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Observation of Middle School Inclusion Terri L. Meadows Armstrong Azusa Pacific University


Abstract This paper explores the connections between the text used in Azusa Pacific Universitys Special Education Class 521 and the observations made of a middle school special education student in a general education elective. The articles are referenced as connections are made to what actions, accommodations, modifications and social relationships are documented. In the paper, the Special Day Class (SDC) was not specifically observed, but visited briefly and discussed. The observation took place on one day in a middle school, primarily in the Speech and Drama class, secondarily in the Band classroom. The general education teacher was interviewed regarding her role in the collaboration; the special education teacher was consulted regarding how the Speech and Drama class assignments meet the students Individualized Education Plan (IEP) goals. There is a personal connection to the classroom observed because it is the former classroom of the report writer from 1999, when inclusion at Jepsen Middle School was far less formal and more voluntary.


Before The Observation A couple of weeks ago, I was spending time with my Mother in my hometown and made arrangements to go back to my previous classroom to observe the Speech and Drama class. They are still doing inclusion with the county SDC that we did fourteen years ago. The special education teacher has since changed since my time as a teacher at Jepsen Middle School. The district has improved quite a bit since my early days in that they are pushing for even more inclusion and are rallying for a more blended mix of general education and special education students. When I was teaching, we had what Snell and Brown would call inconsistent access to inclusive classrooms in that my first experience was a voluntary situation and wasnt part of my students IEPs (2011). I always felt they had a very strong Special Education department in the district office, and it seems they have really embraced the inclusion movement. According to Smith, Polloway, Patton, and Dowdy, that under IDEA, schools are required to seek out and implement appropriate educational services to students with disabilities, regardless of the severities, and they are to be education with their nondisabled peers as much as possible and involve general education teachers directly in their education (2012). This has clearly been a massive improvement since 1999 when teachers were just integrating their classrooms on a voluntary basis. In 1999, I had my first classroom in my hometown of Vacaville, California. I taught 7th grade English and the Speech and Drama elective. The Solano County Office of Education had been in the process of rearranging assigned schools with the various districts within the county and my school had recently added a Special Day Class. As a young teacher, I was open to trying


anything and learning. The SDC teacher, Cindy, and I thought wed try bringing in a couple of students from her class into the Speech and Drama class. We took a very fractured approach, according to Snell, and I was certainly mislabeling what we did as inclusion (Snell and Brown 2011), but at the time, I didnt know that to be the case. It came from a good place and it was appreciated. My student with autism had very happy parents, one a special education teacher himself, and they sent me a very heartfelt letter which I still have today. My first inclusion experience was a very informal experiment that turned into something very special for the class, the SDC students, Cindy and me. The general education kids were introduced to two special needs students, one with autism and the other with a traumatic brain injury. It was quite humbling for them and it was the first time many of them had spent any quality time with a special needs individual. Cindy loved it because it gave two of her students a chance to get out of their own classroom and to be exposed to new people and situations. And for me, it led to setting up similar informal situations in the other public school district I later worked in and to finally getting the Special Education credential. I was thrilled to be able to return to the school I had attended as both a student and a teacher, to observe a student from the SDC included into the Speech and Drama class. Snell and Brown make the case that progress is too slow and the treatment of special education students is primitive in comparison to the progress made in general education. Is a special education just being present in the class? Are they separated and taught primarily by the paraprofessional? Are they just dragged through the motions? What is the value and consistency in what they are learning? (2011). My student will be an interesting case study in how his education stacks up to Snells observations.


Discussion of Bob The student I observed is an 8th grade male with Downs Syndrome. He is a delightful person who loves hotdogs, playing cymbals in the school band and Spongebob Squarepants. For purposes of referring to him throughout this paper, Ill call him Bob, inspired by his Spongebob Squarepants t-shirt he wore on observation day and backpack he carries. I think he would like that. He has a warm sense about him and is joyful. Statistically, he will likely not add any other classes outside of electives. According to Turnbull, Turnbull, Erwin, Soodak (2010), Bob is part of the limited 18% who are receiving any general education instruction, despite the spirit of the IDEA. However, Bobs continuum of services meets the plan laid out by Smith (Smith et al. 2012) as his range of placements include general education, special education and he is placed in the least restrictive environments while at school. Academically, he benefits from praise, encouragement and positive reinforcements. He does require redirection, but takes it positively. He performs stronger with frequent feedback rather than occasional recognition. Functionally, he is independent at a primary grade level, but he doesnt seem deterred by that fact. He is comfortable with others reading to him, stopping frequently to summarize what has been read. The special education teacher, Melinda, is very positive, yet firm. She applies a very hands-off approach, allowing Bob the independence to make his own behavior choices. He can be a bit stubborn, and often prefers to walk slowly enjoying the sun or rain instead of being in class.


