29 May 2008

How Inclusion Works

This past weekend Lisa Parisi put up a remarkable post...
The Successful Inclusion Program
which you should go and read on her site.

But I wanted to lead you through some of what this teacher is describing, as she has found a path to student success in a Universally Designed Classroom.

Let's begin with teacher training, Lisa and her co-teacher have been lucky enough to be trained in working with every student, not just "regular" students or "special students:" "Although I teach regular education," she says, "I do have my Masters' in Special Ed and have always believed in differentiating instruction to help all students succeed."

This is so vital - the false distinction most teacher preparation programs make between "Teacher Education" and "Special Education" is incredibly destructive to student success. It encourages the worst mass-teaching practices of "regular ed," and the isolation of "special education." You can not say that you believe in either universal design or in the idea that "every student is gifted, every student has special needs" and operate of college of education which proclaims that these programs are separate.

We can see the impact of these flawed teacher training programs in what Lisa says next about co-teaching. "I truly believe that a perfect classroom is one in which two teachers work toward a common goal. So I have had many co-teaching situations. Two have been quite successful, most have been very unsuccessful." "Some co-teachers (both regular and special ed)," she continues, "believe that "you have your students and I have mine." I have worked with a teacher like this. She would come to the room and say, "Ok, my students come with me." I would then watch as the children, with mortified looks in their eyes, would slink out of the room."

Yes, these teachers are at fault for being inhumane. But surely the fault lies with the university that trained them, and the state which licensed them. If a teacher thinks like that it is evidence of systemic failure. A failure to believe in educational equity. So Lisa states, "Rule #1: Do not separate the children. They should not stand out for being classified. Remember: inclusion means to be included, not separated."

But the fact is, we can only include everyone if we accept the idea that we are all different and embrace the technologies which allow all of us to be different.

Lisa puts it this way: "There's also that belief that we should be so private as to not speak about the needs of the children. Don't embarrass Johnny by telling him to put on his glasses, hearing aids, etc." This is essential because we do not try to hide the fact that, for example, we use a ladder because we are not good enough at leaping to make it to the roof unassisted, and we do not try to hide the fact that we take a car to get to the next town because we can't run fast enough to get there on time via foot. And if we treat any particular student assistive need differently than we treat our own assistive needs, we are separating, humiliating, and diminishing. "In our classroom," Lisa says, "fidget toys are in a box for all the children, glasses are mentioned frequently, students are encouraged to move to the front of the room, grab a spell checker, use the computer or alphasmart, pull out the E.Z.C. Readers, etc. The difference? These tools are demonstrated to and available for everyone. So when a lesson begins, up jumps the classified student along with the gifted student. They both gather tools they need to be successful. So... Rule #2: Don't hide special needs. Point out that we all need assistance at times. Make it available to everyone." This, of course, is the heart of both Universal Design and Toolbelt Theory.

And the most important tool we can train our students to choose is the combination of learning style and learning environment which works best for them. This is wildly counter to school tradition which assumes that the teacher always makes these decisions. And Lisa points out that it is also counter to how most "special educators" operate in co-teaching situations: "[T]here's the idea that a special educator is only there to work with the special ed children. This leaves a lot of other children behind and makes the classified children really stand out. We believe that we both are there to teach all of the students. We group children for various subjects and rotate who teaches the groups. When class tests are given, volunteers leave the room with one of us to go to a more quiet setting or to have tests read to them. Amazingly, the children, all of them, really do choose what they need. Some leave the room for the novelty but most choose the setting in which they work best."

Student choice, what a remarkable idea. Lisa's "Rule #3: Mix the teachers up and allow students to choose their style of learning."

Which goes directly to her next point. "This year," she says, "we also eliminated reading pull-outs. Students remained in class during reading and ended up receiving much more reading service time than they would have in the pull-out program. And keeping students in the classroom as much as possible is helpful for having them not miss content. Next year, we are going to do the same for math pull-outs. Note: This was not an easy goal to achieve. Reading and resource room teachers may feel it threatens their jobs. If necessary, try to make your pull-outs push-ins instead." I remember my sister - a long time teacher - saying how she never used ability grouping for reading. There were four or five books to read, kids picked the book they were interested in. That, of course, gives a student an actual reason to read. And it encourages students to reach beyond their limitations. And if encourages peer tutoring. And with technology, it is easy. Even if "Student A" can not possibly decode "Book C" we can offer it to him or her via iPod or CD, or via text reader with a dictionary built in.

