Strategies for inclusive classrooms

Schoolchildren and teacher in science classAs inclusion of special-needs students becomes a reality in general classrooms throughout the United States, teachers and researchers are finding effective ways to manage behavior and provide instruction to diverse groups of students.

Some results of these efforts were discussed in a recent issue of Remedial and Special Education. Although there is no one method for successful inclusion, persistent collaboration among the adults responsible for educating students is the single most powerful force behind effective, inclusive programs.

Practices for educators

Effective teaching practices including previewing concepts to be covered in the lesson; direct teaching of skills; relating new knowledge to previous instruction and to students’ background experience; curriculum-based assessment; summarizing key points; immediate error correction; and modeling and strategy training appear to be essential for special students in regular classes. In addition, certain instructional arrangements such as class-wide peer tutoring (which is described in detail in the same issue) have proved very effective with inclusive classes.

Managing behavior in inclusive settings also represents a considerable challenge, requiring both classroom management techniques and individualized methods. Teaching students to monitor and manage their own behavior has proved effective. Self-management involves teaching students how to observe and record their behavior, focus on the quality of behavior, and reward themselves when a certain amount of good behavior has been recorded.

These techniques enable teachers to make problem behavior explicit to students. Many students are not aware of how much they These researchers report than self-management has been used successfully to improve completion of independent work, following rules and staying on task, and to decrease disruptive behavior in students with disabilities. Implementing effective self-management systems does involve extra work.

How one teacher managed behavior

Elizabeth McKee-Higgins, first-grade teacher, Viers Mill Elementary school, Montgomery County, Maryland, and Stephanie L. Carpenter, Johns Hopkins University, describe what happened when six students with learning and/or emotional problems and one child with severe emotional disturbance were included in McKee-Higgins’ first-grade class of 25 students. By the middle of the year mildly disruptive behavior had escalated and McKee-Higgins found herself correcting her students’ behavior so frequently that many children were becoming distracted from academic tasks.

With Carpenter’s help, McKee-Higgins instituted a behavior management program that focused on providing students with structured opportunities to learn and practice desirable behaviors rather than using negative consequences to eliminate undesirable ones. McKee-Higgins addressed the behavior problem as she would an academic problem, analyzing the class environment and her own behavior to find ways to create an environment where desirable student behavior was taught and practiced.

Instead of reacting to misbehavior in a punitive or controlling way, she used instructional techniques to teach desired behavior and created a motivating environment for students.

Her set of rules for class behavior were “The Magic Five”: feet flat, hands in lap, eyes on teacher, mouth closed, and ears listening. Most students, with encouragement, understood and were able to follow these rules most of the time, but a few students had great difficulty paying attention and not distracting other students.

Through observation and discussions with Carpenter, McKee-Higgins identified patterns associated with undesirable behaviors. She focused on large-group instruction periods (five times per day) when off-task behavior was most disruptive. By February, the class was averaging 200 off-task behaviors during the five large-group sessions each day, with one child responsible for almost half of these. Negative or corrective teacher comments outnumbered positive ones by 6 to 1.

McKee-Higgins’ behavior management plan targeted her own behavior as well as students’. Her aims were to create an intervention that was simple, that reinforced good behavior, that taught students to recognize their behavior, that involved them in setting goals for their behavior and that was responsive to individuals’ different skill levels.

Her role was to set up the management structure, maintain a positive instructional focus on student behavior, provide rewards and involve students. The role of the students was to evaluate their own behavior and participate in setting goals for their behavior.

Menu of rewards

Students also participated in choosing both individual and group rewards from a menu provided by the teacher. Whole-class games were very desirable rewards. Edible rewards like candy were also popular and were used on a temporary basis to quickly improve behavior, but were gradually eliminated once student behavior began to improve.

During each large-group activity period, students set an acceptable level of off-task behavior for the group. This goal and the actual number of off-task behaviors were displayed on a chart.

Each time the goal was met, a check was placed on the chart. If they met their morning goal the entire class played a game before lunch and if they met their afternoon goal, they played another game at the end of the day. The teacher encouraged students to set goals that were reasonable in relation to previous behavior, gradually decreasing that number. Some off-task behavior was acceptable.

Besides the class goal for off-task behavior, McKee-Higgins discussed good on-task behavior with the class and asked each student to decide if he or she had used it during large-group instruction. Each student had a card with her name on it, which she put on the chart when she had used on-task behaviors during a group session. Students earned individual rewards for every 10 sessions they used on-task behavior.

A few students had great difficulty earning individual rewards, despite the fact that their behavior had improved significantly. McKee-Higgins decided that these students would be rewarded for every 5 sessions of on-task behavior. This produced more acceptable results.

Rewards plus positive comments from the teacher had dramatic effects on student behavior. Off-task behaviors decreased from 200 per day to 10 to 15. This level was considered acceptable on the basis of the age and characteristics of these students.

And as the teacher refocused her responses to emphasize approval, the climate in the class became more relaxed and pleasant. Eventually both food rewards and daily games were phased out. Goal setting and students’ evaluation of their own behavior continued. Students appeared to feel rewarded by meeting their goals. Even the most difficult children seemed motivated. McKee-Higgins reports that she felt energized and effective. The academic performance of the special students included in her class improved as well, and better teacher-student relationships developed.

“Behavior Management in Inclusive Classrooms”,”Inclusive Practices of Classroom Teachers” Remedial and Special Education Volume 17, Number 4, July 1996 pp. 195-225.

Published in ERN September/October 1996 Volume 9 Number 4

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