Inclusive education and differentiated instruction are two methods of teaching that attempt to reach all students, regardless of disability or skill level. However, the two are not mutually exclusive; if anything, inclusive classrooms are the result of teachers mastering the art of differentiated instruction. However, both types of instruction can be interwoven to create the best education possible for all students.
Differentiated instruction is teacher jargon for "lessons for everyone." In other words, differentiated instruction is a strategy teachers employ to be sure that each student maximizes his potential for learning. For example, if teaching about mammals in a fourth-grade class, a teacher may give two students differently leveled books about mammals to ensure readability. Differentiated instruction works dynamically; teachers want to push the higher performing students further while also trying to help lower performing children reach necessary standard standards -- all while learning the same material and skills.
In an inclusive classroom, children with disabilities are blended in with students with no documented disadvantage. Depending on the severity of a child's disability, he may have a one-on-one aide with him at certain, or all, times of the day to either help with the material being learned or with other actions. The teacher and aide may work together to compile lessons and material that the disabled student is more capable of utilizing, but for the most part the material presented is the same for all. Inclusive classrooms usually are very accepting of all children and are an important part of student learning. Both disabled and non-disabled children learn the same material, and they also learn the valuable lesson that everyone is worthy of an education.
Differentiation in Inclusive Classrooms
Although all teachers should implement differentiated instruction, it is absolutely imperative that teachers of inclusive classrooms do so. Depending on a student's disability, teachers and aides may have to format the material being presented in many different ways. For example, Braille or audiobook versions of novels may be necessary. Of course, the same requirements are placed on all students, demonstrating again that not only is every student viewed as equal, but also as capable.
What Differentiation and Inclusion Are Not
Differentiated instruction is the act of individualizing a lesson plan for each student, to ensure maximizing everyone's potential. It is not grouping students into low-, mid- and high-performing groups for the entire school year. Differentiating means tailoring your lesson, not your students' goals. Lastly, differentiating instruction is not a strategy to make sure each child reaches the minimum requirements; it ensures that each child reaches his or her potential. Similarly, inclusion is not placing students with disabilities into mainstream classes simply to fill a quota. Maintaining an inclusive classroom is a calculated, well-thought-out process that ensures that all students get the most out of their education. Inclusion is not special education; all students are expected to master the same goals. Finally, inclusion is not meant to ostracize classmates; it is meant to bring them together.
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