The Minisociety Classroom
Szepkouski, Grace Mest, Teaching Exceptional Children
This article offers insights into the question posed above through the construction of communities in the classroom. I am a teacher educator in a special education program, and the situation described above occurred to one of my students named Jenny. The community concept shared here is the expansion of that original idea to an assignment I now regularly use in my Methods and Materials class. Conceptual Beginning Why create a community in the classroom? Fletcher (1996) stated that the integration of what she called a "minisociety" can produce "class unity and pride, respect for each other and the classroom, increased self-esteem, the learning of life skills, [and] developing responsibility" (p. ix).
Jenny, the student teacher cited at the beginning of this article, was working with seventh through ninth graders with multiple disabilities. Based on discussions and readings from her university coursework, she was aware of the importance of transitional skills and basic functional academics for her students. The creation of a community within the classroom afforded her the opportunity to address those curricular needs and meet the challenge to use the space in a different way.
Jenny began by considering the specific community the school was located in, the types of jobs these students with multiple disabilities might acquire, and other skills necessary for basic community success, such as money awareness and food shopping. Armed with this contextually based research, she told the students they would be creating a minicommunity in their classroom, consisting of a post office, bank, and grocery store. Job applications were created and filled out, interviews held for the positions, and time set aside for running the community three times a week (for about 45 minutes each session).
Students did not automatically get the job they interviewed for and wanted. in an effort to reflect job hunting in the real world, Jenny and her teacher assigned jobs based on strengths and weaknesses of the individuals being interviewed and the requirements of the positions. For example, a student might be told that he did not meet the requirements of the post office, but the interviewers noticed his strengths in math and would like to offer him a position in the bank.
Jenny set up stations representing the post office, bank, and grocery store around the room, using the full space, The students played an integral part in creating the community structures by helping to bring in empty food boxes and empty cans for the store. The students created and painted a large cardboard mailbox to look similar to those in the community.
Within the context of this single unit, Jenny taught the following content:
* Nutrition through the model grocery store.
* Money skills through the bank (paychecks) and the grocery store.
* Alphabetization and sorting through the post office.
* Job responsibility and social skills through the interviews, time clock, and recognition of employee of the week.
These activities reflected the state core curriculum standards in workplace readiness, comprehensive health, language and arts literacy, mathematics, science, and social studies.
Building and Elaborating on the Idea
I developed an assignment for my Methods and Materials in Special Education course around the concept of community building. A brief explanation and outline for the assignment follow as a reference for the examples cited later and as an introductory guide to anyone interested in the concept for their classroom.
The assignment takes place over four class periods. The first period is dedicated to explaining the community concept and linking it to transitional skills. At the end of that first class period, students form small groups of four or five people each. In an effort to make the assignment seem real and meaningful to my student teachers, I use IEPs with all personal data removed, from a nearby fourth- and fifth-grade class for students with neurological impairments. …