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The Preview: Education

Making inclusion work: 5 strategies every teacher should know

Group of children

Inclusive classrooms, where students of different abilities learn together, can be daunting to educators who haven't been trained in techniques for managing diverse classrooms. Teachers might worry about reaching students of vastly different abilities while keeping the whole class on track to reach its goals. They might wonder how much they'll need to adjust their teaching styles and how they can partner more effectively with paraprofessionals and other support personnel.

Fortunately, there's help for educators seeking inclusion success. With these real-world approaches from experts in the field, educators can make inclusion work in their classroom.

Incorporate Occupational Therapy Insights

Challenge Assumptions about Students

Encourage Positive Behavior

Conduct Meaningful Assessments

Organize Service Learning

Incorporate Occupational Therapy Insights

Everybody wins when members of an educational team, each with a unique professional perspective, work together on strategies that help students in a classroom learn.

A great example is a teacher working with an occupational therapist to create activities that playfully engage the body in learning. Using an example from the new book Teaching the Moving Child: OT Insights That Will Transfrom Your K–3 Classroom, consider one of these approaches that incorporate movement when teaching young children letters of the alphabet. Teachers can

  • adapt the popular "Red Light, Green Light" game so children advance when a target letter is flashed

  • ask students to shape letters with their bodies

  • send students on a fun "treasure hunt" for letters hidden in the classroom, or

  • ask children to stand, clap, or touch their toes when a particular letter is presented.

Occupational therapy (OT) insights can also help students in inclusive classrooms who may have sensory issues. An overresponsive child—one who reacts with an emotional outburst, say, to the touch of glue, or the scratchiness of embroidery on a T-shirt—might draw occasional relief from a "respite corner" with a large beanbag chair or a pile of pillows.

With just a little time and effort, teachers can use a wide range of other environmental modifications to help students with sensory modulation challenges. Download more than 30 ready-to-use strategies from Teaching the Moving Child.

Challenge Assumptions about Students

Viewing each student as competent and capable rather than deficient or difficult helps keep both teacher expectations and student motivation high. Educators can use some simple tips and strategies—drawn from The Paraprofessional's Handbook for Effective Support in Inclusive Classrooms—to help change the way they regard students with special needs:

  • Presume student competence instead of assuming the student won't be able to complete a task.

  • Use person-first language—"a student with autism," not "an autistic student."

  • Remember every person is smart in different ways. Some students might exhibit verbal/linguistic intelligence, others logical mathematical intelligence, yet others musical intelligence, and so on.

  • Use age-appropriate language when addressing students with disabilities, taking care not to talk down to them.

Learn more about supporting children with multiple intelligences and using appropriate language with all students—download detailed practical guidelines from The Paraprofessional's Handbook for Effective Support in Inclusive Classrooms.

Encourage Positive Behavior

When educators see the good qualities in their students, it's easier to relate to them positively—and positive teacher-student interactions can mean better student behavior.

Try this activity from The Paraprofessional's Guide to the Inclusive Classroom: write down the names of the students who make you think, "What terrific kids!"

Think about the reasons that you identified those children, and then reflect on the students who didn't spring to mind immediately. What qualities and attributes do those students have that reflect goodness? If you find it difficult to articulate the good qualities of a particular student, work with other members of your team to generate these statements until they roll off your tongue. A positive view of all your students will help improve your interactions with them—translating into better behavior and a more welcoming classroom environment.

Brainstorm more ways to create a positive inclusive classroom with this collaborative exercise from The Paraprofessional's Guide to the Inclusive Classroom that you and the other members of your education team can work through together.

Conduct Meaningful Assessments

A major concern about inclusive classrooms is that students with severe disabilities will be placed in general education classrooms for social reasons and won't be expected to acquire meaningful skills. Educators have a responsibility to identify and target learning goals and objectives that will lead to real progress.

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) offers a way educators can meaningfully measure the progress of students with special needs. The more explicitly goals and objectives are linked to grade-level content, the easier it will be to demonstrate student progress.

The following example highlights how IEP objectives can be rewritten to more specifically articulate measurable objectives:

Original IEP Objective: Abby (a first grader) will improve communication skills 80% of the time.

Revised IEP Objective: When a classmate or teacher asks her a question, Abby will look at him or her and then point to the appropriate person, object, or picture on her communication device within 3 seconds for 8 to 10 consecutive questions.

For additional examples of how to refine IEP objectives, see this excerpt from Including Students with Severe and Multiple Disabilities in Typical Classrooms.

Organize Service Learning

An invaluable tool in inclusive classrooms, service-learning gives educators an opportunity to engage students of different abilities while teaching them about critical and creative thinking, building character, and giving back to their community.

In one Kentucky school profiled in Great Ideas: Using Service-Learning and Differentiated Instruction to Help Your Students Succeed, seventh- and eighth-graders—including those identified as gifted and those with and without disabilities—worked together to make a "freedom quilt" for the Harriet Beecher Stowe Museum. After learning in class about underground railroads and freedom quilts, each student made a quilt block, and then the class sewed them together to make the quilt.

While working on the project, the students learned measurement, math, task planning, teamwork, and sewing. All students made progress toward academic standards in mathematics and social studies, and they sharpened their practical living skills and vocational skills in the process. By donating the quilt to the museum, they further spread their knowledge to others and helped their community.

To get started using service-learning as an instructional tool for a diverse group of students, download this planning tool from Great Ideas.

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In the best inclusive classrooms, students with differing abilities make strides toward their potential by learning with and from each other. This goal might seem daunting, but with creative, cost-effective approaches, educators can make inclusion work in their own classrooms—and help all students achieve academic and social success.


This article features downloads from the following books:

Teaching the Moving Child: OT Insights That Will Transform Your K-3 Classroom

The Paraprofessional's Handbook for Effective Support in Inclusive Classrooms

The Paraprofessional's Guide to the Inclusive Classroom: Working as a Team, Third Edition

Including Students with Severe and Multiple Disabilities in Typical Classrooms: Practical Strategies for Teachers

Great Ideas: Using Service Learning and Differentiated Instruction to Help Your Students Succeed

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