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Demonstration of Illinois Professional Teaching Standards

5. Learning Environment:
The teacher uses an understanding of individual and group motivation and behavior to create a learning environment that encourages positive social interaction, active engagement in learning, and self-motivation.

I have two papers in this section.



Identity and Moral Development in Middle School Students

I am glad that you have asked me back to consult you school board once again. I am happy that I have been able to help better your middle schools and I hope that I can clarify some of the questions and concerns that you have about your new middle schools. You have brought up concerns about identity and moral development of your middle school students. These are very important issues that have a crucial impact on middle school students. Identity and moral development begin in middle school and it is important to help the students have a solid basis to grow from.

Identity development is a process in which a young person reorganizes and restructures their sense of self (Ryan 3/14/02). This change in how the adolescents see and feel about themselves is a result of many factors of adolescence. Cognitive changes occurring in adolescence allow higher level thinking and reasoning. This allows adolescents to begin to explore the ideas of gender, race, and sexuality, which are brought to the forefront of adolescent conscienceness through cognitive growth. "After an individual has experienced a psychological moratorium and has explored identity issues and crises and, as a result, has begun to develop more permanent personal commitment, he or she has achieved an identity." (Muus 11). In your new middle school environment, you will begin to foster this exploration in order for students to someday achieve their own identity.

Gender identity is an important topic to be considered in the middle school model. "A reorganization of gender identity and gender conceptions occurs around age 11, the threshold of adolescence. " (Baslow, Rubin 29). Educators and administrators must be aware of students’ growing conscienceness of their gender identities. There are constant comparisons amongst adolescents and their portrayal of their gender identity. Educators must also bear in mind stereotypes that accompany gender roles. An example is the stereotype that girls cannot do as well at math and science as boys. As a future biology teacher, I feel like this stereotype is fairly ridiculous. If educators do subscribe to this stereotype, they may portray negative attitudes toward their students. Girls by simply believe that they cannot learn math and science because they are girls, and because they learned that from their teacher. Students who identify as both male and female have equal ability to learn.

Stereotypes are not only a threat amongst gender differences, but also among racial differences. There are stereotypes that say all Asians are smart in math and the sciences, or that African Americans have inferior scholastic abilities compared to other races. In the middle school setting, it is important not to perpetuate these stereotypes. "The threat of these stereotypes can be sharply felt and, in several ways, hampers their achievement." (Steele 614). Both the Asian and African American student can have issues with needing to fit the stereotype, or being upset that they do fit the stereotype. Through not ignoring racial and ethnic differences among adolescents, but at the same time, striving for equality amongst their differences and ignoring stereotypes, students will be more comfortable and not feel the impact of these stereotypes. This will allow for less restricting identity development by not fostering gender and racial stereotypes.

Another part of adolescent identity development is the development of sexual identity and sexual and risky behaviors for adolescents. Without guidance, adolescents are on their own to distinguish the benefits and risks of their decisions in this realm. Especially now, the media including TV, radio, and the growing internet, is advertising sex and risky behaviors as "cool" or says that "everyone is doing it". Along with the media literacy program that I discussed in my last essay, I suggest a comprehensive health education program be instituted for all eighth graders. Not only would this program discuss sex education, but also touch on health issues related to drugs and alcohol and also mental health.

This health education program would incorporate a comprehensive sexual education component. In comprehensive sexual education, as opposed to an abstinence only, or abstinence plus program, there is a focus on educated sexual decisions, and using contraceptives is you choose not to be abstinent (Ryan 4/11/02). There is also discussion about the biological aspect of puberty in adolescence, relationships ranging from friendship to dating and marriage, personal skills in making informed and educated decisions, sexual health, teen pregnancy, and diversity in sexuality and sexual lifestyles. (Ryan 4/11/02). This type of discussion will expose students to things that they may have never considered before. It also is a great forum for students to discuss misconceptions and feelings about the sensitive, yet important topic of sex.

In 1999, a survey found that about 40% of eighth graders have tried alcohol at least once, and that 20% of all eighth graders have reported having more than five drinks in a row within the last two weeks (Ryan 4/4/02). It is also reported that in 1999, about 20% of eighth graders have tried marijuana at least once (Ryan 4/4/02). Although these numbers are only approximations, they still raise concern about the drug and alcohol use of adolescents. In my proposed health education class, drug and alcohol use and abuse will be discussed. It is important to give these adolescents the facts and the dangers of using controlled substances. Also, the use of these substances can be linked to other risk behaviors which can have negative effects on adolescents identity development.

Finally, in the proposed health education program, mental health should be addressed. Again, facts and figures should be discussed, but also how this relates to each of the students’ lives and identity development. It is important as adolescents encounter more changes and challenges, they are aware of how to handle their ideas and emotions. Using the class as an open forum can let students know that they are not the only ones who feel stressed or sad sometimes, and they can learn to respect each other and themselves.

To address the question of adolescents developing their "Moral Self", I will say that there are many possible plans of attack available. There is, though, no clear-cut right way of going about educating students about morals. I will preface by saying that the decision of whether to teach morals in the middle school and if so, how to go about this, is based on both the community that the school serves, and also the needs of the students. I have read many studies done on this topic, and the general consensus is to focus on discussing "conceptions of fairness, human welfare and rights, and the application of those moral understandings to issues of everyday life" (Nucci 4). This plan of attack stays away from highly controversial topics and focuses not so much on right vs. wrong, but on how to use morals in adolescents’ lives. This type of moral education is not to be taught as a separate class, but to be integrated into every class whenever applicable. Morals can be incorporated into any class from the discussion of a book read in English class, to a bioethics discussion a science class. It can also be discussed in disciplinary matters where ideas like respect and fairness were not upheld.

