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February 1, 1996
Vol. 53
No. 5

A Quartet of Success Stories: How to Make Inclusion Work

Students with severe disabilities gain much from being included in secondary subject-area classes, and so do their nondisabled peers. Four examples show how to make inclusion efforts flourish.

Benito, 17, co-manages the football and basketball teams. He also loves art, especially drawing. The high school senior is also the youngest of four boys and the only one not in a gang. But that may be just a matter of time. Benito imitates gang dress, is disrespectful to women teachers, and uses profanity in the classroom when he disagrees with directions.
Because he has mental retardation, Benito attends a special education class for students with severe disabilities for part of the school day. He also attends an economics/government class for college-prepstudents. His special education team decided to include him because the class would include appropriate behavior models and fewer gang members than non-college-prep classes.
To be successfully included in subject-area classes, Benito and other students with severe disabilities need supports and adaptations. The following vignettes illustrate some effective approaches.

Peer Support for Benito

Attending class with nondisabled peers had a striking influence on Benito. He began following the teacher's directions immediately and never used profanity in the social studies class. After a few months and frequent reminders from classmates, Benito began to hike his pants up to his waist before entering class, although he continued to lower them upon departure (lowered pants are typical dress of gang members and against the school's dress code).
Benito's teacher structured the class to make peer support available through cooperative learning and peer tutoring. She also used a variety of strategies and adapted most activities for him without assistance. Many of Benito's adaptations made use of drawing.
A university student helped the teacher develop materials and adapt lessons for Benito. As the university student's supervisor, I participated in inclusion planning meetings with her and Benito's teachers.
Sandra, one of Benito's classmates, volunteered to assist in the special education class. Benito's support team—Sandra, his special education teacher, and the practicum student—used priming techniques to include him in the classroom. They previewed concepts or vocabulary, read assignments aloud, and helped him practice class activities. In these ways, they helped prepare Benito to participate in discussions and activities.
Sandra previewed concepts in government/economics with Benito, developed pictorial worksheets illustrating those concepts, and helped him complete the worksheets. Instead of taking exams like his peers, Benito was graded on participation in class discussions and his answers on tests based on the worksheets.
Benito also assumed valued roles in the school (for example, co-managing sports teams). And, like his peers, Benito made presentations. For example, when the class was studying the rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, Benito registered to vote and shared the procedures with the class.
How did Benito do in the class? He met the goals that his team had set for his inclusion: following directions, showing respect for women, using appropriate language, and participating in discussions with peers. His teachers were most impressed, however, by Benito's growing confidence and self-respect. He appeared happier, struck up conversations with other students, showed his classwork to his classmates, and exhibited fewer outbursts of anger.
Sandra, his peer assistant, also benefited from Benito's inclusion. Prior to volunteering in the special education program, Sandra had been failing social studies. After tutoring Benito, however, her grades improved.

Cooperative Learning and Carlos

Carlos, a 15-year-old sophomore with Down Syndrome, has an understandable vocabulary of about 25 words. When he first began attending Life Sciences class with nondisabled peers, Carlo spent most of the time wandering around the room, tapping students on the shoulder and grunting.
Carlos's teacher used Johnson and Johnson's (1987) Circles of Learning model to structure his Life Science investigations. The teacher assigned the entire class to heterogeneous groups of three and taught them collaborative skills.
To facilitate Carlos's interdependence, the teacher awarded extra credit when all members in a group completed a report on the activity and a randomly selected teammate could explain it to him. To assure individual accountability, the teacher gave students independent grades.
Carlos also attended a study hall where nondisabled student tutors primed him for Life Science class by helping him practice activities in advance and prepare materials for experiments.
For example, when the class had to graph various climates and compare them to their own weather, Carlos pre-drew the scales and brought the charts to class. Through this activity, Carlos made progress in his math goal—writing numbers—and the fine motor goal of drawing lines. Other groups had to prepare their charts in class, so Carlos's cooperative group members had more time to assist him in charting climates.
During some activities, Carlos operated as class “checker.” Students showed him their completed assignments, and he accompanied the teacher when students explained the activity, keeping a record of which groups had earned extra credit. Carlos not only assisted the teacher, but he also developed appropriate skills for the world of work. As a result of his inclusion, Carlos began saying hello to peers before class. He also took responsibility for completing class tasks and practiced his fine motor and number recognition skills.
Carlos's inclusion also affected nondisabled students, who, prior to this experience, had sat with students from their own ethnic group and didn't talk much with other students during classroom activities. After initiating cooperative learning groups and teaching collaborative learning strategies, Carlos's teacher noted that the on-task behavior of all students increased and that they began to interact across ethnic groups.

