Basic scaffolding will make your job as a teacher easier and your classroom more inclusive
In general, the early years of elementary school (ages Basic scaffolding will make your job as a teacher easier and your classroom more inclusive 5 to 10 approximately) lend well to an inclusive classroom setting. Curriculum is more basic, lessons tend to be interactive/hands on and there is often quite a bit of group work. Elementary schools are for the most part community based, smaller in size and have fewer students per class. As children move on to middle school (ages 11 to 14 approximately), class sizes tend to be larger as often several elementary schools within a district will feed into a single middle school.
This is when the curriculum becomes more sophisticated. There tends to be less group work and more independent seat work. The gap between the academic capabilities of students with needs and their peers begins to widen further. This is where the inclusion models tend to break down and students with cognitive challenges start to suffer.
Depending upon where you live, the policy of your school district and the issues and needs of students with challenges, the enrolment at the middle school and high school levels can look like any one of the following, in order of most inclusive to least:
- Enrolled in a homeroom on a full-time basis (with or without an educational assistant).
- Enrolled in a homeroom on a full-time basis with some learning support in and out of the class setting (with or without an educational assistant).
- Enrolled in a homeroom on a full-time basis with part-time placement in a Learning Centre Model classroom (with or without an educational assistant).
- Enrolled in a Learning Centre Model classroom with part-time inclusion placement in a typical classroom setting (with a full-time or shared educational assistant).
- Enrolled full time in a Learning Centre Model classroom designed for students with significant challenges (with a full-time or shared educational assistant).
The terms ‘homeroom’ and ‘Learning Centre Model’ may be unfamiliar to some readers, but the former refers to the room where students gather at the start of the school day before dispersing to other classes and the latter to a model where a support unit or base is located within a middle or high school.
In all of these models, even within a full-time Learning Centre model, there are some good basic inclusion practises that will help support both students and teachers, allowing us to provide our charges with a meaningful well-rounded education.
Structure and Consistency
This is extremely important to individuals living in a confusing world. Designing a classroom routine that is predictable helps to lower anxiety levels. Reviewing a visual schedule with the whole group in the morning along with prepared individual schedules for students with more challenges is very reassuring for everyone. Individual schedule types can vary according to levels of ability, ranging from segmented pictorial matching to a complete written lists including time frames. Colour coding for subject areas is particularly helpful for more independent students.
Pre-Loaded Binder Work
Pre-Loaded Binder Work that is subject divided, and aligns with class work helps in both the homeroom and when students leave for other classes. This is not for daily work, but for times when lesson plans simply do not fit student ability level, when a test is taking place or when there is perhaps an off day and the student prefers to work quietly on their own with work they can feel successful and independent with. Personal binder work can also give gifted students options to work beyond classroom expectations when it lends well to do so.
Individual Work Stations
These are mini offices with an emphasis on ‘Take, Do, Put Away’. It is ideally an enclosed area with a work table with four or five tasks in containers that students take from the left, complete at the desk, and put away to the right. These are tasks that have been pre-taught and that students are capable of doing without help. Work station time should be included in the schedules for a set time daily. It involves task work that will lend to employment skills and will vary greatly according to student ability levels. Typically it involves hands-on work to enhance fine motor skills and basic matching and sorting abilities, but they can also include file folder work that includes academic work for higher levels of ability. This gives students an opportunity to be independent and teachers an opportunity to work with other groups.
Structured Teaching Work Systems
Theses were developed by Professor Eric Schopler and his colleagues at the University of North Carolina. It very much includes the above individual work stations, but the same idea can be included in other work tasks by simply outlining what the student is expected to do for each activity. ‘What do you want me to do?’, ‘Where do you want me to put myself and my things?’, ‘How much should I do?’ and ‘What’s next?’. It should be arranged in a way that students will have little difficulty figuring out what to do. How you do this depends on the student levels of ability, it can be exemplar, pictorial or written out or a combination of the three. As long as it is clear and simple and performed from top to bottom or left to right. It requires set-up time, but once in place it is good for repeated practice of essential skills. Again, it teaches independence and frees the need for support. Always a win-win situation.
The Group Work Model
This can also be very helpful. It gives peer support and roles within the group can be tailored to student strengths. It’s a nice opportunity for students to support each other and appreciate each other’s contributions.
Lesson Planning with Adaptations built in
This is a useful way to always keep your mind open to inclusive practices. By creating a condensed version of the specific outcomes for students with Individual Program/Education Plans (IPP/IEP) or adaptations on hand when planning lessons, every lesson will have a way to embrace all learners in the class. It’s a bit of a chore to set up at first, but is well worth the initial time.
Teachers might even get assistance from learning centre/support teachers to get this started. For example, if a lesson was being planned in science for identifying components of a cell, a glance through the specific outcomes for a gifted student might have you ask that student to not only label the cell but invent a new cell part with yet another function. A student with more challenges might receive the same worksheet with a word bank, or the same worksheet with matching pictures to cut out, paste on and match, all according to the skills listed in the IPP/IEP. Everyone has their style in lesson planning, but even something as simple as a margin set to the side where adaptation tweaks can be jotted down will be helpful.
Results from one of Canada’s largest online teacher surveys taken this year, showed that in general, teachers felt they did not have adequate supports and services to address the broad range of special needs in their classrooms, (NSTU, 2014). It’s easy to point out what is NOT working in our school systems, to plea for more support and more money for programming, or to find fault with various models of inclusion or segregation.
Mandates that take away student support and on-going school cut backs have all taken their toll. But all of that does not help us deal with the here and now of the ever growing diverse classroom. The key is in learning more inclusive practices. Be it for your student who is three years ahead of the class or three years behind, setting up some scaffolding ahead of time will make your job easier, your students happier and your classroom more creative. One size never fits all, so learn to see every lesson as a multi-layered possibility. Thanks for working so hard for all our students.
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