by Andrew Cangemi, Cathleen Leahy, Tanya Dai, Suman Pawa, Heather Perl
We are a group of five graduate students studying the implementation of inclusive education in the classroom setting. In our research, we attempted to discover the “how” of this process. Also, we attempted to deduce which education methods and strategies work best in an inclusive setting.
As professional educators, we cannot avoid this issue and will at some point in our careers find ourselves at the helm of an inclusion class. As such, we believe that research into this subject can improve our abilities as the educators and guides of future generations. Our quest to gain an understanding of this practice became the driving force in our research for this project.
While inclusive education may be a household term to some, others may not know its true definition. However, almost everyone knows an individual who has been affected by inclusive education in some capacity. Growing up, some of our group members finished school before the implementation of inclusive education! From our research, the 1990s seemed to designate the onset of the shift in special education: no longer were special education students separate from mainstream students. Instead, these students were “included” in the regular classroom. This new idea was a well-received progression for some, although some parents and teachers openly rejected this new wave in education. The ongoing debate is to what degree does inclusive education benefit the general education students, if at all. (Chira 1993) Some of this controversy still exists today. (Medina 2010; Hechinger 2011)
As inclusive education becomes more widely implemented, there is little doubt that your children will be educated in inclusive settings. Furthermore, the politics of inclusive education often turn up in popular magazine and newspaper articles. Funding and financial considerations fuel much of the controversy surrounding these programs (Medina 2010). Additionally, some parents still feel that mainstream students should be taught separately from special education students. Conversely, many argue that students actually learn more in this setting. These are just some of the points that we will be addressing in this project. We realize that few people truly understand the nature and implementation of these programs.As teachers, parents, students or, at a somewhat baser level, as taxpayers, we share in the responsibility to understand the nuances of inclusive education. Our research group feels that in-depth interviews with inclusion teachers can answer the following question: How do teachers design lessons and curriculum which create an environment in which all students can learn and grow? To broaden the scope of our study, each of us interviewed the parent of a student who requires inclusive education. In doing so, we hope to deduce how these strategies influence not only an inclusion child’s education, but his or her home life as well.II. Review of Literature
Much of the literature that we read concerns the socio-political aspects of inclusive education (Hamilton 1991; Polat 2010). Many of the articles debate whether or not inclusive education improves the quality of education for the entire student body. (Chira1993; Staub) Though schools have largely committed to inclusive education for the better part of two decades, there seemed to be no popular agreement as to its efficacy.
Interestingly, we noticed a divergent trend between scholarly and popular articles. Researchers of peer-reviewed literature often write of the constructive impacts of inclusive education, focusing on the positive social skills learned by students, the sharpening of pedagogical skills, and inclusive education’s role in the promotion of Civil Rights (Polat 2010; Broderick 2005; Soodak 2003). Most important, research shows how inclusive education also had an academic advantage for the mainstream students. In contrast, authors of popular articles frequently write scathing attacks on inclusive education and primarily focus on the social aspect of inclusive education and failed to address the academic effects. (Chira 1993; Hamilton 1991) These journalists fixated on how inclusion programs stretch the financial and personnel resources of schools, placed an increased tax burden on the public (Medina 2010), undermine the education of mainstream students (Cloud 2007; Hamilton 1991), and aim for improved graduation rates rather than quality instruction. The popular articles briefly mentioned the social advantage of inclusive education, however heavily focused on the negative political aspects of it. (Hamilton 1991)
This divergence – with research showing the advantages of inclusive education and popular texts continuing to disparage it, raised questions for us. (Miles & Singal 2010) How reliable are the sources? Who are the writers’ intended audience? Are these sources created for educational research or to sell subscriptions? How do the answers to these questions impact the common attitudes of the public towards inclusive education? Have those who disapprove of of inclusive education seen it in practice?
Some of the articles addressed specific scenarios (Soodak 2003), whereas others painted a broad picture of inclusive education (Broderick 2005). Some articles also focused on the necessity of teachers to receive training in inclusive education as part of their studies in becoming teachers.(Florian & Linklater 2010; Jordan, Schwartz & McGhie-Richmond 2008) One of the main shortcomings of all of the reviewed literature was that the implementation of inclusive education was rarely discussed, especially in the popular articles. Some of the scholarly articles did make suggestions on implementing inclusive education however neglected to include substantial evidence to support their hypotheses. For example, some utilized outdated testing methods, insufficient sample sizes, and neglected to address an opposing viewpoint.
By focusing on the practical implementation of inclusive education strategies in the classroom, we hope to fill this gap in existing literature. While the social issues regarding inclusive education certainly merit attention, we aimed to discover the strategies which current teachers successfully employ in their classrooms.
III. Data Collection
As a group, we decided to obtain the perspectives of teachers and parents of inclusion children. Our team created general questions for the teachers to be interviewed, and a separate line of questions for the parents. We felt it vital to obtain the perspectives of these adults, as they spend the most time with the students. Although the classmates of inclusion students certainly have a story to tell, we felt that the teachers and the parents of disabled students would give us the most useful feedback concerning inclusion strategies. In doing so, we hoped to discover which strategies worked best and which could be improved to create the most positive and meaningful classroom experience. By knowing what works and what doesn’t work, teachers and parents can better adjust their strategies and methods to benefit the entire class.
