The Inclusive Classroom
Prior to the the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975, only very large school districts offered any kind of education to children with special needs. In the decades following the act, students with special needs were often segregated from their typical peers in designated rooms of the school; this practice is called the self-contained classroom. In schools today, inclusion is becoming the preferred method of placement for students with special needs. Inclusion is the idea that all students should be accommodated in a regular classroom setting, without restrictions or limitations. This type of classroom is the least restrictive form of education for students with special needs, and unlike a self-contained classroom, it allows the student to be included in a typical classroom environment with their peers. In the inclusive classroom students with special needs will spend most or all of their time with typical students in a regular classroom, but accommodations and modifications will be made to help the students be comfortable as well as successful in the classroom. The class will be lead by a minimum of two teachers; a regular educator and a special educator, this allows the students more opportunities for one on one time or small group work.
Benefits of an Inclusive Classroom
There are many benefits of inclusion for children with special needs. The students are held to higher academic expectations than they would be in a self-contained classroom, as well as have the opportunity to be with peers and create bonds and friendships. Other benefits of an inclusive classroom are:
- The students benefit from differentiated instruction. Inclusive classrooms place importance on creating opportunities for students to learn and be assessed in a variety of ways, this increases the opportunity for student engagement.
- Special needs students learn valuable social skills from their typical classmates. Certain disabled children lack in the area of social skills, and by placing them in a classroom with only other special need students, they may get little to no social interaction. By placing the students together, the typical students can model appropriate social behavior to their peers.
- Students without disabilities will benefit from the added diversity. Typical students will form friendships that they otherwise would not of if they were not in an inclusive class, and learn to accept and appreciate people who are different than them.
- Inclusive education can make more efficient use of a school's resources by maximizing the availability of staff and materials for all students, instead of separating them and duplicating them.
In the inclusive classroom the room should be arranged so that the physical space accommodates the various needs that the students have. Here are a few suggestions to help get you started:
- Allow enough ample space that the students can move around safely, with large furniture stabilized and spaced out, clutter out of the way, wires and cables taped down.
- Have the items that students will be working with in easy reach for even the smallest student and for students in wheelchairs.
- The room should decorated in a way that it feels warm and inviting, but not be so bright and busy that it is over stimulating and distracting.
- Opportunity for cooperative learning is important in the inclusive classroom, so grouping the desks in pairs or groups of four will encourage discussion and collaboration among the students.
- Designate one area in the classroom as the class meeting spot. This will be the spot where the whole class can come together to have discussions, develop social skills, and participate in activities.
- Make a quiet or calming corner in the classroom that students can go when they get frustrated or over stimulated, and need a short break from class. Have this space be out of the way and separate from where classroom activities are taking place. You can decorate the spot with a bean bag or soft pillows and put stuffed animals or other soothing items in the area.
- Place learning centers throughout the classroom. Centers appeal to students of all grade levels and learning styles, and it is a good way to get students to work together and socialize with their peers.
Teaching a group of unique learners can be challenging, but the following are a few strategies that can be implemented that can make inclusion learning environment comfortable and successful for both the students and the teacher in an place where all students can see it and review it
- Space class work periods out with brain breaks; like adults children's brains can become overloaded, which leads to frustration. Have the students stand up and move around for a couple minutes before they go back to sitting down and working.
- Provide additional time to finish assignments. A good way to do this is have students keep a stay-at-school folder. The folder is kept in the students desk and they put any unfinished work into the folder to complete at a later time, the teacher then provides designated time throughout for the students to work on assignments in their stay-at-school folder.
- Inform students before transitioning from one activity to the next. Remind the students several minutes before changing, and let them know what they will be doing.
- Break long assignments up into segments of shorter tasks.
- Before starting a new project, present the class a model of how you want the project to look when it is finished.
- When giving directions, use both written and verbal with visuals.
- Allow student to use tape recorders, computers, calculators and dictation as needed and necessary.
- When testing, allow for the test to be scribed and/or taken orally. Stay away from timed tests, and divide longer tests into small sections with breaks in between. Grade spelling and handwriting separately from content, and always allow for tests to be retaken.
- Learn about each of the students and find out their likes and dislikes and things that are important to them. Make the lessons relevant to the students to keep them engaged and excited about learning, and help curb boredom.
- Assign classroom jobs. The jobs will help provide organization and skill practice, as well as make students feel included in the classroom community.
- Have five minutes at the end of the day designated for classroom cleanup and organization.
- Develop a system that will let the student know when behavior is not appropriate, always include a warning before taking action against inappropriate behavior.
- Ignore attention-seeking behavior as long as it is not becoming destructive towards the class.
- Develop a code of conduct for the classroom and have it displafrequently.
For further reading and research, use the links below.
- U.S. Department of Education and IDEA: http://idea.ed.gov/explore/home
- Special Education rules and regulations: http://www.doe.in.gov/sites/default/files/specialed/art7.pdf
- Students with Autism: http://www.doe.in.gov/sites/default/files/specialed/art7.pdf
- Teaching students in an inclusive classroom: http://www.theinclusiveclass.com/