Promoting Inclusive Practice in the Classroom Lecture
This chapter will define the term 'inclusive practice', with reference to inclusion and inclusive education. It will discuss different strategies which promote inclusive practice in the classroom, the common barriers and limitations which work against its provision, and highlight the benefits of inclusive practice.
Learning objectives for this chapter
By the end of this chapter, we would like you:
- To understand and be able to explain the term 'inclusive practice'
- To have an appreciation of strategies which practitioners can use to promote inclusive practice in the classroom
- To recognise and understand the barriers to inclusive practice
- To appreciate the benefits and limitations of inclusive practice
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Definition of Terms
To recap everything we've covered over the course of the module so far, here are some concise definitions of the key terms we're focusing on:
"Inclusive practice is an approach to teaching that recognises the diversity of students, enabling all students to access course content, fully participate in learning activities and demonstrate their knowledge and strengths… [it] values the diversity of the student body as a resource that enhances the learning experience" (Equality Challenge Unit, 2013). It is an approach where all students, irrespective of their backgrounds, abilities or disabilities are provided with appropriate support, both educationally and socially, in a school setting. This can mean that, in the case of students with a disability, individuals are provided with a less restrictive environment than their able-bodied peers. In terms of the curriculum it means that the approaches that are utilised make learning accessible to all pupils in the classroom.
By its definition, inclusive practice involves an understanding of the following terms in order that practitioners are able to deliver equality of opportunity (full explanations of these terms can be found in Chapters 1, 3, 4 and 5).
Inclusion is a term that has no universal definition. It has a number of definitions (see Chapter 1), but essentially it means enabling all children with their diverse abilities (those with disabilities, the gifted and the disadvantaged) to have access to and to participate in every aspect of education (Loreman and Deppeler, 2001 cited in Dash, 2006, p. 21). It is a concept which regards all learners as being of value and should be treated as unique individuals who can contribute to both the learning community and wider community (Grace and Gravestock, 2009).
Inclusive education is an ongoing process which aims to offer high quality education for everyone, whilst "… respecting diversity and the different needs and abilities, characteristics and learning expectations of the students and communities, eliminating all forms of discrimination" (UNESCO, 2008, p. 3 cited in the European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education, 2010, p. 11).
Anti-discriminatory practice can be regarded as an active process which sees practitioners working within communities with groups and individual families to promote diversity, the recognition of individuals' value and self-esteem, thus conforming to legislation within the Equality Act (2010).
Multiculturalism is a term which is used to describe accepted diversity within society in terms of religion, ethnicity, language, class, gender and sexual orientation (Kamran, 2007).
The term diversity literally means 'difference'. The recognition of diversity revolves around the notion that there should be an overt recognition and respect for both individual and group differences which encourages not only respect for but acceptance of differences between individuals and peoples (National Health Service, 2012).
The Equality Act (2010) refers to disability as impairments which can be either physical or mental that have a long-term impact upon an individual's ability to function in day-to-day life.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2016) defines disadvantaged as "lacking in the basic resources or conditions (as standard housing, medical and educational facilities, and civil rights) believed to be necessary for an equal position in society."
Special Educational Needs (SEN)
SEN is a term which is used to describe individuals who have learning issues which require them to have additional provisions to be made for the fulfilment of their education, with the definition of learning issues being if they have greater problems with learning than their classmates (Department for Education and Skills [DfES], 2001) (see Chapters 3 and 4).
Imagine that you are about to embark on a teacher training course. What concerns and/or issues might you have with regard to training to teach in the modern classroom?
Strategies to Promote Inclusive Practice in the Classroom
In order for approaches in delivering the curriculum to be called inclusive, they must meet the needs of all students, irrespective of whether they are considered to be able or disabled. As we have already seen, defining inclusion is very difficult as it can mean slightly different things when used by different people in different contexts. However, if it did have a fixed definition, it would not be flexible enough to be adjusted to accommodate the ever-changing world, particularly within the field of education (Trussler and Robinson, 2015). In British, and indeed world society, there is ever greater diversity which necessitates teachers and educational establishments being flexible in their attitudes and policies in order to accommodate all learners. Added to this, the methods which are required to help specific learners with their issues will change from day to day, thus requiring practitioners to be adaptable and flexible as a result of engaging with an active, reflective process (Trussler and Robinson, 2015).
