As a future elementary teacher, it has been my personal goal to meet the educational needs of all my students. Last year, I observed a third grade teacher who developed effective strategies to meet the educational needs of all of her students ranging from the gifted and talented to those with significant cognitive disabilities; this has provided me with inspiration to learn more about children with special educational requirements. Prior to employment as a certified teacher, I have decided to work as a paraprofessional in a special education setting to gain knowledge and experience understanding the needs of some amazing children. After working in this setting for some time, I have grown to understand and empathize with the challenges that my students and their families face every day of their lives. This practice has made me passionate about effective inclusion practices hence I have reflected a lot on this topic recently. My personal research of inclusion strategies in this graduate program and with hands-on-experience has provided me with many resources to utilize in my future career.
Effective classroom inclusion is not an easy process and requires constant redevelopment and new knowledge to be effective. Teachers must remain current with professional development obtaining new information on effective inclusion strategies as more research becomes available. The following literature review provides an outline of some methodologies of effective inclusion strategies, also providing a successful model of an inclusive school. Research has shown that as diversity increases within our communities, effective classroom inclusion will continue to gain importance in our schools. As required by law, children with disabilities should be educated in the least restricted environment appropriate. I see this diversity in our student populations as a challenge but also as an opportunity for teachers and students to build on their own moral education.
Classroom Inclusion: Implementation of Successful Strategies
Inclusion is a general term in education describing the process of assisting students with special needs in the general education setting (Lewis & Doorlag, 2011). Students with special needs can be categorized in three groups, “gifted and talented students, … culturally and linguistically diverse students (including those who are English learners), and students at risk for school failure” (p. 5). Inclusion in general education has provided many challenges for educators and students. Every school has a different student population that requires individualized methods of support. Lack of training, communication, and planning for teachers and staff may cause unnecessary hurdles for everyone involved in the inclusion process, especially in many cases where educational support has been invasive and overwhelming for students on IEPs, undermining “the purposes of inclusion” (Causton-Theoharis, 2009, p. 37). Collaboration amongst school colleagues is essential, to plan and modify instruction, to meet the needs of all students within the general education setting. Furthermore, administrative planning, training, and support is necessary, to facilitate that the structure is in place for each individual school’s needs. This collaboration should be constant, setting up the groundwork each school year for a continuously changing student population.
Strategies for Successful Inclusion
Inclusion is a practical means to help educate those that are struggling academically and socially within the school. The frequent conundrum that is voiced by educators is how do teachers meet the educational needs of these students while also facilitating that the rest of the general education classrooms’ needs are being met?
Petriwskyja (2010) states:
[Although] there remains confusion about the meaning of inclusion and its implications for teachers… the emerging paradigm of inclusion involves all children having the right to participate actively in a general education setting and be valued members of that education community (p. 195).
There are many strategies emerging as to how to address the needs of all students in the general education classroom. New research is highlighting further methods that have proven to be successful thus far.
Positive learning environments promote successful academics. For example, “research has illustrated that behavioral deficits in attention, task performance, social skills, compliance, and the ability to manage emotion and frustration often lead to school failure” (Kalis, Vannest, & Parker, 2007, p. 21). Consistent praise is one method essential in effective teaching, especially when working in inclusive settings. When modeling praise, a teacher should commend students for effective academic achievement as well as for modeling appropriate behavior and peer interaction in the classroom. Furthermore, praise should be specific and communicated in relevance to a specific task or achievement. For example, rather than just telling a student that they have done a good job, let them know specifically what they did and why that was a job well done.
With inclusive teaching, research has also shown that adults must also effectively fade their support. As described by Causton-Theoharris (2009), “invasive adult support has had inadvertent detrimental effects on students with disabilities” (p. 38). Kleinert et al. (2010) further states research indicates it is important to instill self-advocacy early in a child’s education giving students with disabilities an early start “…on a potentially enhanced quality of life” (p. 17). Teachers can do this by further educating the rest of the class on the goals of the inclusion process and the importance of peer assistance; this can be done by initiating group work, peer tutoring, and establishing diversity lessons in advance of the inclusion process. Adults should provide services to students only when appropriate, understanding that constant assistance is to be taken with great caution. Teachers and paraprofessionals should use strategies to assist many students individually rather than focus only on a select few. “Effective adult support requires finesse, subtlety, and elegance. It requires the most nuanced and careful action and – at times – inaction” (Causton-Theoharris, 2009, p. 37).
