Seven sins in special Education
Worrell, J. L. (2008). How secondary schools can avoid the seven deadly school “sins” of inclusion. American Secondary Education, 36(2), 43-56.
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HOW SECONDARY SCHOOLS CAN AVOID THE SEVEN DEADLY SCHOOL “SINS” OF INCLUSION
AUTHOR: JAMIE L. WORRELL
TITLE: HOW SECONDARY SCHOOLS CAN AVOID THE SEVEN DEADLY SCHOOL “SINS” OF INCLUSION
SOURCE: American Secondary Education 36 no2 43-56 Spr 2008
COPYRIGHT: The magazine publisher is the copyright holder of this article and it is reproduced with permission. Further reproduction of this article in violation of the copyright is prohibited.
As more students with disabilities are included in general education classrooms, many obstacles must be overcome before parents, teachers, students, and administrators deem inclusion effective. This article identifies seven “sins”, which are barriers to inclusive practices in secondary schools: Negative teacher perspectives; lack of knowledge regarding special education terminology, issues and laws; poor collaboration skills; lack of administration support; limited instructional repertoire; inappropriate assessment procedures; and conflict between scheduling and time management. The literature on inclusive practice is cited as evidence for each “sin,” and advice for avoiding each of them is provided.
When the term inclusion is spoken in the realm of education, it sparks controversy. “The term inclusion refers to the practice of including another group of students in regular classrooms, those with problems of health and/or physical, developmental, and emotional problems” (Nelson, Palonsky, & McCarthy, 2004, p. 442). The way inclusive practices are implemented at the secondary level varies substantially from school to school, district to district, and state to state. In one middle or high school, inclusion may mean that only students with mild disabilities are educated in the general education classroom and only for their core academic subjects. Another school’s inclusive practices may have all students with disabilities, regardless of the severity of the disability, educated for the entire day in general education classrooms while receiving only supportive services from the special education teacher. This second example of inclusion is referred to as “full inclusion” (Kauffman, Landrum, Mock, B. Sayeski, & K.L. Sayeski, 2005).
The inclusion of students with disabilities has significantly increased over the past decade (Kamens, Loprete, & Slostad, 2003). According to the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, it was reported that around 76.3% of students with disabilities are educated in the regular classroom for some part of the school day (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). Mastropierie and Scruggs (2001) have identified significant challenges that prevent inclusive education from being successful at the secondary level, including the level and pace of content being taught, expectations of independent study skills, increasing number of content area classes, and meeting the demands of high stakes testing. These and many other obstacles must be overcome before inclusion can be deemed effective by parents, teachers, students, and administrators.
This article identifies seven deadly “sins” that are barriers to establishing effective inclusive practices in middle and high schools, and it gives some advice on how to avoid them. School district personnel, school administrators, school consultants, general educators, special educators, and paraprofessionals must work together to avoid these school-wide sins because committing, them could ultimately crumble efforts to effectively include students with disabilities into secondary general education classrooms.
SCHOOL SIN #1: NEGATIVE TEACHER PERSPECTIVES
Research has shown that negative attitudes of staff members involved in inclusion programs can undermine the efforts of inclusion (Centra, 1990). deBettencourt (1999) conducted a study which investigated the attitudes of secondary general educators who taught in inclusive classrooms. Of the seventy-one teachers who were surveyed, the majority of general educators either disagreed with the concept of mainstreaming or did not have strong feelings regarding the issue (deBettencourt, 1999).
When administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, parents, and related service personnel have negative perspectives about inclusive education at a particular school, those who teach in inclusive classrooms at that school find it very difficult to achieve a high level of success because their support networks are abolished. Negative perspectives about inclusive education make schools who try to implement inclusive classrooms likely candidates for failure.
