Moving Together: A Shared Learning Experience for Students of All Abilities
Respect, understanding, and friendship characterize the benefits of a mutual learning experience for the students who participate in the Rowan and Kingsway Learning Center Physical Activity program. The students in the Health and Exercise Science Teacher Certification program and the students from the Kingsway Learning Center, Moorestown campus meet each Tuesday and Thursday for one hour in the Esby Gym to participate as partners in a variety of physical activities. The Rowan students have an opportunity to interact as peer buddies and instructors as they teach sport skills, dances, and fitness activities to young adults, ages seventeen to twenty-one, who have disabilities. The program was created three years ago by Dr. Theresa Purcell Cone, Associate Professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science in cooperation with Jill Coughlin, the Kingsway Physical Education teacher. Each week, Dr. Cone plans the activities that develop physical and intellectual skills, foster social interactions and promote shared learning in a positive and fun environment. The Rowan students and Dr. Cone volunteer their time to plan and implement the weekly program.This partnership between the two programs serves two major goals that support learning for the Rowan and Kingsway students. The Rowan students are provided an authentic experience teaching individuals with disabilities while the Kingsway students learn physical activities they can apply to all aspects of their lives. Through this program, the Rowan students learn to apply instructional strategies and activity adaptations, yet most importantly, they see the abilities and the love of physical activity exhibited by the Kingsway students. This mutual learning experience also serves the goal of the Kingsway Learning Center Community Based Instruction curriculum. This program is based on principles of contextual learning which recognizes that learning is enhanced through authentic approaches that blend learning skills and knowledge in both the classroom and community based settings. The Physical Activity Program on Rowan's campus was developed to provide an accessible and authentic learning site and a safe a respectful learning environment for everyone who participates.The program offers the Rowan students an opportunity to increase their understanding about the range of abilities for individuals with disabilities. They also learn that they share common interests with the Kingsway students as they engage in social conversations and develop friendships. Frequently the students greet each other with high fives and smiles as they enter the gym. Each session begins with a whole group activity led by Dr. Cone using music and dance moves as a warm-up. Next, the students participate in a whole group fitness activity where the Rowan students partner with the Kingsway students and individualize adaptations that lead to success and achievement for the Kingsway students. Sessions also include small group activity stations focused on a specific skill such as, the serve in volleyball, goal shots in hockey, Frisbee throws or batting where the Rowan students teach skills and use adaptation strategies they have learned to assist the Kingsway students as they learn, practice, and apply new skills. The sessions usually conclude with a whole group game or dance.After each session, the Rowan students and Dr. Cone discuss new insights, adaptations, and perceptions about teaching students with disabilities. Dr. Cone notes that many Rowan students arrive feeling hesitant and unsure about interacting with individuals with disabilities, yet after a few minutes the Rowan students find that they can easily relate and many regularly return because they find the experience to be personally rewarding. The impact on the Rowan students' learning is reflected in the following comments gathered by Dr. Cone at the end of the activity sessions and from the written reflections submitted after the experience. Many of the comments reveal changing attitudes and perceptions, which clearly indicate how prior assumptions and stereotypes are transformed into understanding and new insights about interacting with individuals with disabilities. Students' comments include:"I was nervous at first, but after a few minutes I realized they were easy to teach and I felt relieved.""I was so moved when Steve [a Kingsway student] brought me a picture he drew about the Phillies. We talked about the team but I had no idea he would remember that I liked the Phillies or even remember my name.""This was an amazing experience. I am coming back anytime I am available.""I learned you cannot judge a person by the way they look or talk. They know a lot more than I thought.""I loved working with all the students. This experience confirms for me that I want to work with kids with disabilities when I become a teacher.""I heard about the program from a friend so I thought it might be interesting. Wow, it was great. These kids were so great to work with. They were so friendly.""I learned that everyone loves physical activity, especially the dancing.""I feel so good about helping others be successful.""They are just like us, they like the same music and sport teams. They are more aware about the world than I thought.""We learned how the activities we did in class work with these students. That made it real for me.""I was not sure at first if I could handle the students but they were energetic and willing to try anything.""I felt good when a student smiled and gave me a high five. I knew I made a difference in his life." Dr. Cone has observed the dedication, respect, and personal joy experienced by the Rowan students. She is very proud of her students' willingness to go beyond the classroom experiences and lectures and be successful in applying the adaptation strategies in an authentic setting. Her students have learned that each Kingsway student has their own unique strengths and challenges. Dr. Cone summarizes, "This real world experience is a meaningful and memorable learning opportunity; one that changes the students' perceptions, not only about individuals with disabilities, but also about their own abilities as future educators".
Theresa Cone and the students from the Kingsway Learning Center