Harvard Educational Review
  1. Surviving Inclusion

    By Kay Johnson Lehmann

    Oxford, England: Scarecrow Education, 2004. 95 pp. $21.95

    No matter the disability, students with “special needs” deserve academic and practical attention that facilitates their learning. As academics analyze and attempt to ameliorate special education policies, teachers try to use the best practices for teaching children with special needs. That said, how can special needs students’ learning best be fostered in a general classroom? What does inclusion mean to teachers? How do teachers endure the challenges of an inclusive classroom? In Surviving Inclusion, Kay Johnson Lehmann offers an honest and sensible tool kit for teachers who feel they “[know] how to make the all-important human connection . . . but [don’t] have the skills, strategies, and adaptations to really teach [students with special needs]” (p. v).

    First, Lehmann clarifies the myriad definitions presented in the “inclusive classroom” literature. By inclusive classrooms, Lehmann refers to education for the special needs student that centers around the general education classroom; specialized instruction may occur outside of the classroom. “Special needs” refers to students with limited or no English-speaking ability, physical disabilities, vision loss, hearing loss, cognitive impairments, learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, and behavior disorders.
    “Mainstreaming” is a term that originated in the 1970s, referring to the fact that special needs students would sometimes join the regular classroom for a few hours each day. In the 1990s, a paradigm shift occurred, bringing the concept of inclusion to the fore. In inclusive classrooms, special needs students’ experiences take place almost exclusively within the general classroom environment. While special instruction may also be available, the intent is to prepare students for adult independence.

    Throughout the book, Lehmann uses a positive foundation to discuss some of the challenges teachers might expect in inclusive classrooms. Her primary recommendation is that teachers truly recognize and embrace positive “wow moments” in teaching that occur regularly in every classroom. Lehmann suggests that teachers reflect on some of the more positive teaching experiences, getting a good sense of their strategies, practices, routines, and ideas that have worked well. Those same skills can be transferred to the more challenging teaching and learning situations that come up when dealing with students with special needs. Lehmann emphasizes the power of the student as a teaching resource. Asking children about which styles work for them, how they would like to learn, and what the teacher can do to help might be the most valuable tactics to improve teaching in the inclusive classroom. Lehmann also underscores the importance of the individualized educational program (IEP). All students with disabilities must have an IEP — a document that outlines specific strategies and approaches for teaching the individual child. A team of teachers, parents, and other administrators creates this document, and it is meant to be iterative; the document may be reviewed at any time, and, Lehmann advises, teachers ought to pay special attention to these documents, as they are often open windows onto the student’s best learning styles.

    Lehmann argues that scaffolding is particularly important in inclusive classrooms. In illustrating the concept of scaffolding as “all the things teachers do, and all the tools teachers provide, to help learners be successful” (p. 24), she offers scenarios in which scaffolding occurs and gives practical advice for using this method. For example, scaffolding might involve helping students visualize the lesson before, during, and after participating in it. Lehmann ends with a vivid analogy of students as flowering plants. Different teachers enter children’s lives at different moments, and one might have “planted the seed” (p. 28), another might have watered the plant, and yet another might have fertilized the plant as it grew. A final teacher may see the flower (i.e., the student) bloom. She assures readers that while it can be difficult to plan the beginning phases of the flower’s growth, “eventually that child will bloom as an independent learner because of the support provided while he or she was growing as learner” (p. 28).
    A whole chapter is dedicated to the particular needs of English as a Second Language students. Here Lehmann sheds light on dealing with differing cultures in the classroom. She outlines the four phases that newcomers go through: arrival/survival, culture shock, coping, and acculturation. Lehmann pays particular attention to the teacher’s role in facilitating students’ cultural transition — for foreign students and for American students.

    In an attempt to address the diverse needs of all students, not only those with special needs, Lehmann devotes a chapter to cooperative learning. She provides a detailed explanation of working with different dynamics of learning groups and offers an 11-step design for cooperative learning: planning, structuring, balancing, designating, organizing, experimenting, monitoring, trusting, presenting, changing, and enjoying. Lehmann describes the usefulness of assistive technologies in the inclusive classroom, as well as various teaching styles. To bring all these aspects together, Lehmann highlights teachers’ roles in working with various school communities, including the school nurse, parents, guardians, and students themselves. The final chapter outlines ways to incorporate new students into the inclusive classroom, and suggests that teachers continually reflect on their experiences by setting measurable and achievable goals for the future.

    Teachers looking for fresh ways to improve their inclusive classroom situations, particularly those new to special education, will find Surviving Inclusion enlightening, funny, and helpful. Lehmann emphasizes that her advice is not a universal remedy for all the challenges that emerge in inclusive classrooms, but that her goal is to provide basic support and advice to help teachers survive the test of inclusion.

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