I believe a great way to avoid negative perspectives for staff members is to start each morning by giving themselves and others affirmations. State something positive about yourself or a colleague, and then state something positive that you will do for the students on your school’s campus. It may help to write down positive thoughts on a sticky note and place it somewhere so it will be seen it throughout the day. Middle and High School personnel may also want to display encouraging thoughts throughout their school campus and provide simple recognition for staff members’ hard work. This will help to better establish a positive school-wide climate (Bauer & Brown, 2001).
Another way to avoid negative thinking is to read a passage out of an inspirational book each morning. If one does not have time to do these things in the morning, it is important to reserve a specific time during the day to evaluate daily thoughts and feelings, even if it is just twenty-minutes. Journaling your thoughts is another way to focus on the positive and not the negative. When feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, write down the feelings and think critically about what triggered those feelings and what you can control in your environment to change those feelings into something positive (Maxwell, 2006). When feeling incapable of finding a solution, ask for advice from a colleague, administrator, or friend. No good comes from harboring negative thoughts.
SCHOOL SIN #2: LACK OF KNOWLEDGE REGARDING SPECIAL EDUCATION TERMINOLOGY, ISSUES, AND LAWS
A general educator cannot be expected to be successful at teaching in an inclusive classroom without a solid foundation of knowledge about the students’ disabilities, educational needs, accommodations, modifications, and the laws that affect both the children with disabilities and the teacher. The inclusive education literature base on inclusive education literature has shown a need to better inform general educators about special education issues. Kamens et al. (2003) found two significant areas of need when they surveyed seventy-one elementary general education teachers. The first need was to better inform general educators on the classifications of disabilities, types of accommodations, modifications, and the developmental history of the child with disabilities. Liston (2004) conducted interviews with secondary general and special educators regarding co-teaching relationships. The analysis of the interviews showed a need for on-going professional development regarding inclusive and special education issues.
It is so important for all school personnel to be vocal when it comes to understanding Exceptional Student Education (ESE) terminology, laws, and issues. When a child with a disability is placed in a general education classroom, the general educator needs to ask for the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP). The IEP contains information regarding the student’s disability, medical history, current educational performance level, annual education goals, short term objectives that assist in meeting the goals, types of support, accommodations, and types of modifications. The information that the IEP contains is crucial for the general educator to know. General educators, guidance counselors, and other school personnel involved in working with students who have disabilities, may have little experience in dealing with IEP’s, so it is necessary to ask the school’s ESE contact or a special educator for help. Remember that asking for help is not viewed as a sign of incompetence.
When school personnel remain silent about their needs regarding ESE issues, it only hurts the students. Administrators and the ESE contact at the school can play an important role in making sure staff members understand special education terminology, laws, and issues. I found it helpful when school personnel asked for professional development workshops dedicated to enhancing their knowledge. Additionally, staff members can search their school district’s website to contact school district personnel who are involved with special education and use them as a resource. Many of these district personnel could also be used for a professional development day workshop about special education issues.
A quick way that I gain some insight on new and existing ESE issues and laws is to search the internet. Try to stick to .org or .gov websites because they are usually more credible. Two websites that I found useful are www.fape.org (The Families and Advocates Partnership for Education) and www.pacer.org (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights). These two websites offer easy to read information regarding Exceptional Student Education. A website that gives the definition and an explanation of the different disabilities is http://ericec.org/digests/e560.html. Another, but more comprehensive website to gather information regarding the laws that impact Exceptional Student Education is U.S. Department of Education (www.ed.gov). This site gives you a search bar to type in key words/topics. When school personnel remain silent about their needs regarding ESE issues, it only hurts the students.
SCHOOL SIN #3: POOR COLLABORATION
Interpersonal collaboration is an approach for direct interaction between two or more equal parties voluntarily engaged in shared decision making as they work toward a universal goal (Friend & Cook, 2003). Effective and meaningful collaboration is the glue that binds a successful inclusion program together. McLeskey and Waldron (2002) found that good collaboration and communication among all members of the inclusion team is basic for an effective inclusion program. Rainforth, York, and Macdonald (1992) defined collaborative teamwork as work accomplished equally and willingly by a group of people in a spirit of shared reward. Creating effective collaboration among all staff members at a school is especially challenging at the secondary level because most secondary educators are accustomed to working alone or within their specific departments; however Fullan (1991) found that the level and degree of successful educational change is a direct result of the extent to which teachers interact with one another.
