Now that the year has ended and I'm enjoying my summer vacation it's time to start reflecting on what worked really well this year and what didn't.
Last summer I wrote that my goal for the year was to get the majority of my students into full inclusion settings by the end of the year. Of the nine that started in my room in September here's the final breakdown:
Three students are moving on to more restrictive settings.
Three are returning to the non-categorical classroom for next year.
Two will be in full inclusion next year.
One is moving to another school but will continue to be in a non-categorical placement.
When I look at the numbers I have to admit I feel a sense of failure. I would love to see the children either go into full inclusion or stay in a non-categorical classroom instead of a more restrictive program. But if I'm honest I want that for myself. I have to look at what is best for the individual students. On a case by case basis they are going on to what is best for them at this time and I wouldn't change their future placements at all.
Could I have done more to help more of them work toward full inclusion? This is something I'll be trying to sort out all summer. There is one student in particular that I would have loved to see move toward more hours with her gen ed peers.What could I have done differently?
If I could go back I would re-look at the reading program I used with her. Although it was a strong program it was scripted and I let the program lead us through most of the year. It gave her a lot of foundational skills that I most likely would not have spent as much time on if I hadn't been using it, but it also may have held us back. If I had been teaching guided reading the way I did in a gen ed classroom I may have pushed her further along instead of being satisfied with following a teacher's manual.
I also wish I'd spent more time attempting to integrate her into her gen ed classroom. I'd hear reports from others about her struggles with whole group lessons when she was in her gen ed room and when I was able to get into her gen ed room I'd see them myself, but I wish I'd done more to sit with her and help her adapt to the environment. She may be ready for strategies that will help her learn in a whole group but since she was with me for her main academics we never touched on that.
On the other hand, because she was one of two students for math and writing she most likely made more progress than she would have in the gen ed room. She primarily received one on one instruction and we were able to truly focus on those essential early learning skills she'll be using the rest of her life.
What would have been more important? Having her with her peers feeling frustrated but included? Or having her with me where she could work on the skills she needed and truly master them? When you compare the student's achievement in academics and self-regulation to her kindergarten year when she was in a full inclusion classroom she made tremendous gains. Yet could I have done things differently that would have given her a least restrictive yet successful placement?
It's not an easy question to answer and it's the reason that we spend so long on IEPs going over the legal definition of the Least Restrictive Environment and a Free and Appropriate Public Education. Placement decisions are never to be taken lightly and should never be done because of a school's general policy. It comes from a team of people putting their heads together, looking at the facts and deciding what is best for the student. And even then we're not always sure that we found the right answer. I have a feeling I'll keep thinking about what else I could have done for this one all summer.