Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Preventing Alienation in the Classroom

Preventing Alienation in the Classroom

- By Guest Blogger Samantha L. Henneman -

During my early school career, I was always well-liked. However, I was always treated as the "disabled" girl. My teachers figuratively shined a spotlight on my differences by constantly asking if I needed assistance and/or publicly announcing the modification of my assignments. However well meant, this caused me embarrassment, and made me feel separated from my classmates.

With the concept of inclusive classrooms being more widely accepted, teachers have an easier way to truly include special needs children into the educational and social environment of the classroom. Differentiated instruction can be beneficial to all children, as they themselves scaffold each other in the development of skills. This approach pairs younger children with more capable classmates. However, special needs children can specifically benefit from this approach, in a modified form. If teachers can group children together, making sure each group contained a mixture of special needs and non-special needs children, the non-special needs children can provide the special needs children with socialization and assistance, without teacher interference. This grouping can also build the special needs children's sense of self-esteem and self-worth, as they contribute to the group effort, and build friendships.

Non-special needs children can also benefit from this grouping arrangement. They will have the opportunity to personally get to know and learn about special needs children. This knowledge will increase their acceptance for other children's differences. Having any of their questions answered firsthand will relieve the unavoidable tension that occurs when children are faced with the unknown. As non-special needs children closely interact with special needs children, teachers will be required to "explain" about the special needs children less, and allow more natural participation.

When teachers are relieved of the pressure of having to "find a place" for special needs children in the classroom, they can focus on providing the entire class with an appropriate education. While they will still remain to take on the role of a facilitator in maintaining group cohesion, teachers can focus less on a specific group of children, providing a more natural classroom environment. Overall, the group dynamic will help special needs children develop a broader view of their world, beyond their challenges.

Almost from birth, special needs children are made aware of their differences. They are almost automatically placed in a "separate group" from the rest of society, especially in the school environment. However, this only serves to alienate them socially, emotionally, and educationally from classmates. Intermingling special needs and non-special needs children, through grouping, will encourage socialization and the concept of special needs children as valued members of the class.

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