In the Speech and Drama class, Bob is learning about public speaking and dramatic presentation. Some who question the usefulness of inclusion may wonder why this would be an important skill for Bob to learn since he is still struggling with responses and self-expression beyond six words long. One of the strongest suggestions from Snell and Brown is that idea of shedding the notion that the student must participate at the same level or necessarily should have the same learning outcomes as his or her classmates without disabilities; the spirit of IDEA and the heart of special education refers to the individualized ways in which we provide instruction to students in an effort to respond to their unique learning characteristics resulting from their disability (2011). For his Speech and Drama class, Bobs material output is part of an IEP goal to follow a sequence of three things and to use 4-6 word sentences to communicate. He can also practice his reading and writing skills. His measureable goals and short term objectives are specific to an improvement in his writing and written expression. He is also working on sequencing pictures into a cohesive story. To increase his reading, he is practicing sight words, which, when used in the Speech and Drama class, are added to his index card stack. Bob has a small cardboard strip, approximately 3 inches by 6 inches, with a Velcro strip running down the center. Throughout the class, he selects a picture representation of what is happening and places it on the Velcro strip. Later, when he returns to work on his goal of sequencing, he will tell about what happened in Speech and Drama class using this prompt. This is a variation on the suggested schedule prompt by Snell and Brown (2011).


I was very impressed with the classroom. It clearly meets Smith et al. (2012) standards of sound organizational and management systems and clear physical, procedural, instructional and behavioral management. When one enters, they instantly understand that a lot is expected of the students because a lot has gone into the room to make it successful. The teacher, Jeanine Thiessen, keeps it organized, neat and is in full control of the class. There is not a collection of paper clutter and the old fading bulletin boards of a teacher who has given up. The room is vibrant and there has clearly been thought put into the structure and layout. The whole room is very appropriate for learning and clearly mindful of a special needs student who may struggle with extra distractions. The desks are kept clean and in orderly rows that form a U-shape with the teachers podium and stool the focal point. Everything is conductive to supporting student learning. She is also quite mindful of Bob at all times. His desk is in the front row, right by the front door. When giving directions, she will try to stand in front of Bob. If she is able to repeat her steps in a more modified approach for him, she will. If not, the special education teacher, leans in and repeats the directions very clearly, no more than three steps, and allows Bob to work his way through the directions. There seemed to be a tremendous ease amongst the class. I believe this is a direct result of the district pushing toward inclusion. I consider myself very fortunate that I was able to observe a situation that is supported and successful. The general education students are quite accustomed to special education students being together in the same classroom. A quote from the Turnbull text is especially apropos: when youre in a school that has a lot of special


needs kids the entire staff has a different kind of outlook. It is a fairer idea of how to look at [those] children its part of the schools culture (Turnbull et al. 2010) This has changed greatly since Cindy and I informally included two students. Im not in any way suggesting that Cindy and I started some transformative movement. I am just pleased to see the transition to a more formal inclusion that is happening and the connection to the IEP goals. The Foods teacher at the time made it clear she didnt want any special needs children in her class for sanitary reasons. I dont see that attitude being tolerated at Jepsen today. According to Smith et al. (2012) the percentages of students who support special needs students in general education classrooms is quite encouraging. 88% say students with intellectual disabilities can make friends with nondisabled students and the same number see them participating in sports; 57% believe in their special needs peers academic abilities and feel they can learn the academic subjects easily; there are high percentages who feel that there could be distractions and loss of teacher focus on general education students, but students like Bob can be a catalyst in bringing those numbers down. In fact, according to a study by the University of Utah (McDonnell, Mathot-Buckner, Thorson and Fister, 2001), there is a growing research base on the positive social and educational benefits of serving students with moderate and severe disabilities in general education classes. They also found that students without disabilities can be effective in teaching a wide range of academic and developmental skills to this group of students. So, although one might understand a general education parent who, such as in the example presented by Turnbull et al. (2010) had


concerns about the disruption of her daughters second grade class by a special education student who disrupted multiple times per hour, the research shows that when these students reach middle school age, the blending of special and general education is actually a benefit to all, not just some. Observing Bob The first activity was to take roll. Every student says present when their name is called. Bob was very quick to respond to his name. He was so focused, he anticipated his name and called out present just as she said his name. Next, she read a couple of housekeeping items for the students regarding extra credit and other general classroom business. From there, she moved into a quick review of what they had recently learned, including a few vocabulary words. As she said the words, Melinda (who is sitting in a chair to the side of Bob) would put an index card with that word in front of Bob. He would quietly read the word to Melinda. Next, Jeanine did a quick review of the class group assignment, her expectations for behavior and progress on the project. At that point, the students began gathering their things and moving desks. Melinda looked Bob directly in the eye and gave him three very clear directions: Take your backpack. Find your group. Sit with them. She repeated the directions a second time, then sat back and allowed Bob to process and attempt. He needed some assistance to find a chair with his group, but he did work quite independently.



