Holistic Assessment of Students with Special Needs
An instructor is playing a board game with a student who is familiar with the rules of the game. The instructor pretends that he is confused about the rules and cannot play properly. The student, who is selectively mute, after a while, finally speaks to explain the game. To an outsider, it seems like nothing but a friendly game between an instructor and a student. However, all the while the instructor, in fact, had been observing how familiar the student is with the game, how they are responding to the other player’s queries, and what kinds of questions they are responding to. All without letting the student know that they are being observed. This scenario is one example of holistic assessment.
Holistic assessment refers to how an instructor assesses a special student’s learning abilities outside the stereotypical classroom environment and in their natural surroundings. Instead of focusing on the student’s ability based on rote learning, the aim of holistic learning is to observe the actions, speech and cues of a student in various situations in order to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of the student. Likewise, the instructor maintains contact with the key stakeholders in regards to the student, (parents, and counselors, special education institutes) to track the student’s progress before and after various holistic models have been applied. The educator starts their assessment with the approach “things I know I want to know” and during the course of the assessment, comes across “things I didn’t know I wanted to know”.
During the assessment, students don’t even realize they are learning. Their knowledge unfolds each time through the adaptation and consumption of new relevant information. In order for the holistic approach to prove effective for students, it must offer a positive and model friendly environment. Positive reinforcement and learner encouragement for efforts are paramount for success. Educators must demonstrate an enthusiastic, joyful and positive learning attitudes in order to elicit similar response in their students.
Some of the methods utilized in holistic assessment include:
- Visualization, which helps students understand how an abstract concept interacts. For e.g. provide the student with a pad of paper, and have them in pictures, sketch the relationship between several ideas.
- Ask the student about the sound, feel and look of an object or concept, and have them try to relate its function or use
- Another method involves the use of metaphors (linking two concepts that aren’t related) to tie together concepts, objects and their uses or conversations. This helps the student put together ideas, even if they are wrong. More than the correct answer, the aim lies in allowing the child to learn how to link various unrelated concepts to a single concept until a link is established. Moreover, this allows them to view a situation from a different perspective and utilize the concepts they have either learned in a classroom, or from their natural environment, to new situations. A successful example of implementing this method can of the “That reminds me of” game where, a situation is presented to a student, and they write down all ideas, regardless of how absurd or unrelated – to link ideas together that usually do not connect.
Other than these, in order to increase students’ motivation, the instructor should model a variety of reading/writing exercises to promote comprehension such as;
- field trips
- informal lessons on reading/writing usage (how/why)
- reading to students
- labeling items in class
- letting students dictate written products
- incorporating written language into oral language
- activity planning that promotes the utility of reading/writing
Many other models and approaches can be found and understood through other resources. However, it is important to note that there is no right or wrong method to approach holistic assessment. Each educator must use an approach that best suits the student’s individual needs and their environment. Moreover, it must be realized that more than helping special children learn by adapting to their abilities, holistic assessment is more useful for identifying the disability of a child at a young age, so that they are provided the right guidance and learning approach from early on.