Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Successful Inclusion Program

Recently, my co-teacher, Christine Southard, and I found out that all of our AIS reading students tested out of reading for next year. Each one of them! I have been teaching for 23 years and have never had that happen. In addition, 2 classified students improved reading scores so much that comprehension skills are no longer a part of their IEPs. When we tested the class ourselves with IRIs, using the Fountas and Pinnell levels, we found each child made at least a year's progress but most made much more. And 17 out of 24 students leveled out of the test, achieving an equivalent comprehension score of grade 6 or higher (level X or higher).

So this, of course, begs the question - How did this happen? What was it about our program that enabled these students to improve to such a large extent?

First, I need to tell you that I have been an inclusion teacher for many years. Although I teach regulary education, I do have my Masters' in Special Ed and have always believed in differentiating instruction to help all students succeed. I truly believe that a perfect classroom is one in which two teachers work toward a common goal. So I have had many co-teaching situations. Two have been quite successful, most have been very unsuccessful.

In examining the successful ones, I realize it all has to do with philosophy. And certain rules need to be followed.

Some co-teachers (both regular and special ed) believe that "you have your students and I have mine." I have worked with a teacher like this. She would come to the room and say, "Ok, my students come with me." I would then watch as the children, with mortified looks in their eyes, would slink out of the room.

Rule #1: Do not separate the children. They should not stand out for being classified. Remember: inclusion means to be included, not separated.

There's also that belief that we should be so private as to not speak about the needs of the children. Don't embarrass Johnny by telling him to put on his glasses, hearing aids, etc. Don't make Susie feel bad by handing her a fidget toy to play with so she can pay attention. In our classroom, fidget toys are in a box for all the children, glasses are mentioned frequently, students are encouraged to move to the front of the room, grab a spell checker, use the computer or alphasmart, pull out the E.Z.C. Readers, etc. The difference? These tools are demonstrated to and available for everyone. (Well, not glasses or hearing aids but you get the point.) So when a lesson begins, up jumps the classified student along with the gifted student. They both gather tools they need to be successful. So..

Rule #2: Don't hide special needs. Point out that we all need assistance at times. Make it available to everyone.

Then there's the idea that a special educator is only there to work with the special ed children. This leaves a lot of other children behind and makes the classified children really stand out. We believe that we both are there to teach all of the students. We group children for various subjects and rotate who teaches the groups. When class tests are given, volunteers leave the room with one of us to go to a more quiet setting or to have tests read to them. Amazingly, the children, all of them, really do choose what they need. Some leave the room for the novelty but most choose the setting in which they work best.

Rule #3: Mix the teachers up and allow students to choose their style of learning.

This year, we also eliminated reading pull-outs. Students remained in class during reading and ended up receiving much more reading service time than they would have in the pull-out program. And keeping students in the classroom as much as possible is helpful for having them not miss content. Next year, we are going to do the same for math pull-outs. Note: This was not an easy goal to achieve. Reading and resource room teachers may feel it threatens their jobs. If necessary, try to make your pull-outs push-ins instead.

Rule #4: Keep students in the classroom as much as possible. Eliminate as many pull-outs as you can.

Of course, other aspects of our program have not been mentioned here. Christine and I spend a great deal of time reading and writing in all subjects. With blogging as a large part of our program, it was inevitable that progress would be made. We also believe in a project-based learning program. This method of differentiating instruction allows all of our students to find success. But I really believe it was a combination of the technology and the philosophy that made it all work. I can't wait for next year!


KMulford said...

Bravo, Lisa! You hone in on some of the most critical aspects in teaching in today's classroom -- providing learning choices to all students, not "segregating" (however subtly and unintentionally) students with special needs, and eliminating superfluous transitions in or out of the room.

I know from your Tweets that there was much more to the architecture of your program, and that you may be as amazed as your administrators by your landslide success in this venture. The technology and the specific curriculum clearly contributed in some manner, though it will be difficult to tease out the specific effects of each.

I suspect that the immense success is more deeply rooted in your philosophies spelled out so eloquently here. Many teachers speak words like these (though more of them nod in agreement, IMHO as a parent of a child with special needs). I believe that few actually "live them out" in the manner in which you describe.

narrator said...

Fantastic! I spend lots of times blogging about inclusion, "toolbelts for everyone," etc., because I know - I have seen great teachers include all students and I've seen the success they have.

Thanks for the great post. I'll send many people here.

loonyhiker said...

This was totally awesome! You put in words everything that I believe in. I will definitely be featuring this post when I talk about inclusion in my summer course. I think there should be more training for teachers who will be dealing with inclusion. Too many of them have this power trip that they are not willing to let go of and the students suffer. Thanks so much for this wonderful post!

Karen Janowski said...

