Tag Archives: inclusive education

Smorgasbord Christmas Posts from Your Archives – 10 reasons for including Christmas in the classroom by Norah Colvin

I’m honoured to once again be featured among Sally Cronin’s Smorgasbord Archive Posts. This time it’s about including Christmas in the classroom. Thank you, Sally. 🙂

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Today we continue with the series of posts from the archives of educator Norah Colvin.  Norah talks us through making a very special Christmas decoration.

10 reasons for including Christmas in the classroom by Norah Colvin

The end of the school year in Australia is fast approaching; assessment is almost done and reports completed.

After a hectic year, thoughts are turning towards Christmas and the long summer holidays.

However the teaching and learning in the classroom doesn’t stop until the final farewells on the last day of school.

These last few weeks of the school year allow a little more flexibility and time for spontaneous explorations of children’s interests after the curriculum’s imposed learnings have been achieved. Sure, skills still need to be practised and extended but the pressure is not so relentless.

As the thoughts of most children are on Christmas and what they will do during the…

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How inclusive are you?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called Benefits of inclusion.

In that post I linked to this TEDx talk by Dan Habib, Disabling Segregation.

In the talk, Dan advocates for the inclusion of students with differences in mainstream schools. He explains that there are benefits for typical children as well as for children with disabilities.

The benefits include:

  • better communication skills
  • higher academic achievements
  • wider social networks, and
  • fewer behaviour problems.

He also says that typical children learn to be more patient, caring, compassionate and loving.

He decries the fact that although these benefits are known most children with differences still spend most of their day segregated.

In that post I also referred to article on The Cool Cat Teacher’s blog in which Gary Dietz, author of Dads of Disability, shared 5 practical lessons for elementary classroom inclusion.

His suggestions are:

  1. ‘Meet the student “where the student lives” (where they need to be, at their level of development)
  2. Presume competence
  3. Be creative in your use of ‘adaptive’ technology
  4. Listen to parents and help them listen to the child
  5. Give “overlooked” children the same chance to shine as the superstars.

The post received many wonderful comments, including some by Gary, which continued the discussion. It is worth having a peek back to see what people were thinking if you are interested.

Because your response to that post was so positive, I thought I would share with you some others that I have come across since publishing it.

On her blog, teacher versus mum, an Adelaide teacher wrote a post called When inclusivity becomes exclusion. In the article TeacherMumWife questions whether it is the attitude of teachers towards students with disabilities that impedes the progress of inclusivity.

TeacherMumWife describes a situation at a school in her local area as one promoting exclusion, rather than inclusion, through its lack of preparedness. She describes the aggressive and fear-inducing behaviour of one child and condemns the attitude of parents and teachers who question whether the school is the best place for the child. She asks, “isn’t it about time teacher attitudes got a kick up the bum, and teacher training programs and systemic funding be modified to reflect this need in our classrooms?

respect

I personally favour the idea of inclusion and believe that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and given a fair go. However in a situation such as that described by TeacherMumWife, a situation that many teachers are faced with on a regular basis, I have to admit teacher guilt in also questioning whether the regular classroom is the best place for the child.

A child with aggressive and disruptive behaviours, who injures teachers and classmates and who disrupts the learning of other students, in my opinion, is not giving others a fair go. I do not think accepting them into the classroom is equitable. If a child with special needs is placed into a classroom that is unable to provide for those needs, then it is not any more satisfactory for that child than it is for any other participants in the classroom.

There is already a great deal of pressure upon classroom teachers. The expectation that a general classroom teacher should be able to cater for a great diversity of special needs in addition to the range of diverse abilities and needs in a group of twenty-five to thirty or more students is, I believe, unrealistic in most current educational systems and environments. Qualifications to teach special education requires additional years of study. Teacher training, here is Queensland anyway, is already four years. How many years will it take to prepare teachers to cater for all needs that may present themselves at the classroom door?

People_16_Teacher_Blackboard

I agree with TeacherMumWife that more training is required so that teachers may develop a greater understanding of differences, and develop a genuine empathy for parents of and students with those differences. Additionally education must receive more funding to provide trained teachers and support personnel to work with students with special needs, and enable them to be more integrated into a situation which caters to their needs as much as to the needs of others.

 

A commenter on the blog agrees, saying, “The teachers involved in any class environment, have a right and expectation not to be placed in a situation they are not trained for or feel threatened by the situation they find themselves in.” He describes the progress of his ASD daughter from early primary to high school years.

Blake Wiggs, an instructional coach shared an article called Rethinking tolerance: Ensuring all students belong on Edutopia. He explains an exercise conducted with his students that highlights a similar situation to that noted by Dan Habib in his TEDx talk: that people form friendships with those who are similar to themselves and that perceptions of those who are different may be influenced by stereotypical thoughts. Blake’s article did not address disability specifically but the activity and attitudes are relevant just the same. He noted three necessary ingredients for creating a more tolerant environment, including:

  1. Create a culture of acceptance
  2. Address feelings of isolation
  3. Foster meaningful relationships

 

I think Jamie Davis Smith would agree with those. In her post, I’m so sorry my daughter’s disability is such an inconvenience for you shared on HuffPost Parents, Jamie expresses a parent’s frustration at the lack of consideration shown to those with disabilities. However she is not talking about school inclusion, but acceptance and inclusion in society.