Alternative Activities for Melanie

Melanie, who has Down Syndrome, attends full-day sophomore classes that include literature, keyboarding, and logic. She has beginning academic skills, and, like Benito, she co-manages sports teams at her high school.
To begin her inclusion program, Melanie's teacher used the natural supports of her parents and experienced teachers. Her school provided inservice to all of the teachers.
Melanie is successfully included with the use of adaptations. She usually completes shorter assignments than her classmates. For example, Melanie solves 1 or 2 simple logic problems while her peers solve 10 complex problems, or she composes a paragraph while her peers complete longer assignments.
Her teacher has also used independent prompts—for example, a set of cards that prompt Melanie through the keyboarding process. Thus, if she forgets how to “tab” or “save,” Melanie can look it up without interrupting.
In addition, Melanie's teachers alter the way she receives information in class. Students spend a majority of their time in literature reading. Melanie's classmates have read to her, she has listened to audiotapes of books, and she has interviewed classmates about books they've read. Melanie's responses to tests are usually oral. Other times, she completes alternate activities.
For example, Melanie made bulletin boards about the books the class was reading by looking up appropriate photographs in the library. In the process, she developed some general knowledge; library skills; and office skills of copying, cutting, and stapling.
Melanie's inclusion, her teachers report, resulted in impressive gains in her general knowledge. Her parents were pleased that Melanie became busy in school, developing a group of friends for after-school activities.

Adam Makes Friends

Adam, a junior with autism, is earning average grades in his classes. His parents hope he will graduate with a regular diploma next year.
Adam sometimes has trouble making friends, however. He frequently tries to join in conversations by asking, “Do you know Barbara Bush?” and then repeating the question several times. Adam's autism also affects his ability to write essays and to answer inference questions.
His peers had primary responsibility for teaching Adam to engage appropriately in conversations, although they required some instruction to do so. His special education teacher taught all of the students in Adam's classes, and a large part of the general school body, about inclusion and friendships. Then she talked about how Adam needed to learn to make friends. She taught them how to redirect Adam to join their conversations with the same topic and gave them permission to tell Adam when they didn't like what he said or did.
Previously, students had ignored or avoided Adam when he tried to talk with them. Once they understood how to talk to him, however, his skills improved, and students included Adam in their groups more often.
Adam's teachers also let him express his learning in alternative ways. Although they worked with Adam to improve his ability to write essays, he took multiple-choice tests to demonstrate his knowledge of specific course content.
Throughout the year, Adam continued his progress toward a diploma, while learning to enter conversations and stay on the topic. His peers learned to redirect Adam and to express themselves more directly.

Five Natural Supports for Inclusion

As seen in these examples, teachers can use existing supports and adapt the curriculum to assist inclusion.
  1. Allow peers to facilitate learning whenever possible. The greatest resources for inclusion in high schools are nondisabled students with maturity and creativity. In many high schools, students can earn credit for assisting special education students in career exploration, psychology, or community service. Peer support may occur naturally at times. Other times, the teacher can prepare students to assist special education students.
  2. Structure classroom activities to make peer support available. Classroom structures such as cooperative learning and peer tutoring make peer facilitation available to all students, not just those with disabilities.
  3. Prime students to be successful participants in inclusive classes. Students with disabilities can be more successful in the regular classroom if they are familiar with materials and procedures.
  4. Give students valued roles. Students with disabilities are at risk of becoming objects of pity. These students are more likely to receive respect if they assume valued roles in the school through involvement in student body organizations and sports teams and by serving as office and teaching assistants.
  5. Utilize existing expertise. Experienced secondary teachers who vary their instructional methods and use active learning strategies will probably be able to successfully include students in their classes. Active learning strategies include cooperative learning, investigation activities, visual illustration of concepts, interviews, and field trips. Indeed, teachers who are experienced with inclusion can educate others about inclusion. Teachers may be more receptive to information from their colleagues than from outside experts.
In addition, parents of children with disabilities can help educate teachers and students about inclusion. Community volunteers and university students can develop materials, coordinate peer activities, plan adaptations, and provide teachers with the additional planning time.

