H – Honor student diversity, development and their right to learn.
H3 – Honor the classroom/school community as a milieu for learning. Teacher candidates implement classroom/school centered instruction, including sheltered instruction that is connected to communities within the classroom and the school, and includes knowledge and skills for working with others.
When observing a wide variety of arguments that are for and against classroom inclusion practices, academic goals are the primary focus of many of those arguments. One example of this is provided by Evans (2008) discussing the benefits and restraints of placing students with special needs in general education settings. Evans also states that “it is the student’s Individualized Education Programs (IEP) team that must determine what accommodations are appropriate and make them part of the written IEP” (p. 334). More focus should be provided on not segregating these populations from the rest of the school society as well. Each side of the arguments highlighted by Evans pose observations of the struggles that these students encounter but these arguments are failing to recognize the vast diversity of skillsets within these populations. One student with special needs may be extremely advanced in mathematics and language arts while struggling in other classes due to their disability. Another student with autism spectrum disorder may be unable to attend classes at all until they can exhibit control of violent behaviors. It is difficult to pose such arguments in regard to academic achievement for such a vastly diverse population of individuals without focusing on the individual alone.
On the contrary, if educators were to ignore academic goals for a moment and reflect on the importance of students better knowing and relating to those within their school society, this may eliminate the stereotypes and stigmatizations these populations with disabilities may encounter. Furthermore, students with varying disabilities are capable of educating those within the general education population. Noddings (2006) speaks to the importance of student interactions, and Figure 1 further defines her stance on this.
Students spend much of their time in school and many learn the majority of their socialization skills amongst their peers in this setting. If teachers can facilitate that more interactions amongst diverse groups of students occur, they will enable these students to learn about and understand others within their community. Figure 2 outlines a potential solution to incorporating inclusion practices within the classroom by utilizing group work amongst children.
While group work is helpful, peer tutoring in special education settings enables those students with disabilities to function in general education settings. There is no doubt that peer tutoring is a benefit to students with disabilities; peer tutors can exhibit appropriate behaviors and social interactions to those struggling with behavioral problems while also assisting those that require help with gross and fine motor skills. In addition, peer tutors also become advocates to students with disabilities helping to eliminate bullying, as they tend to befriend the students they assist. Peer tutors may also assist those with disabilities when these students are introduced to the general education classroom, especially during group activities.
Moreover, those who require assistance from the peer tutors also provide a moral and academic education to those students. An excerpt from figure 2 reads, “…youngsters who are outsiders will change their behavior and attitudes as a result of being recognized and included” (p. 111). I would also like to add that youngsters who are not outsiders also change their attitudes and behaviors.
I’d like to present some evidence from a peer-tutoring program at a nearby middle school. This evidence is obtained from the reflective journaling of a student that was a peer tutor in a life skills classroom for one semester. Figure 3 shows an excerpt from this student’s reflective journal; she experienced significant growth simply in the realization that she knew little about those with disabilities prior to her experience.
Figure 4 illustrates some misconceptions that this student had prior to assisting in this classroom.
The journal was very elaborate, outlining several pages of reflection on what she learned, her advice to future peer tutors, how this experience changed her as a person, and even outlined a glossary of terms and definitions of the different disabilities she learned about. Peer tutors that are currently serving in this life skills classroom read this student’s journal. They also utilize this information to reflect on their own experiences being new to the peer-tutoring program. Peer tutors befriend the students in this classroom and they all watch out for each other in the school. This promotes those in this contained classroom to gain the social skills necessary to sit in a general education classroom and become active members of the school community. This is not only beneficial to those with disabilities but seeing the successes of these students is a huge reward for those students that work with them. I’d like to close with the statement represented in figure 5.
Evans, D. (2008). Taking sides: Clashing views in teaching and educational practice (3rd ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill Higher Education.
Noddings, N. (2006). Critical lessons: What our schools should teach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.