Collaboration should include (but not be limited to) school administrators, general educators, special educators, school psychologists, school counselors, social workers, speech and language clinicians, school consultants, paraprofessionals, school healthcare personnel, and the student’s family members (Salend, 2005). In order to effectively communicate with each member on the collaborative team, the team must first learn and practice the following communication skills described by Salend (2005):
Listening carefully to others as they express their ideas, perspectives, concerns, and solutions, being tolerant of different viewpoints, using “I statements” when presenting your position, feelings, and perspectives, understanding culturally based differences in verbal and nonverbal communication, respecting confidentially, disagreeing respectfully, and being willing to compromise, (p. 167)
Another way to begin building personal relationships is to start by affirming each person involved in the collaboration process on a daily or weekly basis. State a verbal affirmation to a group member or write an affirmation down to give to a group member anonymously or in private (Maxwell, 2006). Patience is a key virtue in the collaboration process. Those involved must be able to see beyond each other’s faults and to focus on how valuable each person is to the team. It is paramount to remember that people blossom under affirmations but wilt under criticism. Faculty and staff must strive to talk positively in an open and non-threatening environment. Staff members must be able to discuss what their school is doing for the students (Carpenter & Dyal, 2007). Each group member must keep an open mind and be forgiving of mistakes. School personnel must go into the collaborative process with the understanding that people will not always be able to meet their expectations. Otherwise, the collaboration team is set up for failure.
Once the team has learned how to effectively communicate, comprehensive planning can take place. Fleming and Monda-Amaya (2001) identified many important variables that affect team effectiveness when planning. These variables include identifying clear and specific team goals which are understood and supported by each team member and assigning each member a specific role (e.g., facilitator, recorder, timekeeper, summarizer) so that members feel they belong to the team Additionally, it is important for team members to designate a team leader, to hold one another accountable, to establish a safe and welcoming environment for sharing ideas, and to implement a process to monitor the team’s progress.
During collaborative planning, the team must always focus their efforts on the students and their families. Vaughn, Bos, and Schumm (2000) described a cyclical stage process that should take place: 1) Coal/entry is the stage where roles, objectives, responsibilities, and expectations are clearly written. 2) In the Problem Identification Stage, each student is identified, along with an explicit description of the problem. 3) During the Implementation of Recommendations, the intervention plan is put into action. 4) After the intervention plan is implemented, the Evaluation Stage consists of data collection, evidence of student’s work, and reports and observations from the persons who implemented the intervention. The final stage is the Redesign stage during which the evaluation process drives a revision process. During this stage, the intervention is continued, modified, or discontinued based on the evaluation data, and the process begins again at the Problem Identification stage, (p. 104)
SCHOOL SIN #4: LACK OF ADMINISTRATION SUPPORT
Mary D. Poole once said “Leadership should be more participative than directive, more enabling than performing.” A school’s administration needs to be the backbone of the school and always project a clear vision that empowers the faculty to achieve greatness within themselves and for their students. According to Sage and Burrello (1994), principals need to be willing to work with students with disabilities and include them into the general education curriculum despite any reservations if inclusion programs are to be accepted in their school. Principals and other administrations must foster staff development activities with both regular and special educators. They must establish trusting and meaningful relationships among the staff, and provide effective and age appropriate instructional support for students with disabilities (Boscardin, 2005).
A poor team of administrators makes the job of the instructional staff even more difficult, but even with a fragile administration, there are some band-aid solutions that will help teachers increase the effectiveness of including students with disabilities in the general education classroom. One way for a teacher to bypass the lack of administrative support is to join the school’s Professional Development Committee. Any staff member at a school is allowed to join this committee, which is responsible for identifying the school’s needs and coming up with appropriate ways to address those needs, so it can become a powerful tool in fostering student achievement and teacher effectiveness.
