The selected topic is ‘should students with learning difficulties be allowed to participate in the mainstream classrooms? ’ This essay discusses two possible solutions for the issue and explicitly presents my personal statement and philosophy in regards to it. This topic is a controversial issue because it considers many conflicting advantages and disadvantages. The ethical principles involved in the topic include caring, respect and inclusivity which can be drawn from the Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics (Early Childhood Australia’s National Council meeting, 2006).
Including or excluding students with learning difficulties in the mainstream classroom also reflects teachers’ identity regarding the concept of fairness. There are three ethical principles listed by the Tasmania Registration Board (Teachers Registration Board of Tasmania, 2006) which will fit in the selected issue: respect, empathy and justice. Some teachers believe that if we put a student with a learning disability in the mainstream education setting, it is not fair for other students in the classroom because they are not valued equally.
Teachers in the classroom hold the opinions that every student in the classroom should receive the best education (Knowles, 2006). As the student with a learning disability could occupy too much of teachers’ teaching time, then other students in the classroom could be deprived of learning time. Hence, they think it is better to pull the student out of the class group to work individually with teacher assistants. Additionally, when teachers direct too much attention on students with disabilities, it may cause the rest of the class to act out in order to seek for the attention (Moss, 2007).
In such a situation, behaviour management would be a very challenging thing for teachers to deal with in the classroom. My personal interactions with some primary school teachers shows that most teachers do not feel comfortable having students with a learning disability in the classroom as they think they have not been equipped with the skills to teach these students and allowing them to work individually can help teachers to concentrate more on during the general class teaching time.
Some people believe students should be placed in a learning environment according to the type of their disabilities as it will help them to reduce their stress while learning and growing. Students might not feel comfortable to stay in a mainstream education setting. This is because students with learning disabilities face more difficulty coping with the learning environment as they do not just have to deal with their disability, they also need to deal with the issue of lack of peer acceptance (Ashman et al. 2009). Hence, if we send these students to work individually with teacher assistants, the teacher assistants can concentrate more on these students’ social, emotional and personal needs which can help these students to achieve more. Another reason students with learning disabilities need to be excluded from the mainstream classroom is because these students might require trained special education staffs to design and work on their Individual Education Plans (IEPs) in order to better support their development.
If we put these students in the regular classroom to learn the same thing as other students do, they would not benefit so much from the learning. For instance, if the whole class is learning how to count to 100, but this child can only count to 10, it will waste his time to join in the whole class activity as he do not have the capacity to do it. Contrary to these statements, some people believe that all students in the environment should be included in the mainstream classroom and all students can benefit from the inclusion approach if we apply it in the classroom effectively.
There three main reasons behind this statement. Firstly, by including students with learning difficulties in the regular classroom can give them a good model to follow. It provides opportunities for these students to learn knowledge through imitation (Salend. 2011). Secondly, it helps the teacher to construct a supportive learning environment in which all students feel cared for. Last and most importantly, it can foster students’ moral development by helping them to build a correct social justice system that base on the concepts of respect, tolerance and love in the classroom.
I personally agree with the statement that students with learning disabilities should be included in a mainstream classroom. My interpretation of inclusion is bringing all students together, treating them equally and offering them various opportunities to foster all their areas of development. Thus, every student has the right to join in the regular classroom. Knowles (2006) asserts that students with learning difficulties might not be able to learn as much as other students in the class, but it does not mean they do not have the capacity to learn.
These groups of students are learning in their own ways and providing them with suitable learning experience will maintain their enthusiasm and help them view themselves as part of the community (Moss, 2007). If we exclude them in the mainstream education setting, it might deliver the message to the rest of the class that this particular student is an isolated individual and a different people. For young students, they sometimes label their peers according to their behaviour and school performance (Graham,2007).
I have seen some students call an autistic child ‘a stupid person’ in the classroom. They might believe those students with a certain level of disability cannot benefit the society, as their abilities or behaviour can contribute less or differently to the society compared to those normal students. I think belief is a very powerful thing which affects students’ behaviour in the environment. If the incorrect social justice is applied to students, it would affect how students view themselves and the whole society.
Today’s society is no longer just expecting students to achieve high academic results at school. We also want them to be a good citizen in the whole society, and this requires teachers to apply correct ethical education to students. Jennings (2007) notes that students who have good moral development can learn and grow both socially and emotionally. Including all students in the regular classroom will deliver the message to students that what makes our society strong is not the things that we all have in common, but the things that make us all different (Graham, 2007).
If we emphasize to students the philosophy that diversity makes our environment rich and all students should be valued and have a quality education experience to reach their potential, it could help students to reflect on how they should behave to make others comfortable in their school environment. From my personal experience, when I did my second placement in grade 1/2 class, I witnessed the teacher planning an activity for all the students, including two students with special needs, to discuss how they are alike and how they are different.
