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.
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