Inclusion: Is it Good or Bad?

 Of course, there is no right answer to that question.

In spite of many years of pushes for inclusion of students with “special” or different needs in general education classes, the debate still remains about the benefits of inclusion for all students.

Inclusion pros and cons

In my 8 years in a public school district (and throughout my more than 42 years of practice) I saw both sides of the argument played out clearly.  In spite of all the benefits to inclusion, there are students who do not fare well in classrooms with general education students who are not sympathetic or teachers who are not trained to meet the needs of these students.

The picture of inclusion has changed significantly over the years and continues to evolve, and takes many forms.  While inclusion in education basically means all students are learning side by side, there are layers and layers of complexity in the issue of educating students with disabilities in the general education classroom.  Teacher training, differences in both social and academic backgrounds, environmental adjustments, attitudes of staff and students, and everyone’s expectations all are pieces of the puzzle that need to be solved individually for each student.

is inclusion good or bad

Architect Ron Mace first used the term Universal Design to describe a philosophy of how to create buildings that are accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities. He said “Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” 1Mace was a wheelchair user and became tired of asking for buildings to be changed in order to allow for physical accessibility. He suggested instead of anticipat- ing needs for accessibility from the beginning would save time and money, and improve the experience for everyone.

Universal Design has since spread to many other environments and experiences beyond building design. In the past 2 decades the concept has expanded in education and the concept is now referred to as Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  Teachers across the board have become familiar with the concept of differentiation, which is based on Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development - basically, the concept that students learn best when the work is neither too hard nor too easy.  Further, we have come to recognize that students learn differently and teaching strategies often need to be flexible to account for how different students learn differently.

Speech-language pathologists are valuable members of the Interdisciplinary Team who can identify modifications that need to be made to the curricula and interventions in instruction that are appropriate to specific students.  We are also often called upon to co-teach in classrooms, as observers, modelers, parallel teachers, team teachers, and small group alternative teachers.

when inclusion fails

When does inclusion fail? When is it not “good?”  When

Multidisciplinary teams do not have a clear

 understanding of their roles,

Regular education teachers are indifferent

 to individualized goals,

Personnel shortages have not allowed for

 individualized goals to be achieved, and

Collaboration within the multidisciplinary

 team named above is weak.

While we know that differentiated instruction is a necessary approach for teachers to use to address the needs of all students we also know that its successful application can vary widely from classroom to classroom. Differentiated instruction does not require expensive technologies, but rather evidence-based teaching strategies. Most educators believe that adapting their instruction to students’ needs makes sense, but many do not differentiate instruction in practice (Suprayogi, Valcke, & Godwin, 2017). Their reasons may include being accustomed to a certain teaching style, not having the necessary preparation, or attributing student failures to student weaknesses rather than to ineffective teaching.

In order for inclusion to work, we need to assume that all students can learn with appropriate instruction designed to meet their needs; to recognize that we need to take (and be provided with) the time to differentiate, to create opportunities to learn from peers as well as instructors, to adapt our instruction to meet each student’s needs, and to balance instructional strategies.

Without these, students with disabilities may face much greater barriers in general education classes than they can realistically handle.  I’ve seen it happen, and it isn’t pretty.

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