Models of Inclusion

Four Techniques for Successful Implementation

In response to the call for full inclusion, several alternative service delivery models have been developed and implemented. Each model has its own unique quality, yet there are several common elements among them. One key element, and what proponents believe is paramount to the success of full inclusion, is the collaboration between general and special education teachers. By sharing responsibilities through team teaching, the two sectors are able to develop a more comprehensive program that could adapt to the needs of all students (Reynolds, Wang, & Walberg, 1987). The implementation of different teaching strategies and the modification of assignments to accommodate individual students is another element found among these models. Methods of teaching provided in these programs ranged from highly structured to opened-ended exploratory learning activities (Wang, Rubenstein, & Reynolds, 1985; Affleck, Madge, Adams, & Lowenbraun, 1988). Adaptations and accommodations made within the class are provided for individual students, and in some circumstances, for the entire class. Direct instruction provides small groups and individual students with remedial instruction, while independent study time is provided to those students who need less support (Zigmond & Baker,1996). The use of peer tutors and cooperative learning is another strategy employed, as stronger students can help provide additional support to those having difficulties mastering concepts (Affleck, Madge, Adams, & Lowenbraun, 1988). In order to describe how these components work together with other strategies, a brief overview of four different models of inclusion is presented.

One of the most multifaceted programs to integrate special education students into the classroom is Wang’s Adaptive Learning Environments Model (ALEM). This model was designed to create school learning environments in which all students can learn basic academic skills and increase their confidence in their ability to cope with the social and intellectual demands of school (Wang, Rubenstein, & Reynolds 1985). The ALEM combines a prescriptive learning component consisting of highly structured and hierarchically organized learning activities with an exploratory learning component consisting of a variety of learning activities aimed at increasing schools’ capabilities to accommodate individual learning needs.

Instruction is individually planned, and each student is expected to progress through the curriculum at his or her own pace. The ALEM classroom is organized to facilitate movement and simultaneous activities. Teachers circulate freely to provide instruction, tutoring or feedback. Learning tasks are broken down into small increments. Special educators are available to provide support and intensive instruction and students often collaborate in teaching one another. Students in ALEM classes are taught to plan and monitor their own learning, and are responsible for managing and completing learning tasks within certain time limits (Wang, Rubenstein, & Reynolds, 1985).

In order to facilitate and maintain the program correctly, Wang (1983) designed the Data-Based Staff Development Program. This program was designed specifically to help teachers improve their knowledge and skills in providing learning experiences that are adaptive to student differences, and can be implemented in the regular classroom. The training involved is extensive, and this in itself may cause problems with implementation. One teacher reported that ALEM requires "terrific teacher commitment", and that "many teachers will not participate of their own free will" (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1998, p.139).

Fuchs and Fuchs (1988) reported several positive outcomes for ALEM, such as improved relations between special and general educators, positive effects of non-handicapped students serving as role models for handicapped students, and the increased capacity of handicapped students to work independently. Numerous studies have been done to evaluate the effectiveness of ALEM, yet there is a question as to whether the program is effective in regards to improving the levels of performance in children. Wang (1985) claims that studies have shown that " positive student achievement and attitudinal outcomes have been found in ALEM classrooms where mildly or moderately handicapped and gifted students are integrated on a full-time basis" (p.67). Empirical reviews of these studies do not support Wang’s claims (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1988). In their review of full inclusion programs, Zigmond and Baker (1996) felt that these programs did not provide enough intensive teaching to LD students, and that the services provided were "superficial" and "hardly likely to have a lasting impact or to achieve long-term goals" (p.32).

Another model of inclusion that has shown success is team teaching. In this model the general education and special education teachers join together and teach all students in one class as partners. It is the view of Elliott & Mc Kenney (1998) that students must be included in a regular education classroom in order to diminish the higher levels of stress brought on by a fully inclusive system Since most special education services are provided on a pull-out basis, the concept of team teaching needs to be carefully thought out and collaboratively pre-planned. According to Walther (1996), effective co-teaching occurs when the teachers are equal partners. They must both contribute to every phase of the class work, including planning and evaluation. Successful team teaching needs to be effectively planned and supported with needed resource materials. Time is also a key factor. Changing to a team teaching approach does not happen in one year. It is a developmental process that needs adjusting by trial and error.

Before implementing team teaching there are many details to consider. According to Cross & Walker-Knight (1997), successful team-teachers must honestly look at their personal willingness to collaborate. Sharing a job that traditionally belongs to one person takes a great deal of cooperation and highly skilled communication. Walther-Thomas et. al. (1997) identify the following as some of the vital elements of inclusionary team teaching: district and building level planning issues, administrative support and leadership, capable and willing participants, staff development, balanced classrooms, scheduled co-planning time, and pilot testing. Team teaching is not to be entered into lightly. Total administrative support and teacher commitment are necessary for this inclusionary model to succeed.

The team teaching inclusionary model comes with many reported benefits for the teachers and the students, both special and general education. In her longitudinal study on co-teaching experiences, Walther-Thomas (1996) reports that learning disabled students benefit by having improved self-esteem and motivation along with enhanced academic performance. She also reports that general education students increase their academic performance and social skills. According to Walther-Thomas the teachers also benefited from team teaching by having increased job satisfaction and more professional growth. The teachers also reported problems such as inadequate co-planning time, student scheduling conflicts, and caseload concerns.