This is great for reading instruction, it is even better for eliminating the humiliations we visit on children. Lisa's "Rule #4: Keep students in the classroom as much as possible. Eliminate as many pull-outs as you can."

Lisa goes on to mention Project-Based Learning and truly Differentiating Instruction, two hallmarks of education which actually educates rather than divides and trains compliance. There's a lot to discover on her blog. It is worth your time.

But what is most important here is this. When "we" attack "education as we know it" we are attacking it because we know that something better exists. Everyone with minimally "open eyes" knows that what really works is flexible, universally designed education which responds to student needs, and encourages student independence and self-determination. When we see the success of a classroom like Lisa's what are we to say about teachers, administrators, school systems, universities, and legislatures which refuse to embrace - which often actively resist - these methods?

True inclusion is a decision we can make. Not choosing true inclusion is another decision.

- Ira Socol

"So I had my ranking, which was pretty good, cause I could climb really well and was OK at baseball and good at hockey; plus, I had slot cars and a dad who played sports. But once the teacher made the reading groups there was a different kind of ranking. Once the teacher made reading groups, I was officially a “dumb kid.” This started as a small thing, but school gets more and more important as you get older. And the more important school gets, the more important the school’s ranking system gets. Eventually, the very first thing people know about you is that you’re a “dumb kid.”' - The Drool Room - page 29

The Drool Room by Ira David Socol, a novel in stories that has - as at least one focus - life within "Special Education in America" - is now available from the River Foyle Press through lulu.com

US $16.00 on Amazon

New! Digital version available through lulu.com

Look Inside This Book


Unknown said...

Ira, and by proxy Lisa, I agree with much of your post. Many of the teachers who work with students with learning disabilities and mild cognitive disabilities would also tend to agree. However, there are many teachers with whom I work that do work with students with moderate to severe cognitive disabilities, students with moderate to severe behavior and emotional disabilities, and even teachers who work with students who have significant hearing loss who would argue that for many of these students, these inclusive environments are not the most appropriate LRE. They will point to issues of needing to implement an alternate curriculum, needing to control environmental variable to promote prosocial learning, and needing to establish environments in which, in the case of students who are deaf and hard of hearing who use sign language, where peers and the teacher have seamless communication access with each other. What are your thoughts in responding to teachers in these situations regarding UDL and inclusive practices?

Unknown said...

That's a great question. I tend to say that even absolute "true" "full" inclusion will never be "100%." To say that would require us to ignore the specific needs of certain students. Just as I don't think that there's one classroom or one school which will work for every kid - really I don't think school is appropriate for every kid (and that has nothing to do with "disability") - I don't think any one paradigm will always be right.

But I'll say this. I see plenty of workplaces where people with cognitive issues, mobility issues, ASD, blindness, deafness, even "other" languages, all work together, so I'm not sure why schools cannot make this far more common.

There are many levels of universal design - as it is practised, and I think we need to consider how to re-design those school environments - in the broadest way - to get to that 98%+ inclusion level.

For me, the devastating critique of inclusion in Peter Høeg’s book Borderliners is really a critique of "integration" - the idea that all students will be welcomed, as much they comply with the "normal" order of the classroom (what behavioralists call - entertainingly - "natural"). So "Inclusion" cannot happen without the classroom fundamentally changing. And the higher the included percentage, the more fundamentally the classroom must change.

That is not to suggest that this is easy. Classroom are boxes. School days are boxes. Curriculum and "Grade Level Expectations" are boxes. And all of these boxes must be challenged, doubted, broken.

Teachers can move toward this on their own. They can alter classroom furniture and classroom lighting and classroom sound and classroom schedules. They can convert almost all communication into multiple forms. They can tolerate a much wider behavioral range. But they cannot get all the way there without real systemic support. The school must accept flexibility, the community must support it, the government must at least tolerate it.

I'll end with one tiny example. For one real Behavioral "problem" boy we set up a simple system. If class got to be too much, he could just leave. But if he left he need to go (depending on weather) to either a space in the school lobby or to a tree outside. Both sat in places where the school office staff could see him, but wouldn't touch or interfere with him as long as he stayed in sight and wasn't hurting anyone (or thing). It was a huge fight getting the school to accept that, and a month later they were freaking out because he was spending 2/3 of the school day "at the tree." But gradually that changed. A year later he was only spending an hour or two a week at the tree - though there were times when he needed to be out there more.

- Ira Socol

Anonymous said...

