Essay On Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment: People with Disabilities
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Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment: People with Disabilities
Inclusive learning is based on a number of principles that recognize, appreciate and capitalize on student’s diversity to give a better understanding of their learning experiences focusing on positive outcomes. Inclusion involves full participation in the learning process which benefits students as a whole as opposed to the belief that it is developed for those with special education needs. Participation means all students are actively involved and engaged in the learning activities. Inclusive learning provides opportunities and widens the chances of access to education to persons vulnerable to exclusion. Students with disabilities or from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are at high risks of exclusion which result in poor learning outcomes. Teachers can teach inclusively by incorporating diversity in their curriculum, creating a safe learning environment, being reflective, creating good relationships with their students, utilizing different teaching strategies and providing flexibility. Positive attitudes from both the teachers and students are very crucial to achieve inclusivity. The implementation of ground rules can be effected to provide a good basis for the learning process. This has resulted in many benefits where students are more comfortable and able to voice out their opinions, they are actively involved with better understanding and are more likely to show success.
Students who are valued and respected for their diversity are better performers (“Inclusive Learning: A Way Forward”, 2012, p. 4). This gives them a new sense of belonging that motivates success. Research shows that everyone can learn and should be accorded a fair chance at it though most people characterized by a disadvantage do not get the opportunity. Inclusion is a form of social justice which accepts, respects and values diversity. To achieve inclusive learning, teachers need to approach students as individuals at first to encourage openness and honesty. Rather than focusing on mainstream education, students need to be holistic by taking advantage of their diverse population. Schools can encourage students to participate in decision making processes on issues that directly affect them to establish their own pathways. It is thus important to listen to students to understand their needs (“Inclusive Learning: A Way Forward”, 2012, p. 10).
Curriculum is central to teaching and learning of knowledge and the attainment of skills which occurs in schools. It is a broad concept which involves assessment in line with the delivery systems of education programs in an organization (Loreman, Deppler & Harvey, 2005, p. 135). Curriculum is divided in to core and elaborative curriculum. Core is based on basic learning that forms a foundation on which subsequent learning can be adopted. Core curriculum is essential for all students regardless of their diverse abilities. On the other hand elaborative curriculum is considered as what adds depth, scope and variety to the core curriculum. What constitutes the two is varied among different people who relate to various fields of study differently. To some, art and music may be elaborative curriculum as they view it non-essential. Students with disabilities require more attention to understand the core curriculum while the gifted and talented require more elaborative curriculum (Loreman, Deppler & Harvey, 2005, p. 135). Teachers need to embrace a mixture of both to effectively attend to such students. Understanding students gives them a basis of knowing the proportions of time to spend on each individual to maximize success. Adopting the two works towards attaining solid foundations and enriches the learning process for all the students and not over dependent on abilities (Loreman, Deppler & Harvey, 2005, p. 136).
The world health organization gives distinguished definitions for impairment, disability and handicap. Impairment is the abnormality in body structure or its functioning caused by disease or trauma, disability results from impairment and restricts one from performing tasks as is expected with normality while handicap is associated with both and referred to as a social disadvantage (Terzi, 2005, p.199). Disability is attributed to various biological conditions that cause restrictions in the normal functioning of the human body. The disadvantage associated with disability is unfair treatment to the disabled persons although it is caused by natural causes. The law defines a disabled person as one with physical or mental impairment that limits them from life activities. Physical or mental impairment could include mobility, visual impairments, hearing or mental illnesses. These impairments limit the person from performing life activities such as walking, seeing, hearing, learning and performing manual tasks. They end up requiring assistance from other people or equipment’s. There are a number of characteristics of students with learning disabilities including; difficulty in reading and writing, oral language, study skills and social skills. These groups of students benefit the most from inclusive learning with active involvement in the learning process to assess their capabilities and how to effectively attain them (Loreman, Deppler & Harvey, 2005, p. 137).
Legislative and regulatory frameworks are enforced with aims to eliminate discrimination against persons with any form of disability. The society tends to look down on disabled people and do not give them the needed attention that they require. Most of them suffer from depression due to exclusion in various institutions. Implemented ACTs on disability work to emphasis the value of disabled people and give them the right to control their lives. Disability is a form of human diversity or difference and not a disadvantage to society. Just as other human beings have rights to access services and freedom of how to access them the same should apply to the disabled. A more inclusive society that values human life is the key to eliminating social or cultural barriers to participation. Modification of the learning environments, materials, institutional strategies and learning outcomes need to be made as a consideration for students with diverse abilities maintaining appropriate education systems for all students (Loreman, Deppler & Harvey, 2005, p. 142).
