Sunday, March 30, 2014

Full Inclusion Pilot Classroom

Last summer, my principal approached me about volunteering to pilot a full inclusion 6th grade classroom. Having an extensive background in exceptional student education, I took on the challenge. 5 students, with varying exceptionalities ranging from DHH to Autism to Intermittent Explosive Disorder to SLD, who had always been in self-contained classrooms (being 2+ yrs. below grade level) were placed in my general education inclusion classroom. In addition to these 5 students, 3 other students with IEP's were also placed with me. I was provided with 3 co-teachers: one in math, and 2 in reading. This enabled us to concentrate on small group work and individual needs. I also collaborated with the DHH interpreter, the district Deaf specialist, the speech/language teacher, and a part-time paraprofessional. We joked about how I had a revolving classroom door since so many people were coming and going all day long!!!

I will not sugar coat my experience by telling you it was so awesome. While there were many high points, I definitely faced a steep learning curve. Just juggling all of the different teachers was a challenge. Fortunately, everyone was so willing to help. However, it got overwhelming a lot of the time. 

My first challenge was calming the nerves of parents. Not only did I have to ease the nerves of the parents of the included students, but those of the general education students who worried their children were not in a "regular" classroom. 

The next challenge focused on helping the students adjust to the speed and rigor of a general education classroom. Because these students had to take the 6th grade level state test, they had to be given 6th grade level material and tests. At first, all 5 students either cried from frustration, threw the test papers to the floor, or tipped over desks. I felt that giving them these tests was like giving me a story written in Japanese and expecting me to pass a test on it. Despite my attempts of making the reading tests easier for them, I realized that I couldn't modify certain tests, and just had to help them get through the work the best I could. Their average reading test scores hovered around 20%. However, as the year went on, their average scores rose up to 60-70%, and one of the students has been getting 80's!! 

Behaviorally, the students have also made tremendous growth! One student used to tip over desks, throw chairs, and whip his pencil box at other student's heads. He has since learned to control his anger and has not gotten into trouble in months. One student who is deaf, used to push, pull, and hit his peers. He would shut down when something got too difficult. Now, he rarely touches others and has not shut down in a long time! These are just a few examples of the victories over the year. 

Why such a success?  Patience!!! Did I mention patience? Flexibility! Understanding of special education pedagogy. High expectations. Communication. Support from all stake holders. Oh ya, patience!!

If you'd like more details about my experience as a full-inclusion classroom teacher, add your questions or comments below!!!