However, it is important that there is a common starting point in order that the general principles regarding inclusion can be understood. This is provided by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted, 2000, p. 7 cited in Trussler and Robinson, 2015, Chapter 1) who state that educationally inclusive schools are those who offer new opportunities to pupils, irrespective of their difficulties, by constantly monitoring an individual's progress through the identification of the issues that they had in the past (and therefore might have), meeting any challenges through taking practical steps to support their learning whilst promoting tolerance, acceptance and understanding. In essence, schools which put forward this ethos illustrate that every child does matter, thus boosting the self-esteem and self-identity of young people as an integral part of the educative process.
It is critical to understand that inclusion and inclusive practice is not purely about catering for the needs of SEN pupils. The inclusive ethos is something that should include all pupils, without exception, enabling each individual student in a specific environment reach their full potential through participation, in not only the curriculum but also in extracurricular activities. An important aspect of inclusive practice is the embracing and celebration of diversity, and using difference as driving force within learning (Falvey and Givner, 2005). All children must have access to the curriculum through the creation of an atmosphere which allows them to develop to their full potential (Sage, 2007; DfES, 2004). All children must feel secure within the learning environment which necessitates practitioners and schools acting to remove any genuine or perceived barriers to equal opportunities and learning, which includes assessing the use of resources to provide greater access to learning experiences for all children (Centre for Studies in Inclusive Education [CSIE], 2015). In addition, teachers must ensure that suitable learning challenges are devised to meet children's learning needs, whilst always seeking to afford children the opportunity to make progress.
Within the classroom setting, no matter what the age of the children, practitioners play a critical role in terms of encouraging the development of a life-long love of learning. Clearly, this must be done in a safe and welcoming environment where every individual is valued and difference is accepted, embraced and celebrated. An inclusive teaching and learning environment will be characterised by all children having the opportunity to engage with the curriculum through active participation as equal members of the community. In addition, there should be evidence of meaningful provision for those with disabilities to become fully immersed and involved in not only the curriculum but also the school community at large, inclusive of extracurricular activities. The very nature of the education system means that developmental milestones will need to be evidenced through an evaluation of levels at specific points in time, but they should not deflect from a school's responsibility to provide a rounded, holistic education for those in their care. To that end, it is vital that practitioners and schools as a whole provide a variety of activities and approaches which allow for maximum participation and progress for all students, focusing upon children being actively engaged with their learning in both a formal academic and a social context (Dumaresq and Tommasini, 2014).
Dumaresq and Tommasini (2014) highlight a number of important components which allow for inclusive practice. They state that teachers must be aware of these building blocks which are necessary for creating the atmosphere where individuals can feel safe and comfortable through the establishment of an environment where every individual is seen to be of value. These components are seen as being leadership, the structure and ethos within the school, student placement, family and community involvement, cooperative practices, teaching approaches and additional support services.
It is important that managers and those in leadership positions develop a sense of shared responsibility and ownership for every child's overall social, emotional and academic progress. In addition, managers must ensure that collaborative planning time is given over to practitioners as part of the structure of the working week, and that inclusive practices are monitored through the collection of evidence which can also be utilised to inform future planning.
Structure and Ethos
Critical to the development of a successful inclusive environment is an attitude which welcomes all-comers, an attitude which extends to ensuring that every individual is seen as a valued member of the school community. This should be supplemented by the nurturing of good cooperative working relationships among practitioners, families and students.
In order for students to derive maximum benefit from their education, it is important that they are placed in the correct environment, and that the environment in which they are placed meets their needs. In the case of pupils who have a Statement of Special Educational Need (see Chapter 4) it is important that they have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) in place, the content of which has been agreed with the SEN Department. Practitioners must also undertake to teach a wide range of pupils appropriately for significant parts of the school day, including those with a range of disabilities in their classroom, differentiating their work.
Family and Community Involvement
Families, schools and agencies within the community are collaborative partners in the delivery of an inclusive package of education.
Cooperation and collaboration between educators is vital in maximising the effectiveness of the planning of activities and interventions, which in turn has the effect of minimising barriers to accessing the curriculum.
Practitioners need to implement different approaches to their delivery of material and activities, inclusive of multisensory, multilevel opportunities for learning which include a variety of different methods of evaluation and multiple different learning outcomes.
Additional Support Services
It is important that the SEN Department under the leadership of the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) identify individuals who need specific support structures and provide them with appropriate support as and where necessary. This should include any modifications that are required to the material structure of buildings so that pupils can physically access all areas of the school site.
What approach, in your opinion, should leaders and/or a leadership team take towards developing inclusive practice in a school?
The creation of an inclusive environment is critical in encouraging inclusive practice. Practitioners within a setting need to select materials that are appropriate in supporting students who have a diverse range of abilities in their learning. It is important that there are materials which enable them to progress in their observations, their ability to read and to communicate with each other as an integral part of the learning process. It is important that children have access to materials that support learning, providing them with explicit strategies with examples to scaffold their learning and to integrate related concepts to aid their understanding. It is important that learning is logically phased to ensure that children's new knowledge is based upon their prior learning and understanding. In this modern age, it is important to utilise technology as and where appropriate, provided that it is being used as an educative as opposed to an entertainment tool. Providing access to the curriculum via a school website is also useful, in that it encourages parents to be aware of children's learning whilst also providing students access to materials at home to aid them with their homework and coursework assignments.
Within the classroom it is important that learners have access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT), such as word processors, computers, tablets and mobile learning devices in order to further their learning. Other items such as amplification devices, speech software, enlargement software and Braille printers can all be utilised to help those with sensory impairments (visual and hearing). Irrespective of the abilities and backgrounds of individuals within the classroom, practitioners should feel confident in using anything that can be of benefit to children's learning. The support mechanisms which can be used in the classroom do not have to be high-tech. For example, preschool and primary children find using flashcards (laminated cards containing images and words) as a memory aid just as much fun as using a computer, as it allows them to socialise with their peers whilst they are learning. Other 'low-tech' learning aids include post-it notes, calculators, digital clocks, highlighter pens, carbon paper notepads, digital tape recorders, and book bags and/or folders in which to keep personal belongings (Dumaresq and Tommasini, 2014).
An inclusive environment can only be created if practitioners have a clear understanding of individual children's attainment levels. Assessment is clearly an important part of the educative process, as it enables barriers to learning to be identified and reduced in order to increase participation from all people within the learning community (Booth, Ainscow, Black-Hawkins, Vaughan & Shaw, 2000). Good, ongoing formal and informal assessment is vital in determining an individual's strengths and weaknesses (Cross, 2004), with this information being utilised to inform the planning of activities to cater for their needs. This assessment would also provide the data to determine whether additional support is necessary to meet individual needs, not only in terms of fulfilling of the curriculum but also in terms of their emotional and social development. This data can also provide the information necessary in the setting of appropriate goals and targets for pupils, as well as giving an indication to practitioners as to potential approaches which might be successful with individuals and groups. It is through a process of continual assessment and re-evaluation that fluency can be built up with regard to practice, the hallmark of a reflective practitioner.
Just as important as the collection of information are the approaches that are taken in the classroom by practitioners when they interact with children. It is important that learners are provided with immediate feedback on their work, providing information as to how well they have done and how their work might be improved. It is critical that this is done in a positive manner in order to encourage children to persevere in their efforts and their learning. This feedback must be provided in a language and manner which is appropriate for the pupil concerned - clarity is vital for understanding, both in terms of feedback sessions and when providing instructions for activities and/or assignments. In order to check whether pupils have understood the instructions and/or feedback, practitioners should be in the habit of inviting questions and/or providing examples in order to clarify what is required.
Inclusive classrooms provide opportunities for children to share in their learning. This can be achieved through using activities like paired work, group work, small group discussions and cooperative learning which allows children to explore the full extent of topics, and to learn from and in conjunction with their peers. It is important that the topics presented to the children are authentic and relate to their previous learning in order that they are able to move from basic to more complex cognitive skills. To that end, it is vital that children are afforded opportunities to respond to curriculum tasks in unique ways which afford them the opportunity to take ownership for their learning and to demonstrate their knowledge, for example, allowing a child and/or small group of learners to conduct a presentation for the rest of the group about their work, as opposed to handing in a written answer. Another important aspect of an inclusive environment is providing opportunities for children to appreciate the diverse cultures that exist around them, and allow them to explore those cultures to their fullest extent. This could be through organising school visits to different environments to explore a specific topic or culture (for example, a visit to a mosque or Hindu temple) or inviting visitors into the school to engage in activities which are demonstrative of a specific culture (for example, Indian dance and/or cooking).
What would you regard as the most important aspects of creating an inclusive learning environment? Why would you select these as most critical?
Having assessed the needs of the children, it is important that the planning that is undertaken caters for the needs and learning approaches of those in the classroom, taking careful note of any IEPs. For those who are designated as having SEN, it is important that there is liaison between classroom practitioners and special education teachers, Teaching Assistants (TA's) and support staff in order to meet the specific needs of individuals, particularly those who have Statements of Special Educational Need. In situations where practitioners are fortunate enough to work in conjunction with another practitioner (co-teaching) in the classroom, it is critical that time is set aside each week in order to plan the activities and designate teaching responsibilities for specific sessions. There are a number of different types of co-teaching which can aid in the delivery of an inclusive curriculum. Interactive teaching involves practitioners sharing the role of delivering, reviewing and monitoring teaching. Alternative teaching sees one practitioner delivering the instruction to the whole group and/or providing some form of enrichment activities to reinforce a concept for a small group while the other monitors or teaches the remaining students in the class. Parallel teaching involves the pupils being divided into mixed ability groups, with these groups being taught the same material by the two teachers. Station teaching has small groups of pupils rotating to various different stations to receive teaching, review or practical experience involving a new concept (Walther-Thomas et al., 2000).
