Verity is a Physics with Teaching (Bsc Hons) graduate with years of experience in the classroom and a passion for delivering education.
The issue of inclusion in the classroom has always been a subject of ongoing debate, with opinion being heavily divided. Gibson & Haynes (2009) posit that making every learner’s contributions equally valid in the classroom results in more meaningful learning for the entire class. However, Allan (2007) suggests that the inclusion of learners with behavioural issues into a mainstream setting has a negative impact on the quality of education received by other learners and places unnecessary stress and pressure on teachers. A further opinion in the field is that inclusion cannot be defined and, as a result, is too ambiguous an idea to effectively implement practically (Armstrong, Armstrong & Spandagou, 2010). However, in an attempt to define inclusion, Farrell & Ainscow (2002) suggest that inclusion is simply the degree to which a student with special educational needs (SEN) is ‘integrated’ into a mainstream school setting.
Despite efforts to widen inclusion and bridge gaps in achievement, there are still obvious gaps in, for example, Physical Education—where it is believed that some teaching “…fosters rather than contests sexism, racism and elitism” (Evans & Davies, 1993). More recently, a report by the World Health Organisation (2005) found that sports contributes to the exclusion of girls and non-masculine groups in school and in wider society. This indicates that, despite the achievements made by inclusion in the 12 years that elapsed between these two publications, inclusion can be difficult to implement in some areas and is an area of development which needs constant evaluation and refinement.
This essay will mainly: reflect upon methods of inclusion which have been directly observed in the classroom by the author (at a school which will be known as School A), comment on the possible effectiveness of said methods and, where possible, provide suggestions on how said methods may be improved or expanded upon.
The Inclusion of Hearing Impaired Students in Mainstream Settings
The first methods observed were those of inclusion of pupils with a variety of hearing impairments, including but not limited to; students with no hearing, students with cochlear implants in one or both ears, and students with a hearing aid in one or both ears. Learners with hearing impairments (regardless of the degree of impairment) were placed in mainstream classes with pupils who had no hearing impairments, where necessary a support teacher would be available for the learner. It was found in an investigation by Vermeulen, Denessen & Knoors (2012) that with slight modifications to a teachers routine (e.g. including more visual aids during lessons, speaking slower and looking directly at the learner when speaking in the classroom) a learner with hearing impairments can not only cope well in a mainstream class but registered, in some cases, an improvement of behaviour and attainment. This evidence supports the decision of the school (referred to from here as School A) to include these learners in a mainstream setting and suggests that these learners may even see an improvement in their own curricular abilities as a result of School A’s method.
The same study by Vermeulen, Denessen & Knoors (2012) found that in a school with a high amount of hearing-impaired students, feedback issues would arise due to multiple hearing aids in close proximity. School A decided that to combat this issue a modified system called the Soundfield System would be implemented, similar but superior to the loop system, which would bypass this issue. This allowed for many hearing-impaired students to sit in the same classroom without experiencing the pain, discomfort or distraction which accompanied audio feedback and allowed them to be involved in the lesson to the same degree as non-hearing impaired students. The Soundfield system also requires a teacher to wear a microphone which benefits the non-hearing impaired students also, as it ensures that there is never an issue hearing instructions.
Accreditedschoolsonlineorg (c2017) states that closed captioning is an invaluable resource to hearing-impaired students as it allows them to ‘keep up’ when watching educational videos. School A benefitted from a transcription service which allowed a teacher to receive a transcript of a video in advance of a lesson, which could then be provided to a student with a hearing impairment. This ensures that the student does not miss anything, especially as during videos voice-overs are extremely common and these cannot be lip read. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the classroom and that some lessons involve spontaneous changes to the lesson plan, it was not always possible for teachers at School A to take advantage of this service. Perhaps more advanced lesson planning or a database of most common educational videos would be useful.
Lewis & Norwich (2005) posit that learners with hearing impairments have difficulties with reading and assimilating new read words, despite the fact that their non-verbal IQs are on par with those of average non-hearing impaired learners. This shows that there may be a shortfall in teachers recognising the limitations of their hearing-impaired students and assuming that there is nothing they could do to help. To combat this, schools, such as School A, may spend more time educating teachers on how to support hearing impaired students one-to-one and may put more of a focus on improving literacy expectations of hearing-impaired students.
The Inclusion of Students From Less Affluent Areas to A Breakfast Club
The second method observed was that of a breakfast club which allowed students, who came from homes where they did not have access to breakfast, to eat breakfast upon arrival at School A before classes started in the morning. Apicella (2001) writes that when families struggle to make ends meet it can result in students coming to school without having had breakfast. This can result in severely reduced concentration and energy, and for students experiencing puberty: reduced energy can lead to heightened negative emotional responses. The Combat Poverty Agency (2000) found that breakfast clubs when paired with a guarantee of a hot lunch not only combatted concentration and energy issues but also lead to reduced absenteeism and improved punctuality. This report also found that by allowing students to have positive interactions with teachers and other students before the school day begins, it fosters in the students a positive attitude towards school and authority figures.
This evidence supports the decision by School A to provide breakfast to pupils. It would be reasonable to assert that School A would report a higher community feeling within their school as the breakfast club would allow learners of various ages to interact rather than feeling segregated into cliques. The results cited earlier, however, do state that the best results were achieved when a hot meal at lunchtime is guaranteed. Therefore, schools such as School A can get the best results from their breakfast club schemes by perhaps providing a free lunch for pupils who attend breakfast club, this would also provide an incentive for students to stay in school for the full school day.
