Inclusion classrooms are a staple in schools across the United States today. In short, inclusion in the classroom means that students with disabilities have opportunities to learn in the same environment and alongside non-disabled students.
With the passing of what is now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1975, students with learning disabilities were afforded the chance to receive the same public education as the general population. This equal access looks different depending on the students. Some students with disabilities can be fully integrated into traditional classrooms. In other cases, there are special education teachers who co-teach inclusion classrooms to provide a thorough education for all students.
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education conducted research on the implementation of IDEA and found that 94.9% of students between the ages of 6 and 21 served by IDEA spent some portion of their day in general classes. Almost two-thirds (63%) of students with disabilities spent at least 80% or more of their day in inclusion classrooms.
This growth of inclusion classrooms is promising because they not only provide benefits for special needs students, but for teachers, as well.
Benefits of Inclusion Classrooms for Special Needs Students
Improved Academic Success
When U.S. Congress reauthorized IDEA in 2004, it updated the law to mandate that students be placed in the “least restrictive environment” for their needs, meaning schools should educate students with disabilities alongside those who are not disabled if possible.
Research has shown that when special needs students are placed in traditional classes, their academic success improves. A study published in the International Journal of Special Education found that students with autism performed better in inclusion classrooms than in special education classrooms. The authors noted the findings indicate students with autism should be provided a challenging curriculum to encourage academic learning as opposed to one based solely on developing functional skills.
Stronger Relationships with Traditional Students
When schools use evidence-based practices in implementing inclusion classrooms, it can lead to academic and social improvements for both sets of students. That’s according to a study published in the Journal of Community Psychology, which measured how schools with Latino and African American students with special needs applied organizational, academic and social inclusion methods into their classrooms. Schools with these practices found that disabled students had higher school satisfaction and felt a better sense of belonging. Non-disabled students in turn got the chance to learn alongside those who were different from them, building acceptance and understanding.
Benefits of Inclusion Classrooms for Teachers
Creating Unique Lesson Plans
All students respond differently to academic instructional methods, including special education students. Some may excel in collaborative settings while others may learn better by working on their own. It’s important to create lessons and a learning environment that addresses different learning types.
Universal Design Learning (UDL) offers insight from cognitive neuroscience research that helps teachers create atmospheres and lessons that support all learners. With UDL, teachers can better engage with every student in class, regardless of learning disability. Whether using UDL or not, the opportunity to create diverse and inclusive lesson plans helps teachers grow in their career and become more in tune with what students need to perform well.
Collaborating with Co-Teachers
Often, traditional and special education teachers work together in collaborative classes. These collaborative settings can take many forms, including assistant teaching, parallel teaching, station teaching, and team teaching, among others.
No matter the form collaboration takes, the benefits for teachers are clear. Teachers working in schools with good collaboration saw positive effects in student achievement. Collaboration also allows teachers the chance to creatively plan with a colleague, have access to more resources and gain accountability that they wouldn’t have working in a siloed environment.
Broadening Your Mind
For traditional teachers, being in an inclusion classroom may be their first time working with students with learning disabilities. While this can seem overwhelming, it’s actually a chance to learn valuable information about the education system.
Teachers in inclusion classrooms better understand what an individualized education program (IEP) is, how students with learning disabilities learn and how to best foster learning across many learning styles. With the number of disabled students continuing to grow, teachers must familiarize themselves with types of disabilities, laws surrounding special education and best practices for working with families. Inclusion allows teachers to improve their skills as they take on new challenges in their classrooms.
How You Can Foster a Positive Learning Environment in an Inclusion Classroom
Whether or not you are in an inclusion classroom currently, it’s important to plan for the day that you are. Understanding how inclusion works and ways to incorporate non-traditional learners into your daily routine will serve you well.
Here are some helpful tips on how you can make your inclusion classroom a positive environment to learn in:
- Work with your co-teacher: Whoever your co-teacher is, you two are now a team. To have the best learning environment in class, you two must communicate, create effective learning plans together and hold students to the classroom expectations. It’s important that you trust one another, evenly distribute responsibilities based on your individual skills and keep students’ needs at the forefront.
- Assess what motivates your students: At the beginning of the year, hand out questionnaires to students so you can learn more about their goals and motivators. While beneficial for all students, finding motivation for special needs students can be incredibly helpful when planning your lessons. Once you know their motivations, you can adapt lesson plans to meet their needs and inspire them daily.
- Consider all types of learners: Implementing activities such as workshops into your lesson plans accommodates learners of multiple styles as well as injects some fun into the day. You can even set up work stations designed for each type of learner to ensure everyone gets the most out of the lesson.
- Create classroom expectations with students: Start the year with a community building activity. Consider what kind of behaviors and attitudes everyone wants to bring into the classroom as well as what they wish to keep out. Students are more likely to take ownership of the rules when they take part in creating them.
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