The rationale behind the learning experience is that students are expected to accept the concept that they are all unique and special individuals, but still bound together as a group. I worked in partnership with the teacher to encourage students to form their own opinions and help them feel empathy for each other. By the end of the learning time, some students had come up with a conclusion, stating: it is ok for everyone to be different and we are all friends.
By reflecting on this experience, I realised that it is crucial for teachers to create an atmosphere of inclusion and diversity in the classroom to foster students’ moral and social development. Only when we place students in this kind of environment, can they experience various ethical concepts including empathy, caring and respect. Through including the student in a whole class activity and discussion, other students in the classroom start to understand that the student with the learning disability is not stupid or an unusual person and they can do things, just like the other students do in the classroom.
The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF, 2009) supports my argument by pointing out that every student is a unique individual and as professional educators, in order to motivate students to learn and build their sense of belonging, we should respect diversity. Considering students’ unique learning styles in teaching will help enable teachers to best satisfy students’ needs. Only when their needs have been met, can we maximize their success in their learning process (Arthur et al. , 2009).
I believe education is about satisfying all students’ needs in the classroom. It is not about helping some students to be successful and ignoring other students. Hence, every student in the class should be treated equally and no one would be excluded from the mainstream classroom. According to the Tasmanian Professional Teaching Standard Framework (Australian Government Department of Education, 2007) which highlights that ‘teachers should provide access to a rich, challenging curriculum to all students’ (p. 7), all students in a class should be included in learning. Some people hold the opinion that including students with learning difficulties in the mainstream classroom means offering them the same learning experiences to maintain impartiality or spending all the teaching time working with one particular student. I want to clarify that in the school environment, inclusion does not mean we just place the student in the class and leave them alone nor do we only concentrate on one child.
To me, it means that students with learning difficulties should have equal rights to get access to high quality of education and they need to have rich opportunities to interact with their peers in the mainstream education setting. It is unacceptable to exclude the students with learning difficulties, but teachers need to be creative about the way in which they teach these students in the classroom. Additionally, it is supposed to be a team effort to help these students to achieve their milestones in learning (Salend, 2011).
Teachers should share their program and planning with other staff in the teaching team and they are expected to work in partnership with parents and support services to develop a plan which suits the student’s needs and support the child to be an active member in the classroom community. We might have some independent jobs for this child to do in the class sometimes, but we might also have some group works or whole class discussions sometimes.
I think wherever the student is placed, in his own learning space or in the whole class environment, the individual program must work in conjunction with the whole class learning program and the outcome of the individual program must be met in the mainstream classroom. Carrington (2007) advocates that the goal of inclusion in the classroom is to support students to actively participate in the class activities and to make all students feel they belong to the same community. I think the individual’s achievements should not be separated from the whole class’s contributions.
That is, if we want the student to achieve the best, we must put them in the mainstream education setting to allow him to participate in the whole class learning experience. Furthermore, including students with learning difficulties in the mainstream class will help these students to develop their interpersonal skills and build positive relationships with their peers. If students are excluded from the regular classroom, they will miss out on opportunities to socialize with the other students in the class.
Harder (2010) advocates that if students experienced feelings of inferiority due to their interaction with peers, they will have problems in developing self-esteem. Thus, it is crucial for the teacher to include these students in the class to give them chances to interact with other students positively. Barbara, et al. (2006) argue that students’ behaviour is strongly related to their social development. At school, we can see those students who have great interpersonal skills will make friends easily and contribute to the whole group.
If we provide rich experiences for students with learning difficulties to positively interact with peers, they will be more likely to join in the class and be an active member. These students working collaboratively with their peers can help to create an environment in which they feel free, secure and cared for. For the students without learning difficulties, putting them together with those students with difficulties gives them experiences to get to know their peers and become less judgemental.
They can become more sensitive of others’ needs when they work together with their peers. Moreover, sometimes, the teacher can find it is difficult to explain something to the student who has a learning disability. However, it might be easier for another student of their age to communicate the message to this child. McLeod (2003) notes that learning is an interactive process, which means the students without learning difficulties can understand the knowledge better themselves after explaining it to their peers.
In summary, I think if we excluded these students with difficulties from the mainstream classroom, they might believe that they are indeed ‘different’ and they may also come to feel that trying to succeed is hopeless and aim lower than what they can do (Graham, 2007). In contrast, I think including them can beneficial to all stakeholders, including all the students and teachers involved in the classroom. Under a properly balanced inclusive approach, these students can develop a positive understanding of themselves and others and learn academic skills through being made to feel normal in the classroom.
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