Creating An Inclusive Classroom

“Inclusion” is a word that you hear thrown around quite often. IT has become a hot button topic in the world of education as more and more students with disabilities are placed into the general education classroom.

Unfortunately, many programs that claim to be inclusive really aren’t. The reason these classrooms fail to be truly inclusive is because they don’t include all three of these types of integration:


So, just what are these types of integration? And more importantly, just how do they work?

The first, physical integration, is pretty straightforward. This simply means putting disabled students in the general education classroom. Unfortunately, many think this is all there is to inclusion. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The second part of inclusion is social integration. This is a little more complicated than physical integration because it involves nurturing student relationships. No, this doesn’t mean that everyone in your class has to be best friends. It does, however, mean that you, the classroom teacher, must actively work toward making sure that your students are comfortable with each other. This includes disabled as well as non-disabled students. We will learn more in future lessons about how to successfully do this in your classroom.

The final type of integration is instructional integration. This is probably the most difficult type of integration to pull off in the general education classroom. In this type of integration, you teach students based on their needs and not on preset standards. Don’t panic yet. I will guide you through strategies for successful instructional integration later in this course as well.


Inclusion and mainstreaming have very different meanings. Yet, the words “mainstreaming” and “inclusion” are often used interchangeably. This is a huge mistake.

Mainstreaming is very different from inclusion. A student who is mainstreamed is expected to meet the same academic standards as every other student. In inclusion, the student is not expected to meet these same standards.

How, then, does a mainstreamed student receive the extra help she needs? Mainstreamed students still get help from a special education teacher. After all, there is a reason they were placed in special education in the first place.

The type of help a mainstreamed student receives, however, will be different from the help a student in an inclusionary program receives. Let’s look at a few examples.

A student in an inclusionary program will receive modifications to the curriculum. This is because the academic expectations are actually different for this student. For example, while the rest of your class is learning how to multiply three digit numbers, your inclusionary student may be working on single digit multiplication cards. While this student is still being included in your classroom, his academic expectations have been modified.

On the other hand, a mainstreamed student may receive accommodations in the general education classroom. The academic expectations are the same for this student as they are for the rest of the class. The difference is that you are providing him with a little extra help that you may not give to the rest of your students. For example, a student with an attention problem may be seated away from the door to cut down on hallway distractions. Or, a student with a learning disability in reading may listen to books on tape rather than read the book himself. These students are still expected to learn the same material as the rest of the class. The difference is how the student learns it.


Differentiation is also very different from inclusion and mainstreaming. With differentiation of curriculum, the goal is to successfully teach the content, or standards, to all students. This means that the expectations are the same for everyone. Also, the goal is to teach the lesson in a way that everyone understands. With differentiation, the goal is not to simply get through the math book by the end of the year.

Having the same expectations for everyone is what sets differentiation apart from inclusion. This difference is the main reason why we usually think of gifted students when we think of differentiation.

Differentiation also includes on-going testing of students. The purpose of this testing is to gauge student readiness and growth. Most of us are already testing our students often. I know that I sometimes feel like testing is all I do! With differentiation, these tests serve a more useful purpose for you. These tests actually become a tool that helps you to better meet the needs of each student. Personally, it makes me happy to see these tests being put to good use!

So, what exactly is the philosophy of differentiation? Simply put, a differentiated curriculum follows the belief that all students are provided with:

a variety of ways to explore the curriculum
a variety of activities to help them understand and “own” information
a variety of options to show what they have learned

As you have probably noticed, the key word used in the philosophy of differentiation is “variety.” The main goal of differentiation is to offer variety and choices.

Now, let’s take a look at what differentiation is not. Sometimes this helps to better understand what differentiation is. Differentiation is not:

assigning the same work to every student
changing the level of difficulty of questions for different students
putting some students on a more difficult, or easier, grading scale than other students
letting students who finish early play games for “enrichment”
assigning extra math problems, extra book reports, or other extra assignments to certain students

Now that you have a little better understanding of these strategies, you can start learning more about how to use them in your classroom. One word of caution: never blindly follow one strategy! As with most educational philosophies, sticking with only one usually results in failing to reach all students.

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