Well done - this one almost brought me to tears because you are making a significant difference in the lives of your students. And the pay-off is HUGE - your students achieved success, you provided all your students with the tools for success - and offered them the choice of what to use when. Ira Socol (narrator's comment above) blogged about Toolbelt Theory and you have modeled it beautifully.
You are the definition of a skillful teacher.
Thank you for all you do.

Lisa Parisi said...

K - You are correct. There is more to the success of our program than what I expressed here. The most important point, I think, is that Christine and I chose each other and requested this collaboration. Too many teachers are forced into co-teaching.

Narrator - Thank you for your comment. And now I have a new blog to follow - yours. Will have to check out the whole "toolbelt theory". Don't know it but am anxious to find out more.

Pat - Christine and I have been discussing the idea of presenting our successful program at conferences. Perhaps it is time to start submitting applications.

Karen - You have made my day. I am in awe of all you do and look to you as a mentor for me. I am honored by your comments.

Lisa Thumann said...

Well said. I'm going to share your post with a group of 20 teachers I'm working with from a North Jersey district. I think they would appreciate seeing these thoughts in writing from a classroom teacher in the Tri-State area.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts here and on Twitter.


Ann Oro said...

What a great way to close out a school year! Having the ability to choose who to work with certainly makes life easier. I often hear teachers wonder how they can bring technology into a classroom when they have tests to prepare students for or "material to cover". I think you have found a great balance for yourselves and your students. You would make a great pair at a conference. I've often thought, in the back of my mind, that it would be great to have you speak with teachers I know to show how you do what you do and why it is possible.

Great news!

Jenny said...

I'm impressed with your thoughts about not hiding the needs. Offering options to all students makes perfect sense, but seems to be something we struggle with a lot.

This list is one for me to remember each time I start a new co-teaching experience. Thanks.

narrator said...

My blog about your post...

Thanks again,

- Ira Socol

mrsdurff said...

The Dynamic Duo do it again! Bravo & Encore!

Brian Wojcik said...

I made a comment on Ira Socal's blog post ( in which he commented on this post. I'd be interested in hearing your take on this issues presented.

Lisa Parisi said...

Lisa - Love sharing, don't you? It's so important to our education.

Ann - I too played the "prep for test" game. It created bored children who didn't learn. There are better ways to find actually teaching.

Jenny - It took me a long time to get this point. Why hide the obvious?

Narrator - Thank you for blogging about my blog. I will be commenting on yours.

Mrs. Durff - Thank you.

Brian - I saw your comment on Ira's blog. The long answer will be there. The short answer is I do not believe all children can be properly educated in an inclusion setting. Cognitive skills must be there to be able to keep up with the pace of a regular education class. I do expect all children to make at least a year's progress in my classroom. That might mean, for some, going from Level 2 to Level 3 when they should be on Level 5. But at least they can learn and participate. When a child struggles so much that learning is not taking place, then a different setting is called for.

Paul Hamilton said...

Lisa, I expect you've won all kinds of teaching awards. You are certainly deserving! For whatever it may be worth, I'd like to offer you a special "award" for respect. It is clear that you respect the learners in your classroom--in all their diversity of learning styles and challenges.

Thank you for articulating and sharing these rules that I believe ought to be followed everywhere. If they were, many more learners would actually enjoy school. Many more learners would learn what they need to know, and best of all, they would like themselves better!

Pat R. said...

Whenever teachers feel empowered, their choices for instructional practices surely translate into students’ success. Most importantly, isn’t student success the goal of every teacher? Kudos to you, Lisa, for establishing collaborative teaching practices that promote a shared philosophy of teaching, and one that endorses students with available choices for creating an optimum learning environment.
The practice that most children learn in a classroom with their general and special education peers requires ongoing validation. For this reason, the practice of pull-out services should be reconsidered, as it only enhances the belief that the student has ‘special’ needs, makes him different, and divides his time away from the many of his peers. However, frequently it is the parents who request that small-group learning for special education services be conducted outside the natural learning environment and included into their IEPs. Parents frequently feel that their child will learn better if he’s in a setting that consists of small groups, has fewer distractions, and is one that offers increased opportunities for practice and repetition. When feasible, let’s allow students to play a part in making collaborative decisions that could impact and improve their overall learning within the school setting.

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astrang said...

About a year late reading this post... I was excited to read it because we are finding the same success with our UDL project. I posted about our students' success on my blog a couple of weeks ago: I am doing two UDL presentations this week and would like to add your blog post to the evidence I am presenting to help convince people that we are on the right track. We are not nearly as far along as you and Christine but even at this stage we are very excited about the results. I love how you are empowering your students to access the type of support and tools they need - so powerful. Thanks for sharing this!! I am learning so much from your blog and from your twitter posts.

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