Diversity leads to varied learning outcomes from different students. Teachers need to capitalize on this and adapt the curriculum to favorable methods that are of advantage to individuals. Instructions given to students during the learning process should be based on specified phases (Lakkala & Maatta, 2011, p. 38). The expectation of learning outcomes from students with disabilities is different from others and established differently for each student. Though they all participate in the same activity different expectations should be expected from individuals with disabilities based on their set objectives. Teachers adopt similar but easier tasks in the same curriculum area to enhance inclusion. This way the disabled students do not feel left out and can identify themselves with their peers. The assessment levels are different and so is the definition of success as long as objectives are met and relate to one’s abilities. In cases where isolation must be sort, it should not be carried out in the classroom with other students as it impacts on the student. An inclusive classroom’s main goal is to maintain positive interactions with students no matter the circumstances.
Diversity among learners contribute to learning outcomes as it affects the way they engage in the learning process and how effective the experience is for a particular individual (Smith, 2006, p. 78). Every member of a group has their own unique characteristics that determine their own learning outcomes. There are also collective diversities between different groups of people which are collectively determined by the individuals in these groups. Individual and group diversities affect social interactions and form basis for collective learning due to differences in cognition. Learning should be designed in a way that it accommodates diversities in the styles of learning and preferences for effective processes (Smith, 2006, p.86).
Theories have been adopted to explain the different outcomes in education for different students and they give an understanding of what is being done as well as what should be done. The Universal Design for Instruction is concerned with different levels of the learning process and aims at promoting participation. Traditionally academic skills were viewed as the main objectives for education and social skills were often overlooked. This mode of thinking did not cater for students with disabilities. Society needs to embrace diversity of its members to promote their social inclusion. Universal Design for Instruction has nine principles that do not differentiate diversities but rather embraces them. Equitable of use provides instructions that are easily accessible to people with disabilities while flexibility easily accommodates them. The instructions are simple and straightforward to ensure that everyone regardless of their diversity understands them. Information is also made perceptible for effective communication considering different students sensory abilities. Universal Design for Instructions is also tolerant to errors and accommodates an individual’s learning pace while minimizing physical effort to maximize attention. Size and space for approach is important to make students with disabilities comfortable in their own skin and surroundings. Inclusive learning largely constitutes group interactions and is designed to be highly welcoming ( Lakkala & Maatta, 2011,p. 31-32).
Universal Instructional Design is a relatively new theory that focuses on provision of education to people with disabilities by restructuring teaching practices to create curricula that is inclusive of all students. Students with disabilities do not need exceptions but rather opportunities to learn more effectively and efficiently. Though it takes some considerable amount of time for the planning processes the end result is worth it with both students and teachers content with their work. Advanced planning meets the needs of all students (Higbee, Chung & Hsu, 2008, p. 61). Universal Instructional Design is characterized by a number of concepts and processes including creating welcoming classrooms. Students with disabilities need to feel welcomed and valued by having the same choices as the others on where to sit and provision of writing surfaces. They should not be isolated to one part of the classroom. The essential components of the course should actively include disabled students with equal access and opportunities rather than segregating them. Expectations should be clearly communicated with set objectives for individual students with constructive feedback. Technology can be used to enhance the learning process as it is easily accessible and flexible to use. Other concepts involve new diverse teaching methods and promoting interactions among the students as well as teachers. The use of Universal Instructional Design enhances creativity and positive response from students through inclusive learning processes. It provides opportunities for disabled students and makes their learning experiences much easier (Higbee, Chung & Hsu, 2008, p. 62-64).
The marginalization of arts in the education systems is a representation how students are equally marginalized in the learning processes due to diversity. A curriculum needs to be designed and adopted in such a way that it accommodates the natural diversity of students (Glass, Meyer & Rose, 2013, p. 98). Universal Design Learning is a framework of guiding principles that evaluate the students’ curriculum and resource materials. It supports effective leaning by providing multiple means of engagement, recognition learning through representation and strategic learning by action and representation (Glass, Meyer & Rose, 2013, p. 102). Universal Design Learning defines the understanding and effective response to individual differences. The goal should not only be to meet the needs of students with disabilities but all students as a whole. No particular student should have rights over the other (Glass, Meyer & Rose, 2013, p.117). Focusing on de marginalization and inclusive education systems provides a platform for growth and development with equal opportunities among all persons.
The learning environment contributes to unequal outcomes in cases where diversity of students is not addressed. Environmental learning areas that can be identified to improve outcomes and promote positivity are the physical environment, materials, resources and instructional strategies (Loreman, Deppler & Harvey, 2005, p. 142). The physical environment should be designed in a way that it accommodates students with disabilities and makes them feel as part of the larger community. Space allocations in classrooms should not be isolated or excluded from the others and provisions of added equipment made a consideration. The materials environment refers to print information resources. Difficulties in reading the print materials and communication due to diversity in language should be addressed. The readability of written words can be increased by enlarging the print or increasing the font size. Resources environment include additional provision of support and technology resources. Technology has been used to meet the needs of students with disabilities by having assistive features. Instructional strategies support inclusive learning and if well implemented result in positive attitudes and education performances.