We interviewed teachers and parents whom we knew through familial, scholastic, or professional relationships. Each interviewee willingly volunteered information about inclusive education based on their experiences. Each group member conducted and audio recorded in-person interviews with one teacher and one parent, resulting in a total of ten (10) interviewees. Sessions generally lasted about 45 minutes, although some continued for closer to two hours.
IV. Data Analysis
All interviews were audio recorded in person or emailed. The recorded interviews were then transcribed, which helped us to deduce patterns and glean information. We found two main schools of thought among parents and educators. Interestingly, these two schools contradict one another. Five of the interviewees felt that having children temporarily pulled out of the classroom for additional attention and resources benefited the student. Four felt that full inclusion is imperative for students with special needs. The remaining interviewee, a parent, did not have a preference, so long as her child learned and grew as a student and a person.
The contradictions that we found among teachers were based on age and philosophical influences concerning special education. In other words, older, or more traditional teachers supported the “temporary pull-out” method, while younger or more progressive teachers prefer full inclusion. However, we also discovered that educators, even those of disparate opinions, utilized similar techniques to implement inclusive education.
From this research process, we have learned that effective inclusive education requires sustained contact between the special education and content departments. Teachers need to discuss Individualized Education Plans with one another, and collectively develop strategies to properly implement differentiated education. In addition to professional collaboration, inclusion teachers also need to coordinate their plans with the parents of inclusion students. Another method suggested was modify the teaching method and amount of support according to the students IEP. (Janney & Snell 2006) Additionally, we found that fieldwork and early exposure to inclusive education is also beneficial in learning how and when to apply the modifications. (Florian & Linklater 2010)
Furthermore, we have learned that these differentiated instruction need not be immediately apparent. Some of these strategies include arranging seating patterns that meet the needs of inclusive students, giving inclusion students extra time on assignments, and slight alterations in the wording of questions and directions. (Janney & Snell 2006) Most importantly, these strategies can be implemented by the teacher without disrupting the rhythm of the class as a whole. In other words, inclusion strategies can have a monumentally positive effect on inclusion students, yet go unnoticed by the rest of the class. In fact, many of the interviewed teachers have noticed that implementing inclusion strategies has a generally positive effect on the class as a whole, either by making assignments more straightforward, or creating an accepting and tolerant environment in which to learn.
This last finding is particularly important, because our review of literature indicates that many community members consider inclusive programs an unwelcome element in public education. Though we did not focus our research on the social aspects of inclusive education, we found that no public consensus exists as to the necessity, usefulness, or overall effects of inclusion programs.
These key findings raise new questions for inclusion teachers. How exactly can special education and content teachers overcome scheduling and time constraints to meet and discuss the creation and implementation of appropriate inclusion strategies? Do administrative officials recognize this problem and, if so, will they help remedy this unfortunate situation? Also, if inclusive education does not hinder or limit the learning of non-inclusion children, as our research indicates, why is inclusive education still a contentious issue in today’s society?
Upon completing this research paper, we have concluded that inclusive education, though relatively new to the academic world, has both positive and negative implications. The teachers and parents who support the inclusive educational setting defend that it is successful and necessary for social and academic achievement. Those who do not support it have had unsuccessful personal experiences, and thus maintain that individualized instruction for students with special needs is more effective.
Based on our research, we believe that the implementation of inclusive education needs to be seamless, and a reflection on the successful relationship between the collaborating teachers. The mainstream teacher needs to understand each special education student’s Individualized Educational Plan, and prepare and execute lessons accordingly. Additionally, the collaborative teacher must be practiced in the content area and in special education to ensure that every lesson’s objectives are met.
Teachers must maintain a consistent and open relationship with parents as well. Keeping parents up to date with their children’s progress is essential for a number of reasons, but the most important reason is so that the teacher can communicate with the students effectively and maintain a positive relationship. An open rapport is important between parents and teachers so that the teachers are made aware if there is a problem outside of school. Some special education students receive additional services and tutoring, so the school teacher should be aware of these services and how the student is progressing. There are a number of methods a teacher can employ to effectively communicate with parents. Apart from traditional methods, such as email and phone conversations, weekly “newsletters” are sometimes used, discussing group work and highlighting personal achievement. Other teachers send home hand-written notes to add a personal effect. A more regimented way is to have parents sign graded school work and exams. Teachers need to decide what method works best for their learning environment.
It is imperative that teachers in every discipline master the ability to differentiate instruction. Therefore, the inclusive setting is an environment in which teachers’ abilities grow continually. Many mainstream teachers claimed to have become much better teachers in general because of their experience with special education. Special education training helps teachers teach to all levels, not just to those students with special needs. By extension, we encourage all future educators to become familiar with special education methods.
It is important to remind ourselves that inclusive education was popularized only about 20 years ago. Consider a new drug to the pharmaceutical market. It takes years for the Food and Drug Administration to complete the testing of its effects and efficacy prior to its approval. We believe we are still in the testing phase of inclusive education, and that additional research needs to be done to discover the most effective methods to implement this form of education.
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Samoa Inclusive Education (You Tube Clip) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFttwMLZzgE