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Why is inclusive education important?

We’ve learned that an education community is better, richer, and more effective when students with disabilities are fully involved. By growing up and learning together in school, students with varied abilities, interests, and backgrounds experience diversity as a community norm. Inclusive schools provide the opportunity for all students to develop the attitudes, values, and skills needed to live and work alongside others in a diverse society.

In this section:

What does an inclusive classroom look like?

The three Rs of effective inclusion

The role of technology in inclusive education

Here’s some more reasons why we think inclusive education is so important:

Varied learning opportunities

All young people grow from encountering a variety of experiences.

Inclusive settings offer students many opportunities to learn useful skills, such as following daily routines, figuring out different ways to solve problems, using humor and sharing stories, and communicating effectively. Our students with and without disabilities model and teach each other socially valuable behavior.

Using best practices in teaching and learning

It’s important to design instruction that meets the needs of all of our learners.

By working together, we can design grade-level instruction to better meet the needs of all of our students. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that can be used to help guide practices so that instruction and assessments are presented in ways that allow the widest range of students to access information. UDL helps us to appropriately vary the ways students can learn. It also allows students to demonstrate different ways of understanding the main concepts of a subject.

Using UDL, we can incorporate multiple and flexible means of engagement, representation, and expression in the planning stages of activities and lessons for all of our students. We have a dedicated UDL area where we can take a deep dive into the subject.

Building relationships

Ask anyone what they remember about their school days, and the majority will tell you it’s the friends they made.

Inclusive learning environments provide students with and without disabilities many opportunities to establish relationships with their peers. These relationships form the beginnings of friendships that are a source of fun and enjoyment, and an essential source of emotional support during challenging times. When we consider what contributes most to quality of life, “friends” often appears toward the top of the list. Therefore, the opportunity to connect with a diverse group of peers is an important outcome of inclusion for all students.

Increased support for all students

In inclusive schools, resources and educators can be leveraged to create more effective and efficient learning opportunities for all students.

When students with disabilities are educated in general education classes, special educators and specialized instructional support provide support in those settings. This results in general education teachers and students having additional expertise more readily available. General educators have noticed that their instructional range has expanded as a result of team-teaching with special educators. Whether we're general educators or specialist educators, supporting each other in meeting the educational needs of all students is the most important thing at play.

What does an inclusive classroom look like?

Simply put, inclusion is all about students having a sense of belonging. In an inclusive classroom climate, instructional decisions are made on the basis of each student’s individual needs and not on labels or numbers and test scores.

To be able to offer an inclusive education to your students here are a few things to consider:

The instructional setting

  • Are all of our students being taught in the same setting regardless of their abilities and disabilities?
  • If special education settings are needed, are they age, grade, and department appropriate?
  • Are the facilities used by special populations students comparable to those used by general education students?
  • Is the classroom organized in a way that all students can easily access?
  • Is the classroom climate inviting and welcoming and supportive of all learners?
  • Are decisions about instructional setting determined on the basis of student needs rather than labels or available services?

Faculty collaboration

  • Is there a vision of shared ownership where all students are considered “our students”?
  • Do general education and special education teachers regularly plan together?
  • Are all faculty members knowledgeable of each of their student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) and/or Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP)?

Instruction

  • Are we using a variety of research-based instructional strategies such as multi-level instruction, cooperative learning, activity-based instruction, etc. to reach all students?
  • Is differentiated instruction the main instructional strategy used in classrooms rather than lecture-based instruction?
  • Do we understand the difference between accommodations and modifications?
  • Are there a variety of rich resources, materials, and technology to support all learners?

Additional support

  • Are external supports provided before lessons to promote student success?
  • Are there in-class support options for students with special needs such as natural or formal peer support, intermittent support from teachers or teacher assistants, or formal collaborative teaching (two teachers sharing instruction)?
  • Do service personnel such as occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech pathologists provide services within the general education classroom when appropriate?
  • If a student leaves the classroom, is it only for targeted support that couldn’t be provided in the classroom?

How do we know it’s working?

  • All of our students are engaged in meaningful work that supports their instructional goals.
  • Learner objectives, activities, and rules are positively stated and clearly posted.
  • A variety of instructional strategies, materials, technology, and groupings are being used.
  • Services are brought to the general education classroom where we work together to meet student needs.
  • Students with special needs are not stigmatized by adult supports, and student-to-student interactions are evident.
  • Assignments are purposeful, involve meaningful work, and maintain rigor.
  • The classroom arrangement supports positive behavior and learning. Students can access materials with adequate room for small groups and quick transitions.

The three Rs of effective inclusion

While checklists are helpful guides in identifying inclusive classrooms, it’s easy to remember the three Rs of inclusion in education.

Respect

Inclusive classrooms provide an environment of respect for each and every student. All students have names, gifts, and talents. Our students all belong and are active participants in our classrooms. They are known by their names and unique personalities and strengths—not by numbers or scores.

Relationships

When we respect and accept our students as full members of our school community, relationships develop. Students are no longer isolated but are connected members of a school community. Relationships create a safety net for students to develop a growth mindset, a belief that they can learn if they work hard and persevere.

Responsibility

Once relationships form, teachers, students, and parents develop the capacity to better address all kinds of student diversity and share the responsibility for success. The general education classroom becomes the starting point for all students, and services and supports are brought to that classroom as needed and appropriate.

Inclusive education in practice

Theory, checklists, and guides are great. But the best way to get to grips with inclusive education is to get a look at what other schools and educators are doing. In this podcast, we speak to our friends at Highlands Council to get a taste of how they’re forging inclusive learning experiences for all of their students.

In this episode of our podcast: Texthelp Talks, our host Patrick McGrath is joined by Robert Quigley and Tania Mackie from Highland Council in Scotland. They discuss their journey of rolling out and implementing over 30,000 Chromebook devices to students in their local authority. Which was driven by their commitment to digital learning and inclusion.

The role of technology in inclusive education

Technology has a big role to play in inclusive school communities.

Technology in the inclusive reading classroom

Digital reading tools can be a revelation for students who have reading challenges. Tools that offer text-to-speech software allow students to listen to passages of text or instructions rather than reading what’s on a page or screen. This is helpful for all of our students at any given time in the classroom, but it’s particularly useful for students with dyslexia and students who speak English as their second language. If students are fans of hearing text read aloud then audiobooks are a great way to immerse them in content. Having the written book to accompany an audiobook is also a great way to encourage word recognition as the book is read aloud. Reading on a digital screen lets our students take control of how they see words appear. They can adjust font, font size, and the color of the overlay or text background to suit their own needs.

Technology and the inclusive writing lesson

Different types of technology can be a great help for our students who have writing challenges. Students who might have trouble with spelling and grammar, or students who may have handwriting challenges can benefit from technology which helps them get their thoughts down on paper. Simple additions to our classrooms such as keyboards and touch screens eradicate the need for pen and paper for students and help them get their thoughts down easily. Tools that offer dictation and word prediction are also great levelers in the inclusive classroom. Visual tools like graphic organizers help all of our students to work together to brainstorm writing tasks. Colorful organization and drawing tools help them to form solid ideas and plans that they otherwise struggle to get down on paper.

Inclusive math

Math can be a tricky concept for many students. Introducing digital tools can help lots of our students start to understand and get to grips with new math concepts. Being able to see visual representation of math expressions can really help students to grasp what is happening. Equally, giving students the tools to express what they’ve learned is a huge help. Not all students are comfortable writing their math work out, so tools like dictation and touch screens can really help here.

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