Diverse Learners in the CLC Classroom

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When I began teaching at Cornerstone eight years ago, school leaders hosted a year-long conversation on diversity.  We looked at the different cultural backgrounds, religious traditions, family structures, income levels, and political viewpoints that are included in our community.

The conversation, went beyond simple inclusion to how we value the differences among us and how we honor what brings us together.  Back then, a diversity of learning styles was already well represented in Cornerstone’s student body.  And it still is.  The students who bring the most diversity can be labeled as having special needs or being gifted.  However, the commitment in our mission is not to a label but to deliberately include a broad range of learners in each classroom.

Differentiating to meet individual needs

Why is that a good thing?

The main argument is that ALL students benefit. 

Students with special learning needs benefit from higher academic and social expectations.  Students without exceptionalities receive the advantage of classroom instruction that is differentiated and that values the unique qualities of every student.

When inclusion is done well, teachers are both reflective in their practice and collaboration-oriented in their approach.

  • Instruction is multi-modal.  It engages more than one sensory system (e.g., auditory and kinesthetic).
  • Students are grouped flexibly for learning activities which require cooperation.
  • Students have choices in the way they engage with the curriculum and how they demonstrate their learning.
  • Teachers collaborate to balance their response to individual needs and group demands.

Good teaching for exceptional students is good teaching for ALL students.

Middle schoolers learn about fish, one body part at a time.

Cornerstone faculty work with a diverse group of learners not just because it seemed like a good idea when the school was founded but because they understand the advantages.   CLC teachers know that having a diverse group challenges them to plan for the individual student and to put aside any “one size fits all” notions.  To be successful they have to embrace the complex nature of that range of learners.  They have to accept support.  And they have to be incredibly creative, determined, and flexible.

I am honored to share my job with teachers who meet these demands with gusto.  We all benefit from their efforts.

Kary Kublin, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, works as Cornerstone’s reading specialist and child language therapist.  She has served as the CLC Support Services Coordinator for the past seven years. 

References

Katz, J. & Mirenda, P.  (2002). “Including student with developmental disabilities in general education classrooms,” International Journal of Special Education, 17(2).

Robertson, T. & Valentine, J. (1999).  NMSA Research Summary #14.  What is the impact of inclusion on students and staff in the middle school setting? [online].   Available: http://www.ncmsa.net/ressum14.htm.  (September 22, 2011).

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