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Inclusive Classrooms: Fostering Diversity and Learning in Special Education

Even without the COVID-19 pandemic increasing student behavioral issues, successful classroom management has always been a tall task. Responding to the needs of individuals while also maintaining a constructive setting for the entire group is key to achieving positive outcomes for students.

To accomplish this goal, educators must create an inclusive environment for students with special needs, including their physical and intellectual disabilities. Through the University of Mount Saint Vincent (UMSV) online Master of Science (MS) in Childhood Education and Special Education (Dual Certification Grades 1-6) program, education leaders learn how to effectively connect with children of differing abilities while building empathy and social skills among all student populations.

Benefits of Bringing Students Together

The passage of the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) marked a fundamental shift in how educators approached teaching students with special needs. The law and its 1997 amendments essentially moved children with disabilities and varying needs from segregated classrooms into classrooms typically reserved for students without disabilities, according to Education World.

The change faced opposition from the American Federation of Teachers, who worried about increasing expectations for educators. Parents of students with disabilities expressed concern that their children wouldn’t receive proper services. As Education Week reports, many parents continue to believe that mainstreaming special needs students prevents other students from learning.

However, student outcomes have not borne out those fears. Children on both sides of the equation can benefit from a truly inclusive classroom environment. With educational support, students with disabilities can master general education content, receive more instructional time, achieve better outcomes after high school graduation, and learn how to form relationships with a wide range of people, including those who don’t have disabilities.

Students without classified special needs often receive more detailed instruction, since teachers are more likely to repeat steps or dig into details when one of their students lives with a disability, per Education World. Children in classrooms with special needs students and non-special needs students also develop deeper senses of empathy and a willingness to help others overcome obstacles in their learning journeys.

Strategies for Embracing Neurodiversity

One in eight students in U.S. public schools receive accommodations in the classroom through individualized education plans (IEPs), according to EdSource.

Parents and a team of educators create the plans to lay out a student’s current performance, goals and strategies for improvement, and how the student will be incorporated with their peers who don’t have IEPs, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. If a student later requires additional services, such as speech therapy or extra time during testing, the IEP can be amended to reflect those needs.

Outside of specific accommodations outlined in IEPs, educators can use a number of other strategies to ensure that students feel included during their instruction time. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) suggests “backward planning,” or starting from year-end goals and thinking about how daily lesson plans help students obtain those outcomes. Setting high expectations for students and providing them with the support they need to attain those goals are crucial to their long-term success.

Students also benefit from the incorporation of universal design, which usually entails developing a flexible learning environment for students to learn and demonstrate their knowledge in different ways. Some examples include providing visual aids, such as a PowerPoint presentation, in addition to teaching a lesson verbally. Educators can also offer options for showing reading comprehension by allowing students to take a final in-person exam or complete a final project.

Master Classroom Management Thanks to the University of Mount Saint Vincent

A crucial factor in building inclusive environments is practicing effective classroom management. UMSV’s online MS in Childhood Education and Special Education (Dual Certification Grades 1-6) program offers a Classroom Management and Social Skills Development course to provide educators with strategies based on behavior analysis and other psycho-educational learning theories and models.

The class emphasizes elements of effective instructional planning that provide students with the motivation to learn and socialize with each other to create an inclusive classroom. With this foundational knowledge of applied behavioral analysis (ABA), graduates will leave the program prepared to meet students where they are and bring them together around a common goal.

Learn more about UMSV’s online MS in Childhood Education and Special Education (Dual Certification Grades 1-6) program.

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