The most difficult part of assessing a child with special needs for inclusion may be to determine fair criteria for denying or accepting a child to the regular classroom. Only the administration and staff can determine which criteria can best satisfy the child's needs and the school's mission and objectives. We suggest that a team process for determining criteria for inclusion will best serve all stakeholders - children, parents, and schools. If the assessments for inclusion are broad and multi-dimensional in scope, it should not be too difficult to determine criteria for the major dimensions of the child's inherent strengths and weaknesses and responses to the learning context.
If a team looks at criteria for inclusion from the perspective of a child's best interest, it may need to consider the child's potential for integrating with the classroom and curriculum structure and content. In general, a child with language or learning disabilities is most likely to be integrated in the regular classroom, if the best intellectual ability - either nonverbal or verbal - is well within or above the average normal range and deficits are within the slight to moderate range. Similarly, the child with well-developed self-awareness and productive coping strategies is most likely to integrate well and achieve academically with teacher support. Furthermore, the child who responds well to support strategies, such as scaffolding, guided questioning, or minor adaptations of the curriculum (e.g., modifications of the language of instruction or procedures for classroom assessment), is most likely to benefit from inclusion.
If a team looks at setting criteria from the perspective of the school's and classroom's best interest, some criteria may remain the same as those above while others may differ. One important area to consider would be the classroom teacher's understanding of the child's inherent deficits and the implications for instruction. If there is a mismatch between the teacher's understanding of a disability and ability to modify the curriculum to meet the child's needs, there is little potential for the child to succeed in the regular classroom. Furthermore, the peers in the classroom may exclude the child from social interactions and teaming with peers for shared learning. If the child with a disability exhibits extensive evidence of comorbidity (e.g., attention deficit disorders with hyperactivity or emotional or personality disorders) the chances for success with inclusion are further minimized. Whether or not a team sets the criteria for inclusion from a child- or a classroom-centered perspective, or both, it is suggested that when in doubt a child might be admitted for a limited period of "diagnostic teaching."
Diagnostic teaching can be carried out in a summer program or as part of the regular school year. In order for diagnostic teaching to assist in a final decision about inclusion, the teacher should have access to consultation from a team of master teachers or specialists within the school or region. During diagnostic teaching, observations and behavioral ratings with appropriate checklists may be used to document a child's ability to be integrated and to learn. It is important that a time limit be set for diagnostic teaching for inclusion. Usually a period of from four to six weeks will provide the evidence needed for a final decision on inclusion. To avoid conflicts with parents at the point of a final decision, it may be necessary to formalize the school's criteria for inclusion and develop a contractual agreement for diagnostic teaching.
Paradigms and Options for Classroom Intervention
Paradigms for teaching children with moderate disabilities are changing from one-on-one, pull-out therapy to team-based intervention in the classroom. Teams of educators and educational specialists now share responsibilities for helping students with language and learning disabilities to develop language, communication, and reasoning strategies. They also use the child's strengths as a point of departure and develop compensatory approaches so that the child can achieve to the best of her or his ability. With inclusion, children with moderate special needs can be provided with interventions in natural contexts and within the directives of performance-based educational objectives. Furthermore, their progress will be assessed in ways that are compatible with the approaches used for teaching and based on educational outcomes.
Team-based intervention has become increasing popular in the United States as schools respond to regulations to integrate children with disabilities in regular classrooms and provide interventions in this context. Successful inclusion requires effective interaction and collaboration between educational specialists and classroom teachers, empowerment for all team members, shared use of resources, and equity in the assignment of responsibilities and rewards (Damico, 1992, 1993; Miller, 1990; Nelson, 1993; Secord and Wiig, 1991).
Team-based intervention focuses on classroom performances and identifies classroom difficulties and needs. This focus seems to result in important benefits, among them:
- Increased interaction between classroom teachers and educational specialists;
- Academically relevant (curriculum-based) instruction and intervention;
- Utilization of peer relations and natural classroom instruction and interaction;
- Improved generalization of skills, strategies and compensatory approaches;
- Increased time and cost efficiency for services.
One of the options for classroom management after inclusion is to adapt the language of instruction to respond to the child's problems and needs. The adaptations can give a child with special needs equity of access to the content of instruction. As the child progresses, the adaptations of the language of instruction can be modified or removed. Examples of adapting the language of instruction include: using shorter spoken sentences; avoiding unnecessary modifiers or quantifiers; paraphrasing verb phrases to focus on the main verb; paraphrasing adverbials or elaborating to clarify meaning; and reducing the number of coordinated, subordinated, and relative clauses.
The language of instruction may also be enhanced. This requires the teacher or specialist to identify and implement procedures that will enhance (highlight) the meaning of instructions to meet the child's needs. Again, the enhancements can be modified or removed as a child progresses. Among examples of language enhancements are: reducing the rate of speech; using stress to identify important words or phrases; using pauses to separate thought units; and using intonation to add cues about affect and intent.
A second option is for the classroom teacher, a teaching assistant, or an educational specialist to provide direct intervention for the child's classroom difficulties. This option is best implemented through collaboration and consultation among teachers and specialists. The direct intervention can be provided by one or more approaches. We will discuss three possible formats for classroom intervention. The first is mid-activity training, provided immediately after a child makes errors or does not respond. In other words, it responds directly to a difficulty. Mid-activity training is unplanned and therefore most often semi-structured. In order for this type of training to be effective for a child with language and learning disabilities, training must go beyond giving answers to developing understanding. The effects of training are directly applicable to the curriculum content and practice occurs immediately.