It is important for adolescents to be exposed to morals and moral development to help in the building of their personal identity development. A main goal in American education in general is to educate students so that they are productive and civil citizens when the are through with their schooling. Through touching the surface of morals in school, I believe that we as educators are helping make better future citizens. We must be careful to avoid overstepping our boundaries by taking sides on issues and telling students that they are right or wrong. The ideas of fairness and human welfare "are treated by children and adults as universalizable, and as independent of the rules of their particular culture" (Nucci 8). The teaching of morals is a very delicate topic and I suggest having community input and having very clear boundaries for educators to use so that there is minimal controversy.

Identity development is an important process in all adolescents’ lives. "The function of this sense of identity is to create a new outlook toward the self, to provide inner self-sameness and continuity, and to stabilize values and purposes." (Muus 11). As educators you have the opportunity to not only teach adolescents academic lessons, but within that you can help to shape a young person’s life. Within the new middle school model that you are now using, it is imperative to help students not only grow academically, but as young adults. In identity and moral development, it is important to not tell the adolescent how they should be, but to educate them on the important and complex topics that they face now and will continue to encounter. I hope that I have answered your questions, and good luck with your new middle schools.

Works Cited

Baslow, S. A. & Rubin, L. R. (1999). Gender Influences on Adolescent Development. In N. G. Johnson, M. C. Roberts, & J. Worell (Eds.) Beyond Appearance: A New Look at Adolescent Girls (pp. 25-52). Washington, DC: APA Books.

Muus, R. C. (1996). Marcia’s Expansion of Erikson’s Theory of Identity Formation from Theories of Adolescence, 6th edition. McGraw Hill.

Nucci, L. (1997). Moral Development and Character Formation. In Walberg, H. J. & Haertel, G. D., Psychology and Educational Practice. Berkeley, CA: MacCarchan, pp. 127-157.

Ryan, Allison. Edpsy 320 Lectures. Spring Semester 2002: University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign.

Steele, C. (1997). A Threat in the Air. American Psychologist, 6, 613-629.




Incorporating Universal Design in the Classroom

Automatic doors that open when someone walks in front of them are helpful to many people. People pushing carts or strollers can get in and out of buildings with ease. People in wheelchairs do not have to reach for a doorknob or push to open heavy doors. People of short stature do not have to reach for a doorknob or handle. This one simple accommodation can serve to help many people all at the same time. This is the idea of universal design. This principle has been incorporated into classrooms to help assist students with special needs. I think that universal design is a great idea to incorporate into any classroom and will aid all students.

Universal design simply gives students more options of how they learn in the classroom. For instance, universal design would present the information of a lesson in a variety of ways (Bowe). Using visual, auditory, and other sensory activities to teach a specific topic will allow more students access to the knowledge. This wide range of presentations allows students who have low vision or poor reading skills to be a part of the lesson. It also accounts for those with low hearing and low auditory comprehension. Also, educators should offer multiple ways for students to interact with and respond to the information (Bowe). Allow students to communicate their ideas verbally, written, or even artistically through pictures or diagrams. This will again help all students get their ideas across in a way that is comfortable and functional for them.

Classrooms today are tremendously diverse. There are student of many different abilities and backgrounds. Universal design is helpful not only for special education students, but also for serving diverse learners. Any general education class will have a mix of students who learn best through different means and who have different learning styles and levels of comprehension. The inclusion of students with special needs in a regular education classroom may introduce some students who need a lot of extra help, or accommodations, but this is not much different than making accommodations for a student who doesn’t have an IEP. All students learn differently and universal design takes this into account. Instead of pointing out students with low reading ability whether they have an IEP or not, universal design caters to these students needs by using both visual and auditory presentation of lessons. This can help all students, not just those who are in special education. Universal design is intended to give students multiple ways of learning and sharing their ideas. This helps both students with special needs, and also benefits general education students in the classroom whether of low, average, or exceptional ability.

Although universal design is a very helpful tool in special and general education, it is by no means perfect for all students in all situations. "No product will ever be totally universally applicable; no product will be able to do everything for every student, nor will anything ever replace or diminish the role of the teacher" (Orkwis). We must remember that even with universal design, accommodations will still need to be made. Just like how the ramped sidewalk at intersections helps many people to cross the street easier, it also poses a problem to people with low vision. This people rely on the curb as an indicator of an intersection and without it they run the risk of walking into the middle of the street. Also, the teacher must be constantly working on improving the universal design to better benefit his or her own unique classroom.

Ideally, "using universal design principles, curriculum developers can create classroom tools that are successful for individuals who have disabilities, who have no identified disabilities, or who have extraordinary abilities" (Orkwis). Universal design allows for less obvious and elaborate accommodations and uses a variety of different teaching and learning styles to convey and process information. It is helpful not only to special education students, but also to the diversity of learners in the general education classroom. Although universal design is not perfect, it is a great device to help increase the comprehension of all the students in the classroom.



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