive retorts. He constantly instigated conflict in the classroom by making inappropriate comments to classmates or by physically assaulting one of the bigger boys, just to get a reaction from them.

Most of the time, Mrs. Thompson could handle the situations that resulted from Shawn’s behavior. Occasionally, however, an angry outburst would require additional help from the office to physically remove him from class. Sometimes Shawn would just sit and cry for no apparent reason and other times he would fly off into a fit of rage. Mrs. Thompson knew he had been tested in the 3rd grade and it had been recommended then to place Shawn in a self-contained classroom for emotionally handicapped students.  His mother, however, had vehemently refused that placement.

Shawn’s evaluation indicated above average intelligence and his records showed that he had been making A’s and B’s in all subject areas. The evaluation also indicated difficulties with auditory/language processing that qualified Shawn for services for students with learning disabilities. His mother agreed to place Shawn in a classroom for students with learning disabilities for language arts instruction and in a general education classroom for the remainder of the day.

In an effort to better understand Shawn and his needs, Mrs. Thompson had reviewed his file on several occasions. Along with the evaluation data and academic records, the file contained letters and observational data from Shawn’s 4th and 5th grade teachers. The letters indicated a strong concern that he was not receiving EH (emotionally handicapped) services and the observational data detailed his frequent outbursts in class and aggressive behaviors toward other students. Mrs. Thompson and her teammates were seeing the same types of behaviors from Shawn. In fact, they were running out of patience and ideas to redirect his behavior. Even the instructional modifications the LD specialist helped the team develop did not seem to impact his behavior. Janice helped them develop outlines and visual tools for Shawn to aid him in following class lectures and discussions. She also developed alternate assignments that did not require a great deal of writing because that had been a source of frustration for Shawn in the past. The team had even tried cooperative learning. Nothing so far had worked. They were all hoping the use of personal contracts (commitments) would help Shawn.

The next day, Mrs. Thompson started the day off by having the class share their commitments.

"Okay, class," began Mrs. Thompson. "We are going to start today with something a little different," she added. "Can anyone tell me what a commitment is?"

A hand in the front of the class popped up. "It’s sort of a promise," responded the girl in the front row.

"Good…that’s a good description. A commitment is a promise to do something. And if you break that commitment, there are usually consequences," continued Mrs. Thompson, looking straight at Shawn. She began passing the handouts entitled ‘My Personal Commitments’ to the class. "Today we are going to each make three commitments or promises to change something we feel we can do better. For example," she paused for a moment while the class settled down, "I have not always been prompt in returning your test grades. Today, I’m going to make the commitment to return your tests the following week. I want you to write your commitments and then we are going to share them with each other. Are there any questions?" Shawn looked a bit puzzled. Mrs. Thompson casually walked over to Shawn’s desk.

"Maybe, Shawn, one of your commitments could be to try to control yourself from making inappropriate remarks to other students or refrain from poking or kicking them. Is that something you think you can do?" she questioned. Shawn kind of shook his head as he scribbled something down.

After about ten minutes, the class began sharing their commitments. Shawn waited until almost everyone had gone before he shared his responses.

"Number one," he started, calmly and quietly, "I promise to try to keep my hands and feet to myself and not poke or kick no one. Number two, I promise to try to control my mouth by putting my hand over it to catch myself." One of the boys sitting near by made a snide remark.

"Man, shut up or I’m going to kick your butt!" Shawn blurted out without hesitation. He lifted his hand to his mouth, realizing he just broken his own commitment. There were no other comments from the class regarding Shawn’s outburst or promises and everything seemed to run smoothly for the next few weeks. Then, Shawn had one of his outbursts in class and had to be physically removed. For the next two weeks, Shawn’s behaviors escalated and resulted in his suspension from school. A conference was called to discuss further options for Shawn.

Mrs. Thompson, the assistant principal, the teacher for students with emotional handicaps, the LD specialist, the other teachers on Mrs. Thompson’s team, Shawn, and Shawn’s mother were all present for the conference. Mrs. Thompson opened by expressing her concerns for Shawn as he prepared for the transition to high school. She explained that the high school schedule was very different from what he was accustomed to and that given his current behaviors, he would not be able to cope. Furthermore, she and the other school personnel thought that Shawn would benefit most from the small class and one-on-one attention that the EH self-contained teacher could provide.

"We have tried about everything we can with Shawn and he simply can not control his behaviors. We really feel that an EH placement for him would be truly beneficial," stated Mr. Blanton, the Assistant Principal, in support of Mrs. Thompson.

"There is no way I am going to put Shawn through what my older son has been through," responded Mrs. Bishop. "That label has ruined his life." She paused for a moment to compose herself. "He has not done any better. In fact, he has done a lot worse. I refuse to take a chance that the same will happen to Shawn! You’ll just have to work with him through the LD classes because I will never allow you to label him EH."

 

Discussion/Study Questions

 

1.    List what you learned/know about each of the characters in the case.

2.    What do you think is motivating the thoughts/actions of each of the characters?

3.    What are the issues/problems in the case?

 

Additional Questions

1.    What interventions were tried with Shawn? Were they effective? Why or why not?

2.    What was the perspective of Shawn’s mother? Do you think she was justified?

3.    Was Shawn’s confidentiality breached?

4.    What type of transitional plans would you make for Shawn?

 

CEC Competencies/Knowledge Areas Addressed in the Case

Major Areas:

Basic classroom management theories, methods, and techniques for students with exceptional learning needs.

Developing individual student programs working in collaboration with team members.

 

Other Areas:

Typical concerns of parents of individuals with exceptional learning needs and appropriate strategies to help parents deal with these concerns.

Ethical considerations inherent in classroom behavior management.

Social skills needed for educational and functional living environments and effective instruction in the development of social skills.

Ethical practices for confidential communication to others about individuals with exceptional learning needs.

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