It is also important to note that education is a field of limited resources therefore educators must utilize them well. “Research regarding teacher perspectives on inclusion have consistently shown that a major concern relates to having sufficient resources in the classroom to make inclusion successful.” This verifies that schools including all staff must utilize limited resources efficiently (McLeskey et al., 2012, p. 65). Every school and district has individualized challenges that determine the availability of resources and how they should be put to use. Administrators, teachers, and other staff need to communicate well amongst each other in order for everyone to understand what resources, such as supplies, budgets, time, scheduled meetings, available staff, co-teaching opportunities, and so on may help them achieve educational goals for all students each school year. Furthermore, the continued support of administration is necessary for successful inclusion to be possible.
Professional development is another important strategy to keep educators and staff current on inclusion strategies. “Professional development for creating inclusive, equitable, and excellent schools is a long-term process” (Howard, 2010, p.22). Inclusion is not a consistent process as each student has their own diversified education plan; this system requires constant research and continuous massaging. Schools should provide training opportunities for all staff to help them learn to effectively assist those with disabilities. Furthermore, teachers and paraprofessionals should receive continued training to understand the goals of inclusion and how to work together to meet the needs of all students. Research also shows that data should be gathered on a consistent basis to measure student outcomes. With continued education, educators can further develop new strategies to effectively reach all students and measure their own instruction.
A Successful Inclusion Model
Inclusion in general education classrooms can be successful with differentiated instruction yet there are challenges associated with this, and it takes a well designed system to facilitate that the needs of all students are being met. Aiming to support all students is to promote reaching students with varied disabilities as well as the rest of the full spectrum, including those with heightened abilities.
An article that highlights a study of an elementary school that has proven successful results with inclusion is A Case Study of a Highly Effective, Inclusive Elementary School written by James McLeskey, Nancy L. Waldron, and Lacy Redd (2014). This school, Creekside Elementary (CES), provides school-wide administrative and organizational features, supports students, and supports staff to provide quality instruction. The classrooms at CES were organized in structured learning groups where teachers could team together and focus more on individual needs. “There are five elements of cooperative learning: positive interdependence, individual accountability, face-to-face promotive interaction, interpersonal and small group skills, and group processing” (Rief and Heimburge, 2006, p.9). What’s interesting about the case study of this particular elementary school is that the educators and administration exhibit all of these cooperative learning skills. McLeskey et al. (2014) quotes the principal, Ms. Richards, stating:
The inclusion movement came as a plan to meet all kids’ needs, but in particular students with disabilities. It’s not an add-on program that just meets the needs of one group of students. It became part of the whole school’s plan for improving achievement for all students. It’s not about students with disabilities or gifted students, it’s about how can we make every child successful (p. 64).
The evidence from this case study provides many examples of positive inclusion practices. This article provides themes and details that emerged during the case study of CES, including the following simplified list:
(a) Meeting the needs of all students; (b) providing high-quality instruction for all students; (c) immersing teachers in professional development opportunities; (d) very efficient, but flexible use of resources; (e) shared decision-making; and (f) data drive everything (McLeskey et al., 2014, 63).
For example, staff at this school “… committed to meeting the needs of all students, including every ‘subgroup’ (e.g., gifted students, students from high-poverty background) or disability category of students who attended school” (McLeskey et al., 2014, p. 63). Co-teaching strategies were also utilized to help the special education and general education teachers to work together. Many times one teacher would provide instruction while the other would assist students; they also were engaged with station teaching further helping individualize instruction (McLeskey et al., 2014). Teachers established caring and positive relationships with students and provided praise when appropriate. Students who required it had areas to cool down and deescalate when required. Students who needed it also had peer assistance in order to fade adult help and avoid learned helplessness.