Woods & Brighouse (2013) write that a crucial part of a school’s purpose and culture is to do their best to narrow the attainment gap between students from affluent and non-affluent areas, despite how difficult a task it may be in some areas. It may be said that School A is fulfilling this purpose as a breakfast club reduces any gap in performance between students from affluent and non-affluent areas since students from non-affluent areas are not disadvantaged by not having a breakfast meal.
The Inclusion of Students With Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties in Common Social Settings
The third method observed was a nurture group for first-year students. The nurture group consisted of a small group of students who had trouble with social interaction, either as a result of a physical or non-physical impairment or difficulty, or due to confidence issues stemming from multiple, various causes. The nurture group would meet at least once a week and various activities would take place, including but not limited to; talking about problems which worried them, playing games together, sharing art, sharing accomplishments and putting into practise ‘politeness’ (e.g. remembering to say please and thank you).
Rutter & Smith (1997) found that students who suffer from social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD) have great difficulty in engaging with the schooling experience and can if left without intervention, experience deterioration of their mental state as they get older. Cooper & Tiknaz (2007) posit that nurture groups in schools combat the issues found by Rutter & Smith (1997) by reducing and (if possible) removing these barriers presented by their SEBD, improving interpersonal interactions, and as a result having a positive influence on whole school morale. This evidence supports the decision of School A to set up the nurture group and provides a clear and key aim for the group.
A specific issue that was dealt with by the nurture group was the issue of bullying. A student who may have experienced a form of bullying was able to discuss with the group their experience and, guided by a teacher, the other students would offer advice and support. This allows students who are experiencing bullying to voice their concerns in a more relaxed environment and gives students the opportunity have their opinions respected; these both raise confidence and provide a safe space for students who may feel as though they do not have one elsewhere (Howie & Dawn, 2008).
Students who suffered from outbursts of uncontrolled anger were also able to benefit from the nurture group. These students were taught ways of controlling their anger and expressing their feelings in a less destructive manner, they were able to practise friendly interactions with other students who understood their difficulties. Teachers were also able to use the nurture group to establish a clear routine, which reduces any unexpected stimulus that may lead to aggression or tantrums (Boxall & Lucas, 2010).
The nurture group also included a ‘Bragging Board’. When a learner made an achievement of which they were extremely proud, it would be discussed in the group and then a note of the achievement was made on the ‘Bragging Board’. Bishop (2008) writes that it is crucial that students in a nurture group have a high standard of achievement that can be adopted as a transferable skill and applied to other lessons and situations outside of school. This is reinforced by the idea and practise of the ‘Bragging Board’. Students discuss goals with a teacher (regardless of whether or not the goal is always academic e.g. earning a swimming certificate) and are encouraged to achieve them. Once the goal is achieved, a slightly harder goal might be established. This allows the student to gain confidence in their abilities by having them recognised and also ensures that they hold their own work to a high standard. Rose & Grosvenor (2013) state that setting goals and recognising achievement is a crucial part of the education process. It might be reasonable to assert that perhaps this concept should be expanded beyond the nurture group and implemented throughout the whole school. However, Bentham & Hutchins (2012) posit that when a student does not meet goals it can be seriously damaging to student motivation and may discourage them from trying again. It is also suggested that this may establish a vicious cycle wherein a teacher mistakes a lack of achievement for a lack of ability and, in doing so, the student becomes further discouraged and achieves less and less. This is an important concern when working with students who have below-average self-confidence and self-esteem, and as a result, extra care must be taken to support these students within the nurture group perhaps more than may be required by a student without these issues.
In a school environment, friendship status and, by extension, social status depends heavily on contact between students outside of school hours (Blatchford, 2012). For this important reason, the nurture group was also able to help facilitate (with permission from parents) meetings between students outside of school (e.g. going to get food from McDonald's together on the way home from school). This allows students with a lack of social confidence, due to SEBD, to build social links without relying on the schooling infrastructure. It also allows the students to become more independent and forge relationships based on other factors than proximity. However, difficulties arise where students from strict or broken homes are not able to attend any extra-curricular social activities and as a result may be more susceptible to negative peer influences (Berns, 2015).
In summation, the author has been lucky enough to observe many varied forms of inclusion which range from: the inclusion of hearing-impaired students in mainstream settings, to the inclusion of students from less affluent areas to breakfast club to lessen any classroom disadvantages, and to the support of students with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties resulting in the inclusion of these students in common social settings. It can be seen from the evidence provided that these methods of inclusion have had a notable positive influence and that methods of inclusion can sometimes be as simple as speaking slower or providing hot food at lunchtimes. However it can also be seen from some of the counter-evidences supplied that regardless of the method of inclusion, there are always barriers which must be worked around and many ways that a system of inclusion can be improved. It can be reasonably concluded that inclusion is an extremely wide field with many niches and, regardless of whether this makes the topic as a whole more vague, it is seemingly obvious that the aim of inclusion is simply to provide every student with the start that they deserve in life, and this is a worthy and notable cause.
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- Woods, D & Brighouse, T (2013). The A-Z of School Improvement: Principles and Practice, Bloomsbury, pp20