Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Now tell me how they can all be taught in one class...

This was a comment that came up yesterday night in the middle of #spedchat. Its a great question and one that I would never pretend to have the answer to because I do not know. But then if we are honest we have to admit too that we don't yet even know how all the students who are currently in the class can be taught in one classroom. This is why we are seeing "education reform" movements everywhere.

Again something that was said in #edhcat did help me towards making the answer did become a bit more clear as I'm thinking the question should actually be: How can all students learn in the same class?  When we reframe it and start to think about students learning rather than teachers teaching does it change things?  Focusing on teaching starts with the assumption that all students should be doing the same thing at the same time in the classroom.  Is this what we should be doing in any classroom in this day and age?  Is this an issue that is already there but it only becomes more evident when we start to think about putting students with special needs in to regular classes.

The other question that I think we really need to think about is: Are the words "classroom" and "class"  interchangable?  I would argue they are not the same thing but we often use them interchangably when we talk about "where" we educate students.  The inclusion movement, in its most extreme cases, goes so far as to say that any pullout means the student is not included.  For me it comes down to redefining a class - to thinking of a class in terms of the people who belong in it - the students, more than one teacher and hopefully also one or more learning assistants.  Once we define it that way the walls of the room don't matter.  There will be times for any student that it is more appropriate for them to learn outside the walls of the classroom and the adult that is with them can vary at any given time (or there may not be an adult with them).  Can all students learn together in that classroom?  I would argue they can.

But no matter how you frame the questions the reality is that the simple fact that we are asking the questions speaks to the need to really evaluate if we should be educating all students in the same class.  I do believe that if we put students that have traditionally been segregated in to regular classes we would see more clearly the issues that need to be addressed in education right now and be better able to frame where we should be going with our reform movements.  I believe "our kids" would make the issues that need to be addressed all the more clear.  We would not be dumbing anything down as it would force us to truly look at how we can individualize instruction for everyone.  Although some would see this as creating way too much work for teachers, I really think that in it would not be more work then what teachers are doing now.
Here is what I believe we could potentially see more clearly if we started thinking in terms of educating all students in one class:
  1. Learning does not have to take place within the confines of classroom walls.  For many students there are times in the day when learning is better done in other places - sometimes as individuals and sometimes as small groups and sometimes as whole groups. 
  2. One teacher in a classroom is not enough.  I know there is a cost factor here but I think its worth evaluating if larger classes with two teachers (with different specializations working collaboratively) is a btter option.  Or perhaps class sizes need to be different at different times of the day and there are times when one teacher is enough.  Ideally it would be nice to have the size of classes we have now with an extra teacher in each class but that isn't going to happen.  But is that the right reason to stop thinking about possiblility of teaching not being an isolated task.
  3. Sit and get is not an effective way for students to learn.  Teachers need to focus on facilitating learning through creating active and relevant experiences.   
  4. We need to design lessons keeping in mind each of our students (i.e. use Universal Design for Learning approach).
  5. Learning is not done in isolation. We need other people to learn.
  6. Teaching and helping others is one of the best ways to learn.
  7. Every student brings something unique and special in to the mix.
  8. Technology makes it easier to learn and we need to use it to help us connect to the world.
  9. Literacy (reading, writing, using media, using the arts, talking, communicating in whatever way we can) is relevant in all learning.  We need to focus on exploring information and then sharing what we know.
  10. We need to directly focus on social and emotional learning and this will lead to building community.
I know this is not exhausted.  I know that some of it might even been off the wall.  Right now its just my first reactions to a statement that has made me think.

I am working on a post about my experience teaching in a program called "Beyond the Walls" back at the beginning of my teaching career.  This is a class that any one of my students (and I have some pretty complex kiddos) could have fit in.  Will post about it soon.


  1. Hi Monica- Wonderful post and I like that the idea of "class" is flexible. I have often reflected that if you took ALL the teachers for ALL the kids and reshuffled them- it is POSSIBLE- (i'm not a #s girl but) that without hiring another teacher, that the student/teacher ratio could greatly decrease and we could see students with disabilities included at a 10% to 12% rate which is the average in which kids are identified in American Schools. When people rally against inclusion b/c the grouping of students is 50% kids with needs for specific types of support and 50% kids who don't traditionally need that support, they are against clustering or really bad classroom groupings- they aren't against inclusion- because that ain't it.

    I especially like #5- we do need other people to learn. What I see in my practice is that kids who are segregated with kids with similar needs for support are learning all sorts of things from the kids in their classes. Mostly things we don't want them to learn- I am still stopped in my tracks every time someone tries to convince me that kids with EBD labels should be educated with kids with EBD labels. There is no research to support that notion, no better outcome, it is harder (MUCH) for the teacher and all the kids with low thresholds for other student's flaws are all in the same space triggering each other over and over again. The learning that I find so intense and life changing is from our peers. I'm not quite as interested in the teacher (or # of teachers) but the makeup of the other kids in the class. If one kid is nonverbal, then I look for a placement with SO MANY SUPER VERBAL kids- and argue with a placement recommendation that the kid "needs" a class with kids who are mostly nonverbal and a "Autism" teacher. I look forward to the post about "beyond the walls" and learning more about your assumptions about education.

    Thanks for letting me comment.

    twitter @leslielipson

  2. I agree with what both Monica and Leslie have said.I t is lovely to find some online allies.

    In Victoria Australia we have schools for students with IQ scores below 70 called Special Schools and schools for students with an IQ below 50 called Special Developmental Schools. I work in mainstream and the two special education settings 2 days a week as a classroom teacher and in Special Education leadership. 3 days a week I work as an autism coach ( working alongside teachers) in mainstream settings.

    I am a trained primary ( elementary) school teacher with post graduate qualifications in both special education and autism.

    When I am in Special education settings I love that I can have class sizes below 10 and effectively run individual learning programs for each of my students but I wish that the kids could have access to neuro-typical role models. When I am working in mainstream, I am saddened by the lack of resources ,the lack of leadership support that is given to teachers who are trying so hard to be inclusive and the attitude of a large percentage of teachers who believe the kids shouldn't be there in the first place.

    I do believe that inclusive education it is a battle worth fighting for and intend to be in the game for a long time to come - no matter how frustrating or exhausting it is.

  3. Sue - I believe there will be challenges in both the self-contained and the inclusive setting but I feel the ones that the challenges in the inclusive setting are ones we can work on by building capacity in teachers, lobbying for better resources...etc. where the ones in the self contained setting (that of not being around "typical children") are ones that we can do nothing about.

    Thank you for commenting as you have a unique perspective because of hte duo-role you play in going back and forth between the two models. We are very much on the same page and its great to find the people who are.

  4. Leslie - I really think its worth thinking about flexible class sizes in order to get the smaller classes when we truly need it. Thank you for your comments. I look forward to learning more from you.