Tuesday, July 30, 2013


For any of you who have followed this blog over the years you know I have an up and down battle with inclusion, that usually ends with the closing thought "there are no easy answers. Each kid needs something different, inclusion can't be something we just do, it needs to be thoughtfully put into place".

After a year teaching in a program for students with intellectual disabilities I've seen even more shades of gray within the inclusion movement. I've seen children thrive because they are now in a small environment getting the exact instruction they need, while I've seen other children lose out on an opportunity to be exposed to more academics. And if we aren't exposed to something- aren't taught something- we will never learn it. So not including children can put an automatic cap on their ability to learn.

Then again, if we include children for the sake of inclusion we overlook other skills they need to be able to be successful with higher level academics. This in turn lets us have low expectations for them because we think "Great, Johnny can sit on the carpet with his general education peers and look at the teacher. We don't think he'll actually learn it because they are talking about reading strategies and Johnny still doesn't know his ABCs, but at least he's with the group."

Inclusion shouldn't just be for the sake of social interactions with general education peers. If we are able to be deliberate in our opportunities for inclusion we can build academic and social skills in a gen ed environment. We may need to pre-teach some academic skills, we may need to spend time strengthening essential knowledge so that our children can be successful when they are pushed in. We may need to look at how we can take a higher level general education lesson and put in deliberate questions, an off-shoot activity, and adapted materials that will make it work.

What I saw this past year was that children we didn't think would ever be able to be included during the school day- in music, PE, or art- rose to the challenge because we gave them the challenge. We set the expectation that they would be a part of the school community, we gave them the support they needed, we pre-taught skills and analyzed what wasn't working- and our kids shone.

Because of their inclusion in the gen ed specials our students learned how to behavior around their peers, how to handle loud noises in larger environments, and how to deal with distractions in a way that allowed us to push them into their general education classrooms for actual, meaningful academic blocks. Successfully. And often my students did better academically in their gen ed environments than they did in my room working on the same academics.

We have a limited amount of time during the day when we can reach our students- and we have so much to cram into those hours. Every moment is accounted for, whether it is teaching life skills, learning to learn behaviors, or academics. We don't have time for inclusion for inclusions sake, but we also don't have time to not include because it doesn't fit into our schedules, or is too much of a threat to our current working models.

It's something every school fights- the right balance between including all students and meeting each students' needs. The balance can't lie within the school policy, but instead within the students themselves (what do the students in front of me need?) with educators making meaningful and informed decisions about their students' growth.


Anonymous said...

In our school district, there have tended to be quite a lot of children who are included (fully included, all day) but for socialization reasons only. It turned out that many were "only children" with no siblings to model typical behavior; children with siblings (or neighborhood groups of kids that spent a lot of time together) had parents who were less likely to see inclusion as a social strategy, and therefore more open to having their children spend all or part of their days in special ed classrooms that were academically appropriate but had fewer models for appropriate behavior.

Anonymous said...

Do you consider the effects on the neurotypical children when they are in a full inclusion classroom. If I have a choice, I would never let my NT children stay in an inclusion classroom. My kids have suffered through too many classmates throwing furniture, going into screaming rages or generally causing chaos.

My children deserve a calm environment where they can learn academics to fulfill their potential. That can't happen when the teacher's time is taken up with children who are unable to control themselves.

In addition, there is the reality that differentiation does not work. There is a narrow band of skill levels that one teacher can address in a class. If there is too wide a spread in reading levels, math levels or whatever, the teacher teaches to whatever range they can reach and the high and/or low kids get ignored.

After last year, my kids and I know that if there is an aide in the class, my kids need to be in a different class.

organized chaos said...

Anonymous #2, I'm really saddened by your comment, although I understand where you are coming from. Classrooms where furniture is thrown, screaming rages and chaos occur isn't a place where anyone can learn- neurotypical or not.
I think that's where that fine line of inclusion comes in. When it's done intentionally with the child's best interest in mind, instead of just because it is school policy, it is possible for teachers to make sure children are ready to be successful with inclusion.
However, I've seen the behaviors you mention from children not considered a part of the special education program. The children I currently work with- children with intellectual disabilities- rarely show those behaviors. Children with emotional disabilities, yes, but in my experience they rarely come with an aide.
I caution you against using the aide as a test for how the year will go. I've had aides that work with lovely children who are neurotypical but have physical disabilities, and aides that work with very sweet children who have intellectual disabilities. Discriminating based on whether or not a child needs additional help isn't going to help your own children learn to accept others.

When inclusion is done right the growth among the general education population is tremendous. Those children become more empathetic, and stretch themselves as friends and as teachers. I've seen genuine friendships form between children in inclusion classrooms that no adult could have forced.

I also strongly disagree with you about differentiation. When I was a general education teacher I had students who were in the advanced academic program as well as children who had intellectual disabilities- and everything in between. Once a teacher gets the hang of how to plan a lesson to reach everyone's needs it becomes second nature. I hate when I hear teachers say it is too hard because it's absolutely not. It means the teacher may need to change how they approach a lesson or their model of how they teach, but it is certainly possible. And when it is done right every child benefits from the range of the lesson. Of course, that was ten years ago when we weren't quite doing the drill and kill lessons we are now. The change in education is making it more difficult to differentiate well, but that doesn't mean it still can't be done. I see it done daily.

I hope your children have better years this year, whether or not they are in inclusion classrooms.

Anonymous said...

I have often heard that differentiate works if the teacher does it properly. I have started to wonder if I just have a different idea of what "working differentiation" is.

For my kids, a heterogenous classroom with differentiation means that they spend an enormous amount of time reading novels under their desk while the teacher reviews material endlessly. Is this what "working differentiation" means?

How wide of reading levels is too great for a teacher to differentiate effectively? Two years, five, ten? My oldest has been in a class where the reading levels ranged from second to twelfth grade. She didn't get much attention that year.

It is my job to teach my kids empathy and acceptance of others. It is the school's job to teach them algebra,to write grammatically correct sentences, biology and a foreign language.

Anonymous said...

Differentiation becomes ever more difficult as children get older and the gaps between their readiness levels increase. In K-2, class sizes are small and almost all children can benefit from standard classroom activities -- read-alouds, practicing basic math, etc. At this age, children are still learning basic social skills, too.

But in a 5th grade classroom, a cognitively disabled child needs an entirely different curriculum. There may be some overlap with the age-based curriculum, but the skills will be different and the content will be much modified. Merely chopping off a few pieces of the standard curriculum and having the paraprofessional give it to the child is not sufficient and robs that child of the education s/he could be getting.