From my very first blog reflection on the topic of inclusion, my ideas on inclusion have both changed, expanded and stayed the same in some aspects. My definition of inclusion still remains the same—students with LD’s being in the same classroom setting as students that are typical learners. Before, I mentioned that I thought it was necessary to pull students out of classes sometimes so they could receive more one-on-one attention but now I realize that this individual attention can be provided in a normal classroom. I think that I realized this when I observed in my mother’s classroom and saw that instead of pulling the students out of class with LD’s, they were kept in the same classroom but were able to get individual attention from both a special educator and a teacher’s assistant. I think that my views on inclusion have expanded a lot now that I have a better understanding of just how important it is. I did mention that it was beneficial to typical learners so they learn to be more sensitive to the needs of their classmates but now I can see just how beneficial it can be to those with LD’s. Not being pulled out of class is a HUGE DEAL to them. This way, they feel a lot more included in the classroom and like they belong there. I think that this can build a child’s confidence with a LD because they will feel like they belong in the classroom just like all of their other classmates. Three important strategies that a general educator could use to have an inclusive classroom could be: implementing co-teaching (and using a variety of co-teaching methods), having all students use a checklist during lessons (this will help them be organized and prepared to move onto the next step), and providing immediate feedback with positive reinforcements.
I observed in Mrs. Armiger’s (my mom’s) fourth-grade classroom at Oak Hill Elementary School in Severna Park, Maryland. She has 25 students in her class, 4 of which have learning disabilities and IEP’s. I observed in her math class and during recess. During her math class, the students were working with addition and subtraction of three digit numbers. Her students with IEP’s and LD’s are placed at a separate table in the classroom together. There, they have a special educator and a teacher’s assistant read the problems and help them through the class-work. The student’s with IEP’s received the accommodation of a number chart for 1-1,000. This accommodation made it easier for them to complete their work because they had the visual aid of the numbers right in front of them so they could add and subtract easier. Three of the students with LD’s received less problems than their classmates (the bottom and more difficult row of problems was crossed off of the worksheet). One of the students at the table, Carter, who had a seizure when he was a toddler which led to learning difficulties, received a differentiated assignment—instead of subtracting three-digit numbers, he was subtracting two-digit numbers. I was able to interact with all of the students in Mrs. Armiger’s classroom during recess and I especially enjoyed interacting with Carter. It was very heart-warming to me how motivated he was to understand his schoolwork and succeed. While watching him during the math lesson, he got frustrated and stressed out several times and this was a very sad thing to see because I could tell how much he wanted the information to click with him immediately but it took Carter the length of the math lesson to understand and be able to regurgitate the steps to subtract two-digits numbers. This experience reinforced why I want to become a teacher, specifically a special-education teacher (I’m double-majoring in elementary/special education) because I want to help students like Carter, who want to learn and understand so bad but have such a hard time.
Karen is the mother to three boys, Kendal, Cole and Alan, two of which have ASD. Kendal, who she calls Red is 18. Cole, who she calls Blue is 14 and Alan, who she calls Slim is 24. Kendal has Asperger’s syndrome and Cole has PDD-NOS, or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. Her family lives in the suburbs of Austin, Texas. Her blog is called “Confessions of an Asperger’s Mom”. Her tagline, “not the expert mom with all the answers, the mom who can’t stop looking for them”, is a good indication of her blogging style. She doesn’t have all of the answers-and she doesn’t pretend to. Her blog serves as her personal therapeutic outlet, as she explains her in her first post. She chronicles her day to day experiences and frustrations through her, sometimes, brutally honest entries. She doesn’t hide the fact that she sometimes messes up and loses her cool with her children. In one entry, she had an especially stressful morning and ended up having to drive her son to school because he missed the bus. She admits that she was extremely irritated and essentially told her son to get out the car. Karen uses humor in her blog posts very often, sometimes closing a more stressful entry by admitting that she ended the day with a glass of wine. She closed one her more recent posts like this, her son Kendal’s 18th birthday. First, she listed all of the things that makes her proud to be his mother, which was heartwarming. During Kendal’s special day she was very patient with him and his friends to make sure that he had a fun and memorable day. She mentions that it took a very long time for Kendal and his four friends (all of which have ASD) to decide which movie to watch and where to order the pizza from and the type of pizza. While reading Karen’s blog, I really liked that she seemed to keep her stories 100% honest. She included details of her frustrations that maybe some mothers of children with ASD would be embarrassed to admit. Because of this, I think her blog would be good for a mothers of children with ASD to read/comment when they need to vent their frustrations. Her blog was interesting and I will probably look for updates in the future. Although at some points she absolutely loses her patience and deals with some situations inappropriately (which is what I liked the least), I really think she does the best she can and loves and cares for her children 100%. Based on Karen’s blog, I would recommend her family join the Baltimore Maryland Autism Society (http://www.bcc-asa.org/BCCASAHomepage.htm). They hold support groups every Thursday and I think that would be beneficial for Karen and her husband because they experience immense stress in their everyday lives. I think the meetings would be a helpful outlet especially for Karen’s husband because he oftentimes gets so frustrated with certain situations that he chooses to remove himself.
