This lesson defines mainstreaming and inclusion in a general education classroom. It discusses how each method is used and how it could be beneficial or a hindrance to a student with a disability.
The Best Educational Opportunities
Imagine you are being placed in Advanced Quantum Physics. Everyone is expected to take and perform well in this class. For most of us, this would be absolutely terrifying, especially if we had little to no previous exposure to this topic. Unfortunately, this type of scary classroom experience is a reality for many children, especially those with disabilities.
Children with disabilities might have mental and/or physical delays that affect how they function academically. Children who are deemed gifted or academically advanced can also be affected by classroom placement. In an effort to ensure that all children are afforded the best educational opportunities, modifications are sometimes made to the classroom experience. Some students might find regular classroom situations are overwhelming and inappropriate for their developmental needs. However, for others, being placed in a general education classroom will cause them to excel academically and/or socially because they feel that they're part of the learning process and aren't being overlooked or excluded.
It's vital that every student is academically placed based on their individual needs and is not simply grouped based on their identified diagnosis. This leads to two main approaches to individualized education plans: mainstreaming and inclusion.
Mainstreaming is the placement of a child with a disability (or exceptionality) in a general education classroom, with the expectation that the student will be able to work and produce assignments at a similar rate as students who don't have disabilities. Students with disabilities who participate in mainstreaming are given the same assignments as other students with only slight differences if necessary. In a mainstreaming classroom, there's only the general education teacher. Therefore, if a student needs help, he/she will have to wait and receive assistance that's similar to what other students in the classroom receive.
Students in a mainstreaming classroom are expected to perform and maintain at a comparable pace with students who don't have disabilities. This type of classroom would also apply to gifted students who might be able to perform well academically but who might struggle socially. Gifted students are students who are excelling above average based on testing results. For some students this method might be best because their disability might have nothing to do with their ability to learn and process information. But for others, this method might cause them to feel socially awkward because they're unable to perform or fit in as well as other students.
Inclusion is also the placement of a child with a disability in a general education classroom. However, in an inclusion classroom, students with disabilities are often given modified assignments and have extra assistance from a special education teacher and/or paraprofessional. The focus when placing students with disabilities in an inclusion classroom is to help prepare them socially and teach them to work at their own level.
For example, in a general education class, students might be expected to identify, label, and describe each planet in the solar system. Students with disabilities who are in these classrooms might only be required to verbally identify each planet and tell one fact about that planet. Assignments are based on the same information but are modified depending on the academic level of the student with disabilities. Students with disabilities might be placed in groups with other students who do not have disabilities to help encourage respect and appreciation of others and build confidence.
Which Is Better?
Choosing between mainstreaming and inclusion depends totally on the needs of each individual child. One student might excel academically by being placed in a classroom with peers, which could mean the mainstreaming approach would be better suited for that child. Another student might struggle to keep up because he or she isn't able to grasp the information that's being taught at the pace required, meaning inclusion might be a better choice for that student.
The main difference between mainstreaming and inclusion is that students who are participating in mainstreaming are expected to keep up with the other students in the class with little to no assistance. They are also expected to make similar gains while participating in the class. In contrast, students who participate in inclusion are given extra assistance from special education teachers and/or paraprofessionals, and their assignments are modified based on the needs of the student. The focus for students in inclusion is to gain social and life skills, even if they don't make academic gains.
This decision cannot be taken lightly and requires professional judgment. Since every student is different, each student would need to be assessed individually to determine which technique is a better fit, and this assessment should be revisited regularly to make sure the approach in place is still best.
Mainstreaming is the placement of a child with a disability in a general education classroom with the expectation that the student will be able to work and produce assignments at a similar rate as students who do not have disabilities. Inclusion is also the placement of a child with a disability in a general education classroom, though the student is often given modified assignments and extra assistance from a special education teacher and/or paraprofessional. Students who have tested gifted would also fall under this umbrella. Although both methods place students with disabilities in a general education setting, the expectations are different. The important thing to remember is that every student is different, and therefore, what might work for one student, might not be the best approach for another.