Strategies for creating an inclusive learning environment can be defined in three groups; meta-cognitive, cognitive and social strategies. Meta- cognitive strategies involve the planning, monitoring and evaluating the learning processes of students. Teachers come up with pre planned teaching methods of how they are going to address the unit relating to specific students in their classrooms. They adopt new teaching methods and listen to their students’ inputs on how best they understand the course work. The selection of materials is student oriented for effective learning outcomes. They then analyze the unit in to sub sections and determine how to individually attend to diverse students where necessary. Students with disabilities need more attention but shouldn’t be treated differently thus proper analysis of the unit is vital. This is followed by cognitive monitoring and eventually evaluation to determine if the set objectives have been achieved and to what extent (Smith, 2006, p. 109-100).
Cognitive strategies are based on the information used in the learning environment. People with disabilities often have difficulties in reading, writing and communicating and thus strategies that address these issues should be implemented. Various methods can be used to ease the process of synthesizing the information learnt. Recalling what has already been taught, confirmation processes, generating new ideas among student groups and repetitions. On the other hand social strategies include interactions with others which improve students’ abilities by learning form their classmates. Students will easily interact with one another and thus a better chance of development can be expected. Active demonstrations and discussions give better understanding of content as opposed to the passive mode of study. Teachers can adopt active inclusion rather than conducting lectures for considerable lengths of time where students get bored and lose concentration much easily. Scheduled class attendance can also be implemented in relation to knowledge development (Smith, 2006 p. 109-102).
Engaging students with disabilities in positive interactions is important to build their self-esteem. Diversity brings about new knowledge and people need to be keen in embracing and taking advantage of it. Every student in a classroom is unique in their own way and finding out this knowledge increases our understanding of different backgrounds and cultures. Teachers should be at the fore front of promoting this culture through active interactions with their students both formally and informally. They should encourage inclusive class discussions and display positive nonverbal behaviors. Establishing ground rules to avoid discrimination and protect against any form of insensitivity towards disabled students helps in enhancing inclusive learning.
Creating an inclusive learning environment requires added efforts from, students, teachers and the community as a whole. Emphasis on access to education and participation form the foundations of inclusive learning environments (“Building Inclusive Classroom: A Guide for Reflective Classroom Practice”, 2004, p. 14). Building positive relationships with all the students and adopting instructional strategies with good classroom environments gives room for students to adopt good learning practices. Students should always be regarded as individuals and not a group. Different people are characterized with different diversities and until these diversities are clearly understood at an individual level, then establishing inclusion will be a difficult task. Teachers should understand the differences of their students by listening and helping them choose appropriate learning pathways. This makes them part of their own learning process increasing chances better performances and contentment.
Australian Government Quality Teacher Programme. (2004) Building Inclusive Classroom: A Guide for Reflective Classroom Practice. Department of Education and Training.
Barker, M., Frederiks, E. & Farrelly, B. (n.d.) Good Practice Resource Booklet on Designing C Culturally Inclusive Learning and Teaching Environment- Classroom Strategies.
Glass, D., Meyer, A. & Rose, D. H. (2013) Univerasl Design for Learning and the Arts. Harvard Educational Review; 83, 1.: Proquest Central pp. 98-272.
Higbee, J. L., Chung, C. J. & Hsu, L. (2008) Padegogy and Student Services for Institutional Transformation: Implementing Universal Design in Higher Education. Minneapolis: University Minnesota. Ch. 5. “ Enhancing the Inclusive of First-year Courses through Universal Instructional Design”, pp.61-77.
Lakkala, S. & Maatta, K. (2011) Toward A Theoretical Model of Inclusive Teaching Strategies- An Action Research In An Inclusive Elementary Class. Global Journals Inc. (USA).
Loreman, T. J., Deppler, J. & Harvey, D. (2005) Inclusive Education: A Practical Guide to Supporting Diversity in the Classroom. London; New York: RoutledgeFalmer. Ch.7. “Inclusive Instructional Design”, pp. 134-153.
Qeensland VET Development Centre. (2012) Inclusive Learning: A Way Forward. Qeensland Government.
Smith, P. J. (2006) Learning in Organizations: Complexities and Diversities. London; New York: Routledge. Ch. 5. “Diversities amongst Learners”, pp.98-272.
Terzi, L. (2005). Theory and Research in Education. A Capability Perspective on Impairment, Disability and Special needs: Towards Social Justice in Education. Sage Publications. Vol. 3(2) pp. 197-223.