Inclusive learning is one of the most important factors in a child’s education. It adds value to the learning experience while also shaping childhood development and social skills. Students spending time with each other and working collaboratively in the classroom leads to seemingly endless life-long benefits.
But if a student is found eligible for special education services, many parents are concerned that their child will be placed in a separate classroom. Fortunately, the majority of students in special education spend most of their time in a general education classroom. Lots of these classrooms are what we call “inclusive classrooms.”
If you’re a parent who has concerns or questions about your child’s education, this guide is for you. This guide is also perfect for teachers and educators who want to better understand the importance of inclusion and how to implement it in their classrooms. I’ll start by giving you a background of inclusion and why it’s so important. Then we’ll talk more about its benefits for students before wrapping up with tips and strategies for teachers.
Everything You Need to Know About Inclusion in the Classroom
- What Is an Inclusive Classroom?
- Why Are Inclusive Classrooms So Important?
- Benefits of an Inclusive Education for Students
- Tips and Strategies for Teachers in an Inclusive Classroom
What Is an Inclusive Classroom?
An inclusive classroom is a learning environment where general education teachers and special education teachers work collaboratively to address the needs of every student.
All students are placed in the same classroom, regardless of their background, disabilities, disorders, impairments, or special needs.
Inclusive learning goes beyond special education. It also includes children of different races, social backgrounds, religions, sexual orientations, and more. As the name implies, inclusive classrooms include everyone!
For example, a student who is learning English as a second language can be placed in the same general education classroom as a student diagnosed with autism. Both of these students will have a chance to learn and participate with the rest of their peers without being placed in a separate classroom.
The popularity of inclusive classrooms can partially be attributed to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This federal law says that students eligible for special education services should learn in the “least restrictive environment.”
In the simplest possible terms, this means that every student—whether or not they need special education services—should spend as much time as possible in a general education classroom.
Inclusive classes can be set up in several different ways.
Some of these classrooms use a collaborative or co-teaching model, meaning there’s a special education teacher in the room all day. Other classrooms use a “push in” model, where a special education teacher comes into the class at a specific time, as opposed to pulling students out of general education to separate rooms.
Regardless of the setup, both teachers will be available to help every student.
Why Are Inclusive Classrooms So Important?
Inclusive education is designed to ensure everyone in the class has an equal chance to participate and learn.
This concept goes beyond our basic definition of learning as it relates to lectures, homework, and testing. Inclusive classrooms help develop friendships and relationships in the classroom.
Just because a student has a learning disorder or needs a little extra help, it doesn’t mean they should be stripped of an opportunity to work alongside their peers in a classroom. If you isolate students from the general education learning environment, it can limit their social development, creativity, and create long-term barriers in their life.
One of the most fascinating aspects of inclusive classrooms is its value for everyone—not just students in special education.
Students who don’t qualify for special education services become more comfortable and tolerant of their peers with differences, which wouldn’t be possible if certain students were kept in an isolated room behind closed doors.
This has a tremendous long-term impact on growth and development that goes well beyond the classroom. It helps promote equality and acceptance in communities and the workplace.
A student in special education will one day feel comfortable working a job surrounded by people who don’t have disabilities. That person’s co-workers would be much more accepting of everyone if “differences” were normalized throughout their education.
As you can see, inclusive classrooms do more than just enrich the learning environment. This type of education helps shape and mold future generations for inclusion in daily life.
Benefits of an Inclusive Education for Students
Every student benefits from inclusive classrooms. I’ve narrowed down the top benefits into a handful of categories to highlight the value of inclusion. Let’s take a closer look at each of these below:
Customizes Teaching For All Types of Learners
Every student learns differently. This is a core principle of inclusive classrooms.
Teachers can tailor their instruction styles to support everyone in the room, regardless of the student’s background. For example, a student who has trouble focusing may be given the opportunity to move around the classroom or use a fidget toy.
Lessons may be presented in different ways to accommodate everyone. This approach is called the Universal Design for Learning.
Multisensory instruction is an excellent example of this concept in practice. For a math lesson, students and teachers might use blocks or colored marbles to learn new concepts. This is obviously different from simply writing formulas on a whiteboard.
