The education of special needs children has been addressed many ways, but one of the most effective is the Inclusive Classroom. Although there are still schools especially for special needs children, research seems to indicate that the children learn more and retain that learning in a classroom that includes general education students. In addition, the non-special-needs kids develop attitudes of tolerance and acceptance, while those with special needs learn to challenge themselves.
What is Inclusive Learning?
This term is different than a similar concept called “mainstreaming.” In the latter, children with special needs work to get to a stage where they are integrated into the regular classroom. While this results in the same “inclusive” environment, teachers who adopt inclusive learning believe that children with special needs have the right to be educated in a regular classroom and shouldn’t have to qualify for the privilege. In fact, IDEA, or the Individuals with Disabilities Act, says that “students with disabilities should be placed in their neighborhood school with as much time as possible a general education setting.” This concept is called using the “least restrictive environment.” Children with special needs are to be educated with the general student population unless there are issues that make that goal impossible.
How Do Teachers Teach in an Inclusive Classroom?
The classes are collaboratively taught. There is a general education teacher and one trained to work with children with special needs. So that the children can be active learners, the room is set up into learning stations or centers instead or rows of desks facing the front. There is some “lecture” time incorporated, but for the most part, students learn in small groups of general and special-needs children intermingled. Teachers adapt materials and lesson plans for diverse learning styles and abilities. When studying spelling, for instance, some children write answers while others manipulate magnetic letters on a board. Other adaptations are allowing students to learn at their own pace and using special assessments for measuring learning success.
Do all Students Thrive in the Environment?
In theory, yes they do. There are some variables, however, that can make the classrooms more, or less successful. Teachers should be comfortable allowing the special-needs learners as well as the general students to make mistakes. Pupils must be given choices and achieve success or fail; more is learned from making mistakes than from succeeding. Inclusive teachers must think creatively about how to use resources. Those resources, incidentally, help general education students to thrive as well. School budgets are stretched thin, but the government mandates services for special needs classes and so schools spend money on laptops and other things that general education students in the classroom can use too. Parents must be involved, and this is the greatest challenge to inclusive education. There is a tendency today in all areas of elementary and secondary education for parents to be absent from school activities and conferences. The inclusive learning model supports educating parents of special-needs children in how to be involved. Motivating them is a challenge as well.
The idea that all students have the right to be taught in the “least restrictive environment” is a motivation for schools to adopt this model in special needs education. The special needs children profit from being with kids who have no disabilities, but the general education kids learn tolerance and form attitudes that will make them better citizens. This is the goal of schools that create Inclusive Classrooms.