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Inclusive Practices


Basis of Practice

 

Inclusive practice is a designation specifically for special education students with mild/moderate to moderate/severe disabilities who are included in general education classrooms, but has been broadened to include English language learners, ethnic minority groups, as well as general education students.  We have found that best practices for our inclusion students, work for all of our students.  Our inclusive practices target two major areas: 

  • social skills and social climate, and 
  • academic skills and learning environment

 

The entire school is involved in inclusive practices because it creates a school climate of belonging and community rather than simply “tolerating” those who are different. This reduces the number of conflicts, incident reports, and suspensions at school, and student achievement improves when all students feel safe and accepted in their learning environment. Student performance improves with the opportunity to learn in a variety of ways, ranging from project-based learning to small group interaction with peers. Finally, students’ confidence increases as they learn that each person is different and that learning can occur in a variety of ways based on an individual’s unique strengths and challenge areas. Standardized testing and a variety of formal and informal curriculum-based assessments measure the academic success of our inclusive practices.  The low number of incident reports and suspensions, and the direct observation of positive student interactions within an inclusive social climate demonstrate our social success. 


Description of the Practice

 

Inclusive practices at Clarendon target two areas of student needs: social and academic. 

Key components of inclusive practices that target social skills and social climate are: 

  • restorative practices, 
  • lunch club, and 
  • social thinking curriculum. 

Key components of inclusive practices that target academic skills and achievement are: 

  • project-based learning, 
  • response to intervention, and 
  • general/special education co-taught lessons. 

We have a comprehensive structure to support all components of our inclusive practices, including: weekly collaborative meetings between general and special education teachers and paraprofessionals, monthly planning by the inclusive practices committee, monthly discussion of inclusive practices at our all-staff meeting, and ongoing staff development.


Inclusive Practices targeting social skills and social climate

 

Clarendon teachers have used the Tribes curriculum to build a learning community for nearly ten years. Restorative practices added another important piece to this program. For the past two years, Clarendon has actively used restorative practices to build community and solve conflicts in the classroom and on the yard. The school’s principal, teachers from each grade level, and four para-professionals have attended a two day restorative practice training. Others have learned about restorative practices during staff meetings and are scheduled to attend the full training. Classes use community circles to create social bonds between students, discuss problems, and share experiences. When conflicts arise, our staff uses restorative questions to help students discover the impact of their actions and guide the student in finding an appropriate way to make things right with the people involved. This helps to re-integrate the student into the community and internalize the concept of right and wrong. Reflecting about the incident and its consequences also leads to a reduced frequency of future incidents. This improved social climate and reduction of incidents positively affects learning and achievement due to fewer interruptions because of behavior issues as students are more comfortable sharing and working with their peers.

For twelve years, Clarendon has been implementing a lunch club for students with special needs to work on social skills and social integration. Initially, lunch club focused only on students with autism. It became evident that many other students in special education could also benefit from added support in social skills. Today, each participating student has one lunch club per week with two to three non-disabled peers. At the beginning of each lesson, instruction is given in the area of social skills and social thinking followed by a semi-structured play session in which students can role-play and practice their new skills. The lessons follow the well-established social thinking curriculum developed by Michele Garcia Winner and is geared towards each student’s unique social needs. The non-disabled participants also benefit from the experience by improving their own social skills, having increased self-esteem due to their function as role models, and by learning how to interact and support students that are not always acting in a way that it is “expected”. These students help bring that knowledge to the general education classroom.

Many Clarendon teachers now implement the social thinking curriculum in the general education setting. Last year (2012-13), we piloted this idea in a third grade classroom with weekly co-taught lessons. This year (2013-14), the program is in use by one first grade class, two third grade classes, and a fourth grade class, with the goal of expanding it to more classrooms next year. As part of this program, students learn to identify their emotional state by referring to four zones, and learn about tools to help them regulate their emotions and actions depending on the situation. For example, they learn calming strategies such as breathing or muscle relaxation, and cognitive strategies such as differentiating small problems from big problems, and referring to their “inner coach” instead of making a situation worse by negative self-talk. Teaching these concepts to an entire classroom has made students more sensitive towards others and has enabled them to solve social problems. Most importantly, it has given the students a common language to help each other recognize when their behavior becomes “unexpected” and select an appropriate tool to calm back down. Students with special needs have benefited by learning with and from their peers on a daily basis in the context of the classroom. It makes all students realize that everyone struggles to do what is expected sometimes, and that all of us need to learn strategies to stay calm and positive - even adults. We are all members of a community, and our similarities are greater than our differences.


Inclusive Practices targeting academic skills and achievement

 

Clarendon teachers incorporate project-based learning activities into their teaching on a daily basis in all subject areas. A basic example is first grade math lessons on measurement in which students go out into the school community to measure the length of hallways, buildings or rooms. A more advanced example is fourth grade science lessons on decomposition. The process is not just explained; students witness it by setting up a box with wet dirt and leaving various items inside the box for a month (paper bags, plastic bags, fruits, candy wrappers, cans etc.). What better way to leave a lasting impression on the need to reuse, reduce, and recycle than finding plastic bags or candy wrappers completely intact while paper bags have largely decomposed?   Project-based learning provides universal access to the curriculum because it reaches diverse learners by using multiple modalities (auditory, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic) and by making the learning relevant to a student’s life outside of school.  Clarendon offers consultant classes such as music, art, computer, languages, dance, physical education, and library, which adds to a well-rounded education and supports students who may not be academically or socially adept by giving them a variety of areas to demonstrate strengths.

