An inclusive classroom is a general education classroom based on state standards and annual evaluation tests comprised of disabled and non-disabled students.

The concept provides academic learning for the students as a single group rather than segregating the students into special education or traditional classrooms.

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So, what is an inclusive classroom?

Initially, disabled students were all classified as needing special institutional education and support. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that educators and teachers noticed learning differences among the group. During the 1970s, based on the principle of educational rights the DOE presented to Congress for all students, the concept of inclusive classroom education evolved at academic institutions receiving federal funding as part of the Rehabilitation Act. The goal was to provide educational instruction in the least restrictive environment (inclusive classroom) for disabled students meeting measurable eligibility.

In the 1990s, neighborhood schools began admitting students with disabilities into general education classes. The number of disabled students receiving education in traditional classrooms during the 1999-2000 school year began to increase. In 2013, the Department of Education (DOE) reported inclusive classrooms on the rise, with six out of ten school-aged students participating in a general classroom addressing the class’s needs using a standardized curriculum. During that same period, nationally, over sixty percent of disabled students graduated from high school with a diploma compared to over eighty percent for all high school students.

Today, the inclusive general classroom concept has contributed to increased student personal growth and academic development. The teaching strategies and classroom lessons created a measurable real-world form of education between disabled and non-disabled students by expanding learning techniques based on the student’s competence.

Although the advances have been tremendous, there’s still much more to do to help inclusive classroom teachers ensure that all students reach their academic potential by integrating special education support and services into standardized classroom curricula.

Composition of an inclusive classroom

Inclusive classrooms share similar rules and procedures for managing classroom activities. Students and parents understand that the rules must be followed, and performance expectations for the class are explained in detail. The goal is to pace the lessons to accommodate the entire class. What makes this form of education unique are the classroom lesson activities requiring student participation.

  • Students are active, not passive learners.
  • Students learn at their own pace, using differentiated study methods.
  • Parental involvement is crucial for success.
  • Students learn that goals are specific, attainable, and measurable.

Lesson planning

Teachers play a critical role in ensuring all students benefit by planning to differentiate lesson instructions. For example, the teacher may select multiple activities that address the learning topic and allow students to select one of the choices. The purpose is to offer higher-performing students an opportunity to exceed the standards while helping lower-performing students to meet the standards. One example is composing an essay – students can physically write, vocally narrate, or cut and paste and assemble words from print publications.

This method has earned inclusive classrooms substantial value, encouraging teachers to create classroom lessons centered on teaching strategies that accommodate every student. Another distinguishing teaching model depending on the size and make-up of a class is co-teaching; one teacher is trained in general education, and another is in special education. The approach allows teachers to focus on student needs and services without interrupting classroom activities.

Much like a traditional classroom, lessons can be individual or arranged in small groups – taking advantage of different student skills to complete the assignment. For some students working in groups can create a safe environment for making mistakes and reinforce a student’s ability to function in a traditional classroom setting.

Continual and consistent learning

Student observation is always important. Teachers learn a lot about student characteristics, skills, and limitations that can interfere with learning abilities. Sometimes it’s related to disabilities; in other instances, it has to do with individual student behaviors. The information gained allows teachers to develop classroom lessons matched to the student’s learning style, considering a student’s aptitude.

  • How students receive information – thinking process.
  • Can the student show how the task was completed to demonstrate understanding?
  • Collecting feedback from the student about the activity?

Continual and consistent learning is key in measuring classroom, teacher, student, and school performance. Daily or chronological assessment tools are used to benchmark inclusive program goal fulfillment. Individual student assessments provide accurate one-on-one information for teachers on how different students learn. The assessments look at student learning variables.

  • Performance assessments measure student abilities and progress.
  • Multiple intelligence testing determines learning styles.
  • Reading assessments identify oral abilities and skills to identify errors.

Maintaining standards

For teachers and parents, it’s vital to stay updated on the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) requirements and updates. As part of the public education system, schools decide whether students qualify for IEP services and support. An approved IEP contains accommodations that must be met at all times. Parents need to remember that IEPs can be changed to fit a student’s needs during the program to improve a student’s learning. Depending on the student’s initial valuation, specific teaching modifications are authorized to accommodate the student’s learning ability.

  • Tests are administered orally.
  • Homework assignments are modified.
  • Notes are provided for the student.

Assuring that the standards are maintained to the state regulations, teachers initiate re-evaluations and annual IEP reviews. There are two different types of re-evaluations. After the student’s initial valuation, a re-evaluation can be requested by the parent, teacher, or school. Another kind of re-evaluation is a three-year review (triennial). Triennial is required by law. The purpose is to verify any changes in the student’s needs and confirm continued participation in the program.

  • Learning performances are documented.
  • Parents and teachers must collaborate throughout the program.
  • New areas of concern need to be identified, discussed, and amended as part of the IEP plan.
  • Notices are recommended when students plan on heading to higher education facilities- college.

Transition strategy

Some parents hesitate to ask for re-evaluations for fear the student will lose these exclusive learning benefits. Keep in mind; teachers are maintaining ongoing performances according to educational standards and filing the information with the school. If the student is struggling due to a lack of services or learning support, it is imperative to notify the school’s administration to fix the problem.

Looking at the DOE reports, more and more students are succeeding and heading to college. Parents, teachers, and staff are involved in developing the IEP transition plan toward the end of high school. To ensure accommodations and supports in college, the institution’s disability service offices will request a copy of the most recent evaluations and one or two years of performance records as part of the IEP transition plan.