One of the primary goals of inclusion is to provide students with disabilities with the opportunities needed to learn to get along with others, make friends, and build social networks that will provide them with support throughout their school career and beyond (Falvey, 1995; Jorgensen, 1998a, b; Snell, 1990). Active participation in the social community of the classroom is necessary if these goals are to be achieved. This participation is significantly facilitated if the student with a disability fits into the ebb and flow of the classroom much as other students fit in. This occurs if the student's rhythm of the day is similar to that of other students, if supports that are provided the students are natural and unobtrusive, and, in short, if difference becomes an ordinary part of the classroom, so that the student with a disability does not unnecessarily stand out from his or her peers.
Participation in the Academic Community of the Classroom
While many factors influence the extent to which a student is an active and successful member of the social community of a classroom, we have found that it is very difficult to engage a student in the social community of the classroom if she/he is not a member of the academiccommunity of the classroom. Providing students with the opportunity to work along with others on academic tasks in the classroom provides a sense of belonging, helps to make the student feel that he/she is part of the classroom, reduces the stigma associated with the student's disability, reduces the occurrence of behavior problems, and provides the student with many opportunities to learn to get along with others and make friends. Thus, if a student is not an “active and equal participant in activities performed by the peer group” (p. 340), it is difficult for the student to become part of the social community of the classroom (Cullinan, Sabornie, & Crossland, 1992). Consider the following example:
One of the authors was observing in a 4th grade classroom as the students prepared for a geography test. The content of the test related to states in the southern United States, and one of the objectives was for the students to learn the names and capitals of the states. To facilitate learning this material, the teacher had grouped students into cooperative groups. The groups were working to ensure that all knew each of the states and their capitals. Some groups were using textbooks to drill others, others had maps of the United States and were filling in the names of the states and capitals, and still others were engaged in word games to learn the assigned material. During these activities, I noticed that one student was sitting alone, cutting shapes from a piece of paper. Noticing that I was watching this student from afar, the teacher said that the student was “emotionally handicapped” and was thus working alone. I approached the student and talked about what he was doing. He was cutting out shapes that appeared to be countries of the world and was not engaged in studying the southeastern states or their capitals. This student was not engaged in the learning or social community of the classroom.