That ease is was quite evident during my time in the class. The students had already completed their study of mystery and had previously been broken into groups of five in order to write their own short skits to perform for the class. They had been given a situation and a general outline, but they had to fill in the story, add the characters and write the lines. This sounds a bit harder that would normally be expected for a middle school class, but there is a lot of discussion with the teacher. She encourages conversation and experimentation. When I heard the days assignment, it immediately occurred to me that Bob may be essentially sitting there for over half an hour. I was curious how that would be handled; Will Bob be guided in by one of the teachers, or will the students bring him into the conversation? As the group work began, the students pulled their desks into a group, naturally including Bob. He still sat quiet. One student asked him what name hed like his character to be named. He answered Bob. The same student said to make up a different name, but he still responded with Bob. Melinda, the special education teacher, leaned into the group from her chair behind Bob and rephrased the question. Referring to Spongebob, she said that this is a character and his name is Spongebob. She explained that Bob would be playing a character and that it is important to give that character a name. He then said Sam. Per the University of Utah study, there is a suggestion among the findings that a classwide peer tutoring program, combined with a multi-element curriculum and accommodations would improve the academic levels of Bob (McDonnell et al. 2001). As time progresses and he reaches his communication goals, I would be quite curious to evaluate the



roles the Speech and Drama class, blending of the classmates and teamwork of the educators and support of the parents that led to the level of success attained by Bob. As a current 8th grader, he still has a number of years left to reach higher levels of self-expression and responses. Once he had selected a name, Melinda wrote the name Sam on an index card and had Bob copy the word, then read it to her. She then took a blue highlighter and had Bob trace his characters name. As the other students discussed their skit, Melinda made a couple of vocabulary index cards. Anytime the word pertained to Bob, she had him trace the word in blue highlighter. These words will become vocabulary words that Bob will learn to use in conversation. For example, Melinda will ask him What is your characters name? To answer her, Bob will look at the blue highlighted word cards until he can find his answer. Then he has to respond in a complete sentence. In this scenario, Bobs expected reply would be My character is named Sam. The group work continued. The students came up with character names and traits, which they wrote down in their notebooks. Bob was asked what his character likes to do. He replied Spongebob. He was prompted again by the natural leader of his peer group. Finally, they were able to get him to say, Play cymbals. On a piece of paper, he drew a picture of him playing cymbals. Instead of writing, Bob draws pictures of his traits. He will write his character name and decorate it. As the group continued, they asked Bob if he wanted to story to take place at daytime or nighttime. He said At night. Essentially, the general education students organized the process and allow Bob to dictate specifics through prompted questions. When



there was approximately ten minutes were remaining of class, Jeanine gave a quick tap on her class bell and the students moved the desks back into place and took their seats. Bob ably participated in the clean up and returned to his desk. The teacher then told them what they would expect for class tomorrow and by then, it was dismissal. Later in the day, I stepped into the band classroom to listen to Bob play the cymbals. He has his own music stand and photocopied music, which happens to be highlighted in the same blue highlighter. This is not typical practice for marking music. That is generally done in pencil, but clearly Bob feels secure with the blue highlighter. During band, Melinda is far more hands off. She brings him to the class and returns for him ten minutes prior to dismissal as the chaos of students disassembling instruments, putting away their band folders and navigating around easily-toppled music stands would be difficult for Bob. Before I left campus, I went to Bobs SDC room. He showed me his index cards. He was practicing writing the words in his notebook. I spoke with Bob a bit and asked him to tell me about his Speech and Drama class and how he liked playing cymbals. Specifically, I asked him wh word questions, as Melinda indicated this was a goal he was working on. I asked him what he liked about each class, how he learned to play cymbals and who are some of his class friends. The Interview At the end of the school day, Jeanine was able to sit down with me and conduct the interview. I had previously emailed her the questions, to which she responded in writing. She



also referenced the questions as she instructed her class. What follows is a collection of her interview responses paraphrasing the written, class comments and one-on-one conversation: Question: What is the students disability and grade level? Answer: Bob is an eighth grade student with Downs Syndrome.