It is equally important that the classroom is arranged to make it as conducive to learning as possible. Often in preschool and primary classrooms, specific areas of the room set aside for particular activities, for example, a home corner, a role-play area, a carpet for quiet work and circle time, a library area, a nurture corner, a water play area, a sand play area and a computer area. Any classroom rules which need to be applied consistently must be displayed so that they can be referred to at all times by both practitioners and learners alike. Providing a daily timetable is particularly useful for SEN pupils, particularly those who are autistic or who are on the autistic spectrum (these individuals like order and structure, finding change difficult); many primary classroom teachers utilise an area set aside next to the whiteboard to post a daily schedule, using different colours for different activities, for example, green for literacy, yellow for mathematics. This sort of structure can be extended to the development of classroom cues for the getting out of materials and settling down to engage with the tasks that have been set, as well as allowing for time between activities for transition (facilitating opportunities for movement, tidying up and changing activities). Students can also be helped with the conduct of their day by producing checklists for them and having specific folders and/or containers in which to keep their work (Bender, 2002).
As mentioned above, it is important that practitioners provide pupils with opportunities to work in small groups and in pairs, as this not only helps pupils to learn how to learn with and from each other but also encourages them to take responsibility for their behaviour and learning when they are completing tasks to reach a goal. It is important that learners receive differentiated instructions from practitioners so that they are able to understand the requirements of set tasks and activities, with those instructions being phrased and/or laid out according to a student's preferred learning style; for example, providing pictures or diagrams for visual learners and/or for those who are learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) alongside written instructions will help with their comprehension. Land (2004) suggests that practitioners should ensure that material is presented to pupils in different ways (visual and oral), that students should have access to a variety of different ways to complete tasks (writing, speaking, illustrating, presentations) and that learners should have access to a variety of different tools to aid in their understanding of new concepts (ICT, video, role-playing). In addition, Lentz, Dreshler and Kissam (2004) recommend that the imparting of learning strategies along with content material can bring dividends, in that children learn specific steps which will help them to tackle new and/or difficult tasks which will guide theirthoughts and actions, allowing them to think strategically to complete activities or assignments on time. Examples of learning strategies are notetaking, the reading of texts, organising materials, learning information, and taking tests.
Consider and provide answers for the following:
- You are an experienced practitioner of some 20 years - how do you go about the process of evolving your practice to place the child, rather than the practitioner, at the centre of the learning process?
- You have been observed in the classroom; your mentor comments that some aspects of your teaching are inclusive, but there is too much individual work being asked of the children. What different approaches could you employ as an alternative to children working alone?
Barriers and Limitations to Inclusive Practice
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO, n.d.) highlight a number of barriers which hamper inclusive education.
Societal attitudes rather than any specific emotional, learning or physical impairment provide the greatest barriers to inclusive education. Unhelpful and negative attitudes towards difference and diversity result in attitudes of discrimination, as a result of a lack of awareness and traditionally held prejudices. For example, in some societies it is still regarded as pointless to provide an education for disabled children. Problem attitudes are often laid at the feet of those who are different, as opposed to the societal systems which are failing them.
Many schools and learning environments are simply not accessible to those with physical disabilities. This is particularly the case in poorer societies and in rural areas where buildings are not accessible, as a result of being poorly maintained or being run down. These types of buildings are not only unhealthy but they are unsafe for all learners. Even in Western society, some schools are not equipped for or in a position to respond to those with particular special needs. For example, doors and passageways are not wide enough for wheelchair access, light switches and power points are not placed in a position where they can be reached easily (i.e. just above the skirting board), and there are no ramps or slopes which make it easy for individuals to access play spaces.
The curriculum is sometimes the most difficult barrier to inclusive practice. It is often not flexible enough to cater for the needs of a diverse range of learners, as a result of having specific requirements that are controlled centrally. This rigidity can also prevent practitioners from experimenting with different approaches and/or materials which might be more beneficial to individual students and provide them with a more authentic, useful approach to accessing curriculum content.
