Designing a Classroom for Inclusive Learning
Post submitted by Nicole Eredics, an elementary educator who has spent more than 15 years working in inclusive classrooms. She is an advocate and has led community support groups. She currently hosts The Inclusive Class radio show on the Talking Special Needs Network on Blog Talk Radio (Friday mornings at 9 a.m. ET). Eredics has developed and discovered many valuable resources for parents, teachers, and schools that focus on the inclusion of special needs children in the classroom. More information can be found on her blog The Inclusive Class.
In recent years, there has been considerable thought and research given to how schools can create inclusive learning environments. Dozens of reference books have been written that recommend inclusive practice, strategies, and solutions. As a result, teachers are becoming more skilled at including children with special needs in the general education classroom.
However, while teachers and schools gradually move to more inclusive programming, it is also necessary for them to pay close attention to the physical space and design of the classroom. In fact, the physical arrangement of a classroom environment will largely determine if and how inclusion will happen. Therefore, creating an inclusive learning environment isn't just about changing attitudes, support systems, and activities. It is also about rearranging the physical space to accommodate the various needs that exceptional children have.
Below are several suggestions teachers can use to facilitate inclusion in a classroom by appropriately arranging the physical environment.
1. Place Student Desks in Groups—Put desks in small groups (2–4 desks per group) so that all students have the opportunity for cooperative learning, collaboration, and discussion. As well, place the teacher's desk on the periphery of the classroom. Teachers in an inclusive class rarely sit down during their day and don't need their desks getting in the way!
2. Provide Centers—Centers appeal to various learning styles, but they must be accessible and open. As well, the materials and manipulatives at each center must be appropriate and stored where all students can reach them. Placing books on a high shelf is limiting for a smaller student or one who is in a wheelchair.
3. Meeting Spot—Create one area of the classroom where the students can come together to have discussions, develop social skills, and participate in large group activities. This space must have enough room for ALL the students to gather.
4. Classroom Decor—An inclusive classroom needs to be decorated in a way that does not create distraction and sensory overload. Too many bright colors, posters, clutter, and furniture can easily distract the most focused child!
5. Safety/Emergency Preparedness—Ensure adequate space for all students to move safely around the room. Clear clutter, stabilize furniture, tape down wires and cables, and place signs and symbols around the room that point out exit and entry ways in case of an emergency.
Although attitudes, teaching styles, and inclusive activities are important components of inclusion, the special needs child's physical environment can help or hinder the process. This in turn can affect feelings of belonging, success, and self-esteem. Carefully planning out the physical space of the classroom strongly supports an inclusive learning environment.