The professional development committee can promote knowledge-based decisions and create a deeper understanding of evidenced-based instruction. This results in better educational outcomes for students and improved instructional practices for teachers (Boscardin, 2005). The key to this committee is establishing meaningful relationships with the entire school faculty and using those relationships to empower the administration. It is important for staff members to feel empowered even if no administrator is guiding or supporting them. The school staff must remember that there is always a way through the dark if hope is kept alive.
Faculty members should not feel intimated by their school’s administration. I found that a great way to begin addressing concerns to administrators is to establish a network of staff members, who share similar concerns. The next step would be to arrange a mutually convenient time and place for this group of staff members to meet with administrators to discuss their concerns in a safe and relaxing forum. One way to create a relaxing meeting room is to dim the lighting and add food and drinks to the equation. This relaxing environment should be created by the staff members and not left up to administrators. It would be beneficial for the team of faculty members to meet a day before to clarify the concerns they want to address, to list their concerns, and to add possible solutions for each. This simple list would demonstrate to administrators that the staff members are trying to take a proactive approach in addressing the needs and concerns of the school.
SCHOOL SIN #5: LIMITED INSTRUCTIONAL REPERTOIRE
Teachers must understand that “not all children of any given age have learned the same things; they cannot all be taught in the same place, much less the same things, at the same time” (Kauffman et al., 2005, p. 3). Every teacher should meet each student at their point of need, regardless of where that point may lay. To do this, teachers need to individualize their instruction by making modifications and accommodations.
Accommodations allow the student to access the curriculum without changing the content; modifications are changes that can be made to what students are expected to learn. (Florida Department of Education, 1997). Some great instructional accommodations include: Providing a list of important vocabulary words with definitions, attaching pictures to important concepts to enhance understanding, highlighting important information in text, providing overviews and summaries of lessons, providing guided notes for students to fill in throughout the lesson, paraphrasing key ideas, displaying notes on graphic organizers, providing pictures/diagrams to go along with the text, and using a textbook written at an easier reading level (Halvorsen & Neary, 2001). Technological accommodations can include: providing an audiotape of reading materials, enlarging the font size and changing the color of a specific text to add emphasis to a particular piece, and using a simple hand-held microphone to help reduce distractible noise (Villa, Thousand, Nevin, & Liston, 2005).
Classroom test accommodations include: Numbering each step when giving directions and simplifying directions in an easy to read format, providing an outline or study guide for a test, arranging problems in color coded sections, adding more space between problems, enlarging text for an easy to read format, reading questions orally, and allowing the student to use spell check or a word bank.
Accommodations can also be made in scheduling, including: scheduling difficult classes in the morning, providing extended time to complete assignments, and providing the student with a timer for tasks. You can reduce the number of problems on the test or assignment, but make sure the content is not modified. For example, a math test may have four problems on finding the missing length of a right triangle. An accommodation would be to give the student only two problems on this concept instead of four. That way that student is still assessed on the concepts. If you took out all four problems on finding the missing length of a right triangle it would be a modification because it is changing what the student is expected to learn.
Accommodations that can be made to the learning environment itself include: allowing the student the flexibility to move around, flexible scheduling, having students work in cooperative groups, using an individualized behavior plan, using a study cubicle, and providing assignments ahead of time (Halvorsen & Neary, 2001). Modifications to the curriculum include having a student partially complete a particular program or course requirements, altering the curriculum expectations below age or grade level, or giving alternate curricular goals (Florida Department of Education, 1997).
Many teachers have an array of techniques for diversifying instruction. Differentiated instruction is not providing a “normal” assignment given to the majority of the class and a “special” assignment to special education students. According to Tomlinson (2001), differentiated instruction can be a blend of whole class, small group, and individual instruction within one class period.
