By Heather Bower
Every KU student majoring in special education is required to take a semester of classes called TRIO, which has been a part of the special education process at KU for nine years. TRIO is composed of three classes that must be taken together: SPU 320, SPU 322, and SPU 317.
There are four professors teaching TRIO this semester: Dean of Special Education Dr. Debra Lynch, Dr. Diane King, Dr. Wendy Rogers and Dr. Christopher Bloh.
“TRIO is a set of three upper-level courses for students majoring in special education,” explained Lynch. “The set of three courses also involves a five-week placement in a special education classroom in public schools in either Allentown or Reading.”
Students taking TRIO are on campus for the first half of the semester, with 15 weeks worth of material taught in that time and spend the remaining half of the semester in a classroom on the days they would normally have TRIO.
Lynch explained the importance of TRIO: “it is a preparatory field experience prior to clinical experience, which provides a full semester of being in a classroom.”
King has been teaching a course in TRIO for approximately six years. She believes TRIO is important because “students receive a true classroom or field experience beyond the theory and content of the campus course, providing an opportunity for learning at the highest levels on Bloom’s Taxonomy.”
This is Rogers’ seventh semester teaching TRIO.
“I view TRIO students as professionals who will soon be responsible for educating students with disabilities, collaborating with professionals, working with families and meeting the ongoing demands of this field,” said Rogers.
This is Bloh’s second semester teaching SPU 317.
“I was at KU before [TRIO] was offered,” said Bloh. “As a faculty, we were motivated to have special ed majors get an experience that suits them specifically and not relying on Pro Sem. TRIO has our majors working from 9-4, a typical school day.”
Bloh also stated he often asks his students, “Is this the schedule you want? This is the life.”
Bloh believes it is exceptionally important to make the connection between the classroom and the actual experience.
“Future students should expect to have professional expectations placed upon them,” said Bloh. “In other words, they will be treated like teachers. You may or may not get support from your future grade chair or administrator. Future students should expect to increase their capacity to be independent professionals.”
According to Lynch, some of the requirements for each student involves lesson planning, teaching the lesson, creating games for K-12 students, assisting individual students, writing an Individualized Education Plan–also known as an IEP–interpreting assessment data and making instructional decisions.
“They should expect the same quality of course content and experience that current students are receiving,” said King. “All instructors should be teaching for critical thinking in teaching, not rote memorization.”
Sarah Supplee, a student currently in the TRIO semester, is looking forward to “being given the opportunity to start building relationships with administrators and schools.” She is also excited about going out into the field and “gaining experience with teaching and opening a new chapter in [her] education.”
On the contrary, Supplee explained, “I am worried that I may not be able to fully understand and comprehend parts of the presented material and will struggle with learning that material to its full extent.”
A student who experienced the TRIO semester in fall 2018 explained the number one thing they learned was how to realistically implement lesson plans. This student wanted to remain anonymous.
In regards to improvements or changes that could be made to TRIO, Lynch said, “we are constantly evaluating the projects, time frame, and learning outcomes of TRIO–all the faculty members would like to incorporate more time in real classrooms–this is where our majors can get the best hands-on experience and practice We’re also considering having the KU student return to the classroom as a student teacher–lots of research supports this practice.”
The anonymous student said the best thing about TRIO was the hands-on experience gained from working with the students and teachers. The worst aspect of TRIO, according to the student, was the lack of communication between the professors and students, and also between the professors teaching TRIO.
Advice from the anonymous KU student to future students taking TRIO: “Once you’re in the field, I feel it would be beneficial to meet with the professors to make sure expectations are clear, ask any questions, and to keep connected during the field experience. Definitely, take advantage of your cooperating teacher’s resources and experience, and don’t be afraid to ask questions!”