Allied to the curriculum, teachers' attitudes can be a major limiting factor for inclusive education and practice. This can be the result of a lack of confidence as a result of an absence of training in this specific area. It has been noted that much of the training that is offered is unsatisfactory as a result of being fragmented and lacking in coordination. If practitioners have a negative attitude towards the inclusion of those with special needs (those with learning issues and those who are gifted), it is impossible for them to provide a satisfactory quality of education. It can also be the case that practitioners have to give over a disproportionate amount of time to individuals who have special needs to the detriment of other pupils.
Language and communication
It is critical that there is an appreciation of how to communicate with those who have SEN and those who are learning EAL. Clearly, if someone has difficulties with language, they are at an automatic disadvantage in that their inability to understand and communicate will have negative consequences. Often, teachers' attitudes are also linked to this, in that there is sometimes the perception that if you are unable to communicate fully, there is a lack of intelligence, leading to low expectations and discrimination.
The disadvantaged - those who live in areas of poverty or high levels of unemployment - are often negatively impacted in terms of receiving equality in terms of their education.
A shortage of resources, whether that be in terms of schools, facilities within schools, a lack of practitioners, a lack of support staff and learning materials can cause serious issues. This is a common theme across the world.
Organisation of the education system
An educational system which is organised centrally can be resistant to change. There can be an overreliance on a top-down system which sees decisions with regard to policy and management being handed down to employees from people not involved at a local level or at the 'chalk face', which can lead to practitioners obeying rules as opposed to serving children. This is often accompanied by a lack of information with regard to children who have learning issues, and how many are excluded from access to the curriculum as a result of not receiving adequate support within mainstream education. It is also evident that, in many countries, post primary education is totally inadequate to meet children's needs.
Policies as barriers
The concept of inclusive education is one which is relatively new, with many of those who seek to make policies not understanding or accepting the validity of this type of approach. In some countries, groups of learners are not allowed access to a full range of educational services, sometimes through a lack of desire to educate them or as a result of there being declared 'uneducable.' Clearly, where this is the case, they do not receive the education to which they are entitled, condemning them to a life where they have no opportunities for employment or a career.
Benefits of Inclusive Practice
The benefits of inclusive practices are well documented for all children, their families and teachers. Dumaresq and Tommasini (2014) list the benefits to students as being: developing an understanding and respect for each individual in their class and/or learning community through recognising their unique characteristics and abilities; developing their abilities to empathise with their classmates and provide appropriate, sensitive support in overcoming their issues; highlighting and providing opportunities to experience diversity within the school community which reflects that of wider society; providing an environment which encourages the development of friendships and positive self-image as a result of participating in activities alongside their peer group; and the development of self-advocacy skills, and of the ability to communicate and enjoy the educational process alongside their peers.
Families benefit from this process as a result of feeling positive about their children and themselves as a result of experiencing others acceptance of their children; this positivity is further extended as a result of their children making progress within the inclusive setting and having an increasing sense of belonging within the community. This positivity also extends to feelings about themselves and their children as a result of seeing their children recognising and valuing diversity in others. Families also benefit as a result of using school-based friendships as a springboard for neighbourhood activities and social events outside of the environs of the school.
Practitioners benefit through: exchanging information about the activities that they plan and deliver with children, thus extending their range of teaching strategies and their general skills as educators; developing and enhancing their problem-solving skills through collaborating with others to find solutions to challenges and the removal of barriers to learning; and developing a sense of understanding and appreciation of the strengths that all students have and the contribution that they make to the school community as a whole (Dumaresq and Tommasini, 2014).
In addition to this, this type of approach allows practitioners to connect and interact with a variety of different students in a manner which allows them to connect with course materials which are real and relevant to them. This method helps students to feel more comfortable in the classroom environment, to the extent that they are able to articulate their ideas, thoughts and questions more readily. It is an approach which allows students to experience success as a result of learning how to learn in a manner which acknowledges their preferred learning style, their background and their ability (Cornell University, n.d.).
The benefits of receiving an inclusive education for learners themselves include:
- meaningful friendships
- increased awareness, appreciation and acceptance of difference which leads to greater access to social networks for those with disabilities and learning issues
- increased understanding and acceptance of diversity and greater levels of respect for all people
- for those with disability, there is greater access to the curriculum which allows them to increase their levels of achievement as a result of greater opportunities for skills acquisition
- it prepares all students for adult life in an inclusive society, an environment in which they have to interact with others and follow societal conventions
- the needs of all pupils are better met as a result of increased levels of communication between staff, greater levels of parent and family participation, which leads to higher expectations and better academic outcomes.
- How would you go about addressing the barriers listed by UNESCO?
- What are your views about inclusive education/practice? In your opinion, do the benefits outweigh the disadvantages?
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