I usually work with only about 6 ELL/ESL students at a time. I have all different combinations of abilitiy, prior knowledge, LD, no LD, culture, language, etc. I have to differentiate instruction or I don't get results. I believe fully in UDL. But I don't feel other teaches take me seriously when I advocate for it because I have such small groups. Many teachers at the middle school level feel that letting the amount of choice involved in UDL exist in their class would lead to chaos. They also feel pressured to teach on a strict schedule (6 grade math) because of state testing. They feel that having all students focus in the same way on the teacher, take in knowledge the same way, and demonstrate what they have retained in the same way is the best way for them to hold the attention of the class. They want to SEE a middle school UDL class at work. Videos/having teachers come in and use UDL principles in their class would help more than testimonials.

Tim Lacy said...


Great post---and thanks for bringing Lisa Parisi's weblog and post to my/our attention.

As I was reviewing her rules, it struck me how many also should/could apply to the so-called gifted students. I was gifted in math at the late grade school level, but I'm not sure it was a good idea to pull me (and other "exceptional" students) out for advanced math. I also came to realize, later, that I wasn't a part of the gifted program down the line. The system confused me: how can you be both gifted and not gifted?

I bring all this up because the emotional tug-of-war certainly applies up and down, as it were.

- TL

Unknown said...


Thank you, thank you for bringing up the "other side." Kids who need more - be it more freedom, more information, more things to pursue also have very "special" needs, and the classroom needs to accept those students as well, and to let them be who they need to be.

"Universal Design" suggests that all students will be welcome, and all learning styles and needs accommodated.


I appreciate what you are asking for. Let's throw that out... best source of video documentation of what this looks like? I know that this may or may not work. Even when I have brought teachers right into UDL classrooms that were really working, many just saw what they called "chaos" and could not actually see what was going on. The same might be true for videos, but perhaps there are some great ones out there.

- Ira Socol

Paul Hamilton said...

I agree with Vera that we need videos to share that show effective UDL in action. (This definitely works better for my own learning style than any written report ever could!)

Here's a link to a 30 minute video that shows what looks to me like effective project based learning at the secondary level. This isn't something that could be adopted everywhere, but it sure offers a context with many promising possibilities.

I love the title of the video: "Mummified Chicken, Mutant Frogs, and Rockets to the Moon".


Lisa Parisi said...

I tried to comment earlier but I don't think it wen through. Forgive me if this is a duplicate.

Thank you, Ira, for blogging about my blog. I, like you, feel strongly about this issue.

Brian, I do not believe inclusion is for everyone. I do, however, believe that many children can benefit. I have worked with children with physical, mental, and cognitive disabilities. And, as long as the pace of the classroom is not too much to handle, they all belong in the classroom. Sometimes that means extra accommodations. A child with cerebral palsy might need an aide to help with some of the physical hurdles in school. A student on the spectrum might need an ABA specialist as a consultant to assist with a behavior plan. A student with emotional needs might need permission to leave the classroom as needed to settle down. But as long as they are cognitively able to make progress (1 years worth is the expectation), then all is well. When cognition is so low as to make the classroom a place of stress and failure, then a different setting is more appropriate.

And, Ira, one more point. While you clearly got the message about a collaborative classroom, you erred in one of your final statements. You wrote, "When we see the success of a classroom like Lisa's what are we to say about teachers, administrators, school systems, universities, and legislatures which refuse to embrace - which often actively resist - these methods?" Please keep in mind, when referring to a collaborative model, that this is not one teacher's classroom. This is not mine. It is mine and Christine's...our classroom. This is a message we work hard to get across to all those we work with. It is an uphill battle. And I thank you for your help. :)

Unknown said...


Thank you so much for your comment, your original post, and, of course, the classroom you and Christine have assembled. You are absolutely right - obviously - this is a collaborative model, it requires the contributions of the teachers involved, at least the assent of the school administration, and the support (or at least not opposition) of the parents. And inclusion requires resources - resources that are flexibly delivered.

- Ira Socol

Anonymous said...

The subject of this post is where I keep my sights on a daily basis and I love reading positive stories about it - thanks!

@Tim - you are absolutely right and differentiated instruction was originally developed as a series of instructional strategies )if not a philosophy!) to answer the needs of gifted students.

See - The Rationale for DI in Mixed Ability Classrooms --> http://www.casenex.com/casenet/pages/readings/differentiation/rationale.html

loonyhiker said...

I had read Lisa's blog when she posted this and was thrilled to see all these points shared so eloquently. Thank you for bringing her post back into the my mind and for adding to it with your own supportive comments. Great post!