Planning For Independence

 Assessing Learning Needs

Assessing a student's learning needs is tantamount to assessing his or her development in several areas; in each area, learning needs begin at the developmental point the student has reached. In the following sections, some areas of development are described. The descriptions are intended as overviews and are not comprehensive. For each area some questions are provided that may assist teachers in assessing students' levels of development and, in the process, their learning needs.

Communication and Language Development

Communication is interactive; it involves the sending and receiving of messages between people. Communication occurs not only through speech, but also through gazing, facial expressions, vocalizations, gestures, and other body language. It is important that the teacher observe nonspeaking students closely in order to determine how, what, and why they are communicating. Activities should be designed to encourage students to initiate communication and interaction with others. For some students, an augmentative communication system, such as sign language or a picture board, may be beneficial. For others, programs can be designed to develop facility in the use of spoken language. The goal for all students is the ability to communicate intentionally their needs, feelings, and interests, in a form that can be understood by others, and to understand and respond, in turn, to other people's messages.

The following are examples of the types of questions that should be asked in an assessment of a student's ability to communicate.

Early Communication Skills: Mode How does the student signal needs, feelings, and interests? How does the student interact with other persons in the environment? Does the student use vocalizations, gestures, movement, gazing, and so on to communicate? Is the student consistent in the use of certain signals for specific purposes? Does the student participate in imitative or turn-taking activities, using gestures, facial expressions, or sounds?

Early Communication Skills: Function Does the student initiate communication for personal or social reasons? When, why, and with whom does the student communicate?

Early Communication Skills: Content Does the student engage in interactive communication on a topic of common interest?

Receptive/Expressive Language Skills How does the student respond to familiar sounds, events, and voices in the environment? Does the student respond to his or her own name? Can the student ask and respond appropriately to simple questions? Can the student recall and sequence events, stories, alphabet symbols, numerals, and personal information? Does the student use single words, two- or three-word phrases, or sentences?

Interactive Skills Can the student engage in conversation with others on a shared topic of interest? Can the student take turns and listen while others are communicating?

Cognitive Development

Cognitive development begins with sensory learning. In the course of exploring the world with their senses, young children interact with and make sense of their environment. As they acquire object representation and object permanence, they develop the ability to acquire, interpret, organize, retrieve, and use knowledge and concepts. For some students, using their senses in a meaningful way will be a long-term cognitive goal. For others, being able to classify, to make decisions, or to read, write, and compute is a realistic expectation.

The following are some of the questions that should be asked in an assessment of a student's cognitive skills.

Sensory Awareness Is the student aware of sensory stimuli? How does the student search for and manipulate sensory stimuli?

Perceptual Skills Is the student able to discriminate, sort, and match stimuli? Is the student able to copy and reproduce patterns, symbols, and numerals?

Attending SkillsIs the student able to track stimuli? Is the student able to anticipate and recall routines?

Basic Thinking Skills Does the student search for and find objects? Is the student able to group, match, and categorize objects?

Memory Skills How does the student demonstrate a memory of familiar people, objects, or events? Does the student recall directions or symbols and apply them?

Concept Development Is the student aware of his or her body parts and their functions? Can the student classify by shape, size, sound, and colour? What are the student's number skills?

Problem-Solving Skills Is the student able to predict, analyse, and interpret events and communicate the results of these processes? How well does the student generalize or apply his or her knowledge to real-life situations?

Physical Development

Body movement is an important means by which students respond to, explore, and manipulate things in their environment. Physical development includes achievements in head control, posture, muscle development, co-ordination, and locomotor ability. As they grow, students learn to manoeuvre in many ways in a variety of environments. Proper assessment and programming provide physically disabled students with opportunities to increase their range of movement, their ability to care for themselves, and, as a result, their independence.

The following are some of the questions that should be asked in an assessment of a student's physical skills.

Movement What is the student's range of motion? What is the student's mobility level? Does the student move at varying speeds? How does the student move various body parts? How does the student manoeuvre in space? How does the student move on various terrains?

Body Awareness Does the student demonstrate a preference for one side of the body? Has the student developed balance and rhythm?

Manipulative Skills How does the student manipulate and use objects in the environment? How does the student use fine-motor skills in everyday tasks such as eating, dressing, grooming, and writing?

Social and Emotional Development

A sense of personal well-being is important to students' overall psychological, physical, and social development. Students require opportunities to develop a positive selfconcept by interacting with others in a positive way and by forming friendships, both of which require appropriate social behaviours. Specific instruction in non-verbal social nuances such as eye contact, posture, facial expression, and other body language may be necessary. The ability to express emotions in ways appropriate to the situation is crucial. Proficiency in self-care and hygiene is also important to the development of a sense of selfworth and responsibility.

The following are some of the questions that should be asked in an assessment of a student's social and emotional skills.

Self-concept Does the student demonstrate selfconfidence? Does the student take pride in his or her accomplishments? Does he or she accept criticism?

Emotions How does the student demonstrate his or her feelings? How does the student deal with emotions such as anger, frustration, and fear?

Interpersonal Relationships Does the student acknowledge others in the environment? How does the student interact with other people in social situations? Is he or she tolerant of others? Can the student interpret nonverbal signals from other people? Does the student participate in group activities? Does he or she maintain friendships? Does the student maintain an appropriate physical distance from others?

Responsibility Does the student accept and complete tasks? Does the student manage his or her free time? Does he or she follow rules and adhere to limits placed on activities?

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