The third option is pre-teaching. It anticipates a child's learning difficulties and occurs before a given classroom activity. In other words, while responding directly to a child's need, pre-teaching is proactive rather than reactive. The focus is on developing understanding of curriculum content. Pre-teaching is usually structured and planned and can use a variety of teaching and learning approaches. The acquired knowledge can be applied immediately and classroom activities provide for practice.
The third option is to design and provide one or more mini-lessons. These lessons are also proactive and occur before the knowledge is to be applied to the curriculum. The focus is on developing concepts, rules, and strategies. Lessons are usually pre-planned and structured and often use methods for critical thinking and strategy training. The application of the new knowledge can occur immediately or with a delay; opportunities for practice and generalization are usually somewhat delayed.
Of the three options for classroom intervention discussed above, no one can be said to be most effective. Successful classroom inclusion may well depend on using all three options as appropriate for the curriculum objectives. It has been our experience, however, that doing more of only one type of teaching may not result in successful inclusion.
The perspective on teaching adopted by a school and its teachers may also determine the success of a child after inclusion. A response-acquisition perspective in which learning is viewed as a mechanistic process of strengthening successful responses and weakening unsuccessful responses (associations) through environmental feedback actually may inhibit the successful inclusion of children with learning disabilities. The goal is to increase the number (or strength) of associations and correct behaviors in the learner's repertoire. The learner is essentially passive and instruction consists of creating situations that elicit responses from learners. The teacher provides appropriate feedback (reinforcement or no reinforcement) for each response by a child. The 'learning as response acquisition' paradigm applies to achieving automaticity of basic skills in reading, mathematics, and other skill learning (Fuson, 1982, Singley & Anderson, 1985, 1989). Unfortunately, this approach may not be adequate for children with language and learning disabilities. It is essentially doing more of the same and more of what already did not work for the child.
A knowledge-acquisition perspective may also be less than adequate for the inclusion of children with learning disabilities. In this perspective, learning is viewed as the acquisition of knowledge, rather than of skills. The goal is to increase the amount of relevant knowledge included in the learner's repertoire. The child is a processor of information and instruction consists of creating situations in which learners can acquire new knowledge and metaknowledge, and acquire strategies for text processing and writing (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1984, 1985, 1987). The instruction is curriculum-centered and the curriculum is divided into topics, units and lessons that provide specific facts, rules, and formulae. The 'learning as knowledge acquisition' paradigm applies to a traditional-curriculum and traditional teaching methods. The problem with using this approach exclusively after inclusion is that children with language and learning disabilities characteristically have perceptual, processing, and memory problems that cause them to be "poor processors."
The knowledge-construction perspective views learning as knowledge construction and reconstruction, rather than as knowledge acquisition. The goal is to increase opportunities for meaningful learning. The targeted knowledge has been constructed and internalized when the learner can select relevant information, organize it into a coherent whole, and integrate it with prior knowledge. The child is active and autonomous and applies metacognitive skills for controlling his or her cognitive processes during learning. "Learning occurs ...by interpreting" (Resnick, 1989, p.2). The instruction focuses on helping the learner to develop learning and thinking strategies, appropriate for the subject domain. It is child-centered and evaluations are process oriented to determine how the learner structures and processes knowledge, rather than how many facts were learned.
The learning-as-knowledge-construction paradigm applies to the cognitively-oriented, conceptual-mapping methods for language intervention described by Wiig and Wilson (1998) and for developing critical thinking in classrooms by Wiig and Kusuma-Powell (in press). In the use of conceptual mapping for knowledge construction, assessments are tied closely to interventions. The conceptual mapping procedures have been used in classrooms, field tested, and validated in an approach in which visual tools (conceptual maps) are used in association with cognitive mediation to support knowledge construction.
The Case of Johann - The young student we have followed in this chapter is now a young adult with a college education. Having majored in computer sciences, he is very gainfully employed as a project director in a European consulting firm. Johann graduated from high school with average grades in language-heavy subject areas such as German literature and history. The average grades were offset by high grades in quantitative and scientific subject areas such as algebra and physical sciences. It was clear that Johann's future would be in scientific areas. To everyone's amazement, he is an excellent writer of scientific reports. His abilities as a writer relate to the fact that scientific reports are descriptive or expositive in nature and are meant to reflect processes or sequences in a physical, quantitative world.
No one method of evaluation for inclusion in the regular classroom can be fair in an all-encompassing sense of the word. It is a given that measurement, whether standardized or authentic, is subject to error. Furthermore, evaluations of children from a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds for the inclusive classroom in an international school are by nature biased, because the language of assessment and instruction is based on a linguistic and cultural standard (e.g., English-Western) that differs from that of many children.
By identifying children with slight to moderate learning disabilities and good intellectual potential, educational resources may be allocated to give these children equity of access to the regular curriculum and learning processes. It must be acknowledged that no assessment for the inclusive classroom can guarantee that a given child will reach normal expectations for language, literacy, and academic achievement. However, the administration and staff of an international school can participate in the quest for equity of access to quality teaching and learning.