My “silent experience” lasted a little over two hours. I woke up in the morning, got ready for my class, went to my class, and studied in the common room on my floor without saying a word. The night before I had explained to my roommate the assignment, so when we were getting ready together in the morning and I wasn’t verbally speaking to her she knew why. At one point, she picked a shirt out of my closet and asked if she could borrow it. I would have told her yes but to be careful with it because I had just bought it but instead I just shook my head yes and decided not to go to the trouble of telling her to be careful with it. When I got to my class, my teacher was taking role and while everyone was answering with “here”, I just raised my hand. My teacher seemed annoyed and inconvenienced that she had to lift her head up away from the class list to see if I was present. My class is mostly lecture based so there was really no opportunity for me to have to talk. When I got back from my class, I decided to study in my common room. While I was studying, an individual on my floor came in the common room to study as well. He said hello and I smiled back at him. He tried to have a friendly conversation with me, and fortunately I had my laptop with the “silent experience” description opened in a tab. I turned my laptop towards him and he read the assignment description. He thought the assignment was cool, and proceeded to leave me to my work.
I really enjoyed and valued this experience and found it very eye-opening. I found myself getting frustrated throughout my two hours of silence. When my teacher seemed annoyed that I didn’t answer her right away, I got very frustrated. She acted as if I inconvenienced her and it really bothered me that an individual with a disability affecting their communication could potentially be looked at as annoying. I would definitely classify this specific incident as a communication breakdown because my teacher thought I was being rude and not paying attention, when in reality I was paying attention to her. My interaction with my floor-mate was interesting because I was able to utilize available technology to communicate to him why I wasn’t able to speak. I used my laptop as a tool, as a student with a disability affecting their communication might use technology to better connect with others.
Through this experience, I was able to get a very small glimpse into the lives of those who struggle with communicating effectively with others. I can’t imagine living with a life-altering disability and all of the hardships that go along with it. Within two hours, I was already frustrated so I can’t imagine the day to day frustration individuals with communication issues cope with. Communicating with others is definitely something I have taken for granted. I’m grateful for this experience because now I feel like I can better understand and empathize for those who struggle with communication.
My definition of inclusion would be for students with learning disabilities and typical learners to have as much time as possible in a regular classroom together. By doing this, a very valuable opportunity is presented to both the students with learning disabilities and the typical learners. This is a chance for the students with learning disabilities and the typical learners to share ideas. Another advantage of inclusion in a classroom setting is that typical learners will become more sensitive to the needs of their classmates that have learning disabilities. I researched more advantages and came across a great point in an article titled “Why Inclusion In Classrooms Benefit ALL Kids” on http://www.parents.com. The author compared the diverse classroom structure to a game of chess. He explains that if we learn about all of the players, celebrate and highlight their strengths and are aware of their weaknesses, we can make a positive difference in all students lives. The disadvantages of inclusion were a little more of a mystery to me so I consulted my mother, an elementary school teacher and former teacher’s assistant in a special education department, she explained that unfortunately resources are so tight in public schools that often the needs of students with learning disabilities are very difficult to meet. There are only so many resources to go around and students with learning disabilities can “fall through the cracks”. She uses a former student as an example, by the time he moved up to 4th grade he still wasn’t able to read. This child fell very behind because he was in a school system that didn’t have a team of committed professionals. Inclusion works the best in this environment, where the teachers and staff are 100% to their students needs. Inclusion also works better in environments with better resources where the schools are able to add the supports for students with learning disabilities. Althought students with disabilities can benefit from SOME classes, there will always be classes they need to be pulled out for. The aforementioned student is a perfect example, he couldn’t read so clearly he needed to be pulled out for the English or Language Arts lessons because he wasn’t following along and was left with nothing to do. In this case, the student needed one on one help. Inclusion can be unsuccessful in classes with too many students, or too large a size. In order for inclusion to become more successful more funding from the PTA and the government is necessary. More resources (professional development for teachers, more structured programs) are needed to make inclusion valuable and successful all students. As far as professional development goes, I think that teachers should be familiar with their student’s disabilities and needs from day one.