When I first started teaching in an inclusive classroom I was nervous. I didn’t know how I would be able to differentiate for every student, meet their diverse needs, and remain sane and happy.
I grew to LOVE inclusion.
One lesson I learned is that a learning disability is just one strand of who a student is.
I am constantly impressed with the wide variety of strengths and challenges my students present.
The rich insights from dyslexic students into the plot of read-aloud books have left me in awe.
The spot-on recommendations I’ve heard from a student for how we can solve class-wide social problems have opened my eyes to his future. I see him in a successful career, respectfully solving problems and leading a team of employees. It now breaks my heart to think that in a different setting that student would be left out of this social experience because he needs to dictate written work.
Learning about all these STRENGTHS has tuned me into how inaccurate the message about learning disabilities often is.
Even a kid who can’t read, write, or solve math problems on grade level can be incredibly intelligent in so many other areas that are just as or MORE important in real life.
I have seen mind-blowing artwork and ingenious math strategies come from students who have pushed themselves to be great in spite of tremendous challenges.
Those students need to be allowed the space and time to do this.
As teachers in inclusive classrooms it’s not our job to say, “Well, you have strengths in other areas.” It’s our job to provide activities with multiple entry points, provide blocks and visuals and oral instruction, and perhaps most importantly, reflective debrief at the end of these activities.
Sometimes we have to be really creative about how reach all students.
In math, I’ve found that stations are especially effective. The structure helps me hold myself accountable.
I plan in best practices by always having a station with a hands-on activity, a station that requires logic and reasoning, and a station where students are pushed to persevere in solving a complex problem they haven’t seen the likes of before.
The kids are spread out in 3 areas of the classroom, and I’m free to walk around, listen in, support those who need it, and sip my coffee!
When there are a few minutes left, we gather around the circle and discuss math strategies we used and character traits that helped us, like perseverance and flexibility.
My students know where math tools are, and they recognize that my expectation that they be fairly independent is part of the respect I have for them.
For the most part, I differentiate by providing time, tools, and an environment of perseverance and problem solving. Only occasionally do I alter work for a student.
I find that very few students can’t grasp grade-level math concepts, even if they’re challenged by accurately solving the corresponding problems. For example, most students who struggle with dividing large numbers can tell you exactly what division is.
It is most often not going to help them to dumb-down a math problem. Instead, we work together to figure out what strategies and tools will work for matching accuracy to conceptual understanding.
I love inclusion because it benefits ALL students.
When my class shares at the end of math, we hear about the struggles of perfectionists, kids with learning disabilities, and kids who have trouble working collaboratively. We also hear about successes, and the work that went into them.
An inclusive classroom is well-rounded, and that means it’s a classroom that is balanced by kids with strengths and challenges in all different areas. Some students (with or without IEPs) have trouble with social skills, while others shine with exceptional interpersonal skills.
I try my best to help my students see that we’re a community there to support each other. We can all grow if we share our strengths and empathize with each other’s challenges.
They key is the way we, as teachers, support all students in embracing the differences. Inclusion is a way to build empathy and tolerance in children. Not surprisingly, it’s open communication and respect that fosters understanding instead of stereotyping and teasing.