Imagine you are a student back in school. You go to a special class most of the day, but occasionally you go in with the rest of the kids your age. They all seem to know each other and have friends. You enjoy the time you are in the big classroom, but you wish you could stay longer and feel like one of the other kids.
As teachers, we know inclusion is best for kids, but with all the demands placed on us, inclusion can sometimes get pushed to the bottom of the priority list. Including students into your classroom who have special needs can feel a little daunting, but it is well worth the effort.
Inclusion is more than just inviting special education students in for a special activity. Inclusion is a philosophy and a way of life at school. A school is inclusive not because of the number of hours kids spend in the regular classroom, but also because of the attitude of students and teachers towards those that are different than them.
True inclusion has many benefits. First and foremost, kids with special needs want to feel like they are normal kids. They want to be included and be a part of their peer group. When students with special needs are around other, typically developing peers, they have good examples to model after and often achieve more than they might otherwise. Inclusion also benefits typically developing kids. It teaches them about others that are different than them and teaches them to be accepting of others.
So how can we make our schools more inclusive? There are many ways to involve special needs students and help them feel a part of the school community. Get creative and find ways to include students and help them participate as fully as possible.
One creative example of inclusion is at Colleton County High School in South Carolina. One teacher, Karen Lockerman, came up with a unique way for her students to be included in the social fun of high school, while still learning life skills they need to know to be successful. Her students started a coffee shop and delivery cart, selling to staff and students. While working in the coffee shop, students learned to interact with other students, got to know others in the school, and practiced work skills.
There are many other ways you can include special education students more fully in the regular education classroom:
One area that students with special needs are often left out is PE. PE is an area that most students enjoy and it is worth the effort to adapt activities to include all students. You may need to give a student with special needs some extra time, modify the materials, or have them work with a buddy.
Let the Student be the Teacher
A past, first-grade student of mine had Spina Bifida. He had braces on his legs and a shunt in his head. He and his mother came into class and talked about his disability, what caused it, and what surgeries he had had. He was excited to show his scars and the other students loved asking him questions. When students don’t understand something, they are far more prone to engage in bullying behaviors. When a student is able to talk about their challenges and educate their classmates it helps them feel valued as part of the class. Of course, many students with special needs will not be able to articulate this on their own, but educating students about disabilities is always a good idea.
Work on a Project
Project based learning is a great way to include students with disabilities with their peers. You can assign appropriate parts of the project to students based on ability. Some project ideas include:
The Little Things
When it comes to inclusion, the little things in your classroom have a big impact. Look at what you display in your room; is there diversity? Posters with photos of children should include students with varying abilities. These little things help students feel that they are ‘normal’ and not ‘other.’ Read books featuring characters with varying abilities; both books that educate about disabilities and those that feature students with disabilities as main characters.
Consider Non-Competetive Games
Competition is an effective tool in motivating students, but it can also hinder inclusion. When the focus of a game is winning, students might get frustrated with a peer on their team who is not able to fully contribute. Instead, try to incorporate games into the classroom that are not competitive.
The benefits of inclusion far outweigh any barriers that prevent students from being included. Find creative ideas to incorporate inclusion activities and an inclusive mindset into your classroom.
By: Amy Curletto
Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.