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VOL. 126 | NO. 188 | Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Martin Inst. Looks at Inclusion Teaching

By Bill Dries

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Public and private school teachers will explore the shifting line between “mainstream” students and special education students during a two-day special education summit at The Martin Institute that begins Tuesday, Sept. 27.

The session is for special education teachers. The Wednesday session is for teachers outside the specific special education area. Both are on the Presbyterian Day School campus in East Memphis.

The summit and an 18-month focus on special education that follows arose from a series of luncheons and discussions Institute director Clif Mims had last spring with special education teachers.

The teachers and school system administrators cited “inclusion teaching” as both a trend and a challenge for all teachers.

“That child that needed special services for the past several decades, they would be pulled out and they’d go to special ed classrooms for part of the day or maybe even the entire school day,” Mims said. “Education is moving away from that and they are staying in the classroom. The special education teacher now will come and work with the child in the classroom. … This is new.”

The private nonprofit education reform foundation is hosting the forum as one of several discussions about applying new methods in education to public and private schools in Shelby County and throughout the region.

The Brad Martin family created the institute as part of Presbyterian Day School. The Martin family, as well as philanthropists Eddie and Gloria Felsenthal, provided additional separate funding for the two-day summit as well as the 18-month exploration of the issue that will follow.

Both days of the summit, limited to the first 100 registrants, are free to all educators, public or private school from the region. The Tennessee Department of Education has approved the summit for eight hours of professional development credit by the Tennessee Academy for School Leaders and state Continuing Education Credits.

The teachers will hear about and discuss strategies for better coordination between the two or more teachers in a classroom that come with inclusion.

Inclusion teaching also means different ways of dealing with the student behavior that can be an issue with special needs students.

“If you have a child with some special needs and the regular education classroom teacher hasn’t been well equipped in understanding that possibly a child with autism – they are expecting them to stay quiet all day every day and it isn’t necessarily an appropriate expectation for that particular child,” Mims said.

That leads to the larger “umbrella topic” of “differentiation” – different methods for different students in the same classroom whether they have recognized special needs or not.

Memphis City Schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash’s model for pre-k through third grade education features intervention for students not meeting standards. The intervention is designed to bring them up to academic achievement standards and milestones before the end of the school year. And it involves teaching assistants in classrooms who can work separately with those students.

“It really doesn’t matter if a child is receiving special services. Every child needs to learn at their pace and teachers should be customizing lessons and understanding some people are well ahead of grade level and some are at grade level,” Mims said. “While we’re here for a special education summit, we know these things really are applicable to all 30 kids in your class not just those who have been identified as receiving special services from the state.”

Inclusion teaching also means classrooms have two or more teachers for more individualized instruction of children.

“If you’re going to differentiate instruction, that’s a great way for you to take advantage of the fact that a few hours a day there are two teachers in the classroom, maybe even more depending on how many special needs students are included in the classroom,” Mims said.

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