Another highly recognized program that facilitates the inclusion of special education students is the Strategies Intervention Model (SIM). This model was developed at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. The model has been successfully implemented in both the Wethersfield Public School System in Connecticut and Clayton High School in Missouri. "The model is based on the belief that all students should develop their potential as independent and strategic learners across learning, social, motivational, and executive domains" (Tralli, Columbo, & Deshler, 1996, p.3). Directly correlated with this belief is a three step strategy intervention curriculum. The curriculum serves as a support system that helps adolescents with learning disabilities transition into the secondary general education environment. This process of transition requires a great deal of collaboration between the special education and general education teachers. These professionals must first outline the curriculum demands and performance expectations.

In response to the demands and expectations the students are taught learning strategies for acquiring, storing, and expressing content objectives. The program implemented at Clayton High School taught a scaled down version of the strategies to the general education classroom. In addition, the special education teachers were responsible for teaching a more comprehensive set of strategy systems to the learning disabled population. This allows the learning disabled student, who is generally an ineffective learner with poor processing skills, to develop a coping technique by using one or several of these strategies in combination. These strategies are designed to give the students a roadmap he or she can use to successfully meet the demands of learning in secondary classes. The second strategy intervention is aimed at enhancing the teaching routine in the general education classroom. Enhancing the routine entails using graphic organizers, relating information to students’ prior knowledge, and previewing the content before instruction. The third and final intervention strategy is designed to teach social interaction skills and motivational techniques. A specific strategy entitled "Share Behaviors" prepares the student for involvement in team meetings and conferences regarding their education. Students are encouraged to inventory their strengths and assist in their own planning.

According to Lerner (1997), various researchers have concluded that instruction in strategy intervention does indeed improve the likelihood that learning disabled students can succeed in general education classes. However, when the Strategy Intervention Model is used for purposes of inclusion, "educators need to think in terms of ‘supported inclusion, not simply ‘inclusion" (Joint Committee on Teacher Planning for Students with Disabilities, 1995, p.5). According to the researchers for the Joint Committee on Teacher Planning for Students with Disabilities (as cited in Mercer & Mercer, 1998.) the following criteria must be met in order to implement a successful model of supported inclusion:
Teachers must be philosophically committed to meeting the needs of all students in the general education classroom. Teachers must have time to plan and think about the needs of diverse learners. Teaching practices that meet the needs of all students must be incorporated into the instructional program. General education teachers must collaborate with special education teachers to assess, teach, and monitor student progress. Short-term, intensive instruction from a special education teacher needs to be available for some students with disabilities. Sustained instruction in basic skills or learning strategies that cannot be provided in general education classes must be available to some students with disabilities (p. 23).

The last model discussed, the "Circle of Inclusion," is the most "personnel-intensive" thus far. This model is primarily used in the education of very young children (birth to age eight) but includes elements to assist in a student’s transition to other educational or societal environments. The Circle of Inclusion model has been adapted in various settings from Montessori to traditional public elementary settings. A combination of staffing, parental and professional involvement and general philosophy provide the foundation in each instance, even though techniques employed at individual schools or within each classroom may vary significantly.

Frequent meetings are held to review the progress and needs of each child in a Circle of Inclusion classroom. Attending these meetings are the child’s teacher(s), parent(s), medical and/or psychological practitioner(s), therapists, aides and others who may be instrumental in implementing the child’s IEP. According to Fisher, Pumpain and Sax (1998), a primary concern of parents and other caregivers of disabled students is the quality of staff and services provided for their children. By participating in the inclusion meetings, these concerns are resolved before they impact the student.

The Circle of Inclusion model also assures ample opportunity for the development of social, emotional and interpersonal skills of the disabled student. Simple exposure to disabled students is not sufficient to build understanding and acceptance by "typical" students or staff. Actual involvement with the disabled child is necessary for everyone to enjoy the benefits of inclusive education (Ferguson, 1999). Another element of this model addresses this social objective. Children are encouraged to work together and teachers "team teach." Everyone is aware of the strengths and weaknesses of others in their classroom. By becoming actively involved with disabled students, typical students and the teaching team can develop an appreciation for and successful methods for optimizing the special students’ abilities.

Following up on the idea of "active participation" is the teaching philosophy used in many of the Circle of Inclusion classrooms. The "High/Scope" method, based on Piaget’s stages of development, is implemented to fully engage each learner in a way that makes absorption of new information comfortable and enduring. The core of this idea is that children learn best when they are 1) self-directed, 2) given firm guidelines and schedules and 3) allowed to choose their materials and methods for interacting with those materials (The Consultative Group of Early Childhood Care and Development, 1998). Teachers act as facilitators and guides, but do not dictate how the child must learn a given lesson. Acknowledging the fact that a child requires a variety of techniques throughout his life as a learner creates a dynamic, engaging environment for children no matter what level of mastery they have attained.

There are common threads that run through the various methods of teaching disabled learners: accurate and thorough evaluations, involved and committed instructional staff, dedicated parents and professionals, and an understanding that every child, regardless of ability, is an individual. These elements provide the foundation on which to build a successful program. Although many more features may be added, a method that lacks any of these principle factors is destined to fall short of the expectations of everyone involved in this endeavor.