Is there too much focus on Inclusion? A response to this question posed on CBC Fredericton Radio.
When I was teaching, I tried very hard to make inclusion work. Key to this was good communication and shared philosophy with staff of what inclusion should look like for specific students.
The part that made my job easier was a TeachingAssistant, who was intuitive, and was able to 'read' the students needs and respond quickly. She also created a lot of class material to help the students integrate. Before sensory needs were understood, she knew that one of my students needed a fidget toy, or that she needed to be taken out when the classroom of 30 kids were all discussing with a partner (too noisy), or needed to work on her own individual work at her desk.
When we talk about inclusion, it should not mean “keep my child in the classroom with 25 kids and help her do exactly what everyone else is doing.” As the outgoing president of the New Brunswick Teachers Association said, “We need a plan for our children.”
If you think of a teacher as a director of 9 different curricula, making adjustments for a range of cognitive abilities and social skills, you can see that teaching is both an art and a science. There are times that a child needs an alternative program, but may need intervention to a) observe and analyze the behavior (trigger, behavior) way to avoid the trigger, b) set the program up, c)try out the new plan, d) tweak the plan after training the staff and child. This all takes a team of people, and a desire and time for the plan to work.
Let me give you a concrete example. I was part of a team in our school who helped to program for a child who was bright, but had anxiety around anything new. Well, every math lesson had new concepts. With a different approach, this child was brilliant in math, but in most lessons where it is good teaching practice to present a problem to the whole class to work through, this child would exhibit very disruptive behavior, and his own anxiety was terrible to him.
We wanted to include him in the math lesson, so our solution was to present him with math work that he already knew and found soothing, while the lesson was being presented to the rest of the class.
So, the class Educational Assistant would lay out his “comfort” math as a choice for when he started to feel anxious about participating in the lesson. After a time, he seemed to see samples of how the other children solved the problem, and started to understand the concept. Without the help of the teacher providing the “comfort work”, and the EA able to prompt the child when she saw that he needed to move from the carpet lesson to his own desk, with perhaps a walk in the hall for a drink or a sensory activity prior to coming back to his classroom, there would have been another meltdown.
Now eventually, this child learned to recognize his own rising anxiety (again, taught in small steps), and makes these choices himself: his own individual math work, or listening to the lesson on the carpet and working with a trusted partner.
Each child is an individual, and sometimes inclusion means a parallel program within the classroom, but that means an extra body: An Educational Assistant, a Special Education Teacher or Consultant to help set up and work individually with this child. To include children for the sake of having them in a room with 25 children, can be just as stressful for the child. Building in a sensory activity time, developed by a trained Occupational Therapist, helps a lot of children maintain a physical and mental balance that will help them be included. But, that means setting up a space, and having supervision while the children do their sensory exercises. A teacher cannot leave his or her class to provide this.
We don’t want to go back to having students grouped by abilities, because it is easier. But, we also do not want to include and cause more stress, and lack of learning for the individual and the group.