What makes teachers true educators is their acknowledgement, appreciation, and respect of students' differences. Students' diverse intelligences, talents, skills, interests and backgrounds enrich our school and our lives as teachers. No two students are the same and have the same response to learning in every situation. Since each student is unique, teachers must use diverse strategies suited to students' broad array of abilities, intelligences and learning styles. When we offer a variety of individually appropriate strategies, we enable all students to be true participants in a community of learners.
As educators, we won't know what gifts are hidden in our students until we unwrap their packages. Most successful teachers of inclusion classes have found that when they teach basic skills within the context of meaningful lessons, all students can achieve higher level learning. Such lessons stimulate critical thinking and motivate students to make personal connections with the material.
Students who are part of a community of learners tend to rise to higher levels of learning and joy, especially when they work cooperatively. In a supportive classroom community, students acknowledge and appreciate one another's skills and talents. Stereotypical academic success no longer becomes the only standard for who is "smart". Students who learn about their own and their classmates' multiple intelligences and unique abilities begin to shed previous negative attitudes or preconceived notions about learning disability, dysfunction, difficulty or difference (LD) students. In addition, an education environment that values participation in cooperative activities can reduce LD students' academic anxieties and build their confidence as they receive positive recognition for what they bring to the community of learners.
Thus, for me, the most important value in creating an inclusive learning environment is acceptance, followed by the values of patience, tolerance and perseverance. Teachers have to first accept that all individuals are different and remain open to teachable moments that unite the class as a community. Through diverse strategies and cooperative activities, we enable students to learn about their own and their classmates' intelligences and unique abilities. Modeling by teacher who "shows instead of tells" sets a standard that students want to emulate. (July Willis, 2007) We should also reflect and improve on our classroom practices according to the observations made in the class from time to time.
Describe the profile of a class that you are likely to be in charge of at the beginning of the school year.
Primary 3/30 student/27 students haves average ability. 3 students have reading difficulties; 2 of them stay away from most interactions with peers and teachers.
With that class in mind, based on your personal pedagogy, what will you do to create an inclusive learning environment in that new class during the first two weeks?
I will first set some rules and routines for the students to follow so that the class is not to be interrupted. Next, I would think about how students should be seated. Students who have reading difficulties will be seated at the front row. This could benefit them who feel more comfortable experiencing like a one-to-one relationship with the teacher at the front of the classroom.
To help students understand that everyone is unique, peer interviews are a beginning activity designed to build connections. Pairs of students who did not know each other previously interview each other to discover interests, talents and various "favourites". Students then share the interview results of their partners with the rest of the class. The shared information will give students an idea of what they have in common with classmates and it would be a good start for conversations and friendships. This interview process is also a class bonding exercise that can also provide first buddies for new students.
Students would also list their areas of expertise, whether academic, artistic, physical, dramatic or social in cardboards. Through these cardboards, students gain an awareness of the degree of talent in their own classroom. These cardboards increase the inclusion and raise the self-esteem of students who may not have the same academic strengths as their classmates, but who have unique talents that are acknowledged and respected by classmates.
Each day, I will spend some time considering the individualized needs and interests of one or two students. Within few weeks, I will have a sense of which students might be responsive to a few specific strategies for one of their academic or social challenges.
I will try to make the learning relevant and meaningful by relating the academic information to the students' experiences, goals and interests. Tool and tactic such as stories and narrative lessons would be used to help students relate to the new material. If student can relate to the new material, they will be more able to process and retain it as memory. (Judy Willis, 2007)
Cooperative learning, which has the same effect as the cardboard activity, will also be carried out in the subsequent lessons. However, for reading activities, instead of grouping the mixed abilities student, the 3 weaker students will be grouped together. They will be given differentiated worksheets that suit their abilities.
The three students entering inclusion classes may have had years of unproductive and painful school experiences. To help them regain the willingness to challenge themselves again, I will help them set challenging but realistic and achievable goals, then model and scaffold the strategies that are compatible with how their brains learn most successfully. This information could be acquire through daily observation and formal or informal assessments of students' learning styles and strengths.
Sometimes, students might be overwhelmed by the amount of information given in class. When the scaffolding and teacher supervision is removed, students might be confused, especially for the students who with LD. Thus, I suggest having them keep personal learning logs and start their homework, reports and projects in class. This could provide students with structure that they can build on at home. For the three students, I might need to provide them more concrete material and structured, sequential instruction and practice.
Lesson previewing could help the three students prepare for the following day's lesson in advance. They will be more comfortable and confident if they preview the lessons' basics before class. I would show parents how to do it and then gradually have students preview the material on their own.
Rubrics and formative assessment help students examine their progress toward short- and long-term goals. Rubrics generally include several categories of measurement. Even when they perform at the lowest level of one category, the high and low scores tend to balance out. I would comment along with rubric ratings to let students know their success and the areas in which they can improve. Formative assessment such as peers comment, ask for oral responses and peers editing during lessons is another way of helping students monitor their progress and adjust their strategies and action responsively.
As long as teachers provide a safe and supporting environment for learning, giving them opportunities to practice and build on the cognitive skills, students will have successful experiences as learners. Eventually, students will come to know that their own efforts are powerful enough to overcome obstacles and attain meaningful goals. Students' newfound confidence and self-esteem can then be turned toward other academic, social and behavioral goals.