Another way Clarendon systematically addresses the needs of diverse learners is by the implementation of Response to Intervention (RTI) in the area of reading. This intervention has been in place at Clarendon for seven years and is run in collaboration between general and special educators as well as paraprofessionals.  Students falling below grade level in reading ability (as measured by the Fontas & Pinnell Reading Assessment) are identified in first grade after undergoing ten weeks of high quality evidence-based instruction in the classroom (Tier 1). Those students then take part in ten weeks of targeted multi-sensory reading instruction using a research and evidence based program called “Phonics First”.  RTI identified students meet in small groups of three to four students three times per week (Tier 2). Students who caught up to grade level reading standards at that point will exit the RTI program. Students who made less progress will move on to Tier 3. Tier 3 instruction consists of smaller groups and more frequent sessions, (usually two students), who meet four times per week for ten weeks. Instruction is even more individualized and allows for frequent review and extension based on student needs. Students who do not show progress after ten weeks may be referred for a psycho-educational assessment. Clarendon chose reading as their focus for RTI because it is such an important foundation for all other subject areas. Strengthening reading will automatically strengthen academic achievement overall.  In addition, early intervention prevents students from falling further behind, supports at-risk students, and minimizes unfounded referrals to special education.  The RTI program operates under the premise that all students may need support at one point or another and that targeted intervention can benefit both general education and students with special needs. Some of the RTI groups include both students with and without disabilities. It is the need that drives this service, not a label. 
    
Clarendon has introduced a collaboration and co-teaching model program between special and general education teachers to improve upon inclusive practices. Following the attendance of a two-day district-sponsored workshop “Step by Step for Inclusion” in the fall of 2012, teachers at Clarendon have created an “Inclusive Practices Committee”. The committee includes the school principal, two general education teachers, three special education teachers, and a speech and language therapist. A focus area for the committee has been to strengthen collaboration between the general education and special education teachers. Special Education Teachers are assigned to specific general education classrooms. Planning meetings between general and special education teachers, as well as paraprofessionals, are held weekly to discuss accommodations and modification for the upcoming curriculum. These discussions include concerns about all students, and accommodations for any given lesson.   For example, if a student in class requires a graphic organizer to plan their writing, this strategy could be introduced to the entire class. Similarly, if a student needs an editing checklist to revise their work, it will be made available to all students. Not only does this reduce stigmatization of individual students, but it also introduces a greater variety of strategies to all learners. At times, lessons will be specifically planned as co-taught lessons. This has the advantage that teachers learn from each other, students are exposed to different teaching styles, and the student/teacher ratio is drastically reduced. This practice is being implemented twice per week in a 2nd grade class during writing and co-teaching lessons are being implemented in K, 1st, 3rd, and 4th grades.  


Results of the Practice

 

We embrace the California Department of Education’s findings that “a growing body of research shows that school climate strongly influences students' motivation to learn and improve academic achievement.” (http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/ss/se/schoolclimate.asp) Students that feel safe and comfortable in their learning environment will be better able to focus, learn, and grow academically.  

The impact of our inclusive practices is evident in Clarendon’s high achievement on standardized tests for all students as well as our data on Special Education “Inclusion” students. In 2013, Clarendon’s overall API was 956, fully meeting the AYP growth target.   Most notably, students with disabilities achieved an API overall rating of 829.  All but two students with special education support completed the CST version of the STAR test, while the other two completed the CMA. Of those that completed the CST in ELA, 65% scored proficient or advanced and only 2 students scored basic. In math, 65 % scored at proficient or advanced and only three students scored basic. No student received a score of far below basic. Considering the wide spectrum of disabilities special education students at Clarendon have, ranging from mild to severe, this achievement is very notable. 

An additional inclusive practice that has influenced academic achievement is the RTI program for reading, which includes “at-risk” students, ELLs and Special Education students.  During the last school year 2012/13, fourteen first grade students participated in RTI. Their improvements in reading level ranged from two to nine reading levels with an average improvement of five reading levels from the beginning to the end of the program.

The results of our inclusive practices are not only academic.  Teaching our Inclusion Students (Special Education designated students) along with the general student population about social thinking has greatly enhanced their ability to positively interact with their peers.  This is done both in lunch club and in the classroom.  Both general and special education teachers observe students frequently using social thinking skills and language throughout the school day to express their needs and to solve conflicts. Students are stating, “I am feeling like I am in the yellow zone today.  I am so frustrated. Can I take a break to calm down?”   When a student gets upset, others are taught to give him space or even tell him that he was showing “unexpected behavior” and give suggestions on how to act instead.   Comments from peers seem to have a much bigger impact on students’ behavior than any suggestions the teacher may give.

Clarendon teachers have used the Tribes curriculum to build a learning community for nearly ten years. Restorative practices added another important piece to this program. For the past two years, Clarendon has actively used restorative practices to build community and solve conflicts in the classroom and on the yard. The school principal, teachers from each grade level, and four para-professionals have attended restorative practice trainings so far. A direct result of these practices allow for a suspension rate of three and below for the past two years.

The continuation of this progress in social climate and academic achievement is monitored regularly. The school’s “Inclusive Practices Committee” meets monthly to discuss the impact of the various strategies. Strategies that work are introduced to the entire staff each month during staff meetings as “Inclusive Practice Highlights”.  This positive feedback “Highlight” about successful collaboration between general and special education teachers has led to increased interest and collaboration in other classrooms.   In March of 2014, Clarendon has invited the “Step-by-Step for Inclusion” consultants to come and lead a follow up professional development on collaboration and accommodation of diverse learners in the general education setting. They will also do classrooms visits to give further recommendations on how to improve our practices. 

At Clarendon, we utilize inclusive practices with every student to achieve the highest potential for all students.