4.6.2 Promoting Inclusive Practice in the Classroom
Learning Objectives for this Chapter
By the end of this chapter, we would like you:
- To understand and be able to explain the term 'inclusive practice'
- To have an appreciation of strategies which practitioners can use to promote inclusive practice in the classroom
- To recognise and understand the barriers to inclusive practice
- To appreciate the benefits and limitations of inclusive practice
Strategies to Promote Inclusive Practice in the Classroom
In order for approaches in delivering the curriculum to be called inclusive, they must meet the needs of all students, irrespective of whether they are considered to be able or disabled. As we have already seen, defining inclusion is very difficult as it can mean slightly different things when used by different people in different contexts. However, if it did have a fixed definition, it would not be flexible enough to be adjusted to accommodate the ever-changing world, particularly within the field of education (Trussler and Robinson, 2015). In British, and indeed world society, there is ever greater diversity which necessitates teachers and educational establishments being flexible in their attitudes and policies in order to accommodate all learners. Added to this, the methods which are required to help specific learners with their issues will change from day to day, thus requiring practitioners to be adaptable and flexible as a result of engaging with an active, reflective process (Trussler and Robinson, 2015).
It is critical to understand that inclusion and inclusive practice is not purely about catering for the needs of SEN pupils. The inclusive ethos is something that should include all pupils, without exception, enabling each individual student in a specific environment reach their full potential through participation, in not only the curriculum but also in extracurricular activities. An important aspect of inclusive practice is the embracing and celebration of diversity, and using difference as driving force within learning (Falvey and Givner, 2005). All children must have access to the curriculum through the creation of an atmosphere which allows them to develop to their full potential (Sage, 2007; DfES, 2004). All children must feel secure within the learning environment which necessitates practitioners and schools acting to remove any genuine or perceived barriers to equal opportunities and learning, which includes assessing the use of resources to provide greater access to learning experiences for all children (Centre for Studies in Inclusive Education [CSIE], 2015). In addition, teachers must ensure that suitable learning challenges are devised to meet children's learning needs, whilst always seeking to afford children the opportunity to make progress.
Within the classroom setting, no matter what the age of the children, practitioners play a critical role in terms of encouraging the development of a life-long love of learning. Clearly, this must be done in a safe and welcoming environment where every individual is valued and difference is accepted, embraced and celebrated. An inclusive teaching and learning environment will be characterised by all children having the opportunity to engage with the curriculum through active participation as equal members of the community.
The creation of an inclusive environment is critical in encouraging inclusive practice. Practitioners within a setting need to select materials that are appropriate in supporting students who have a diverse range of abilities in their learning. It is important that there are materials which enable them to progress in their observations, their ability to read and to communicate with each other as an integral part of the learning process. It is important that children have access to materials that support learning, providing them with explicit strategies with examples to scaffold their learning and to integrate related concepts to aid their understanding. It is important that learning is logically phased to ensure that children's new knowledge is based upon their prior learning and understanding. In this modern age, it is important to utilise technology as and where appropriate, provided that it is being used as an educative as opposed to an entertainment tool. Providing access to the curriculum via a school website is also useful, in that it encourages parents to be aware of children's learning whilst also providing students access to materials at home to aid them with their homework and coursework assignments.
An inclusive environment can only be created if practitioners have a clear understanding of individual children's attainment levels. Assessment is clearly an important part of the educative process, as it enables barriers to learning to be identified and reduced in order to increase participation from all people within the learning community (Booth, Ainscow, Black-Hawkins, Vaughan & Shaw, 2000). Good, ongoing formal and informal assessment is vital in determining an individual's strengths and weaknesses (Cross, 2004), with this information being utilised to inform the planning of activities to cater for their needs. This assessment would also provide the data to determine whether additional support is necessary to meet individual needs, not only in terms of fulfilling of the curriculum but also in terms of their emotional and social development.
Inclusive classrooms provide opportunities for children to share in their learning. This can be achieved through using activities like paired work, group work, small group discussions and cooperative learning which allows children to explore the full extent of topics, and to learn from and in conjunction with their peers. It is important that the topics presented to the children are authentic and relate to their previous learning in order that they are able to move from basic to more complex cognitive skills. To that end, it is vital that children are afforded opportunities to respond to curriculum tasks in unique ways which afford them the opportunity to take ownership for their learning and to demonstrate their knowledge, for example, allowing a child and/or small group of learners to conduct a presentation for the rest of the group about their work, as opposed to handing in a written answer. Another important aspect of an inclusive environment is providing opportunities for children to appreciate the diverse cultures that exist around them, and allow them to explore those cultures to their fullest extent. This could be through organising school visits to different environments to explore a specific topic or culture (for example, a visit to a mosque or Hindu temple) or inviting visitors into the school to engage in activities which are demonstrative of a specific culture (for example, Indian dance and/or cooking).
