By Gordon L. Porter, C.M., O.N.B., Director of Inclusive Education Canada
There are three components that form the basis for effective inclusive education in Canadian schools and classrooms.
The first is sound policy and leadership based on our shared Canadian commitment to inclusion and diversity that have been nurtured in the post-Charter period. Canada’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with the impetus to inclusion contained in Article 24 is further evidence of this fact. More work needs to be done in this area, particularly in some provinces (ex. Ontario, and other large provinces) but the challenge is more about getting inclusion done than getting agreement that it is the preferred goal.
The second component of an inclusive school program is putting in place the school and classroom practices needed to support teachers and students. This includes building a collaborative school environment, putting in place trained support teachers, supporting students with para-professionals and more. This area requires sustained effort over time to put in place what is needed.
The third essential ingredient needed to make inclusion work effectively for students and teachers is the development of a set of instructional practices that can be utilized by classroom teachers in a realistic way on a day-to-day basis. This is the area addressed by the partnership between Inclusive Education Canada and Microsoft Canada.
Classroom teachers need a toolkit to provide instruction to a diverse group of students in an inclusive classroom. They need to adhere to the curriculum goals and objectives established by the Ministry of Education, a considerable challenge in itself. But that’s not all they need to do. They also have to know the specific learning needs of their students, particularly those with defined personal plans (IEPs; Personalized Learning Plans; etc.) based on a disability or some other special need.
Teachers must fulfill five very complex tasks:
- Consider the curriculum and specific outcomes (knowledge or skill);
- Identify an instructional strategy to use with students;
- Consider the specific learning needs and strengths of the students (typically several) in the class who have an IEP or Personalized Learning Plan;
- Engage students in an instructional session that results in meaningful learning for all students;
- Evaluate the actual success of students with the learning outcomes identified.
Clearly, these tasks are a challenge for even the most effective teachers. To succeed they need support and they need access to a toolkit of strategies and practices that help them in every way possible. Some of the tools typically cited by experts include: differentiated instruction; use of universal design for learning; cooperative learning; use of the multiple intelligences model; utilizing Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Levels; consideration of learning modalities; constructivist teaching approaches; and more.
However, perhaps the most promising tool of all to help teachers meet the needs of a diverse student population is the use of technology and computer-supported learning. This is the area we want to focus on in our partnership with Microsoft Canada. We want to promote teachers’ use of computer-based approaches to meet distinct student needs. To do this, we need to start with knowledge and awareness. That needs to be followed up by investment in training and investment in bringing technology into the classroom. Harnessing this potential in the service of meeting student learning in the inclusive classroom is our challenge. The partnership between Inclusive Education Canada and Microsoft Canada is a way to further this effort and focus on the unique needs of all students.