Since the inception of inclusive schooling, teachers have worked hard to provide students with disabilities access to both a typical education in the general education classroom and to the individual supports and services they need to find success in that classroom. In many classrooms, however, educators stumped at how to do both resort to pulling students out of the classroom for short bits of instruction, or in some cases, for large periods of the school day.
Clearly, some students need special tutorials, individualized instruction, extra skill practice, or reinforcement of key concepts. Removing students from their classrooms to receive these supports, however, may not be necessary. Some educators and scholars have argued that pulling students out of their general education classroom is necessary if students are to get the individual support they need while others insist that students lose access to general education curriculum, instruction, incidental learning, and social skills when they leave their classroom and that the potential benefits of pull-out services are not worth the cost of leaving. Perhaps educators do not need to debate these points; teachers may not need to choose between personalized instruction and a general education experience. In today's inclusive classrooms, students can often get both. In this article I explore three questions teachers often ask about pull-out services and personalized instruction and suggest a variety of ways in which students can receive appropriate instruction alongside peers without disabilities in general education classrooms.
How Can Students Get Personalized Instruction In the Inclusive Classroom?
Many students with disabilities are pulled from their general education classrooms because teachers feel they need a more individualized learning experience than can be provided in a general education setting. It is certainly true that many students with academic needs and learning differences require individual or small group help or individualized teaching strategies. However, teachers must always consider the answers to the following questions when planning individual instruction:
* How can this support be delivered in the most effective and meaningful way?
* Does the student need to leave the general education environment for this instruction?
* If the student leaves the classroom for instruction, what will he or she gain? What will he or she lose?
* Can the student get the content or strategies he or she needs without losing access to the general education classroom?
If after addressing those questions, the team determines the learner would profit from the general education classroom experience, the following strategies can help educators provide personalized instruction in those inclusive environments:
When two teachers are available to deliver instruction, roles can be differentiated, the teacher to student ration goes down, and instruction can be tailored to meet the needs of a wider range of students. During student work time, instructors can move through the classroom addressing the needs of individual learners and providing extra enrichment or help as needed.
Using stations or center-based instruction is one way busy classroom teachers individualize instruction for all. This model is also often used by co-teaching teams. During a stations teaching model, students in the class can be instructed to visit some or all of the stations, depending on individual goals and needs and teachers can design tasks at stations that give students opportunities to tackle individual goals and learn new skills.
When therapists, social workers, counselors, and other related services professionals enter general education classrooms, all learners benefit. When Tyler, a student with autism, began receiving his speech and language supports in his first-grade classroom, he was able to study the same stories as his peers while gaining much-needed competencies in the areas of articulation and language development. Tyler's speech therapist also profited from this experience as she began to function as an instructor for a small group of six-year-olds; she learned new ways to teach Tyler communication skills and, after observing the classroom teacher, she discovered new ways to teach using standards-based and curriculum-based strategies.
In some instances, students are pulled from their classes to learn new skills, other times they are pulled to practice skills that have already been introduced. There are many ways learners can direct their own learning- by selecting work from in a teacher-created study folder, by “testing” themselves using flashcards, individual games (e.g., crossword puzzles, memory games); workbooks, activity kits, or computer programs.
Before students are pulled out for instruction or skill practice, teachers should always consider the possibility of using peer support or tutoring to meet student needs. One school responded to the need for individual support by pairing all students with a partner for a part of the school day that was challenging and novel- working with technology. Both students were learning something new so neither one had more knowledge or skill than the other. In another classroom, teachers used cross-age tutors to support their classrooms. Sixth-grade students came into the fourth-grade classroom twice a week and helped struggling readers write their own books.
In almost every classroom (including those in secondary schools), teachers designate some part of the school day or week for individual work, project-based work, or partner learning. If teachers plan together up front, this can be a time where any learner in the classroom can meet with a teacher (special educator, speech therapist, enhancement/gifted education teacher, reading specialist, parent volunteer, community mentor, cross-age tutor).