What Happens in the Inclusive Class? A Writing Lesson
What really happens in the inclusive classroom? Can the needs of all students be met adequately? Is the teacher prepared for addressing the special needs that arise? As parents you only have what your child tells you. For some parents, your child gives little to no response either because his/her verbal skills are limited and other times because he/she chooses to share very little. Other times, your child gives non-stop information. You hear all about lunch, who got in trouble and snippets about the work completed but you still don't hear how a lesson was taught and if they really learned it. Today you're getting the insider look into a 40 minute writing lesson taught to a group of 25 Grade 4 students in an inclusive classroom. You'll see how the lesson is differentiated to include different learning styles and levels. You'll see the multiple opportunities students have to absorb and practice the lesson. You'll see how the process of writing actually has many parts for students to practice and how it needs to be broken down in order to produce a successful writing piece. You'll see how the effective teaching in an inclusive classroom is more than just about how and what is being taught. _________________________________________________________________________________ "Okay, class, first put your Math worksheet into your Homework folder so you can finish and review it at home tonight. Then take out your writing folder. Show me you are ready by putting your head down on your desk."
As I wait for the students to follow these instructions, I see some who have completed the task even before I have finished my instructions. Others are still hunched over their math worksheet oblivious to my instructions or are rushing to finish the last practice problem. Some are in the midst of following my instructions but are distracted by their peers and things in their desk. I walk around the classroom giving positive praise to those who have finished and gentle reminders to the others.
"I'm glad to see all heads are down on their desk. Lift up your heads, hands on desk and I want to see all those beautifully colored eyes looking into mine. Today we are going to begin writing stories about the best memory we have from Grade 4. I know I have some great memories about this year. Remember writing is hard work so let's do a class brainstorm of memories from Grade 4. I'm going to use the popsicle sticks with each of your names on it to choose the person who will be sharing. Let's get ready to share. Close your eyes and think of a memory. Maybe you are thinking about something from the first day of school or from Halloween or another holiday activity. Maybe you are remembering a funny thing that happened out on the playground or something new you learned during a field trip. Does everyone have a favourite memory in their head? Now open your eyes and take a piece of paper from your writing folder. Write some words, a short sentence or a drawing of your favourite memory. You have five minutes and then we will begin sharing using our popsicle sticks."
I set up the visual timer at the front of the classroom for five minutes. As the students begin writing, I take a look at the clock. It has been about 15 minutes since the lesson began. As I circulate the room again, I look to see which students need extra help. There are students who are off task. I go stand near some of them and it is enough for them to get on task. For others, I need to gently touch their shoulder to give a physical reminder. Still others, I need to engage them in conversation to direct them to finish their task. With thirty seconds left, I let the class know how much time they have.
At the end of 5 minutes, I gather the attention to the front of the classroom again. In order to have more classroom participation, I first choose a student to be our recorder. This student will write down on the memories on a master list. I spend the next 15 minutes of the class choosing students to share using the popsicle sticks. I ask them to stand up and share their memory. If it is a drawing, I ask them to share the details of their drawing. I ask questions about their memory. Who was there? Why was it special to you? Do you remember what the weather was like that day? What kind of clothing were people wearing? When did this happen? How did this experience make you feel? I also have the student's classmates pose questions. As the writing lesson draws to a close, I assign the writing homework for the night.
"Class, I had a great time remembering all the things we did this year. I'm glad to see all of you had just as much fun as I did this year. For tonight, I am going to ask you to write down who was there, where it happened, when it happened, what happened and why it is your favourite memory on the worksheet I am going to give you. Please put this in your homework folder as I give it to you." _________________________________________________________________________________ It doesn't seem like there was much technique covered in this writing lesson but an initial brainstorm of ideas does usually take a 40 minute lesson. You can see how the lesson was broken down for different skill levels in that writing or drawing was acceptable. You can see how a watchful eye allows for the teacher to attend to the varied needs of all students. More importantly, I hope you can see how the inclusive classroom isn't really about teaching strategies for special needs students. Teaching in the inclusive classroom is more about classroom management. Classroom management skills include setting up routines, giving positive reinforcement, instructing using concise and clear directives and the physical set-up of the classroom. It is in the way support is provided verbally, non-verbally and through physical space to encourage learning. If the teacher in an inclusive classroom has a repretoire of varied and effective classroom management skills, the teacher will have more opportunities to recognize when the special needs students need help. The teacher will have more opportunities to research specific teaching strategies for the disability and can intentionally direct them towards the special education student. Ultimately a teacher will employ a varitey of teaching strategies to reach their different students but it is their ability to manage their classroom that will allow for a positive inlcusive classroom experience.