Friday, January 09, 2009

A Fine Balance

A school in my district that is piloting full inclusion (really, truly full inclusion - with the exception of students with such significant mental health needs that safety can't be maintained) gets regular training sessions from my office. The training that is at the top of their list is how to balance the needs of exceptional students with typical students. On the face of this question is a concern that we all have as teachers: How do we meet everyone's needs given the limited amount of time and resources we have. This is a fairly universal problem.
However, it seems to me that this question always implies from the asker an answer (you can't) and a course of action (those kids should be taught by someone else). It doesn't seem like a pure request for guidance. Maybe it says something about me that I view the question as insidious and disingenuous but that's the way I see it.
I think you answer this question with the following two-pronged approach:
1) Students with special needs have...special needs. By definition they take up more of our time. This is only fair if we accept that everyone should get what he or she needs. Until we accept that students are truly different and require different amounts of time spent on them, we'll keep hoping the high needs students disappear. This is the philosophical approach to answering the question.
2) We can be sure that students with high need are going to take up a lot of time one way or the other. The thing that we can do to mitigate the feeling of being overwhelmed is by deciding when we're going to put in the time - beforehand or afterward. Fortunately we get to decide whether we want to spend the time preparing so that during class the student has a better chance of maintaining without an exceeding amount of attention or putting in the time during the activity or what have you because we failed to prepare. The choice is ours. And obvious. This is not to say that we can always anticipate the needs of students but we often can and choose not to. Part of good practice is attempting to cover all the possibilities for what might happen - checking the equipment out ahead of time, having a back up plan, keeping extra, relevant work at the ready for someone who finishes early, willing to be flexible to accommodate bad days, etc.
So I feel like I can give a 5 minute training on this. But they gave us an hour so we're going to the planning piece to the next logical level: differentiated instruction. This is not really happening in ours schools even though we're moving full steam toward more and more inclusion. Without differentiated instruction we're just using band aids. More on this later.

5 comments:

Sara said...

I agree, but the thing is, I think you have to give people the benefit of the doubt and a real answer, even when it's obvious they're looking for an easy out. Also, I think that to say "give extra time" and "plan to accommodate their needs" is, for many teachers, way too general. Unfortunately most teachers get trained only to serve typical kids and truly don't know how to serve kids with disabilities. Have patience.

marie olsen said...

As a teacher for twelve years, I have encountered the inclusion aspect for many of the twelve. However, this year my school will use full inclusion, as you have mentioned. I now have several students that fall into the cognitively impaired category, and I am baffled. When looking at the IEP for each child and the accommodations I need to meet as a general education science classroom teacher, I don’t know where to begin. This is the first year these students are not in a self-contained classroom and neither my resource room teacher nor I have been prepared to teach children at such low functioning levels. Each of them brings their own challenges and I have 26 other children who need to learn the curriculum as well. So, I do have a big question. How am I supposed to teach for state testing and analysis, curriculum data, and CI students? I prepare ahead of time, I use multiple aids for assisting all of the diversified learners, and I am still baffled. Please, offer some help and guidance to those of us in this situation, because it is all we can hope for to help these children.
Thank you.

marcoz said...

great ;-)

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