Music & Students with Special Needs (Special Learners in Music) Special Learners in Music
Bartlett - Established 1884 in New York City

Inclusive Classrooms – Research-based Strategies

(drawn from Inclusive Classrooms – Anne M. Bauer and Stephen Kroeger published by Prentice Hall and Case Studies in Music Education by Alice M. Hammel)

Reflection: Try to remember a teacher you really liked when you were in elementary or secondary school. Why did you choose this teacher? What are the attitudes, beliefs, and actions that make this teacher special?

Successful inclusion teachers all possess one basic belief – all children can learn and should have the opportunity to become the best student and person they can be.

Classrooms have changed dramatically in the last 25-30 years. Jackson and Harper (2002) noted:

  • There is increasing cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity.
  • More students with disabilities are in general education classrooms.
  • Special education is seen as a service rather than a place to send children.

Teacher, principals, and schools are held more accountable for the performance of students.

Reflection: Try to remember your first experience with diversity. How did you feel about the person or experience. How are students experiencing diversity today. Is it different than yours?

Successful inclusion teachers assume every child should be there and every child can be successful in the classroom. These teachers accept and embrace their responsibility for creating learning opportunities for all students.

Reflection: What words or phrases do successful inclusion teachers use to describe the students they are teaching and their values regarding inclusion.

General and special education teachers continue to learn to work together in collaboration and co-teaching situations. Roles, expectations, and strategies are constantly shifting.


Teachers who truly individualize their curricula do not “teach to the middle.” Ford, Davern, and Schnorr (2001) outlined basic principles for use in inclusive situations:

  • Priority should be given to development of foundational skills (interactions, gathering data, problem solving).
  • Good education implies individualization. Students are participating in activities for a variety of reasons and with separate goals for learning.
  • Everyone should have the opportunity to experience mastery and accomplishment. Teachers cannot assume that because they teach something learning has taken place.
  • The quality of each student’s educational experience is important. It is important for students to experience joy in learning.

Peer Interactions

Teacher behavior toward students affects student behavior toward students (Birch & Ladd, 1998). Students treat their peers the way the students treat them.

Students much prefer to have a student point a place in a book or remind of a place in an assignment than to have the teacher do the same (other examples – lending pencils, carrying books, making copies of notes, and writing assignments down for students who need assistance). As students learn to care for others, as modeled by the teacher, this type of support begins to occur naturally.

Fairness, or equifinality (Chow, Blais, and Hemingway, 1999) means that all students will have an equal opportunity to learn. Fair and equal are not equivalent.

Reflection: How do you respond to a 4 th, 7 th, or 11 th grade student when they express their dismay over a student being given adaptations and accommodations not available to him (“That’s not fair”)?

How do teachers respond (“it’s not fair”) when students with disabilities are consistently placed with teachers who do well in inclusion settings.

Reflection: How we view students who have difficulty in inclusion settings? Do we view them as the problem or the breakdown between teaching and learning as the issue?

In successful inclusion settings:

  • It is sometimes difficult to identify which children have disabilities because the strengths of each child are used for instruction.
  • Teachers are committed to meeting the needs of each student, care about each student, and reflect on their decisions with each student in mind.
  • Individualization of teaching methods and materials are continuously assessed.
  • The natural proportion of the classroom reflects the natural proportion of the community (diversity, disability, ethnicity)
  • All students are viewed as striving toward normalization
  • Instruction is the focus – rather than “fixing” students

Universal Design for Learning (Rose & Meyer, 2000)

  • Multiple, flexible methods of presentation are used to support diverse recognition networks for students (visual, aural, kinesthetic).
  • Multiple, flexible methods of expression and apprenticeships are used to support students’ various strategic networks (instruction and assessment).
  • Multiple, flexible options for engagement are used to support diverse affective networks (student choice, repetition and surprise).

Reflection: Consider a text or book you use when instructing students. Use the following guidelines for applicability with students with disabilities (Pisha & Coyne, 2001).

  • Support the recognition of patterns – Clear, simple presentation of content without unnecessary clutter, graphics, and sidebars. An outline of important terms and topics is available.
  • Provide supports for the use of strategies – Outlines are available for use prior to text reading. This outline can be used after text reading as an organizer and as a review tool prior to assessments. Terms are available for unfamiliar concepts.
  • Provide supports for engagement – Concept-mapping software and multiple organizational aids and strategies are available. Authentic activities and projects are present.

