my last monday night grad class of the semester (one year to go...) we gave our research presentations. one of my classmates, a girl working on her BA in social work, presented her research on inclusion and how it impacts SOL test scores.
we were all shocked by her results.
she found that students with learning disabilities at her school who spend the most time out of the classroom in a learning lab score far better on SOLs than their peers who stay in the classroom for whole-group instruction. in fact, some of those kids who attended the learning lab earned 'passed advanced' on their SOLs, while their peers actually failed.
there were a lot of variables in her study, but as we questioned her (horrified, wanting to prove her wrong) we realized that she limited the variables as much as she could. she herself was shocked at her findings.
it makes sense though. in a pull-out environment you have fewer children, more individual instruction, and more instruction aimed at the individual in question. if they don't get something you don't make a note in your book to revisit it tomorrow, you immediately change your direction, and re-teach until you're satisfied that they are secure in their information.
i have been unsure about my thoughts on inclusion all year. in the beginning of the year i worked with my bff, who most likely was not in the best place for his needs. once he left i started realizing that some kiddos weren't learning what they needed to be learning so i started pulling them out for lunch bunch. they're not missing instruction, and lunch bunch is always a choice. if they want to stay with their peers they can. little do they know that lunch bunch is tightly planned to meet specific phonics skills tailored to their special needs. the results have been pretty impressive. i'm thrilled with how much their learning in the small group.
but lunch bunch is also the most exhausting 45 minutes of my day. it in itself is a reason why self-contained classrooms aren't such a hot idea. i cannot imagine having those 5 kiddos all day alone together. even with an aid it would not be a great placement for them. they need the social skills they can learn in a whole-group environment.
my thoughts on inclusion are forever changing and growing. i haven't come up with a secure opinion yet. but currently i'm leaning towards believing that children with emotional disabilities, high functioning autism, and other disabilities that are more behavior based, should be placed in full-inclusion programs. they benefit the most from being in whole-group situations where they can practice their social skills, observe others' social skills, and not feel "different" for their disability, which does not necessarily impact them intellectually at all.
however, for kids with learning disabilities i'm starting to see that having pull-out programs isn't the evilness i originally believed it to be. they need a quiet environment to learn. in fact, they deserve that. they're smart kiddos who just have a hard time processing information. why leave something as important as reading for them to struggle to learn in a whole-group setting when they are distracted, frustrated, and aren't getting the best instruction for their needs? whose to say that 30 minutes a few times a week to work on those skills in a safe environment isn't exactly what they need to access the rest of the general education curriculum so that they CAN be with their peers. I hate to let them just be the "slow kids" in the class, when in fact they are able to read and think so well, they just need a different sort of instruction, more wait time, a quieter environment, or constant, immediate re-teaching.
but like i said, i'm still playing with all of this in my head. i think the real answer is that there is no one size fits all approach to special education. everybody needs something different, because, of course, kids aren't machines we are preparing for the real world. they are little people with different needs, wants, desires, and abilities, and each one presentes a new puzzle.
Just like we need a variety of environments, kids do too. I had a student included in my class a few years back. After weeks of behavior that wasn't much in the way of educational or socially positive... an administrator who was also a special ed guru (to me, anyway)cleared my head with her statement, "sometimes what seems to be the least restrictive environment is in fact, the most restrictive." Watershed moment for me. That student began spending some time in a learning lab environment with a small group. He gained 1/2 a year in reading levels, could focus on his math longer, and that transferred to better focus in his time in the larger classroom group. He was becoming overwhelmed in the large group and that 45 minute period in the middle of the day with a small group helped center him. The next school year that pull-out time wasn't necessary. I don't believe in pull-out as the only option, but on a case by case basis, I think it serves a need.
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