Much has been written about the value of inclusive education and the ways in which inclusive education benefits ALL learners, not just those identified with need or classified by a school district. Yet, even when the most committed educator agrees with the value of inclusion, it does not automatically translate to practice. Successful school inclusion requires guidance, support and consistent intention. Everyone from administrators to all teachers (not just “special ed” teachers) to parents and students, support staff, etc. must be brought into the planning process. It is not always easy, and flexibility is critical, because as soon as you think you have it right, the needs of your students may change and you will have to adapt and plan again. Nevertheless, with thoughtful planning and intentional design, inclusive classrooms will be beneficial for all learners.
Here are my top five strategies for structuring an inclusive classroom environment:
1) All students benefit from a multi-sensory approach to learning.
This is exactly what it sounds like; an approach to education that engages all of the senses. Some of us learn best by listening, some through reading. Some of us need to write something down to commit it to memory, others won’t remember well unless they repeat it back out loud. Still others need to touch, taste or even smell to fully grasp a new concept. Combining a variety of different approaches increases the likelihood that learning can be meaningful, relevant and lasting.
2) Individualized expectations are fair.
Individualizing expectations are as fair for gifted students as they are for those with learning challenges; and everyone in between. It is a misnomer that having different expectations for different students in the same classroom is unfair. Fair isn’t equal; fair is when everyone gets what they need. Teachers should not compare students to one another, rather students should each be working toward progress from their own current level of functioning. Individualizing doesn’t “dumb down” the curriculum or hold any students back; it enables each student to progress at his/her own pace.
3) Station activities, or centers, benefit all learners.
Centers provide students with the opportunity to learn at their own pace as they explore a concept or practice a skill. All students benefit as centers enable the delivery of instruction to be differentiated according to individual students’ needs. There are many different ways to structure centers within a classroom, and choices will need to be made based on skill level, students’ ability to work independently and the number of staff available in the classroom.
4) Develop a clear set of rules and expectations for your classroom.
Behavior management is critical to a successful learning environment. When students act out or are unable to focus, no significant learning can take place. Rules for the classroom and student behavior need to be kindly but firmly established. A successful classroom will be one that reinforces positive behavior, stimulates attention and imagination and makes expectations clear.
5) Be flexible!
Maybe this should have been number one. A teacher’s ability to adapt and change when necessary is critical to the success of an inclusive classroom. Seasoned teachers know how to “read the room”. This means that they are in tune with their students’ needs and abilities well enough to recognize when something isn’t working. Students benefit from a teach who possesses the flexibility to scrap a lesson altogether when it isn’t clicking, or to capture an amazing moment and run with it instead of the planned lesson.
Photo Credit: Daniel Kulinski