Question: What accommodations/modifications are in place for this student? Textbook/core curriculum, audio, visual, etc. How is the curriculum adapted? Answer: He has his own SDC as his homebase, so anytime he feels overwhelmed or tired, he has the choice to return. The textbook is accessed minimally, used more as a jumping off point. The students rely heavily on portions of published stage plays and readings of speeches. When he gets bored, he will often start talking to neighboring classmates, and the general education students will not always know how to react. Theyve been counseled on how to model behavior for him, but they are all 13 years old, so they cant be expected to be models for him. They are young students themselves and often need their own behaviors redirected. Because of the active nature of this class, it has been a great place for him to relax open up and work on verbal skills. During the first quarter, the class watched videos of various speeches and read famous speeches. Students took turns reading these speeches in class after hearing the recordings. He had a hard time sitting still through some of the longer videos, so the special education teacher took the opportunity to work on learning to sit still, when to speak in class and how to sit quietly. The general education students selected various subjects, wrote their speeches and presented them in class. With the assistance of his special education teacher,



in his SDC to meet his writing goal, he worked on a short paragraph about his favorite things (hotdogs, playing cymbals and Spongebob) and read it to the class. He did have some prompting from the special education teacher, but he did a very nice job. The kids applauded and cheered. During this quarter, the class has learned about the three main genres of stage: comedy, drama and mystery. After reading examples of each and watching some videos of stage productions from each learned genre, the students get into groups and write their own skits. He is a part of the group. They will ask him if he likes this or that and respect his response. They do write lines for him, but with the assistance of his epecial education teacher, he will write his lines on an index card (much like his speech) and when prompted, will read his lines.

Question: What is the students grade level? Instructional level? Answer: For the core skills of reading and mathematics, he can read independently at a first grade level and can understand and complete some second grade skills if guided in a one-to-one setting. He can express basic understanding about the main character and one or two facts. For example, recently he read a story about a girl who rides around town on her bike, meeting different friends and doing different things with those she meets. When asked who the story was about, he could answer the girl and when asked what she did, he responded ride her bike. He is not able to give more details without prompting, and his answers from prompting are typically yes or no responses. He will often say I dont know as a buffer to allow him time to formulate an answer.



He has some general science understanding, but at the basic level, such as magnets attract and the seasons. He understands he lives in a community, and that his school and classroom are also communities. His family is also moderately active in a local support group and he has friends there, so he understands that this is also a community. He can express his needs and wants. He gets along well with this classmates in both his SDC class and his two inclusion classes- the Speech and Drama class and the band class in which he plays cymbals.

Question: How does the student participate in general education? Answer: He has two general education classes. He has played cymbals in the band all year long and has been in the Speech and Drama class this semester. The class is only a semester long. Because he did so well in the band, the thought was to introduce another course just to work on his socialization skills. However, the teamwork and planning of both teacher has allowed Bob to bring some of the general education work into his SDC through writing and practicing his line from the skits. Since his writing is covered in his SDC, his class participation is focused mainly on his social skills. Since coming to the Speech and Drama class, he has begun to make stronger choices in when it is ok to talk. He is becoming more aware of how the other students behave in class and has been very good at copying what he sees in them. He seems to be doing the same thing in band. He enjoys it and tells his classmates about how much he likes the cymbals.



Question: How are the students day organized differently than other students in your classroom? Answer: This is a middle school, so all the students move from class to class throughout their day. For his core courses, he is in a SDC. For two elective periods a day, he goes to a general education class- band and Speech and Drama. If, for whatever reason, he is having an off day and not adjusting to the general education environment, he can always return to his SDC and participate in his special education class. Both classrooms are always optional for him, but he still has a place to go that he feels comfortable.

Question: Pull out/related services? Social skills training? Answer: In his IEP, he receives APE, OT and Speech. The special education teacher has a social skills component to her curriculum and one of the main purposes for this class is the social skills, in addition to the verbal skills and writing. Even if he was unable to stand in front of the class and read his sentence or participate in the skits, he would still welcomed into the classroom so he could be with students new to him and make some school friends among the general education students.

Question: Does the student have any behaviors that impede learning? If so, does the student have a behavior support plan? Answer: His behaviors are not remarkable in that sense. He has a very positive demeanor and is able to get along well with others. He has a sweet nature and the other students are drawn to him. He is well liked and the other students have respect for his great efforts.



