This entry is mostly about "Bryheem", a Special Ed 10 year old living in North Philadelphia. Because he is often violent and unruly, Bryheem has an IEP (Individualized Education Program) and a wraparound. This intervention allows him to function (barely) in a regular 4th grade public school classroom.
In the last school year, Guerilla Educators had the opportunity to work at a public school in North Philadelphia. We were tasked with assisting a 4th grade to devise a "green", high performance architecture project under the auspices of the American Institute of Architects, 8 week Architecture in Education program. Bryheem was in this classroom - "his classroom", as he told us on the first day of the project.
At this school, the lunch room is in a double wide trailer, separate from the school. The trailer was to be used for 6 months while the eating facility in the school was to be renovated. That was 20 years ago. The students wanted to imagine the redesign of their truly dreadful existing lunchroom. They worked in 6 small groups and had a "green" architect and 2 architecture students to guide their work. These Community Partners came in once a week for about 2 hours over the course of 8 weeks. Authentic mastery of curriculum was achieved across a wide array of subject areas and students developed, by working with the architects, a profound understanding of what it means to be good citizens.
A good Service Learning project intrinsically involves cooperative learning, independent activities, and the chaos of creation. This project had all of that, and then some.
And what of Bryheem? His teacher and the school administrator were understandably concerned that this new experience in which the students were expected to work independently as well as cooperatively was a set up for him to act out in many negative ways. There were even adamant suggestions on the part of the teacher that perhaps Bryheem was "not ready" to participate in this project. The Guerilla Educators team was just as adamant that Bryheem should be given the opportunity to be a part of this project. Our experience is that Service Learning is quite well suited to ALL students and we had a firm conviction based on our experience, that Bryheem would function productively.
In the course of the project, it developed that Bryheem knew precisely how to achieve the design objectives of his team, so he became a leader on this project. Bryheem was having success in school in ways that he had never experienced.
For this young student, the power of Project Based Learning is that he was able to use and be appreciated for the strengths of his other intelligences besides the traditional linguistic and logical/mathematical intelligences that are traditionally overly valued in a typical classroom. Bryheem was able to demonstrate and be assessed for his mastery of the content and standards inherent in this project in a hands on manner instead of by a more traditional pencil and paper assessment, which is often the most challenging assessment format for special education students. Bryheem was engaged in a hands on manner, he was having fun, and he was being assessed and rewarded based on the strengths of his skill sets.
These are some, but by no means all of the reasons that PBSL is one of the most effective pedagogies to use with special ed students.