I’ve been thinking a lot about inclusion lately. One reason is that I’m getting ready to teach a course on inclusion at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) in Toronto this summer. My wife, a speech and language pathologist in a Boston area school, has also made me think hard about inclusion when she shares a now daily report on a little boy in one of her schools whose behavior seems to demand exclusion. So how do we create inclusive schools and classrooms that are congenial to the diverse range of ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds and life experiences and abilities students bring with them to school?
From my perspective, inclusion isn’t about special methods or getting all teachers the right sort of training although these things can help. Inclusion is about school structures, how schools and classrooms are organized. For example, large classes organized around one-size-fits all curricula will never be congenial to the needs of many students, especially students who are not the “average” students curriculum developers imagined (and this means most students).
So how do we create inclusive schools and classrooms?
Many children need small group and individualized instruction (actually all children need this but some need it more than others). How do we create structures that enable teachers to provide these kinds of instructional opportunities?
All children need to find ways to connect classroom learning to their experiences. How do we create a literacy curriculum that allows children to draw on their out-of-school experiences?
All children need to be able to draw on their linguistic resources in support of their learning. How do we enable students to draw on their own language to make sense of school learning?
All children need to feel that their language, culture, background knowledge and experience are respected. How do we counter the disrespect inherent in so many school reforms (no recess, zero tolerance, tedious focus on meaningless skills, and so on)?
All children require instruction that responds to their individual needs and abilities. How can we create assessments that focus on what children know, not what they don’t know?
Inclusive schools are welcoming places. How do create schools where all children feel safe from physical and psychological violence including racism, sexism, and homophobia?
Are there students who can’t be included? This is heresy for some inclusion educators, but I suspect we’ll never be able to accommodate the needs of all students in some classroom environments.
What about exclusion as a means of achieving broader forms of political and economic inclusion? Here I’m thinking about the move in some places to gender segregated classrooms or so-called Black-focused schools?
My guess is that we need very different kinds of classroom structures to achieve these goals. Hopefully, the questions I posed will stimulate some conversation (write a comment) and, for the next month or so I’ll keep writing about these issues.