A Transition Portfolio for Jeff, a Student with Multiple Disabilities
Demchak, MaryAnn, Greenfield, Robin G., Teaching Exceptional Children
Jeff is 14 years old and about to leave middle school and enter high school-a potentially intimidating time for any student. Middle school was a good experience for Jeff. He attended many different classes and did particularly well in those classes that involved hands-on activities. Jeff was part of a circle of friends who "hung out" together in the halls before school, as well as at lunchtime.
Although Jeff is similar to other young men his age in many ways (e.g., he likes girls, he prefers certain classes and teachers, he likes watching football on TV), there are also some issues that make his move to high school more complex than some of his peers. Jeff has severe, multiple disabilities that include cognitive and motor impairments, limited verbal communication, a mild hearing loss, and a visual impairment. His family, teachers, and friends have worked hard to make sure that Jeff has a communication system that works for him and the people he communicates with during the day. They have also developed some creative ways for Jeff to participate in various classes and practice the skills he needs to work on.
In an effort to make Jeff's move from middle school to high school as smooth as possible, Mrs. Smith, one of Jeff's teachers, developed a transition portfolio. She hopes the portfolio will help his new teachers get to know him better and assist them as they develop his high school program. For example, Jeff uses some broad gestures to communicate but also has developed some subtle body movements to indicate when he is uncomfortable or wants something to drink. Unless someone has spent time with Jeff, they would not automatically know that these body movements have an important message.
This article discusses the concept of transition portfolios and the procedures for developing them (see box, "What Is a Transition Portfolio?"). Examples from Jeff's portfolio illustrate the types of information included, such as personal and medical information, helpful educational and programming strategies, communication needs and solutions, and behavioral support.
The development of a portfolio is a team effort. It involves not only the student's current teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and administrators, but family members, peers, and the student. Any member of the student's team can initiate a portfolio, and it can consist of any kind of information the team deems important for new team members to know to create a quality educational program for the student. Information contained in the transition portfolio differs from a student's cumulative folder in that it does not contain such items as test scores, but rather focuses on details that are critical to a student's everyday functioning and learning.
The information-gathering process usually goes on over the course of a school year. Members of the team jot down important details and strategies and then document these items in a more formal way at the end of the year (e.g., notebook). For example, because Jeff is on several medications, his team felt it was important to document the type of medications he is taking and the effect these medications have on his behavior. It is up to the team members to develop a transition portfolio that describes the student's gifts and individual characteristics. The following section describes some basic portfolio components.
At a minimum, the personal section of the portfolio should include a brief overview of the student. For example, it may help the receiving teacher to know something about the student's likes and dislikes. This kind of information helps the teacher see the student first as a person with personal characteristics, rather than just a student with a disability.
One effective way of gathering personal information about a student is by using an approach such as Making Action Plans (MAPS-formerly McGill Action Planning System; Forest & Pearpoint, 1992). …