written by: Finn Orfano
• edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch
• updated: 1/5/2012
The advantages of inclusion in middle school classrooms can be examined from both a social and an academic perspective. Teachers that apply inclusion strategies when working with middle-grade students help to foster an appreciation of diversity and to instill confidence in kids with special needs.
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The practice of inclusion in public school classrooms allows students who are formally identified as having special needs the opportunity to learn, interact, and collaborate with the general student population. Various studies show that an inclusive classroom culture offers educational, behavioral, and social benefits for students in all age groups. The middle school period, which typically encompasses grades six through eight, is a time during which adolescent students can greatly benefit from the inclusion model. Discussed below are the advantages of inclusion in middle school classrooms in regard to special education students, general education students, and teachers.
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Benefits For Special Education Students
Rather than always remaining in a self-contained classroom, middle school special education students who participate in inclusion are integrated into a larger mainstream classroom for at least part of the school day. Through this instructional method, kids with behavioral or academic disabilities can gain:
• Opportunities to form friendships and practice social conventions. At an age when many kids yearn for friends and acceptance among their peers, middle schoolers with special needs can meet and talk with a greater number of students in an inclusive classroom environment. Students who have social deficits can benefit from learning and modeling age-appropriate behaviors from other kids.
• Increased confidence in academic abilities. Often, when included as part of a general education class, students with special needs are encouraged to perform well on assignments and tests. The support that these students receive from classmates and teachers can lead to improved work, which in turn leads to higher self-esteem and confidence levels.
• Exposure to varied teaching techniques. When taught in inclusion classrooms led by a different teacher for each subject (a common practice in middle school), special education students can gain exposure to various styles of instructing and learning rather than being taught by one teacher in a self-contained room.
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Benefits For General Education Students
Neurotypical middle school students can also make social and behavioral strides through learning in an inclusive setting with specially-educated peers. Through inclusion, these students can experience:
• Chances to gain a personal understanding of people with differences. The practice of bullying or ostracizing others, which sometimes arises among middle school-age students, can be discouraged through regular interaction with differently-abled students and increased awareness of common interests.
• Opportunities to develop responsibility and to mentor. Many general education students enjoy assisting those with special needs in tasks such as note-taking, tutoring, and going from place to place.
• Chances to participate in different styles of learning. When learning in a group with special education students, other middle schoolers can become more familiar with assistive technology and other teaching devices.
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Benefits For Middle School Teachers
Inclusion classrooms offer the following advantages to both special education teachers and regular education teachers in middle schools:
• Shared support through co-teaching. The co-teaching inclusion method involves a special education teacher working in the same classroom as a general education teacher. Together, the pair of teachers can take turns helping different groups of students and can share information on which learning techniques are working for specific middle schoolers with needs.
• Increased familiarity with all students. Through inclusion, general education teachers become better acquainted with special education students, and vice versa. By familiarizing themselves with the individual personalities and needs of all middle schoolers, teachers are able to offer support and assistance on a broader scale.
• Chances to discover effective inclusion strategies. By working consistently with students who display a range of abilities and social maturity, teachers can gain insight as to which methods (for example, setting up learning centers and having students work in small groups) of inclusion work best. This knowledge can then be applied to subsequent middle school classrooms.
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The advantages of inclusion in middle school classrooms can have long-reaching positive effects on students who participate in this type of learning environment. Kids who gain hands-on experience in an inclusion classroom during their adolescence are able to apply and adapt various methods of working with diverse people throughout their high school, college, and adult years.
The North East Independent School District of San Antonio, Texas is one example of a school system that has successfully implemented the whole school inclusion approach in the middle grades.