Mainstreaming and Situated Learning
Though mainstreaming is a technical term used to denote the practice of integrating special needs children in the classroom, it’s also often used to describe the process of enabling people with special needs to adapt to the daily living rigors of the norm. In effect, it is the goal of special education to enable individuals with special needs to be able to work their way alongside their peers with the least restriction.
Many methods have been employed to achieve such a goal, one of which is the practice of situated learning. First advocated by social learning theorists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, situated learning was defined as the co-creation of knowledge through a contextualized and social process. For Lave and Wenger, emphasis is placed on how learning occurs naturally as a result of social behavior. For example, if we want to teach the dynamics of a small-business enterprise using situated learning, we ask our students to establish a real small-business enterprise, lead, managed, and governed by them. This is done with guidance of course, but the point of the exercise is to allow them to learn naturally from the experience by way of cooperating with their peers.
Situated Learning in a Special Needs Environment
We could easily see the potential of such a method in special education. Since we want individuals with special needs to be able to perform well beyond that of their classrooms, a contextualized and social learning approach made possible by situated learning could well accelerate the learning process of children. Granted that it will still take a lot of repetition but by exercising a contextualized approach, we make it easier for special needs individuals to remember and to instantly apply their knowledge with real-life needs.
Situated Learning Examples
Traffic Signs – One way of teaching traffic signs to a special education class is to reconstruct the classroom to depict roads and road signs in which children could try out traffic rules. Line out roads one the floor and put up standees showing the actual road signs, then “tour" the students inside the classroom, repeating the process for a period of time. After this, field trips could be organized just within the school grounds to make them even more familiar about the concept.
Buying Stuff – Though some might think that concepts of economy are pretty hard to teach children with special needs, it could be done if a simple buy-and-sell simulation could be done during a class period. The teacher could “set up shop" inside the classroom, and simulate how people buy things from other people, taking care to emphasize the need for understanding the concept of prices, the value of money, and simple arithmetic in daily living tasks. Of course, this should only be done if the students know the foundations of basic arithmetic so it is suggested that supplemental exercises in a similar vein should be used.
Eating and Drinking – The teacher could re-organize the classroom to seem like a restaurant or a fastfood joint, with the objective of teaching children with special needs about correct social behavior while eating out. Children could be asked to bring their home-cooked meals inside the classroom and just participate in the simulated environment.
The Potential for Situated Learning
We can see that the possibilities are endless though obviously, situated learning needs a lot of preparation to work. It’s also easier to employ situated learning if the students have had enough practice in the concepts being taught. Given this, situated learning is almost always used with special needs adults who are integrated in a particular community. But through a little creativity and perseverance, situated learning can be a broad educational principle indeed.