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«ABSTRACT nclusion of students with special needs is prevalent in many I countries. One of many goals of special education is to give students with ...»

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PP. 54 – 69

European Journal of Business and Social Sciences, Vol. 1, No. 5, pp 54-69, August 2012.

URL: http://www.ejbss.com/recent.aspx

ISSN: 2235 -767X

Special Needs Students in Inclusive Classrooms:

The Impact of Social Interaction on Educational Outcomes

for Learners with Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities

Mark A. Lamport, Ph.D.

Liberty University (Virginia, USA);

Colorado Christian University (Colorado, USA)

Evangelische Theologische Faculteit (Leuven, Belgium);

Instituto Biblico Portuges (Lisbon, Portugal) Lucheia Graves Amy Ward MAT, MBA, Ed.S. (cand.) MAT, Ed.S. (cand.) Banks County Middle School (Georgia, USA) Reidsville High School (North Carolina, USA)


nclusion of students with special needs is prevalent in many I countries. One of many goals of special education is to give students with disabilities the opportunity to participate in the least restrictive environment so that they receive as much education as possible with non-disabled students. There are many strategies and models school systems are using to ensure special education students are participating within the mainstream classroom setting; however, the inclusion model seems to prove to be the most beneficial in the areas of academic achievement and social interaction. The inclusion model centers on educating students with disabilities in the general education setting along with their non-disabled peers. General education teachers do have concerns about teaching students with learning impairments including lack of training, planning time, and resources so research is essential to demonstrate how the inclusion model can have a positive impact on academic achievement as well as social interaction among students with disabilities. This paper includes a review of literature relating to the problems special needs students encounter by being included in the regular classroom. In general, the literature indicates inclusion can be problematic for special needs students. However, the literature indicates with proper training and resources, inclusion can be a practical and effective learning environment.

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What are Inclusive Classrooms?

The inclusion method is a basic model where both disabled and non-disabled students are educated within the same classroom. Educational inclusion, then, offers education geared to include all students, even those with disabilities in the same learning environment. This may include special needs children who have emotional and/or behavioral problems. Teachers may encounter a variety of situations in the classroom, including those with learning disorders, emotional disabilities, and mental retardation. Special needs students are placed in the regular education classroom and are involved in instructional settings that may have the general education teacher, the special education teacher, the teacher assistant and possibly parental or community volunteers (Wiebe & Kim, 2008). The most popular inclusion method seems to be a co-teaching model. “Co-teaching may be defined as the partnership of a general education teacher and a special education teacher or another specialist for the purpose of jointly delivering instruction to a diverse group of students, including those with disabilities or other special needs, in a general education setting, and in a way that flexibly and deliberately meets their learning needs” (Friend, Cook, Chamberlain, & Shamberger, 2010, p. 241).

Inclusion of all children within the classroom has brought about a new challenge for teachers.

A typical class may consists of gifted children, slow learners, English-language learners, mentallyretarded children, hyperactive children, emotionally challenged children, and low socioeconomically status children. With such a diverse combination, classroom management, along with focusing on delivering a differentiated instruction that targets each student individually in the classroom has made a regular education teacher’s job beyond difficult. Because the state and federal education systems are calling for schools to improve special education, school systems are turning to inclusion of special education students in the mainstream setting.

Education can be a powerful tool to unify the students with disabilities and those without them (Mowat, 2010), but what problems do special needs students encounter by being included in the regular classroom? This review of the literature will examine the effects of the inclusion model on the academic achievement and social interaction among students with disabilities.

A Brief History of Inclusion The many issues affecting inclusion of special needs students have been debated over the last 25 years (Odom, Buysse, & Soukakou, 2011). The term “inclusion” replaced all previous terminologies, i.e., integrated special education, reverse mainstreaming, previous to the early 1990s in hopes that the word would mean more than placing children with special needs in the regular educational classroom, including a sense of belonging, social relationships, and academic development and learning (Odom, Buysse, & Soukakou, 2011).

The reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) 2004 and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), requires American school systems to examine how to best address the needs of students with disabilities based on academic achievement. This has “shifted the instructional focus with regard to students with disabilities from where they are educated to how they are educated” (McDuffie, Mastropieri, & Scruggs, 2009, p. 494). It requires that students with disabilities have access to the general education curriculum by being placed in the least restricted environment possible and therefore participate in the same assessments as students without disabilities unless the nature of their disability is determined to be too severe to do so. Both also mandate that students with disabilities show progress in academic classes and participate with their non-disabled peers on all state assessments. “Districts and schools have struggled to overcome


PP. 54 – 69 a history of a separate and segregated special education system, and for various reasons, efforts to include students with disabilities in general education have not always been successful” (Calabrase, Patterson, Liu, Goodvin, & Hummel, 2008, p. 62). Many school systems have adopted the inclusion model as a method to ensure IDEA and NCLB are being implemented.

Learning Theories Related to Inclusion Social Learning Theory. With so many factors that would seem to make inclusive classrooms unproductive, what learning theories might support the idea? Within the school setting, all students are expected to learn academic concepts as well as behavioral skills. Because both of these areas often times are potential barriers for disabled students, they can develop low self-esteem issues which hinder them socially. “These learners, due to their histories of repeated failure at school, are likely to feel as though academic outcomes are beyond their control, thus perceiving themselves as less competent than their peers” (Ntshangase, Mdikana, & Cronk, 2008, p. 77). It is important that academic content and social skills are addressed within the classroom.

Albert Bandura developed the social learning theory which states that learning, both cognitive and behavioral, takes place through the observation, modeling, and imitation of others.

“The main characteristic of the social learning theory, are the centrality of observational learning, a causal model that involves an environment- person- behavior system, cognitive contributions, and self-efficacy and agency” (Miller, 2011, p. 236). This theory proposes that academic and behavior modeling takes place through verbal instruction, live modeling by a person, and symbolic modeling through four steps: attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. Inclusion classes capitalize on this theory because disabled peers can observe their nondisabled peers and their teachers and then imitate them both academically and behaviorally. Social learning theory combined with Freudian learning principles focus on teaching children important real-life social behaviors (Miller, 2011). As mentioned before, advocates for inclusion thought this course of action would help students with disabilities by emerging them into a learning community that mimics a mini society.

Through this learning community students with disabilities are able to interact with their peers and develop friendships.

When included in the regular classroom, special needs students have the opportunity to see their peers working habits, and they can model those habits and behaviors to reflect their own. This insight ties into the Freudian theory of identification through observation of learned behavior from the peers around them. Bandura and Walter, who were two other researchers who expanded on the exploration of Sigmund Freud’s identification concept of identification through modeling, realized that new behavior can be attained by observation; for example, when a student sees a peer being praised for their hard work, the student learns to try that behavior in hopes of pleasing the teacher and being praised also (Miller, 2011). This plays into the observational theory, where students with special needs can watch the correct behavior and model that desired performance.

Observational Learning Theory. Students with special needs can learn not only desired behaviors from their peers through social interaction, they can also learn academically within their learning community. Children can be the best teachers. Cooperative learning involves social interaction amongst the students, and it is the key to educational thinkers such as Piaget and Vygotsky (Slavin, 2009). Using social interaction and active experiences in learning helps children to feed knowledge to one another. These methods also promote social communication skills that children will need to possess as adults. They will need to be able to effectively discuss the various issues that will occur as life progresses. Even students with special needs can offer educational


PP. 54 – 69 knowledge to their peers; if the students learn that they can teach others and learn from others, and then they will feel a sense of belonging, pride, and responsibility. When students are working together, these students can be paired with slower learner students from time to time. When students work together and are able to engage in discussions on different ideas, then the sky’s the limit to what types of knowledge the students can transmit to one another. Peer learning helps students to build effective listening and communication skills (Harding, 2009).

Guided Learning Theory. In addition to social learning and observational learning theories, the zone of proximal development also has implication for inclusive classrooms. According to Lev Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development states that students learn when guided by an adult or when working with more capable peers. “A more competent person collaborates with a child to help him move from where he is now to where he can be with help. This person accomplishes this feat by means of prompts, clues, modeling, explanation, leading questions, discussion, joint participation, encouragement, and control of the child’s attention” (Miller, 2011, p. 175). Students with disabilities can learn from their peers without disabilities as well as with the support of adult guidance to gain a better understanding of the concept being taught. For example, peer tutoring has been found to be effective for students with disabilities (McDuffie, Mastropieri, & Scruggs, 2009).

A second example is when a teacher provides scaffolding. Scaffolding occurs a great learning support is provided at the time new concepts are introduced and the support is slowly taken from the student as he or she masters the content.

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