The Centers for Quality Teaching and Learning
One of the hottest topics I hear from educators is about Inclusion; integrating Special Education students with regular students. This past week, I visited a school in South Carolina, where I observed an inclusion math class. The math teacher and the Special Ed. Teacher taught the lesson for the day, but I am hard pressed to say it was team work. While one teacher taught, the other walked around the room helping students, then they would switch. It was a model lesson in futility. Educators end up scratching their heads about how Inclusion SHOULD look in the classroom. For some, it is going through the motions, doing as above, for others it is actually working collaboratively to create integrated lessons so that all students learn at high levels.
According to David Martin (‘Inclusion: Time to Re-Think’), there is no systematic process for pre-service teachers in dealing with students with disabilities. It is simply not a requirement and student teachers are not necessarily being placed with children with disabilities. Martin believes that all pre-service teachers should complete classes that deal with students with disabilities and that once they become teachers, ongoing professional development is needed to further develop their skills in working with specific disabilities. In other words, most teachers don’t receive the kind of preparation needed to be successful with Inclusion.
One of the biggest inclusion issues I have experienced in schools is that most schools have differing opinions about what inclusion really is. To some, it is placing students in the same classroom with regular students, but they are taught only by their own Special Education teacher and the students don’t necessarily interact with other students. I have seen inclusion work very well in a Virginia high school. A group of five teachers worked together on a collaborative project in World Religions that spanned across five curricular areas. One of the teachers was the Special Education teacher. The Special Education students were included in the regular classroom and in the end the average score for the end of project test was 80%, even for the Special Ed. Students (although they were tested according to their IEP’s). This project raised the self-esteem of the Special Ed. Group and raised awareness and knowledge about students with disabilities as being viable people to the regular classroom students.
The biggest problem with inclusion is that most teachers are not taught how to deal with students with specific disabilities. I believe, as does David Martin, and Villa and Thousand, that today’s students are made up of a diverse population and differentiating instruction should be standard course of instruction. That would include reaching students with disabilities. I don’t agree with Karen Agne that inclusion is more of an intrusion than positive educational experience. Inclusion won’t work unless teachers are skilled at differentiation and understand specific disabilities (and abilities) of all their students.
The five systems-level practices required for successful promotion and implementation of inclusive education, as described by Villa and Thousand are: (1) Connection with Best Practices, (2) Visionary Leadership, (3) Redefined roles, (4) Collaboration, and (5) Adult Support. Villa and Thousand interviewed respected educational leaders in inclusive education to form their opinions on this matter.
Connection with best practices is not unique to inclusion, according to Villa and Thousand they are the same practices that should be used for every student, whether they are a student with disabilities or a regular classroom student. Best practices include block scheduling, multi-age student grouping and allow schools to adopt proven strategies, instead of seeing their population as unique.
Visionary leadership is a necessary factor because of the need to have an overall plan for implementing inclusion activities, monitor progress and to make adjustments along the way. Villa and Thousand identify four types of support necessary for inclusion to be successful. They are: personal and emotional, informational, instrumental and appraisal. The leadership at the school is critical to make sure there is a plan, it is supported by teachers and administration, and is working.
Redefined roles relate to an attitude change which results in job shifts as well. The redefined roles create a shared responsibility for educating all students. Teachers are given proper training and encouraged to collaborate with each other to meet the diverse needs of the learning population.
Collaboration is a ‘key variable’ in making inclusion successful. Teachers create planning teams, are problem solvers and ‘empowered’ to work together to find new ways to engage all learners and all levels. School administrators have to make collaboration a priority and create time for planning to occur.
Adult support refers to teacher’s assistants or Special Education teachers assigned to classrooms, rather than to individual students. Villa and Thousand see this as a support team, assigned to work with a team of educators, rather than assigned to work with ‘specific’ students.
Until teachers receive the ‘proper training’ in how to deal with all students and can effectively meet their learning needs, they are doing nothing but just ‘going through the motions’. They aren’t creating an environment conducive to learning and they cause a bigger division among the students in the classroom. Inclusion can work and it works well when teachers are prepared to teach to diverse learning needs.
“Inclusion: Time to Rethink,” by David S. Martin, The Educational Forum (Spring 1997)