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Q&A with Chris Navarro, Dir. of Partnerships & Community Programs

Serving Students with Learning Limitations 

Q: First, what is your experience in teaching? Your experience teaching kids who are learning disabled?

A: I am a certified teacher with over ten years of formal education experience in middle and high school classrooms teaching theatre arts, GED, digital communication, and English. I received training in working with students with special needs as part of my ongoing professional development while a formal educator. In 2006, as the Education Director of The Laredo Center for the Arts, I collaborated with artist-educators to pilot a program within Laredo ISD to serve students in severe assist units. The program, called ArtReach, provided art education activities to all schools within LISD. At The DoSeum, I worked with an AmeriCorp team to coordinate our first sensory friendly hours programs during our grand opening year. To develop this program and meet the array of diverse needs of children and their families, we consulted with a number of community partners who specialize in services for those on the ASD spectrum, those with physical disabilities, and the hearing and sight impaired. We continue to receive consultation to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse audience, so I continue to learn more strategies for facilitating learning with these children and their families.                                                                                       

Q:  As an arts instructor what kind of experience did you want to share with your learning disabled students?
 

A: Theatre and storytelling are among the most consistent human experiences in every part of the world. It is misleading to consider professional theatre and writing as the only valid forms of self-expression. People have a deep need to share stories – both in writing and orally; and performing stories through acting and dance are a part of diverse cultures. Indeed, the desire and need to share in storytelling experiences can be witnessed when children engage in pretend play. Learning disabilities do not affect the ability of a person to engage in these types of experiences. I want for children labeled as learning disabled to share in these types of experiences. At The DoSeum. This means engaging in the same sort of experiential learning and play that are a part of our exhibits and programs.  

 

Q: Can you describe how you balanced the needs of multiple students with all different needs?

 

A: Often times, the modifications and accommodations provided for one specific set of students can be of benefit to all students, so there is not need to exclude any students from learning approaches that benefit other students. It is also important that learning opportunities provide differentiated approaches to meet diverse needs, for example within a single activity students might have the opportunity to engage visually, orally, and with text. The effectiveness of multiple approaches can be evaluated through formative assessment – observing how effectively students are engaging with each specific approach. Meeting multiple, diverse needs benefits from relationship building; it has been of utmost importance in my career as an educator to engage in meaningful relationship building with students. No matter how effective a particular teaching method might be, my ability to facilitate for specific students will always benefit from understanding them better as people.

 

Q: Now as the Director of Partnership and Community Program at The DoSeum, how do you incorporate various goals into your programming?

 

A: The DoSeum has provided me an opportunity to take the best of what I learned and accomplished as a formal educator and be creative and innovative with my experience to develop new programs. It is important as we design new programs that we are attentive to the diverse learning needs of all students, and so I have been an advocate, along with some of my fellow educators, for ensuring there are modifications and accommodations available during our field experiences and camps and other programs. I have also had the opportunity to experiment with new approaches, based on my own training and with consultation from partners, to our sensory friendly program series, now known as Beyond Limits. A consistent theme in my work in Beyond Limits and other public programs at The DoSeum is to create more fully immersive experiences, building on the idea that all children pretend, and that pretend play can be the foundation for great learning experiences for children.

 

Q: Any cool theater games you want to share with teachers that are good for getting students to focus?

 

A: A game I have used to practice focusing and to break the ice is called “Zing, Zang, Zoom”. In this game students stand in a circle facing each other. This is a great way to emphasize equity and shared experience to build community and improve relational skills. A student is selected; he/she says the words “zing, zang, zoom”.  They gesture when they say “zoom” to another student and then follow it with a random type of person or animal. The person they gestured to, must now act like the random animal or person they indicate. For example a student might say, “zing, zang, zoom, elephant!” The other student must act like an elephant. Or, “zing, zang, zoom, rock star”. The other student must act like a rock star. Both of these games build focus skills by having t pay attention to each other and watch and listen closely. The game also works as an ice-breaker, and allows for creative self-expression.     

 

Q: Anything else you'd like to add about teaching kids who are learning disabled?
 

A: Kids who are disabled are kids. They deserve the best of our efforts as educators in every context. The specialized approaches to them can also benefit other students, and so there is much that all educators can learn about their approach to all students by taking time to learn more about specialized approaches for students with special needs. The most important and challenging aspect of teaching in any context is to develop approaches that meet diverse needs, whether these needs emerge from learning disabilities or varied cultures or limited access to educational resources. It requires special effort, but it is worth the time and learning as it can lead to more equitable opportunities for all children

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