Marissa Mardo October 23, 2012 EDC 455 Professor Eichinger Inclusive Curriculum Paper a. Introduction to the Topic: Over the past two decades, the entire structure of special education services has undergone significant change. Although federal law continues to require that a range of settings must be made available to meet the needs of students with disabilities, many professionals question the assumption that students who need more intensive services should routinely receive them in a restrictive setting such as a special education classroom. According to the text Including Students with Special Needs, the concept of inclusive practices implies that “students are more alike than different and that all students are welcomed members of their learning communities” (Friend 6). Currently, many educators find that all or most supports for students with disabilities can be provided effectively in general education classrooms when teachers are prepared to work with such students and related concerns are addressed. They further believe that if students cannot meet traditional academic expectations, the expectations should be changed, rather than the setting. Instead of assuming that the setting dictates the type and intensity of services, these educators support inclusive practices. According to the text, the concept of inclusive practices is “founded on the belief or philosophy that students with disabilities should be fully integrated into their school learning communities, usually in general education classrooms, and that their instruction should be based on their abilities, not their disabilities” (Friend 6). Inclusion is about making sure that each and every student feels welcome and their unique needs and learning styles are attended to and valued (Friend 5-11). When public education began near the turn of the century, no public school programs existed for students with disabilities. Schools were expected to be efficient assembly lines, with each class of students moving from grade to grade and, eventually, graduating from high school as citizens prepared to enter the workforce. Special classes, at first, did not exist. Later, they were developed as a place for students who could not meet the standards and keep pace with fellow classmates. By the 1950s, special education public programs were available in many school districts, but some undesirable outcomes were becoming apparent. Many authorities in the field agreed that segregated special classes were not an appropriate educational setting for most students with special needs, for it was clear that educating students with special needs in isolated settings minimized, rather than maximized, their potential. In 1954, the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education established the principle that school segregation denies students equal educational opportunity (Friend 8-11). During the 1970s when the concept of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) became part of special education, the LRE for most students with disabilities was a part-time or full-time special education class. The LRE provision “guaranteed a student’s right to be educated in the setting most like that for peers without disabilities in which the student can be successful with appropriate supports provided” (Friend 5). At this time, when students were allowed to participate in general education, it was called mainstreaming. Mainstreaming involves placing students with disabilities in general education settings only when they can meet traditional academic expectations with minimal assistance or when those expectations are not relevant. In 1975, Congress passed Public Law (P.L.) 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHCA), thereby setting federal guidelines for special education and laying the foundation on which current special education practice rests (Friend 7-10). b. Inclusion in Practice The video “Step by Step: Heather’s Story” introduces 8 year old Heather Anderson, a little girl with Downs syndrome, who is in a self-contained, special education classroom. It follows her through age 10 and full inclusion in her neighborhood school. The video documents Heather and her family, teachers, aid, principal, and classmates as they make this journey from selfcontained classroom to an inclusive setting. 1. Ms. Nizzi served as Heather’s one-on-one aid in her fourth grade classroom. Ms. Nezzi helped Heather with math and learning how to tell time. During one of her interviews, Ms. Nezzi explained how Heather does well working one-on-one or in small groups, and that she often loses focus when working in large groups. 2. According to the video, inclusion is beneficial to students with disabilities, and it is also beneficial to students without disabilities. The video also stated that inclusion is an asset for the teacher. At the end of the year, Ms. Petricca, Heather’s fourth grade teacher, explained how teaching a student with a disability, like Heather, helps you to teach better. She explained how having Heather in her classroom allowed her to learn new things. 3. Ms. Petriccia was Heather’s fourth grade teacher. She was the first teacher that Heather had at her new school in the inclusive classroom. Ms. Petriccia played a large role in Heather’s success in the class because she scheduled meetings to discuss goals and dreams for Heather; she set Heather up with her aid Ms. Nezzi; she provided her with additional guidance and scaffolding; and most importantly, she made her feel welcome in the classroom. 4. In order to promote positive interactions with the Andersons, the school kept a constant contact with Heather’s parents. They scheduled meetings where they reviewed a map that Ms. Petricca made; and they discussed Heather’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as her goals and dreams. Ms. Petricca also documented Heather’s progress throughout the year. The school staff was extremely kind and welcoming towards Heather, and was always willing to help her. Ms. Petricca created a warm and welcoming classroom environment in which Heather’s classmates were very compassionate and accepting towards her. 5. Unlike in her self-contained class, in Ms. Petricca’s class, Heather was treated like all of her classmates who didn’t have a disability. Although Heather had her own one-on-one aid, she was still able to participate in all of the activities that her classmates did. Her class routine was not as structured as it was at her old school, which helped her to more easily fit in with the rest of the students. The video showed Ms. Petricca sometimes providing Heather with extra guidance and support, but she still had many opportunities to be independent. She also always had classmates available that very much enjoyed helping her. Personally, I think that the instruction that Heather received in Ms. Petricca’s class was better for her because it allowed her to begin learning independence and demonstrating what she is capable of. By providing her with this independence, Heather became more confident in herself and her abilities. It also began to help prepare her for fifth grade and beyond. c. Recommendations for Classroom Teachers The second suggestion listed in Michael Giangreco’s article, “What do I do now? A teacher’s guide to including students with disabilities” suggests that the teacher welcome the student in your classroom. Reading about this immediately made me think about Ms. Petricca and how welcoming she was towards Heather. She made an effort to talk to Heather and build a positive relationship with her. She encouraged her to work hard and never give up. She also made it evident to the rest of the class that Heather was an important member of their classroom. The fourth suggestion listed in the article also reminded me of the way Ms. Petricca structured her classroom. Heather was seated at a desk next to her classmates, and was never excluded from classroom activities. For example, when the class was asked to sit in a circle on the classroom rug to share with the class an item from their brown bag, Heather chose to share a picture of her and her family. Although Ms. Petricca asked Heather some questions in order to guide her “show and tell”, Heather was perfectly capable of participating in this classroom activity. In the future as a general educator, I hope to apply all ten of the recommendations listed in the article to myself and my classroom of students. I hope to get to know all of my students well and build a strong and positive relationship with them. I plan to welcome all of them with a warm and kind heart in order to create a safe and nurturing environment for them. I know that all students, even those without disabilities, have a variety of needs, so I will try my best to address these needs and make appropriate accommodations. Due to these varieties of needs, all students learn differently, so I will use a wide range of teaching strategies. Lastly, I will be sure to evaluate and reflect on my own teaching, in order to make sure I am doing what is best for my students and their success. 1. What should I do if I had a few students in the class that did not make the student with the severe disability feel welcome in the class and like an important member of the classroom? 2. What should I do if the student with the severe disability was disruptive and a distraction to his/her classmates?