In a secondary or any non-traditional setting, inclusion in the general education classroom may not be able to serve all of our purposes of increasing and generalizing skills because of the structure of the general education classroom itself. As a supplement to numerous inclusion opportunities that my students utilize, I have found a model of “reverse inclusion” to be very helpful as well. In this model, general education students come into my self-contained classroom. We have peers come into our classrooms and they take on a variety of roles. At our school, these students have to be qualified to be in the program and be trained to be eligible to be in our classroom. There are many ways that these students can be utilized to grow our special education students and their skill sets.
When students are in a group instruction setting, I use peer models to exhibit appropriate group behaviors. I intersperse the peers answering questions and taking turns at the Smartboard or in the hands on activity that we are completing that day. The peers understand their expectations, so they stay engaged and participating. My students do incredibly well during these periods. They benefit from a slightly larger than normal instructional group and from the modeling of appropriate behaviors/engagement. One of the resources that we use during this time is the TAH Science Curriculum and it flows wonderfully.
Model Independent Practice
After group instruction, students rotate to stations for independent practice and further 1:1 instruction. Peers rotate to practice stations with students and model getting started and completing the work at the station. We have a much higher rate of completion when the students have someone working alongside them. The peers have had training on minimizing prompts given to the students and only providing a visual cue with their progression in the task.
Model Leisure Skills and Social Skills
During other periods of the day, we have times when we practice leisure skills. One of my favorite skills to work on is turn taking during games. Given a choice, my students would rather play games with a peer than with me anyday. They have a wide variety of skills to work on during these games. I am not the only blogger who loves games! Here is a link to several helpful posts on games in the classroom.
Students and peers also enjoy puzzles, work out on the track, and complete age appropriate arts and crafts activities. This is fun for all and really bonds our students and our peers to see that they enjoy a lot of the same things. I love opportunities to bring to light similar interests and not just the differences that exist.
Throughout the day, peers provide opportunities for different communication partners. Most often, communication opportunities happen naturally, as a student enters or leaves greetings and salutations occur. Conversations come up organically for them to talk about: current events, clothing items, school activities, or shared interests. At times, I will set peers up with sample Questions to ask to keep conversations moving or cover topics that might not naturally come up for teenagers, but may showcase previously attained knowledge. We also frequently practice necessary social exchanges and appropriate accompanying behaviors.
Job Skill Modeling
In an ideal job setting, we want to set up natural supports for our students. A coworker is a more natural support than a paraprofessional or long term job coach, so if we can provide practice opportunities with a peer, we are on the path to a more independent job skill set. We have peers come alongside our students as they complete campus jobs and work our on campus business. All students are gaining skills for the future and our special education students have greater feeling of independence when a task is completed without the help of staff.
If we have several students absent and there are no other students in neighboring classrooms that peers could be learning alongside, we allow the student peers to help us prep materials as an alternative to sitting or playing on their phones. They all enjoy cutting and laminating, as it is a rare treat. I will never turn down an extra set of hands who can help us to make more materials to help our students learn and grow.
I love having all types of students in my classroom, learning alongside one another. I know that the peers that I speak with outside of the classroom tell me how much they learn about themselves and how much their world view changes as a result of being in my classroom. Many students pursue this elective opportunity year after year and become true friends with our students. I hope that each of you are able to find ways to create authentic relationships and learning opportunities for general and special education students daily.