Inclusion Classrooms Must Be Learner-Centered
Take a second to picture your ideal inclusion classroom. What do you see? What do you hear? What are the teachers doing? What are the students doing? How are the desks arranged? Most importantly—how do you feel and why?
Here’s my ideal vision:
Desks are arranged in groups of four to five. Students are huddled in as they dig deep to learn and engage in meaningful discussions. There is a balance between teachers and students listening and speaking that creates lively discussions.
The teachers are weaving in and out of the groups, taking the time to chat and spark deeper thinking—teachers are noticing which students are grasping the content, and which students need more support. Teachers are keeping an open mind to learn many ideas from their students.
All learners in the room are sparked to have their thinking pushed along. It’s noisy. It’s active. It’s energizing. It’s an environment where students’ thinking is valued. Students learn to take an active role in the learning process, constructing meaning that leads to future learning.
Here’s what I believe is a seriously flawed vision:
Desks are in rows as if they are glued to the floor. Students are sitting at their desks—passively waiting for class to begin (and end). Some students are slouching, some staring off into space without blinking, many are daydreaming (even though they may appear to be listening). The teacher is standing up in the front of the room—talking, talking, talking. Until, of course, the teacher calls on a student to speak. No sparks. It’s mind numbing. It’s an environment where students are taught to be passive learners—just vessels with ears.
We’ve all seen these classrooms
The flawed vision, we know, goes back for decades—and it’s an absolute tragedy to consider that it is still happening in too many classrooms. It perpetuates the idea that learning and work in general is drudgery. Students use their energy to figure out how to avoid the classroom spotlight. If they understand what the teacher is saying and feel some excitement, they also feel stress at not being invited to really engage with the ideas and content.
They learn to avoid learning because it can be so exhausting to try to morph one’s thinking to blend with the teacher’s view. Engagement is not much more than riding a see-saw, up and down, back and forth. Students become skilled at conjuring up ways to avoid the tasks, or do just enough to get by. Or they totally tune out and fail.
Sadly, this flawed vision is still happening in schools today. And even worse—it’s happening in inclusion classrooms.
Co-teachers know it is a nightmare to be in a classroom where one teacher prefers to be the sage on stage, while the students sit quietly in rows. Often times, the other co-teacher is forced to just walk around the room—trying to be a part of the learning process—but secretly cringing and gasping for air. Or the co-teacher who longs to really engage with the kids gives up and simply withdraws into the abyss of a learning environment that dates back decades, if not centuries.
We can’t just let ourselves sink into the abyss, though. The kids deserve better.
So what can co-teachers DO?
- Keep communication open—both of the teachers in the room must continue to share their views and then be willing to push one another outside of their comfort zones.
- Create a happier, more learner-centered environment through the balance and integration of various co-teaching models.
Watch some quick videos like this one to remind yourself that learning in today’s classrooms should match our present time if we expect our students to be ready for their future.
- Check out this outline that can help create a rich learning environment for any grade and any content area.
- Research some strategies that support learner centered learning—then discuss with your co-teacher. Choose one—and do it! Here’s a start to your research.
- Begin with strategies like “student-centered discussion.” It’s a powerful learning process—and one of my favorites. See it in action by viewing this Teacher Channel video as Sarah Wessling Brown shows how it’s done. (In addition to many powerful points, notice—the desks are not in rows!).
- Find an interesting article, like this one by Paul Bogdan at Edutopia, and share ideas with your co-teacher. What aspects can you adapt, adopt, and apply to your classroom?
- Get savvy with understanding the role executive functioning serves in the learning process. Support students in inclusion classrooms to make meaningful decisions before, during, and after learning experiences.
The list can go on and on… endless resources are out there just waiting for us to seize and begin to shake our students’ worlds. Do your share to support learner centered inclusion classrooms—start with strengthening your own views and beliefs—then begin to nudge your co-teacher(s). Find the edge of your traditional colleague’s comfort zone—then push on it at the appropriate pace. The idea is to just keep moving forward. And then come back and tell us how it’s going…
A learner-centered classroom is the only way we will provide our students with the mindset, stamina, and skills they need for the classroom and jobs to come. And it makes the present time so invigorating! What do you think?