Sunday, May 26, 2013

What is Inclusive Education?

A few weeks ago I posted one of the Research Digests that I had written for a graduate course that I took this spring (The Continuum of Teacher Beliefs About Inclusive Education).  In the middle of each course I find that there is just too much information coming at me and I am often able to complete assignments without really processing the full meaning behind them.  It is only later when there is time that I am able to connect it all to the larger picture of what it means in relationship to what is happening in education and how it connects specifically to my job. 
Three years ago I was teaching students from k-12 in a fully self-contained classroom and since then we have been making slow progress around trying to find a more inclusive way to educate these students.  It has not been without it's struggles and we are far from figuring it out but by jumping in and trying to do it I believe we are learning more then we ever could have by trying to lay all the groundwork first.  The bottom line is that we would have never been ready had we tried to lay the groundwork because it is not the way we have done things here before. 
I chose the article that I did this research digest on because the third group of teachers believe about inclusion what I believe about inclusion.  Although my passion is related to figuring out how to authentically include students with significant disabilities in general education classrooms and activities, I understand inclusion to be about a whole lot more than just the physical space of a handful of my students. 
I'm going back and quoting my own writing...
The final group saw inclusion as a social justice issue that was about more than just students with disabilities.  This group was the smallest group and all but one member of the group were general education teachers. They felt that inequalities in society create variability in learning. These teachers believed in the social model of disability and saw disability as one aspect of human diversity. They were concerned with larger institutional practices and policies that sever to oppress and marginalize and questioned practices related to assessment and how knowledge and learning are defined.
This gets to the heart of inclusion.  Have we properly explicitly defined knowledge and learning and do we set it as our goal for all in our schools and classrooms?  We need schools where learning is our constant with everything else being variable but so we mix it up and make the wrong things constant and learning becomes variable. And when a students doesn't learn within those other constants then they are seen as not belonging. 

When I look back at what we are doing in our self-contained classroom I can say with a lot of confidence that we had a pretty good grasp on the idea of personalized learning.  Some would question why we would be looking to take these students out of a setting where they were "getting what they needed" and put them in classrooms where sometimes it feels like we are trying to do exactly what is depicting in the above graphic. 
I speak often about "curriculum overlapping" but what we are really talking about is a personalized definition of success.  For the students that I work with goals related to communication, self-advocacy (autonomy), socialization and personal management are often going to be more important than what is on provincial achievement tests.  As we have moved forward it has become more and more evident that these goals can only be achieved in inclusive settings. 
I would say to this point we have been successful with creating both academic and routine inclusion for the students that I have on my case load.  I would say that there have been academic benefits from thinking in terms of the program of studies beign the starting point but that we have not yet figured out the academic inclusion part of this.  This presents us with an increasingly narrow focus and gives the learning process direction but at the same time it also presents the challenge of looking at the bigger picture that this all needs to be fit in to.  It is not just about this handful of students. 
It leaves you questioning how do we make sure we are not chipping away at the core of who students are to shape them in to what our larger education system defined as important so many years ago? 
A paradigm shift towards personalized learning that has so evidently started to happen when one looks around at some of the great things that are happening in education is needed. 

So as the picture of what we are doing becomes both more focused and wider through the process of exploration, it has become clear to me that for so many students what is on the provincial achievement test is not representative of each of their personalized learning needs. And this is where we sit as the presence of my students makes that a whole lot more black and white then if they were not there.  The question is what is the next step? 

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