Inclusion is the method of teaching students with disabilities in a general education classroom. Many school districts strongly believe in a foundation of inclusion for all students. Although it is not a new concept, many struggle with meeting the diverse needs of their students in a full-inclusion setting. Through no fault of their own, many general education teachers are being thrown into settings and situations that they are unprepared for and unfortunately, untrained to handle as well.
Here’s a truth bomb…
I have NEVER been a general education teacher. I know that I couldn’t do it. I admire the teachers that can manage dozens of students at once, plan and prep for the various abilities in their classroom and have everything going well. The teacher that EMBRACES the vast differences in abilities and can seamlessly get everyone’s needs met without breaking a sweat or having a meltdown in the bathroom.
IF you are this teacher, congratulations, but…
please politely stop reading here.
If the thought of inclusion in your classroom of 20 plus students scares you into thinking you need a new profession, don’t fret. I’m here to clear a few things up, and give you 10 easy strategies to help you and your student flourish in a full-inclusion classroom.
There are so many ways that being consistent can help the Gen Ed classroom. First, have a schedule. Students with autism tend to thrive on structure and routine. Ideally, have a large classroom schedule up on the board with pictures, words, and general time frames. For your less flexible students, or for the students that need more frequent breaks than their peers, create a small individual schedule for them to follow. (Psst! Ask the student’s case manager for help with these…)
Students with autism are also very literal. Being consistent in your words and mannerisms. It’s also important to always mean what you say and say what you mean. Students with autism find solace and comfort in consistent environments where the x behavior always results in y consequence. Be aware of the reinforcers and consequences that you dole out, and make sure that appropriate to the behavior.
Okay, I know this can be hard. Being structured means you must be prepared. You will need to set aside that time each week to plan and prep your curriculum, materials, and get a solid plan of action for the week.
I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a classroom deteriorate in a matter of minutes while the teacher shuffled for the next activity. Students are opportunistic and will quickly fall apart when they do not know what is expected of them and what to do during transitional times.
Have Classroom Rules
Your students with autism will appreciate having classroom rules. These students are typically rule-based and will thrive in an environment where the boundaries are well known and understood.
Write out clear and concise classroom rules for your students. Use pictures and words depending on the level of your students and teach them what they are and what they mean.
Have various areas in your classroom? Write rules for each section and place them prominently in that area of the classroom. For example, a quiet reading area may have different rules than the sensory bin area. Make them clear and well-known.
Plan and Prepare Well
This goes with being structured. Plan and prep the best you can beforehand. Classrooms fall apart easily when the teacher has to run around to find all the materials necessary for an activity. Schedule time in your week to plan and prep. Put systems in place such as using bins or buckets for art materials or centers work, and have a place for everything. Plan ahead with alternative activities in the instance that things do not go as planned.
Start by looking around your classroom and labeling where materials and supplies go. You can then teach students how to retrieve and return the materials that they need. Having a place for everything will help your students employ independent skills, and systems in the long run will help save you time.
Employ a Variety of Teaching Modalities
EVERYONE LEARNS DIFFERENTLY…
Think about that and read it again, everyone learns differently. A one size fits all approach will never work in a large classroom with mixed abilities. Use a variety of teaching modalities that reach a larger range of students. Write lessons that touch upon different learning styles. Offer projects that can demonstrate knowledge through non-traditional ways such as acting, verbal presentations, or 3D models.
Acknowledge and appreciate that your students with disabilities may be more skilled in demonstrating their knowledge in non-traditional ways and the best thing you can do, is accept this, accept them for who there are and how they learn.
Being flexible is important.
I know what you are thinking. I just told you that you need to be structured and planned and have everything in a place and be consistent, right?
Have all the systems in pace that keep your classroom running smoothly and effortlessly, however, things DO NOT always go as planned.
I repeat, THINGS DO NOT ALWAYS GO AS PLANNED.
And that’s okay! Yes, I said it! It is okay that things go wrong from time to time. We need fall down sometimes in order to see how far we have come. If you stumble, and things don’t go as planned, don’t stress!
Bob and weave with what is thrown at you. Be as well-prepared as you can, but have well-rehearsed alternatives in place. That way, if things fall short, you have another activity ready to go.
Students with autism are constant detectives and they can smell BS. Believe me. They know when you are not being yourself. They know when you are blowing them off. Do not make this mistake as truthfulness and trust are string values held by these students.
Do not give hap-hazard answers to a genuine question. Answer truthfully and honestly with tact and understanding.
Talk to the other IEP members!
I cannot overstate this.
Talk and collaborate with others. These students have an IEP and a team that stands behind them. A team that wants the best for these students and wants to see them succeed. If you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or simply lost by all that these students need, ASK FOR HELP!
It is okay to need help. It is okay to feel overwhelmed. Don’t let it eat at you. Accept your feelings and look to others for assistance.
Be Open to Learning
This is a biggie! So many teachers, general and special ed, shut down their ability to hold an open mind. Working with students requires that you have an adaptable brain and that you are willing to learn from others.
Being open to learning is not only learning from the parents and professionals around you, but from your students.
Take that one in.
Learn from your students.
Ask them what they like and what works for them. If they are unable to tell you, observe them, Watch for what they gravitate to and what fascinates them. Use this knowledge to create engaging lesson plans and activities that will excite.
One surefire inclusion strategy is to constantly monitor the classroom. This means be aware of what is physically going on in your classroom, but also the climate of the classroom.
Is everyone getting along?
Is there any bullying or tension between students?
You must keep a sense of the classroom dynamics in the back of your head to ensure that all students are getting what they need.
Now that you are armed with the best strategies to include every student in your classroom, go on and DO GOOD THINGS!
This guest post is by Trisha Katkin, a special education teacher in NH. She has her Master’s in Education and currently holds 3 teaching certificates in General Special Education, Learning Disabilities and Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities. She is the mother of 3 beautiful, and amazingly talented girls. She has been a guest speaker several times at the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability in their Behavioral Workshops and at the Summer Behavioral Summit. She has been featured on Autism Talk, KerryMagro.com, The American Autism Association and Geek Club Books. Her projects promoting autism awareness have also been featured on The Mighty. She is a crusader for students with autism and fights to spread awareness for teachers, parents, and advocates who need help. She writes a blog at TRISHAKATKIN.COM where her posts consist of actionable step-by-step advice and tips that can be implemented immediately.
Check Trisha Katkin out on social media:
- Facebook Group for Special Educators: Autism Teachers Unite!
- Check out Trisha’s online course, “The Autism Quilt“
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