Saturday, August 8, 2015

Destifying secondary inclusion

At a conference, Paula Kluth said that she could tell how inclusive a school was by counting the number of ways to sit in the building. She was thinking that an inclusive school would have a traditional chair and desk system but also standing desks, ball chairs, beanbag chairs and such. While providing many ways to sit shows flexibility and acceptance of student differences, it could minimize the idea of how pervasive inclusion should be. This could be especially true at the high school level.

Lisa Dieker wrote Demystifying Secondary Inclusion: Powerful School-wide & Classroom Strategies in order to help schools move beyond inclusive seating. At the high school level, inclusion is difficult because the depth of content knowledge is often beyond what special education teachers can bring, multiple general education teachers per student, scheduling concerns where co-planning time is often limited, and curriculum requirements often expand beyond what on-target, general education students can master in the given time. Compounding the difficulty is students with disabilities who have struggled for years trying to grasp the content and having Swiss cheese background knowledge, frustration induced apathy or adult dependency. We need to find effective ways to reach and teach these children. Ms. Dieker addresses this problem.

The book is structured around a series of components of effective inclusive programs:
  • Celebrating the success of all students
  • Developing Interdisciplinary collaboration
  • Implementing effective co-teaching
  • Establishing active learning environments
  • Implementing effective instruction
  • Improving grading
Overall her message is that inclusive schools collaborate as an institution with common behavior guidelines and consequences across the entire program, celebration of all students success- even if it means creating new methods for celebrating in areas such as improvement, consistency, or effort, and creating standards based grading in which effort and compliance are divorced from content grades, multiple means of assessment are used and individual objectives are evaluated for progress rather than a single grade for a subject area.

One area where I really found value in her work was the idea of a co-planning lesson plan. She does not include a sample in the book- a serious flaw- but sells them instead. This website has a lesson plan that I imagine is similar to what she has imagined. It has sections for the responsibilities of each adult during the lesson and an area for modifications and adaptions that need to be made for specific students. This could encompass students with disabilities (ex. use of a speech-to-text device to write an assignment in the back of the room where the noise will be dulled), for struggling students (ex. pair Jimmy with Susie to be sure they check each others planners), for students encountering temporary issues (ex. allow Mike to use a scribe because of his broken arm), or gifted students (ex. use the alternate reading passage).

I also liked her idea of classifying the information as must know, nice to know and extra. This enables special education teachers to help modify materials to focus on the must know while other students are asked to learn a larger number of the  nice to know information. I have worked with many teachers who struggle with prioritizing information or who assume that students can figure out what is important. Unfortunately, novices (i.e. students) are terrible at identifying what to focus on. They need masters (i.e. teachers) to tell them exactly what is critical for them to learn. Telling kids what they need to know is not cheating- it is helping them prepare for the assessment and hopefully the world beyond your classroom.

This book has many practical suggestions for adapting instruction and environments to meet the needs of an increased number of learners. Critically, the author does not assert that all students are best served in the general ed. setting. She advocates a range of services based on the needs of the students. This book is a handy reference for a teacher or school trying to better incorporate students with special needs into the mainstream.

The book is easy to read with big font. It does, however, have multiple typos. She has some stories describing how some ideas were implemented, but more vignettes would have been appreciated. Telling people to "vary questioning techniques" (p. 54), for example, would be much clearer if a sample instructional conversation were detailed. An extensive appendix of books about kids with disabilities is included. This could be a great resource for helping develop understanding amongst nondisabled peers and self-acceptance among disabled ones.

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