Monday, January 24, 2011

Inclusion as Community Building

Inclusion is about "belonging".  I feel that as long as we focus inclusion efforts on those who have traditionally been labeled as students who belong in special education we will not see the changes that need to be seen to ensure that schools are inclusive.  Because inclusion is not really about students with special needs - its about all students.  When we focus on children with special needs we refer to things like modifications, differentiated instruction, Universal Design for Learning, multiple intelligences...etc.  All good stuff and a definately a part of inclusive education but for me there always seems to be a hole when that is all we look at.  I think that hole is about focusing time and energy on building community in our classrooms and schools.  I'm currently reading two great books that have me thinking more deeply about this.
Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community (Alfie Kohn)

Being a parent of a child with a disability, I have long been opposed to the concept of compliance.  I have come up against too many people to even count in my son's life time who are looking for compliance above all else - often at the expense of giving him a voice.  My son has limited verbal skills and his processing time can be a bit slower than some people's.  Compliance is so ranked above independence and/or communication in importance for people he has come in contact with during his "schooling".  I bought this book because the title spoke to me in regards to knowing there are others out there who do not put such high importance on "compliance".

I'm not finished reading the book but what I'm finding in the book is some great information on how to foster a sense of community in a classroom.  I am a big fan of the understanding that students will learn to make good choices only when they are given choices to make - not when they are told what to do by a set of rules.  The take away from this book for me is the information around implementing a class meeting process.  It really is a growing point to having students take control of themselves and others - which is ultimately what is needed in an inclusive classroom.

Because We Can Change the World: A Practical Guide to Building Cooperative, Inclusive Classroom Communities (Mara Sapon-Shevin)

I'm really liking this book as there are so many ideas that could be quickly personalized and implemented in a classroom.  I completely buy in to the idea of taking time to focus on community building as part of the curriclum. 

The author emphasizes the importance of focusing on community building skills in every part of the day:  "Educators are realizing that we need not dichotomize or choose between teaching skills and teaching students to be caring and responsible human beings.  We need not sacrifice reading to each sharing and abandon math goals in favor of teaching mutual support and help.  Rather, the classroom community can be structured so that students learn reading through sharing and work on sharing by working on math goald with teacher and peer support."

The book is laid out in a way where there are suggestions for how to make this all fit in to "regular curriculum" at the end of each chapter.  I have loads of "take-aways" from this book.  I hope I get a chance to use all these ideas some day!

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