Thursday, September 16, 2010

Paraprofessionals in the PE Class

This post is from another handout that I use...happy reading!

Paraprofessionals in the APE Class: A Quick How To Tiplist for Maximizing Instruction & Education
By Justin Haegele, APE Teacher & Robbin Keating, Vision Rehabilitation Therapist

Paraprofessionals are a crucial element to the art of teaching children with all disabilities. Para’s are often with their students throughout the entire school day and often know more about their students than any other person in the building. They often know things about their students that cannot be read on an IEP or researched in text books.

1. Communicate your student’s needs.
PE Tip: Once again, no one knows the students like the paraprofessionals do. When para’s come to physical education, they often know far more than the PE / APE teachers do about the students. That being said, it is extremely valuable for the paraprofessionals to communicate with their physical education staff. Physical education staff does have access to IEPs and other information on the students, but do not always know exactly what type of abilities the students have. Paraprofessionals must explain the strengths and weaknesses of their students to their physical activity staff in order to guarantee the most success possible for their students.

Vision Tip: If you are going to be with your student with a vision impairment for the entire school year, it would be a good idea to understand basic accommodations that your student needs. It also helps if you can briefly state your students’ vision (Some teachers, especially PE teachers, do not get to come to team meetings so they often miss trainings from the TVIs. Therefore, they are not “in the know” about the specifics of the vision impairment). So in a PE class if you can relate your student’s visual limitations quick & easy, it can really help a PE teacher who is not sure where to place the student. For example, reminding the PE teacher that the student doesn’t have central vision and has glare issues will help the PE teacher understand that having the student face bright light (like facing the sun while in the outfield) isn’t the most effective position.

2. Keep an appropriate distance to your student.
PE Tip: This is often a difficult task for anyone in education to do correctly. Children with visual impairments and other disabilities do need assistance with certain things, but not everything. Keeping the correct distance from your student is a tough art to master. Being too close to the student may separate them from the class and could smother them, creating a social outcast. On the other hand, being too far away from your students may not be safe in a physical education setting or may leave the student feeling alone. The easiest way to determine the correct distance to stay from your student is to ask. Usually, the student will tell you where they need you.

Vision Tip: If the teacher is going to be showing how to play a sport or skill and it is visually difficult for the student to follow, ask the PE or APE teacher what materials you can gather to bring to the student (maybe even before class). This is a reasonable accommodation that most of our students with a vision impairment have. If the student has access to the materials, it allows you to step back to allow the student to participate with their peers. You may also want to help with pre-teaching skills so that students can anticipate what will happen during the PE class (ask your TVI for more info). Pre-teaching skills also allow you to step back because students will have a preview of the concepts being taught.

3. DO NOT do activities for students.
PE Tip: Some paraprofessionals which I have worked with in the past believe that completing an activity for a student is the same as the student completing the task. That is not the case. In order to obtain the skills planned out by a program, students must complete tasks. Even though paraprofessionals are encouraged to participate actively and energetically, please do not do the task for the student.

Vision Tip: It is important to understand the teaching strategy of hand under hand instruction. Hand under hand instruction is required to help students initially understand a concept. There will be times when you, the APE or PE teacher will have to position a students’ body to help them understand the sport. However, be aware that as the PE Tip cautions, you are not doing the activity. Children with vision impairments have a strong tendency to be passive participants. Empower your students to participate at their highest level of action.

4. PE teachers biggest complaint about paraprofessionals: P.E. does not equal break time!
PE Tip: This and the next points are very connected. P.E. is not lunch. P.E. is not a break for paraprofessionals. P.E. is not social hour. P.E. is P.E. I have heard the spectrum of different complaints about para’s, from one having pockets lined with zip lock bags which will pull out chicken wings throughout a class, to another leaving granola on the gym floor (happened to me today, not a joke), to others leaving the class for thirty minutes at a time. In all honesty, P.E. teachers probably need your help more than classroom teachers. Teaching P.E. to children without disabilities is very tough in a HUGE gymnasium. Throw in children with disabilities and the task has multiplied in difficulty ten fold. This being said, please come prepared to participate. Wear sneakers, wear pants, don’t bring food or a newspaper. Get involved!

Vision Tip: It is always important to remember that what we, as professionals, model for our students is what they understand about things. So, if you are not as strict about PE class as you are about Science, our student will pick it up and develop a lazy or misguided understanding about PE. Children with vision impairments struggle with physical activity. Most lead very sedentary lifestyles. It is not your responsibility alone to increase physical activity for your student but as the person they will work with the most, you have a lot of influence. PE time is an awesome opportunity for our students because it has the most tactile experiences they will have throughout the day: running, jumping, catching, walking, ready positions---the opportunities are endless!

5. Enjoy your physical education program.
PE Tip: Enjoying your physical education program will benefit both your student and yourself. When the students know you are enjoying yourself, it allows mental ease and less stress for students to enjoy themselves. Knowing that the activities are fun and interesting gets students more excited. Students can tell in the voice inflection of a paraprofessional while walking to physical education whether or not they enjoy it, regardless of whether or not they are lying. If you enjoy the gym, chances are the students will as well. Not to mention, a physical activity program can be very beneficially to the paraprofessional. People around the world pay thousands of dollars a year to join gyms in order to be physically active. Paraprofessionals are getting the same activities for free. In addition, studies have shown that people who are physically active have more positive dispositions. Listen, participate in phys education with your student, and enjoy it!

Vision Tip: PE can sometimes be a student with vision impairments worst class. Paraprofessionals have a unique opportunity to help change that. There may be sports or skills that are too visually demanding which can lead to frustration and depression (they can’t keep up with their sighted peers). The paraprofessional needs to be alert to this. Challenge yourself to create fun any way you can in the PE class for your student! Learn how to describe the game when they are unable to fully participate. Keep them in the loop. Don’t allow them to zone out during PE because they can’t see something! If you notice that your student is struggling continuously, tell your TVI. Help your TVI know the weak spots so that the TVI can help the PE teacher. And like the PE tip encourages, enjoy a period of the day that you can get out and PLAY!

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