Five Ways to Adapt the Curriculum

  1. Use independent prompts. When included students need extra help or alternative activities, the most time-efficient way is to use prompts that students can use without the help of others, such as visual or audiotaped directions for performing a task.
  2. Vary amounts of work required of students. Because students with severe disabilities may complete activities more slowly than their peers or may not be intellectually capable of mastering the same volume of material, teachers can reduce the assignments they must complete.
  3. Adjust information delivery. Teachers can improve student performance by using films, oral reading, and picture charts, for example, to convey information that other students acquire through reading.
  4. Allow students to express information in varied ways. Students with severe disabilities may not be able to complete teacher-made tests, even when they know the material, but they can draw, explain, or select appropriate answers.
  5. Present alternative activities. When a student with severe disabilities is included in classes whose goals differ from those of the student, it's sometimes OK for the child to complete separate activities.

Separate Schools, Similar Successes

Benito, Carlos, Melanie, and Adam are only a few inclusion success stories. The important lesson from these examples is that teachers possess the knowledge to adapt their classrooms to include students with severe disabilities without limiting the learning of nondisabled students. Further, high school students, volunteers, and nonprofessional school staff can successfully carry out the adaptations. The majority of strategies teachers used were ones they were already familiar with, and the supports already existed in their schools.
These stories come from three very different schools with varied priorities and pressures. In addition to a subject-area teacher, for example, Melanie and Adam, had a consulting special education teacher with a caseload of 6-10 students and instructional assistants. Their special education and regular education teachers received scheduled planning time to develop programs for them.
Benito's and Carlos's special education teachers, on the other hand, were responsible for self-contained classes of 14-16 students and had only one instructional assistant. These teachers had to find their own time to plan with subject-area teachers.
All teachers acknowledged that, in the beginning especially, including students with severe disabilities in content classes required a lot of extra work. The level of additional work, however, decreased throughout the year. All of these inclusion programs received some outside assistance in the beginning. As with the added work load, these consultations decreased, and the teachers were free to develop their own adaptations.

With Inclusion, Everyone Benefits

Including students with special education needs in the regular classroom continues to be controversial. Many educators do not accept that a student who “cannot do the work” should attend classes with other students. Educators disagree about many issues, including the benefits for special education students and for nondisabled students, teacher workload and preparation, and distribution of financial resources. Nonetheless, current laws (Americans with Disabilities Act 1992, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 1990) and interpretations in the most recent litigation continue to favor inclusion over exclusion for students with special education needs.
When students with severe disabilities are included in the regular classroom, all students develop social, communication, and problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to get along with others in diverse communities. Students with severe disabilities benefit by (1) having appropriate role models; (2) participating in the same inclusive, diverse communities that they will share as adults; and (3) establishing a network of friends and acquaintances that will increase the likelihood of their success in the community (see, for example, Gartner and Lipsky 1987, Horner et al.1986, Stainback et al. 1990).
Especially at the secondary level, students are building networks that can improve the quality of their life throughout adulthood. When seeking our first jobs, for example, many of us rely on friendships that began during adolescence. Like their nondisabled peers, students with severe disabilities also need community support and friendship networks that extend beyond school.
If we believe that our students must learn to live in a pluralistic society and that students with disabilities should receive the support of a community network of friends (in addition to professional social service workers), then inclusion deserves the extra effort and energy required of us. Just ask Benito, Carlos, Melanie, or Adam.

Gartner, A., and D. K. Lipsky. (1987). “Beyond Special Education: Toward a Quality System for All Students.” Harvard Educational Review 57: 376-395.

Horner, R. H., L. H. Meyer, and H. D. Fredericks, eds. (1986). Education for Learners with Severe Handicaps: Exemplary Service Strategies. Baltimore: Brookes.

Johnson, D. W., and R. T. Johnson. (1987). Learning Together and Alone: Cooperative, Competitive, and Individualistic Learning. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Stainback, S., W. Stainback, and M. Forest. (1990). Educating All Students in the Mainstream of Regular Education. Baltimore: Brookes.

End Notes

1 Students' names are pseudonyms.

Leslie Farlow has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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