Moreover, administration also contributed significantly to the success of this model. The principal managed time efficiently for professional development opportunities. Staff meetings held during school hours were utilized for inclusion training sessions. One teacher stated, “Why sit through an hour and a half faculty meeting when you can write a memo” (McLeskey et al., 2014, p. 65). This helped provide additional professional development hours outside of the budgeted funds. Also, school days were scheduled rigidly, teachers and staff were not micromanaged, all staff participated in shared decision making building a sense of community amongst staff, and data was gathered by staff and was used to inform all decisions.
This inclusion model provided by Creekside Elementary (CES) provides promise for other schools to instill more effective inclusion strategies. It further provides an example of how effective instruction is achievable but a very complex procedure requiring the teamwork of the school as a whole. With the support and framework provided by administration and the implementation of teaching practices and data gathering by teachers and staff, this school has proven to be successful.
Based on the findings by McLeskey et al. (2014), the most critical area for more research is to focus future studies on more inclusive settings. “For example, it would be useful to examine schools nationally and across states to investigate the relationship between inclusive practices and student outcomes” (p. 69). Given the current emphasis on assisting the needs of all students in the United States, it is difficult to facilitate that these needs are being met with limited data. The study done at CES provides some positive feedback on one inclusive setting but as more research becomes available, it will provide more feedback for diverse districts with differing student populations. When evaluating what factors contribute to successful inclusion at a school, there are some variables that may be applicable to most settings, i.e. praise, faded adult support, utilization of limited resources, professional development, and data gathering; there may be other emerging factors from other various case models as well. Furthermore, “…most [inclusion] studies have primarily involved older students and most have been implemented by teachers” (Kleinert et al., 2010, p. 17). While there are a few studies done with younger students, future research will provide more detailed information on further inclusion instructional strategies.
A primarily challenge that educators face is how to meet the educational needs of all students. Research has shown that many teaching methods have proven to be successful. Positive learning environments, praise, and consistent support help students feel safe; this establishes trust in the classroom. Prevention of learned helplessness by increasing peer tutoring and interaction while fading adult support helps promote self-advocacy. Utilization of limited resources with effective communication provides more effective and efficient classrooms. Remaining academic throughout one’s career and continued professional development ensures all staff are up-to-date on new knowledge as new research emerges.
An inclusive learning environment may provide challenges for educators and students, but inclusion has been proven successful when thought out and strategically implemented. Creekside Elementary School (CES) provides a good example of a successful inclusive school. Each school and every school year is unique, with diverse student populations; there lies the challenge with implementing successful inclusion. With the right strategies in place it may be possible for the needs of every student to be met.
Causton-Theoharis, J. N. (2009). The golden rule of providing support in inclusive classrooms: Support others, as you would wish to be supported. Teaching Exceptional Children, 42 (2), 36-43. Retrieved from http://www.chinooksedge.ab.ca/documents/general/Golden%20Rule.pdf
Howard, G. R. (2010, March). As diversity grows, so must we. Responding to Changing Demographics, 64, 16-22. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar07/vol64/num06/As-Diversity-Grows,-So-Must-We.aspx
Kalis, T. M., Vannest, K. J., & Parker, R. (2007). Praise counts: Using self-monitoring to increase effective teaching practices. Preventing School Failure, 51 (3), 20-27.
Kleinert, J. O., Harrison, E. M., Fisher, T. L., Kleinert, H. L. (2010). “I can” and “I did” – self-advocacy for young students with developmental disabilities. Council for Exceptional Children, 43 (2), 16-26.
Lewis, R. B., & Doorlag, D. H. (2011). Teaching students with special needs in general education classrooms. Boston, MA: Pearson.
McLeskey, J., Waldron, N. L., & Redd, L. (2014). A case study of a highly effective, inclusive elementary school. The Journal of Special Education, 48 (1), 59-70. doi:10.1177/0022466912440455
Petriwskyja , A. (2010, March). Diversity and inclusion in the early years: School of early childhood, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD, Australia. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 14 (2), 195-212. doi: 10.1080/13603110802504515
Rief, S. F. & Heimburge, J. A. (2006). How to reach and teach all children in the inclusive classroom: Practical strategies, lessons, and activities (2nd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.