Effective Instructional Practices in Inclusive Classrooms (Jackson, Harper, & Jackson, 2002)

  • Collaboration among stakeholders to shape and realize a positive, appropriate, learning environment. Students, parents, and teachers are working together for the success of the student.
  • Parental involvement to maximize learning time, support students’ learning, and provide for communication between home and school. Successful parent/teacher partnerships are forged through effective communication. The National Parent Teacher Association (1997) lists (a) regular, meaningful two-way communication; (b) promoting and supporting parenting skills; (c) active parent participation in student learning; (d) welcoming parent volunteers; (e) including parents in decision making; (f) outreach in the community for resources that can strengthen the educational experience.
  • A self-directed learning environment, in which students learn to set goals and engage in self-instruction and self-monitoring. Students monitor themselves as they accomplish tasks and function in the learning environment. This can diminish or eliminate “learned helplessness.”
  • Peer supports, so that learners can be both teachers and learners in the classroom, engaged in cooperative rather than competitive learning experiences. “Buddies” and helpers rather than additional adults and instructors.
  • Flexible grouping, allowing students to work in a variety of structures to meet their current needs and to construct social knowledge. Group and independent groupings as well as how groups are formed are flexible.
  • Both explicit and implicit instruction, in which children learn skills and are presented with open-ended and authentic learning opportunities. Students are given opportunities to learn through direct instruction and creative and expressive experiences.
  • Formative evaluation that measures results of instruction in authentic ways. Students are asked to demonstrate knowledge continuously and in authentic ways.

Questions for evaluation of inclusive instructional strategies (Block, 1994).

  • Does the plan allow students with disabilities to participate successfully, yet still be challenged? Are materials age-related?
  • Does the plan have a negative impact on students without disabilities?
  • Does the plan place undue burden on the teacher?

Reflection: What types of teaching techniques have a negative impact on students without disabilities? Is it possible to have an instructional strategy be harmful to other students when the teacher is following the Universal Design for Learning?

Differentiated Instruction (Tomlinson, 2001)

  • Instruction is focused on concepts and driven by principles – Rather than seek to “cover material,” teachers ensure each student has an opportunity to learn concepts.
  • Assessment of student readiness and growth are built into the curriculum – Assessment is constant and students receive support and academic extensions as necessary.
  • Students work in a variety of patterns – Opportunities to work independently, in pairs, and in groups are provided.
  • Students actively explore content while teachers guide that exploration. The teacher is a facilitator and students are able to possess ownership of their learning.
  • Teachers differentiate curriculum through:
    • Content
    • Process
    • Products

Flow can be created in a classroom through differentiation (Tomlinson, 1995)

  • Class begins to work on a topic or concept with a general presentation.
  • Students work in flexible grouping situations using various materials to explore the topic or concept.
  • Class comes together to share learning and develop questions.
  • Students return to tasks to understand key ideas at appropriate levels of complexity.
  • Class comes together again.
  • Teacher presents problems and activities for students to solve in flexible groupings.
  • Students select activities to extend learning.
  • Class comes together to share student results and evaluate findings.

Reflection: In teaching, how have you used assessment as a teaching tool? How have you seen others use assessment as a teaching tool?

Behavior Management in the Classroom

Several attributes of teachers who effectively manage classroom behaviors were identified by Good and Brophy (1995).

  • Cheerful, friendly, mature, and sincere
  • Self-confident and calm in a crisis
  • Good listeners who are able to avoid win/lose conflicts and who maintain a problem-solving orientation
  • Realistic in their perceptions of themselves and their students
  • Able to enjoy their students while remaining in the role of teacher
  • Clear and comfortable about their role as a teacher
  • Patient and determined in working with students who continue to test limits
  • Accepting of individual students but perhaps not their behavior
  • Firm yet flexible

Teachers do not always have to react to behavior. A teacher may permit, tolerate, interfere, or prevent behaviors (Redl, 1959).

Day-to-day techniques include:

  • Planned ignoring
  • Signal interference
  • Proximity control
  • Interest boosting
  • Humor
  • Hurdle helping
  • Restructuring the program
  • Support from routine
  • Appeal to values
  • Removing seductive objects
  • Antiseptic bouncing

Reflection: Think about your own classroom experiences. Provide examples of these techniques that have been successful in your classroom.

When these techniques are not effective, Daniels (1998) recommends the following questions:

  • Could this behavior be a result of what or how I am teaching? Is the content too difficult or too easy? Should I try another instructional strategy?
  • Could this behavior be the result of the students’ inability to understand what I am teaching? Students may demonstrate undesirable behaviors when they are not ready for the material being presented, when they are frustrated, or when the activity has no meaning to them.
  • Could this behavior be related to the student’s disability? For example, if a student avoids reading out loud, maybe he or she is unable to read fluently.
  • Could the behavior be a result of the arrangement of the room? Sitting in desks in rows for 50 minutes with little opportunity for movement is difficult for all students.
  • Could the behavior be related to things you cannot control? For example, if a student has a difficult or long ride on the bus every morning, it may be difficult to transition to class work.
  • Could the behavior be related to your class routines? Are routines so complex that students have a difficult time managing them?