Barriers and Limitations to Inclusive Practice
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO, n.d.) highlight a number of barriers which hamper inclusive education.
Societal attitudes rather than any specific emotional, learning or physical impairment provide the greatest barriers to inclusive education. Unhelpful and negative attitudes towards difference and diversity result in attitudes of discrimination, as a result of a lack of awareness and traditionally held prejudices.
- Physical barriers
Many schools and learning environments are simply not accessible to those with physical disabilities. This is particularly the case in poorer societies and in rural areas where buildings are not accessible, as a result of being poorly maintained or being run down. These types of buildings are not only unhealthy but they are unsafe for all learners.
The curriculum is sometimes the most difficult barrier to inclusive practice. It is often not flexible enough to cater for the needs of a diverse range of learners, as a result of having specific requirements that are controlled centrally.
Allied to the curriculum, teachers' attitudes can be a major limiting factor for inclusive education and practice. This can be the result of a lack of confidence as a result of an absence of training in this specific area. It has been noted that much of the training that is offered is unsatisfactory as a result of being fragmented and lacking in coordination.
- Language and communication
It is critical that there is an appreciation of how to communicate with those who have SEN and those who are learning EAL. Clearly, if someone has difficulties with language, they are at an automatic disadvantage in that their inability to understand and communicate will have negative consequences.
- Socio-economic factors
The disadvantaged - those who live in areas of poverty or high levels of unemployment - are often negatively impacted in terms of receiving equality in terms of their education.
A shortage of resources, whether that be in terms of schools, facilities within schools, a lack of practitioners, a lack of support staff and learning materials can cause serious issues. This is a common theme across the world.
- Organisation of the education system
An educational system which is organised centrally can be resistant to change. There can be an overreliance on a top-down system which sees decisions with regard to policy and management being handed down to employees from people not involved at a local level or at the 'chalk face', which can lead to practitioners obeying rules as opposed to serving children.
- Policies as barriers
The concept of inclusive education is one which is relatively new, with many of those who seek to make policies not understanding or accepting the validity of this type of approach. In some countries, groups of learners are not allowed access to a full range of educational services, sometimes through a lack of desire to educate them or as a result of there being declared 'uneducable.' Clearly, where this is the case, they do not receive the education to which they are entitled, condemning them to a life where they have no opportunities for employment or a career.
Benefits of Inclusive Practice
The benefits of inclusive practices are well documented for all children, their families and teachers. Dumaresq and Tommasini (2014) list the benefits to students as being: developing an understanding and respect for each individual in their class and/or learning community through recognising their unique characteristics and abilities; developing their abilities to empathise with their classmates and provide appropriate, sensitive support in overcoming their issues; highlighting and providing opportunities to experience diversity within the school community which reflects that of wider society; providing an environment which encourages the development of friendships and positive self-image as a result of participating in activities alongside their peer group; and the development of self-advocacy skills, and of the ability to communicate and enjoy the educational process alongside their peers.
Families benefit from this process as a result of feeling positive about their children and themselves as a result of experiencing others acceptance of their children; this positivity is further extended as a result of their children making progress within the inclusive setting and having an increasing sense of belonging within the community. This positivity also extends to feelings about themselves and their children as a result of seeing their children recognising and valuing diversity in others. Families also benefit as a result of using school-based friendships as a springboard for neighbourhood activities and social events outside of the environs of the school.
Practitioners benefit through: exchanging information about the activities that they plan and deliver with children, thus extending their range of teaching strategies and their general skills as educators; developing and enhancing their problem-solving skills through collaborating with others to find solutions to challenges and the removal of barriers to learning; and developing a sense of understanding and appreciation of the strengths that all students have and the contribution that they make to the school community as a whole (Dumaresq and Tommasini, 2014).
In addition to this, this type of approach allows practitioners to connect and interact with a variety of different students in a manner which allows them to connect with course materials which are real and relevant to them. This method helps students to feel more comfortable in the classroom environment, to the extent that they are able to articulate their ideas, thoughts and questions more readily. It is an approach which allows students to experience success as a result of learning how to learn in a manner which acknowledges their preferred learning style, their background and their ability (Cornell University, n.d.).
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