Creating inclusive classrooms - How can we ensure that no child is left behind?


One of our Changemaker Schools, Headstart Learning Centre (HLC), had the opportunity to be part of The Council for Exceptional Children Conference in San Diego. Over the course of 4 days (April 8-11th), schools were able to work on ways to promote inclusion and therefore facilitate better-tailored learning for all children. Here is what HLC had to say about their experience-

Throughout the conference, we had the opportunity to attend 3 workshops and 16 sessions, all of which were aimed towards facilitating learning in inclusive classrooms. As such, we discussed teaching methods, classroom management strategies, positive behavior management techniques and ways to help students build social competence, to cite but a few themes.

One particular session, “Co-teaching: Beyond the basics” by Dr. Marilyn Friend, came at a very critical time in our journey, and was key in helping us plan our next steps. As we came to learn, co-teaching brings two teachers who share the planning, delivery and assessment, and bring in different teaching methods to the classroom, hence catering to children of varying needs. Co-teaching helps teachers share their workload and enables students to gain the most from the session being taught – goals that HLC has for its program, and strives to gradually reach. At HLC, we always had at least 2- 3 teachers teaching the same subject to different groups of children in order to adequately reach all students. This workshop then came at a time when we were considering taking our pedagogy to the next level and introducing co-teaching, and therefore it was extremely helpful for us in terms of planning ahead. 

“Data-driven methods to build positive behavior support plans” by John Caliso was another highly informative workshop. It stressed that data replaces impressions, and elaborated on the effectiveness of graphics (graphs for example) in telling us and others what the student is doing in real time across settings. The session also tackled the importance of observations and recordings not only in deciding whether children with educational or behavioral challenges needed any support, but also deciding how much and what kind of support is adequate. On a more technical side, we learnt that direct observations such as the ‘Student Inventory for Behavior Support’ (SIBS) offer a model to assess students’ readiness for the classroom and inform the development of ‘Individualized Educational Plans’ (IEPs) for children. 

Along similar lines, “Friendship 101: Helping students build social competence” was a workshop that addressed methods to enhance the social competence of students with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities. We analyzed typical issues that the children face in socializing in the classroom; described important social targets for students with autism spectrum disorders and came up with a range of instructional strategies to promote the social competence of these children. The first strategy we discussed was environmental arrangement, whereby the study and play environments accommodate students’ needs and learning styles. Some methods to do this could be offering varied choices during play time (play partners, materials or activities) to motivate children to engage and persist in play activities. Another method is labeling play, which refers to providing a reason for play and talking about the play activity as it is occurring in order to encourage students to spend more time playing and socializing with others. Another method is getting close to and following the lead of the child while engaging in shared attention and interacting about the play activity.

The second strategy we discussed was Peer-mediated learning whereby teachers select typically developing peers who display appropriate social skills, are well-liked, follow teacher instruction etc. Teachers then select a target skills and allows peers to teach said skills to others under the guidance of the teacher. Additionally, an pertinent strategy discussed was Prompting and Reinforcement, which involves a series of different prompting techniques to facilitate social communication. Correct responses are followed by contingent reinforcement. 

An additional strategy is Video Modeling, which involves a student repeatedly watching a video of another individual correctly performing targeted skills. After viewing the video the learner has an opportunity to perform the targeted skill in a natural setting. 

A final method to create inclusive classrooms is Social Stories, written to explain what people do, think or feel in a given situation. These help students with disabilities interpret and understand social situations and guide their use of appropriate responses. 

Finally, the session on Soft skills elaborated on the top eight soft skills for workplace readiness. The speaker Mike Schmitz emphasized that hard skills (academic or technical training) account only for 15% of success in life, while non-cognitive skills account for 85%. The session provided us with insights on the skills we should aim to foster, namely social skills, communication, team work, critical thinking, attitude, planning and organizing, professionalism and media etiquette. This session also prompted us to add components on soft-skills to our existing curriculum, iparticularly after learning that today more than ever, employers are above all else looking for interpersonal skills that help people communicate and collaborate effectively.

In summary, we as HLC feel more empowered to work holistically with the children with special needs, and offer then adequate support, emotional or otherwise. Looking ahead, we plan to do regular in-house training sessions where we will share the methods and strategies with the teachers, and hopefully implement then in the near future in order to cater to all students.


This article has been written by Ramalakshmi and Lakshmi Satish, Coordinators - Special Education, HLC International Chennai. The article has been edited by Fatima Ezzhara Daif, Intern at Ashoka and student at NUS-Yale Singapore. 
You can read more about HLC International Chennai here