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Inclusion: one way a professional development school can make a difference.

In the past, children with disabilities have often been clustered in separate schools or in schools that they would not otherwise attend. Once identified as having a handicapping condition, these children become the responsibility of special education professionals because they are "different" or special." In many cases, children with disabilities cannot take advantage of magnet school programs.

Inclusion means that all children attend the school designated for their residential area. It also means that children with disabilities have the same opportunities to attend magnet schools as other children.

How Is "Inclusion" Different from "Mainstreaming"?

Simply trying to "fit" more students with disabilities into regular classes for greater amounts of time (mainstreaming) cannot accomplish the goal of inclusion. Such efforts have already failed. Instead, classrooms must be structured to meet the individual needs of all students. Rather than "forcing" students with disabilities into an existing mainstream that is structured to teach everyone the same thing in the same way for the same amount of time, inclusion presumes a restructuring to accommodate individual student differences.

Furthermore, in inclusive schools the needs of teachers and other school personnel must also be addressed. Too often, teachers have been asked to accommodate wide ranges of diversity in their classrooms without the necessary support and training. Individual schools that commit to restructuring must develop programs that may serve as models for others. A Professional Development School (PDS) can be committed to this task.

What Is Necessary for Inclusion To Be Successful?

* Restructuring the classroom. The typical classroom structure of one teacher to 20+ children allows little room for individualization. In a PDS, a master teacher, first-year teacher, student teachers and other university student assistants and staff can share responsibility for the learning environment. A team has more flexibility.

Individualizing also requires "continuous progress." This approach contrasts with the typical "graded" school structure. In a continuous progress system, students are allowed to master a curriculum's objectives at a more individualized pace. Continuous progress is determined by student learning rather than by a calendar. As a consequence, the learning environments can be multi-age.

* Individualizing for all. Individualization requires creating greater options for students within general education programs in order to accommodate their different rates and learning preferences. The goal is to allow all students to become independent learners by providing whatever is necessary to ensure academic success. When students feel successful as learners, they will be motivated to achieve more and take more responsibility for their own learning.

Many variables must be considered. First, students must be taught at levels that are challenging without being either overwhelming or boring. Teachers must use both objective and subjective assessment procedures, as well as daily observation, to determine each student's current achievement levels in all curricular areas.

Second, educators must recognize that students will master the important facts, skills, concepts and strategies at different times. Some students learn with minimal guidance; they require little repetition and quickly generalize what they learn to other examples and situations. Other students need more guidance, time and repetition. In addition, an individual child's learning rate may also change over time.

A third variable to consider is student motivation. Some students are more confident, self-directed and eager to achieve. Others may lack confidence in their ability to learn and may have experienced "failure" in previous school experiences. For whatever reason, they may not have found learning from an adult to be either encouraging or rewarding. Therefore, helping all students to achieve success requires teachers to devote considerable time, thought and energy to motivation and ways to take advantage of students' interests.

* Including students with disabilities. When a school is restructured to allow individualization, teachers can better accommodate the needs of students with mild disabilities, as well as gifted students. Since approximately 85 percent of all students with disabilities are classified as "mildly handicapped," the restructuring of schools to individualized, continuous progress programs should not only meet the instructional needs of this group of students, but also should reduce the number of students who are labeled with disability in the first place.

The other 15 percent of students with disabilities are more severely handicapped. Traditionally, these students have been served in residential centers, special day schools or in self-contained classrooms clustered on regular school campuses. In addition, the placement of students with severe disabilities on regular campuses has often not been age-appropriate. For example, even high school-aged students with severe disabilities may attend classes on an elementary or middle school campus if that is where the special programs for a district are clustered. In inclusive schools, students with severe disabilities attend the same schools and classrooms as their non-handicapped peers.

Students with severe disabilities require a curriculum that is significantly different from the general education curriculum. These students need a life-skill curriculum that emphasizes functional outcomes in the areas of self-care, socialization, vocational preparation and recreation/leisure. Inclusion serves primarily to realize the socialization goals. Involving non-handicapped peers in the care and education of students with disabilities - both in the classroom and in community settings - can be beneficial for both groups.

* Providing support. For inclusion to be successful, students with disabilities and their teachers must receive the necessary support within the regular classroom. This support may include extra personnel and special equipment, materials and training.

A PDS can establish a School-Wide Assistance Team (SWAT) to help teachers get the resources they need to solve problems with individual students. Such a team can consist of the counselor, consulting teacher and two special education student teachers. The assistance team would meet with the learning environment team to identify problems, set up observations, analyze the problems and collaborate together on a plan. Helping students with behavior problems within the regular classroom environment requires that the teachers receive the support necessary to ensure that others in the learning environment feel secure and that their learning time is not frequently disrupted.

Summary

The success of inclusion depends on the success of reinventing the school as a place that provides for the learning of all individuals. The Professional Development. School can provide an environment for collaboration between university-based and school-based education. This cooperation encourages the development of innovative programs that focus on students' needs and the preparation of teachers and school personnel.

Thomas J. Proctor, Chair Educational Psychology and Coordinator of the Hillcrest Development School, Baylor University and Betty Ruth Baker, Chair, Teacher Education Committee

Note: Information for this article came from research and activities at the Hillcrest Professional Development School.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Association for Childhood Education International
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Baker, Betty Ruth
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Jun 22, 1995
Words:1078
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