The Case for Inclusive Education: Sabrina’s Story

Updated: Jun 25

By Kate MacLeod, Julie Causton, and Nelia Nunes

As Sabrina’s general education teacher, Nancy Preto, talked with Nelia and began to prepare for Sabrina’s inclusion, she realized that a traditional whole-class instructional approach would not work. So she decided to create activity stations and focus on small-group instruction. During Sabrina’s first week, it was clear how these stations provided Nancy with opportunities for accommodations and modifications.

For example, Sabrina was not yet able to decode, so Nancy made sure she had reading buddies at the reading station. To introduce the buddy system, Nancy explained to students: “Some of us need out-loud reading support. Are any of you willing to read aloud to a buddy at the reading station?” Many students raised their hands.

“Great!” Nancy responded. “Let me show you my favorite way to read with a buddy.” She then modeled the “say something” strategy: Students partner up (both students might be reading independently or one might be reading aloud to the other) and periodically stop to turn and “say something” to each other about what they have just read. Nancy was modeling how to provide peer reading support while simultaneously teaching a reading comprehension strategy that all students would use.

Sabrina also had difficulty with fine motor skills, so Nancy made sure she had large manipulatives at the math station and a writing buddy at the writing station. Nancy introduced the purpose of a writing buddy: “Some of us need writing support to help us share our great thoughts and ideas.” She asked for volunteers who were interested in learning to transcribe Sabrina’s thoughts at the writing station, and then modeled the process of listening and writing a student’s thoughts down verbatim. Within a few weeks, students were skilled at capturing Sabrina’s thoughts on paper and even encouraged her to share ideas during whole-group discussions.

Nancy was careful to rotate Sabrina’s reading and writing buddies. She often noted similarities between Sabrina and her peers, highlighting Sabrina’s strengths and making it clear all students were expected to support each other. For example: “Sabrina and Rachelle, both of you love stories about animals. Would you like to read this book together?” Nancy also facilitated other opportunities for peers to work closely with Sabrina on academic tasks and social activities. For example, she asked another student to check math problems with a calculator while Sabrina solved the same math problems with manipulatives.

As she gradually understood Sabrina’s needs, Nancy implemented more accommodations. Sabrina had difficulty sitting on the floor during rug activities, so Nancy gave her a small stool that helped her stay seated and increased her focus. She liked to dump materials out, so Nancy set up a basket of fidgets that Sabrina and other classmates used for sensory stimulation. Sabrina and the other children often shared favorite fidgets with each other.

After a few weeks, the team met to formally write Sabrina’s IEP. Sabrina’s parents came to the meeting with a student profile outlining Sabrina’s strengths (e.g., she enjoys leadership roles and routines, loves music and dancing) and her needs (e.g., she requires support for engaging with peers and new activities, and kinesthetic movement to stay focused). Together, the IEP team and Sabrina’s parents determined goals they wanted her to accomplish that year, including: initiate communication with peers; greet people by name; sequence events and draw conclusions after listening to a story; use a calculator to solve problems involving the addition, subtraction, and multiplication of whole numbers and decimals; build independence in transition; and maintain focus during tasks.

The team then looked at different aspects of Sabrina’s school day to determine how to best address her goals at each point. For example, Sabrina was considered a “runner” and the team had always assumed she would need an escort to hold her hand while she transitioned through the building. But when they sat down to talk about embedding her IEP goals throughout her day, the special education teacher suggested a new plan: create a job for Sabrina that required her to collect classroom books and take them in a c