Question: What is the students preferred learning modality? Answer: He seems to gravitate towards auditory, which makes sense considering how much he enjoys the band. He likes to repeat what he hears you say. When an instructor has directions to follow, it works best if they will say one at a time and he will repeat them. He seems to follow them better when he does this. One of his current goals is to hear three simple directions and follow them in that order. For example, one might say stand up, walk to your group and sit with them. When directions are kept clear and very precise, he does well. There are times when the other students will give him more than he can remember in sequence. Over the semester, the students have gotten better about respecting his accomplishments and being mindful of not confusing him.

Question: What support or training has the teacher received prior to the having this student in his/her classroom? Answer: At her previous school, there were several SDC classrooms. Jeanine was open to joint activities. She also has a cousin with special needs and deeply admires special education teachers. She claims she doesnt have the proper disposition for such a classroom, but wants to support those who do.

Question: What are the school sites attitudes/beliefs towards inclusion of students with moderate to severe disabilities in general education classrooms?



Answer: The school is incredibly open. The SDC classrooms are not in trailers hidden at the back of the school. Instead, they are intermingled amongst the general education classrooms. The special education students have the same lunch period as the general education students. Unfortunately, there are always those teachers who have countless excuses why a special needs student wouldnt be successful in their class. They are resistant to change or perhaps they doubt their own strengths and abilities. Regardless, it is disheartening to know any student who wants to try would be rejected, but when a teacher harbors resistance, they are not forced to oblige the request. There are also parents who are not pleased that a special needs student is in their childs general education course, for countless reasons that we know not to be necessarily true. However, if a parent proves to be difficult enough, the school will work with them to find a situation they prefer for their child.

Question: How does the teacher teach and promote disability awareness in her classroom? School wide? Answer: Prior to his attendance in class, the students received a lesson on what Down Syndrome is exactly, what makes someone have Downs Syndrome and celebrated all that someone with Downs is very capable of doing. They were also reminded them that there is an actress on Glee with Downs. In general, it seems the students are familiar with the students in the SDC classes because the district in general has been strong about blending the students and not hiding the special education kids away.



Question: What are the other students attitudes regarding the fully included students participation in the general education classroom? Answer: Due to the districts strong Special Education department in the district office and the very common occurrence of inclusion in various stages throughout the district, the kids seem not to be concerned. They are quite use to the blending of general and special education, which is quite nice. Naturally some students seem to be more nurturing caregivers and fawn over him a bit, but in general the students dont seem to regard him as anything different than classmate.

In Conclusion In order to successfully blend special and general education, it is important to look at the cons expressed. On a philosophical level, the inclusion model has been widely accepted, however, also according to Smith et al. (2012), general educators are likely not trained nor have collaboration skills necessary to successfully blend; there isnt a lot of data to support the model working; the blending may take attention away from both student types and the special education student may not receive the services they deserve; and, quite frankly, are general educators trained enough since there are two separate credentials for special and general educators. This particular assignment was quite meaningful for me. I was so thrilled to see how supportive a district can be toward their special education students. Since 1999, I have been a big proponent of inclusion and took every opportunity to blend my general education students with special education students. Being back in that room brought back such warm memories for me of my early teaching days and my two special boys from Cindys class that opened up a whole new career for me and warmed the heart of some pretty rugged kids in my Speech and Drama class.



It is empowering to watch Bob walk down the path paved by the Turnbulls and by the hard battles Jay Turnbull experienced (Turnbull et al. 2010). While there are still quite a few roads to be built, the ground has been laid and the students who are continuing the pave the road are setting precedents that will greatly benefit those who follow.




McDonnell J., Mathot-Buckner, C., Thorson N., Fister, S. (2001) Supporting the Inclusion of Students with Moderate and Severe Disabilities in Junior High School General Education Classes: The Effects of Classwide Peer Tutoring, Multi-Element Curriculum, and Accommodations. Education And Treatment of Children. Vol. 24, No. 2, May 2001 page 141-160.

Smith, T., Polloway, E., Patton, J., & Dowdy, C.A. (2012). Teaching students with special needs in inclusive settings 6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Allyn and Bacon/Pearson page 8-12, 17-18, 20, 22, 26. Snell, M. E. & Brown, F. (2011). Instruction of students with severe disabilities, (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Pearson page 9, 149-150.

Turnbull, A., Turnbull, R., Erwin, E.J., Soodak, L.C. (2010). Families, Professionals, and Exceptionality: Positive outcomes through partnership and trust, (6th ed.). Prentice Hall page 78- 80, 109-110, 120-121, 178.