Breaks Down Barriers of Student Differences
Inclusive classrooms promote diversity. Every student in the classroom has different strengths and weaknesses. But by putting everyone into the same classroom, these differences are normalized and don’t feel different at all.
Kids learn that it’s ok to be different, and this is just part of life. They learn that people are different everywhere, not just in the school system.
Inclusion gives students an opportunity to talk about and share their differences. This makes kids realize that they have more in common with others than they initially thought.
Inclusive classrooms can be a significant self-esteem boost for all students. Even if some children need some extra assistance or help, they still feel like they’re part of the class. It gives them an opportunity to be creative and build friendships that they wouldn’t have access to in a separate classroom.
Supports and Accommodates Every Student
In a traditional special education setting, students would leave the general education classroom for specialized services—this is not inclusion.
But an inclusive classroom brings specialists into the general education setting for everyone. This could include a psychologist, speech therapist, reading specialist, or similar professional.
When a special education teacher comes into the classroom, they provide services for everyone in the class—even those who aren’t eligible for special education.
This is really important because there are lots of students who need some extra help and support. They might not have a disorder that’s been formally diagnosed, but they can benefit from the services offered by specialists. These students wouldn’t get this kind of attention and access to support without inclusive education.
Empowers Learning and Creates High Expectations for Everyone
Inclusive learning doesn’t lower the bar or change the expectations for certain students in the classroom. Everyone is still taught the same material and held to the same academic standards.
But the teaching style, learning style, and way those standards are assessed might change from student to student.
For example, let’s say a student has trouble writing due to a physical disorder. That doesn’t mean they should be exempt from taking tests or quizzes. Certain accommodations or modifications might be made, allowing the student to give answers orally or use voice-assisted technology for various tasks.
Or maybe a student has vision impairments. So rather than giving them a textbook, they may be given an audio version or braille version of that same book. All of the material in there is the same, but the way they absorb that information will be a little different.
Inclusive classrooms ensure that a student’s education isn’t compromised due to a disability, disorder, or special education qualification.
Tips and Strategies For Teachers in an Inclusive Classroom
I have a ton of first-hand experience working in inclusive classrooms and overseeing them. So I know what works and what doesn’t. Based on my experience, I just want to give you some quick tips and advice for implementing inclusive learning in your classroom.
Break students up into small groups where they can work collaboratively together. Groups can also make it easier for you to tailor your teaching style to the way each child learns best.
Embrace the idea of special education teachers and specialists coming into your classroom. Use them as a resource to help you apply certain principles when you’re teaching on your own.
This might mean you’ll have to find time to co-plan with your colleagues, which can be a challenge. Take a look at intervention block scheduling. This can look different for elementary vs. secondary schools. Most articles you’ll read will talk about how kids get pulled out during this time. Why not bring the adults into the classroom instead?
Broaden your mind and try not to feel overwhelmed. If it’s your first time teaching an inclusive classroom, it may feel like a lot to handle. But this is actually an excellent opportunity for you to learn more about the educational system as a whole.
Find out what motivates your students. This may involve a little bit of trial and error. But once you’ve figured out what gets students fired up and motivated to learn, it’s much easier to inspire them on a daily basis.
Establish clear expectations with your students. Give your students ownership of these rules and make them feel like they’re part of the process. Make sure everyone in the classroom is held to the same standards for the class rules.
Remember, just having students who qualify for special education sitting in the back of the room doing their own thing is NOT inclusion. Include them, immerse them, they should be part of the classroom.
Everyone benefits from inclusive classrooms. These benefits extend beyond the classroom and ultimately impact our communities and workforce. An inclusive education ensures that every child is set up for long-term success in life.
As a parent, it’s important for you to make sure your child’s IEP plan says they’ll be spending as much time as possible in a general education classroom. As a teacher, you may need to adjust your teaching style to address the needs and learning styles of everyone in the room. You can always refer back to this post as a reference as you’re implementing inclusion in your classroom.
I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or feel free to shoot me an email. I’m here to help!