Last year my alma mater, the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Fredonia invited me to speak at a symposium honoring "Exemplary Educators in Inclusion Settings." This was an amazing opportunity to share with my peers some tried-and-true strategies that I had "perfected." Moreover, it allowed me to team up with other educators who faced the same universal issues. Whether you're a seasoned veteran or a first-year teacher, delivering high-quality instruction to a classroom full of diverse learners can be a daunting task. Below are the essential areas that will serve as the foundation for building a highly effective inclusion classroom.
Classroom Environment Regardless of academic ability, every student can benefit from an environment that minimizes distractions and promotes learning. This can be helped by using minimal decorations and posters and eliminating unnecessary materials that could divert attention. You will also want to pay special attention to desk configuration, placing students with special needs toward the front of the room or away from those who could interfer with their progress. It is also helpful to have independent work space, or an area in your classroom for one-on-one instruction. For more details on how to design your room, visit my previous blog that details specific organizational techniques.
Time Management and Transitions Many students struggle with managing their time, and those with learning and behavior disorders may especially feel a time crunch. I find that keeping a consistent schedule is key. Each day, I write the content area agenda on the board, along with the expected amount of time for each task. This eliminates endless questions about what we are doing in class, as well as reduces off-task behavior due to structured instructional time. Consider small changes such as adding foam contact paper to clipboards to prevent skidding, or placing a notepad in lieu of mousepads at the computers, which can do wonders for time management.
Instructional Delivery & Collaboration
Remember that you are not alone. Utilize your district's special education teacher, who can provide a treasure trove of strategies and accomodations. He or she will also be the key to understanding the sometimes-complex IEP program each special education student requires. If you are in a co-teaching environment, use that time to assess all of your students' needs, and differentiate your instruction accordingly. Some other great tips include:
- breaking or chunking assignments into smaller tasks
- offering up alternate assignments or choice boards
- providing a model of the end product
- written and verbal directions that include sequential steps
- font and color changes
- agenda checks and homework journals for parents
- varying instructional delivery to include technology and multimedia
- providing copies of notes
Behavior Management This can be a tricky area since many teachers do not want to appear biased when confronting undesirable behavior. One way to remedy this is by creating doable classrom management plans that provide adjustments for those with special needs. Keep in mind that misbehavior can often be the result of a curriculum that does not match student development or learning style, physical arrangement of the room, boredom, or pace of instruction. Be sure to:
- provide opportunities for movement
- offer cues for breaks
- avoid confrontations and power struggles
- check your curriculum to see if that is a behavior trigger
- collect data in case a behavior modification plan is necessary
Assessment, Grading, and Testing Accomodations Now more than ever, there is a multitude of ways to assess student acheivement and academic gains. Take into consideration the requirements of special-needs students when planning lessons and making tests and quizzes. You might want to consider allowing certain students to take exams orally or in a modified format, while others will require an alternate location or extended time. Be sure to provide ample opportunities for students to show what they have learned. A great way to address the needs of the entire class would be to include the use of a "memory box" for test-taking. How often do you hear a student say they needed to get the information out quickly before they forget it? A memory box allows student to "dump" everything they know out on paper that can be used as a guide during assessment. You might also want to review classwide study skills, such as eliminating possible wrong answers, guessing and checking, and looking back in the text for details. These are great ways to level the playing field.
Since each disability presents a challenge, invest in some high-quality teacher guides for assistance.
Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions on how I can better assist your particular classroom. I look forward to hearing from you!