Linda Petersen has a many positive suggestions on her Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Staying Sane Blog. Linda shares stories of her lifetime living with people with disabilities. In her recent post she says,

Every child is a joy! Imagine yourself in the mother of a disabled child’s shoes. Have empathy for that mom. Join in her admiration of her child, and maybe you will also internalize the concept that “God don’t make junk!

 

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

 

Benefits of inclusion

Recently I listened to a compelling TEDx talk by Dan Habib. You can listen to it here:

Dan opens his talk by asking the audience some questions about their school days:

Did kids with and without disabilities study together and learn together?

Did they have a best friend who had a disability?

Did they have a boyfriend or girlfriend that had a significant disability?

Very few of the approximate one hundred in the audience answered in the affirmative.

Then Habib asked the audience to consider and answer the following question:

Did you feel some fear or nervousness when you were a kid about talking to a kid with a disability?

The majority of the audience affirmed they did.

Had I been in the audience, my responses would have been similar.

When I was a kid, there were no children with disabilities in my classes. Children with disabilities were hidden away as an embarrassment and were segregated into what where called ‘opportunity schools’.

Thinking back, my impression is that people with disabilities were not visible in the community and their needs were not catered for. They were not expected to have any participation in society. Often they were targets of taunts and laughter, but mostly ignored and avoided.

However, when I was a kid discrimination wasn’t restricted to people with disabilities. It was a time in which racial discrimination and segregation was more prevalent; before the emergence of women’s rights and children’s rights.

Sometimes when we see how far humanity still has to go towards equality, tolerance and compassion it is hard to see how far we have come. But looking back on the changes that have occurred in just my life time, the progress is obvious, if still insufficient.

Even into my college years I had little contact with people with disabilities and my teacher training made no mention (that I can remember) of catering for students with disabilities, who were still segregated into what became called ‘special’ schools. I don’t recall catering for individual differences being high on the agenda back then.

I worked as a remedial teacher for a few years, supporting students who were achieving below the expected level, of reading mainly. These children were generally of average intelligence but experiencing a learning difficulty. Children falling below average on an intelligence test would still be shunted away to special schools.

I cannot recall the inclusion of any students with intellectual or physical disabilities at any school at which I taught prior to the 1990s when integration and mainstreaming was introduced. Dan Habib says in his talk that, as he was growing up, ‘disability was just a blip on the radar screen’ as well. Maybe this experience was similar to yours?

When Dan came to accept that his son Samuel had a disability and that he would have that disability for life, he realized that they had to create a vision for Samuel, and let ‘Samuel create a vision for himself“.

Part of this was the need for a sense of belonging: to the neighbourhood, the community and the local school. It was this that got Dan thinking about inclusion. Dan goes on to describe the ways in which Samuel was included in the school and the community, and the benefits, for both Samuel and others.

He urges everyone to advocate for inclusive education as the benefits include better communication skills, higher academic achievements, wider social networks and fewer behaviour problems. He decries the fact that, despite the benefits, most kids with disabilities still spend their day segregated.

He explains that the benefits are just as valuable for typical kids who achieve higher academically while learning to be patient, caring, compassionate, and loving. In my more recent years of teaching, I got to see these benefits of inclusion first hand. Not only did the children learn, so did I.

I didn’t just chance upon this TEDx talk. It was included in a great guest post by Gary Dietz on The Cool Cat Teacher’s blog. The post introduced a book, written by Gary, about dads of kids with disabilities and proposed 5 practical lessons for elementary classroom inclusion. The book Dads with Disabilities is described as inspiring and ‘a must read for any teacher working with special needs kids’.

The five suggestions (which I think are based on respect and are applicable for all students) are:

  1. ‘Meet the student “where the student lives” (where they need to be, at their level of development)
  2. Presume competence
  3. Be creative in your use of ‘adaptive’ technology (e.g. use of video and Skype or Facetime)
  4. Listen to parents and help them listen to the child
  5. Give “overlooked” children the same chance to shine as the superstars

 

Vicki Davis is the Cool Cat Teacher. Her blog is consistently among the top 50 education blogs worldwide. Her byline is “A real teacher helping teachers be really excellent”. I agree that she is and recommend her blog to you.

Update from Gary Dietz (12/08/2014):

“The book ‘Dads of Disability’ is now a FREE loan if you subscribe to Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited. And if not, it is on sales as an ebook for $4.99. Look it up on Amazon. (Of course the paperback is still available!)”

 

How do you view inclusion? What is your experience?

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.