It can be quite overwhelming to implement diverse instructional strategies when someone has limited knowledge or experience in doing so. A great way to gain a lot of knowledge about a variety of instructional strategies is attending workshops on differentiated instruction. If you are unaware of any workshops in your district, ask your principal or a representative from the district curriculum department about obtaining more insight on instructional strategies that aim at teaching students from diverse backgrounds.
Tomlinson (2001) suggested that teachers go slow when implementing differentiating instruction by first making small accommodations. Next try planning an array of activities around a central topic/concept, and place those activities into centers and create a rotation schedule for the students to visit them Make sure the activities range in difficulty to ensure that each child is appropriately challenged. Students in a mixed-ability classroom finish assignments at different times. To minimize behavior disruptions, designate a list of activities students can perform when finished with their classroom assignments such as journal writing, reading for enjoyment, managing a portfolio, etc. This gives the students some choice in the classroom, while also freeing the teacher to spend more time with the students who need more support (Tomlinson, 2001).
When setting up centers, be sure to arrange an easy traffic flow. Each center should have a clear area with its own set of expectations posted. For example, a library center should have a set of expectations, that include keeping your voice down and putting a book back in the designated bin when finished reading. Students should be taught the specific center expectations which should be modeled in each center before actually beginning to implement centers. Instructional staff must also be very consistent in monitoring and upholding the center expectations.
Teachers must also decide on a way to organize student groups in centers. I use chart paper to display the different groups, and then I write each student’s name on a post-it note. Since secondary students are more independent than students in the primary grades, I allow my middle school students to choose their center(s) for that day as long as there are never more than four names under each center. The students know that they must have completed each center activity by the end of the week. The only time students cannot have a choice of centers is when their names are under “Teacher Group.” That means that I am meeting with those select students that day to teach, re-teach, or enrich a particular concept. This method allows me the flexibility of changing the groups quickly. One could also use a pocket chart and use index cards instead of post-it note or use a file folder system.
SCHOOL SIN #6: INAPPROPRIATE ASSESSMENTS
Just as teachers should be individualizing instruction, they should individualize their assessments. According to Halvorsen and Neary (2001), student performance should be examined in correlation with statewide assessments; however particular importance should be placed on curriculum based performance. Popham (2003), as cited in Salend (2005), stated three questions that teachers should ask themselves when selecting a classroom-based assessment: 1) Is the assessment meaningful, and does it assess real-life demands in and out of the classroom? 2) Will the assessment give feedback that assists with planning and adjusting the instructional program? 3) How much time will the assessment take away from the instructional program?
The most individualized and comprehensive assessment takes the form of a student portfolio. A student portfolio is a “… collection of various authentic student products across a range of content areas throughout the school year that show the process and products associated with student learning” (Boerum, 2000 as cited in Salend, 2005 p. 507). The work, inside the portfolio, should demonstrate that the student has mastered a particular objective that aligns with state standards for that particular subject and grade level. The portfolio can contain essays, poems, worksheets, tests, oral reading reports, observations, tape recordings, completed activities, labs, and even pictures of activities in order to demonstrate a student mastering a particular objective like the understanding of velocity in a real life. Student portfolios should contain work samples over time that both the instructional staff and the student periodically review, evaluate and reflect upon. The student should be able to update or create new personal goals based upon the progress made in their portfolio (Salend, 2005; Villa et al., 2005).
An instructional rubric is another way to assess student’s learning about a particular concept. Instructional rubrics are made up of written statements that state the specific criteria associated with various levels of proficiency for evaluating student performance (Whittaker, Salend, & Duhaney, 2001). Instructional rubrics increases students’ understanding of teacher expectations for the assignment and allow students to self-evaluate (Salend, 2005).
Teacher-made tests are yet another way to individualize student assessment; however developing a high-quality test can be a difficult task. According to Salend (2005), it is important to make sure that each test item directly aligns with the objectives that are being tested and that the percentage of test questions related to a specific concept is in agreement with the amount of time your class spent on these topics. Tests need to reflect both content and how that content has been taught. If content has been taught by class discussion and problem solving techniques, it would be appropriate to test it through an essay question rather than a multiple choice question. Additionally, the language used in the test must be kept simple and concise.
