Inclusion classes

October 2nd, 2011

Classrooms with special needs students take the phrase “no two children can learn alike” to a whole new level. These classes include not only the different levels of “general-education” learners but also an abundant variety of children that are classified LD, OHI, ED, or any of the other monikers. LD alone can include children who have any “cognitive, neurological, or psychological disorder that impedes the ability to learn, especially one that interferes with a person’s communicative capacities and potential to be taught effectively” (Willis, 12).  It is a broad term. It can include children with difficulty with reading comprehension, math fluency, or cognitive reasoning, among others. Then you add in your OHIs; this can include children with anything from cerebral palsy, seizures, to ADHD. You have dyslexia, ADD, autism, or those with emotional disturbances (ED). All of these children receive an individualized education program (an IEP) or, at least in our state, a 504 plan, if an IEP is not warranted. On top of those you have your SST (student support team) students who receive select accommodations. Accommodations include everything from copies of class notes, adjusted tests and assignments, special manipulatives, access to a word processor, read aloud and small group testing, to extended time on assignments. Keeping track of these children in a class of thirty is almost mind-boggling. What is the best way to integrate these students into a general education class without them feeling either left behind or singled out?

Since I work daily in inclusion classrooms, I’ve noticed a great deal between teachers who work well in the inclusion setting and those who find it harder to reach the inclusion students. The first, and often hardest step, is finding the balance between being attentive to needs and embarrassing the student. In my experience, most students, at least on the middle school level, do not want unnecessary attention being drawn to their difference from the crowd. Wagaman (2009) states, “It is important for teachers to understand this and work carefully to build self-esteem and provide simple ways for students to get help without making a big deal about it to the class” (2). However, with accommodations like small group and read-aloud it is almost impossible to not distinguish the inclusion population from the mainstream. The best teachers I’ve worked with vary lessons to draw on strengths from every group in the classroom. If student X is a great artist or enjoys reading, an assignment is drawn up to showcase that skill. The more confident a student is in their ability to succeed; the more inclined they may be to work at more difficult assignments. Willis (2007) states, “Stereotypical academic success no longer becomes the only standard for who is “smart.” Students who learn about their own and their classmates’ multiple intelligences and unique abilities begin to shed previous negative attitudes or preconceived notions about LD students” (1). It also provides them a more equal footing amongst their peers. Positive attention to student achievement also goes a long way. The best inclusion teachers believe in the abilities of their students, no matter how frustrating it may be at times.  Our classroom features a board for successful papers, a prize box for consistent hard work, and a wall for student artwork. One student turned to me the other day and told me she had never gotten an A in History before. Reinforcing that ‘good’ feeling inspires continued success.

However, along with that belief in the student, there is a need for high expectations. It often seems easier to do the work for, or excuse the work of, a slower student.  No growth happens for the child when that is the answer.  Teachers must be on top of prompting work, refocusing, and sticking to accountability.  Keep a chart of what should be in the binder, do agenda checks, make homework folders, and set up a routine they are expected to follow. This is true for the general education students in the classroom as well. Research has gone far in debunking the myth that gen-ed students suffer from the slower pace of the inclusion classroom. A study done by Hollowood, Salisbury, Rainforth, and Palomboro (1994) indicated, “the presence of students with severe disabilities had no effect on levels of allocated or engaged time.” (250).  In addition Staub and Peck (1995) identified five benefits that the gen-ed students receive,  “1) reduced fear of human differences accompanied by increased awareness, 2) growth in social cognition, 3) improvements in self-concept, 4) development of personal principles, and 5) warm and caring friendships” (36).

It is important to teach learning skills along with the lesson.  Binder organization is a huge component of many of the classrooms I work in. Teaching organization and responsibility saves students from a lot of missing homework and prepares them to be more self-sufficient.  In addition, warm-ups are designed to make students look back in the notes and information they have already acquired to review answers. Knowing where to look for information is a skill that prepares them for higher education and teaches problem solving for their daily lives. Interactive notes makes the student responsible for more than copying but lets them use simplified language that they relate to as well as giving space for visual cues; drawings, etc. This teaches them to take the high-level information and process it to an understandable level by picking out difficult words, redefining them, and then summarizing the context. Inclusion classes often have to move at a slower pace, but as these skills grow in the students they begin to adapt their pace to their academically higher classmates. According to Lewis (1994), students with disabilities in inclusive environments “improve in social interaction, language development, appropriate behavior, and self-esteem” (p. 72).

However, it isn’t always, or even often, that an inclusion student adapts fully to the general class’ ability. There are a multitude of tools that can achieve success for that student without compromising their learning. The best place to go for assistance in adjusting for a special education student is the special education department. It is the job of the SPED teachers to make sure that the student is receiving the accommodations required by the IEP. They are able to adjust tests, keep on top of organization, administer the read-aloud testing, small group instruct or remediate at a slower pace, and provide additional tools for the inclusion student.


Staub, D. & Peck, C. (1995). What are the outcomes for non-disabled students? Educational Leadership, 52(4), 36-41.

Hollowood, T.M., Salisbury, C.L., Rainforth, B., & Palomboro, M.M. (1994). Use of instructional time in classrooms serving students with and without severe disabilities, Exceptional Children, 61(3), 242-253.

Lewis. (1994). Kids count data book: State profiles of child well-being. Greenwich, CT: The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Willis, J. (2007). Brain friendly strategies for the inclusion classroom. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wagaman, M. (2009). Inclusion classroom tips for new teachers. Retrieved from

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