Inclusive practices in school settings range from placing all children in grade appropriate general education classrooms—full-time—to placing them in other learning settings for part of the school day. Among other scholars, Salend and Duhaney (1999) concluded that inclusive practices can offer academic and social benefits to all children. Because of these beneficial effects, many education professionals have come to view inclusive classes as optimal settings for children with and without disabilities.
Although researchers have identified inclusive practices as beneficial to many children, teachers often struggle to meet the academic and social needs of all children in inclusive settings. One theoretical position contends that all learning is social and that “all higher mental functions are internalized social relationships” (Vygotsky, quoted in Wells, 2000, p.54). Because social relationships are implicated in learning, small changes in social contexts and interactions can positively or negatively affect student learning.
To produce positive results, and to ensure that all children benefit from inclusion, educational programs have been designed to help teachers achieve this goal. One such program with a documented record of success is the Responsive Classroom Approach (RC) (Northeast Foundation for Children, n.d.).
Principles of the Responsive Classroom Approach
RC’s goal is to integrate social and academic learning in ways that help all children in a class—those with and without disabilities.
RC accomplishes this goal by implementing seven principles to guide the thinking and actions of teachers. The seven principles are:
treat social and academic curriculums as equally important.
remember that how children learn is as important as what they learn.
remember that cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.
remember that the social skills of cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control are essential for learning.
know your children individually, culturally, and developmentally.
know the families of your children and invite them to participate in your classroom.
establish good working relationships with all adults in your school.
Following these principles helps to meet children's social-emotional needs, reduce discipline problems and enhance social and academic competencies. As a consequence, children can focus on learning.
Responsive Classroom Practices
To assist teachers in making these principles work, specific RC practices have been established. They emphasize social-emotional and self-regulatory skills as the first step toward academic achievement. The established practices include:
the daily greeting.
classroom rules and logical consequences.
the language of encouragement.
the morning meeting.
academic choices to facilitate discovery.
In their classrooms, teachers would consistently incorporate these five practices in their day to day work and interactions with children. How might these practices look?
The daily greeting. As the children enter the classroom, teachers routinely greet them individually. The teachers’ language reflects knowledge of the child, the child’s family and the positive relationship they’re developing with each child. This brief exchange lets children know that the teachers care about them and are aware of what’s going on in their lives.
Classroom rules and logical consequences. Because classroom rules would have been established at the beginning of the year, children know what to do as they enter the classroom. If a rule is broken, the logical consequences follow. These reflect the children’s individual circumstances, including developmental level, and reflect the positive relationship between teachers and children. Consequences are never harsh, unfair, or retaliatory.
The language of encouragement. If children get sidetracked on handling their responsibilities, teachers use words of encouragement to guide them. Teachers make descriptive comments on children’s efforts, which shifts emphasis away from praising children’s products to encouraging them to actively engage in learning.
The morning meeting. When children have settled in, teachers conduct a morning meeting. During this daily meeting, children participate in sharing, games, and playful intellectual activity. The meeting’s purpose is to establish and maintain a cohesive classroom community. By holding morning meetings, teachers convey the importance of getting to know and respect each other.
Academic choices to facilitate discovery. Finally, as the day progresses, each teacher presents the curriculum. Within each content area, new material is presented to keep interest and motivation high. In addition, the children are guided to discover new information or ways of learning. Trial and error is encouraged. Whenever possible, children are given choices in activities and assignments. These choices allow for creativity and helps children develop a sense of control, which encourages them to practice self-regulation skills, which in turn, fosters academic achievement.
Although more research is needed, the available research has found that RC fosters reading and writing gains (Rimm-Kaufman, Fan, Chiu, & You, 2007). Further information on RC is available from the Northeast Foundation for Children.
Northeast Foundation for Children. Responsive Classrooms. Retrieved from http://responsiveclassroom.org/index.html.
Rimm-Kaufman, S.E., Fan, X., Chiu, Y.J., & You, W. (2007). The contribution of the Responsive Classroom Approach on children’s academic achievement: Results from a three year longitudinal study. Journal of School Psychology, 45, 401-421.
Salend, S. J., & Duhaney, L. M. G. (1999). The impact of inclusion on children with and without disabilities and their educators. Remedial and Special Education, 20, 114-126.
Wells, G. (2000). Dialogic inquiry in education. Building on the legacy of Vygotsky. In C. Lee & P. Smagorinsky (Eds.), Vygotskian Perspectives on literacy research: Constructing meaning through collaborative inquiry (pp. 51-85). Boston: Cambridge University Press.
Micheline Malow, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York. In addition to teaching courses in Exceptional Students and Instructional Strategies for Teaching Students with Learning and Behavioral Disorders, she has presented at numerous professional conferences and published articles on friendship, risk taking behavior, and students with disabilities. Currently she is finishing a co-authored book for Greenwood Press, Adolescents and Risk.