Teachers need to develop several ways for students to demonstrate that they have mastered a particular objective, such as creating a model, writing an essay, orally expressing knowledge, creating an illustrated timeline or creating a story book with illustrations about the concept. Teachers can also administer pre and post teacher made tests that directly align with the concept/topic being taught or have students create their own study guide on a chapter or topic (Salend, 2005).
SCHOOL SIN # 7: CONFLICTING SCHEDULING AND TIME MANAGEMENT
For inclusion to be successful, it must be explicitly planned and scheduled. Halvorsen and Neary (2001) emphasized that when a student with disabilities is placed into a general education classroom, that student still must be provided with special education services. This does not mean that every student must have a personal aide, but rather that the same level of support that was provided to the student in the special education classroom should be provided in the inclusive setting. Inclusive education efforts need to be coordinated with school restructuring at both the district and site level. A clear commitment to providing effective inclusive education should be upheld by the board of education and the superintendent (Halvorsen & Neary, 2001). Agencies in each state are designed to help promote inclusive education for school districts. One of these agencies in Florida is the Florida Inclusion Network (FIN), funded through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Part B Discretionary Federal Fund Grant. This agency provides learning opportunities, consultation, and information to promote inclusive education for school districts throughout the state of Florida.
The Florida Inclusion Network helps to create inclusion “teams” at each secondary school for each grade level. Teams have a general education teacher for each subject, and then two inclusion teachers are attached to that team. (e.g., A 6th grade inclusion team will consist of a 6th grade science, math, Language Arts, and Social Studies general educator with two inclusion teachers, depending on the number of students with disabilities who will be part of the 6th grade inclusion team). The next step is to carefully decide whether each ESE student for that particular grade level needs high-support or low-support. This is done by looking at the students’ test scores, IEP’s, and current grades. The high-support students usually have a couple of ESE classes like math and language arts and then go into a general education classroom for science and social studies.
The team then places all the high-support students in the same periods for science, social studies, language arts, and math. Then the team places all the low-support ESE students in a different period than the high-support students for science, social studies, language arts, and math. It is important to note that there must be an equal or higher number of general education students in those same periods so that the class is not labeled as a special education class. The two inclusion teachers would then take a group (either high-support or low-support) and “shadow” that group throughout the day.
The inclusion teacher should be “married” to the team of general education teachers and should help facilitate classroom rotational models and co-teach when needed. This is where meaningful collaboration becomes paramount! The inclusion teacher and general educator should plan lessons on a weekly, or daily basis, either through face to face contact or more easily through email. At the secondary level, scheduling planning meetings can be extremely difficult (Halvorsen & Neary, 2001). If a common planning period is unattainable, it may be best to plan before school when teachers are less tired. Planning before school is also beneficial because members have a built-in deadline and know they must end the meeting before the students enter. Furthermore, I found it beneficial when the general educators would give the inclusion teacher weekly lessons plans a week ahead of time so the inclusion teacher had time to enhance the lesson by adding different learning modalities and making accommodations when needed.
Flexible block scheduling is also another way to better meet the diverse needs of students with disabilities and struggling learners. Many students entering middle and high school are required to take intensive math and reading classes which takes away meaningful electives so a flexible block schedule allows students to participate in more elective classes while also lessening the number of daily transitions. Block scheduling also reduces the teacher-student ratio and increases learning opportunities and small group instruction (Hottenstein, 1998). This becomes especially true when both the general and special educator are providing instruction during the same class period within the general education classroom (Villa et al., 2005).
The literature on inclusive education has shown that inclusion has become more accepted as an appropriate practice in our educational system. There has been significant growth in the last several decades in including students with disabilities into the general education classroom. (Kamens et al., 2003). It is imperative for all educators to be aware of the seven deadly sins that create barriers to establishing an effective inclusion program, and all educators must strive to establish proactive strategies to avoid these school-wide sins at all cost.
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