The Larger Context of Behavior

Apter and Propper (1986) found five ways to think of problem behavior.

  • Past efforts may have failed because the focus may have been too narrow.
  • The child is seldom, if ever, the entire problem.
  • Everyone in the environment has needs; pay attention to all of them.
  • Attention to relationships and connections between them may be the most important determinant of success.
  • The impact of an ecological approach can go beyond the child.

Apter and Propper (1986) also discuss incongruence between acceptable in various settings as well as a disparity between abilities of a student and the demands placed on him in an environment.

Reflection: Think about times in your life when you have been “in trouble.” What thinking affected your behavior? What systems were involved? What supports did you have?

Assumptions of Positive Behavior Supports

  • Behavior serves a function or purpose for an individual
  • Intervention is instructional and preventative
  • Interventions are based on individual needs
  • Interventions are comprehensive and consider long-term outcomes over the span of years

Reflection: Who or what is an “agent of change” in a learning environment? What characteristics do teachers who are good “agents of change” possess?

Functional Behavioral Assessment

A Functional Behavioral Assessment provides structure to examine the biological, social, affective, and environmental factors of behavior. There are four assumptions of functional behavioral assessments:

  • Every behavior serves a function for the individual
  • Behavioral interventions are most effective when they teach the individual what to do instead of what not to do
  • Interventions are more effective when they work with many people in many places
  • Only use a procedure with an individual identified with a disability that you would use with an individual not identified with a disability (Bambara & Mitchell-Kvacky, 1994).

The following questions are at the heart of a functional behavioral assessment:

  • Who should be on the team?
  • What information do we need to make good decisions?
  • How will we gather the information?
  • What is the target behavior?
  • What hypothesis explains the situation?
  • What are our measurable goals?
  • How can we help the person reach these goals?
  • How will we monitor intervention effectiveness?
  • Is it working?
  • What are the next steps?

Reflection: Think about a student you have taught who displayed some challenging behaviors. What setting events (antecedents) may have influenced or maintained that behavior?

Reflection: Think of the same student who displays challenging behaviors. What is your description of that student from a teacher-centered point of view? What is your description of that student from a student-centered, problem-solving point of view?


Gore and Zeichner (1991) describe three types of reflection

  • Technical reflection – concern for efficacy and effectiveness of use in teaching practices
  • Practical reflection – explains and clarifies assumptions and predispositions underlying actions and assesses educational goals of an activity
  • Critical reflection – uses explicit moral and ethical criteria to assess practical action. Are the actions leading us toward justice, equity, caring, and compassion?

Effective teacher engagement encompasses all three levels of reflection.

Reflection: Consider a situation where you used all three levels of reflection. What were the technical aspects? What assumptions and predispositions were involved? What values guided the process? What ethical concerns were embedded? Were values in conflict?

Critical reflection components to consider in understanding students with disabilities (Guild, 1994).

  • Students of any particular age will differ in the ways in which they learn.
  • Learning styles are a function of both nature and nurture.
  • Learning styles, in themselves, are neither good nor bad
  • Within any group, the variations among individuals are as great as their commonalities
  • There is cultural conflict between some students and the typical learning experience in school

The Guiding principles of collaboration include (Friend & Cook, 1992):

  • Collaboration is voluntary
  • Collaboration requires parity between individuals
  • Collaboration is grounded on mutual goals
  • Collaboration depends on shared responsibility for participation and decision making
  • Individuals who collaborate share their resources
  • Individuals who collaborate share accountability for outcomes

Emergent characteristics of collaboration include:

  • Individuals who collaborate value the interpersonal nature of collaboration
  • Professionals who collaborate trust one another
  • A sense of community evolves from collaboration

Reflection: Consider a situation where “collaboration” was taking place in name only. What key principles were included? What were absent? How successful was the collaboration?

Communication barriers that exist in collaborative situations were identified by Pugach and Johnson (1995).

  • Giving advice
  • Giving false reassurances.
  • Misdirected questions.
  • Inattention
  • Interruptions
  • Using clichés
  • Moving too quickly to problem solving

Pugach and Johnson (1995) recommend the following active listening skills:

  • Offering support
  • Using general, nonthreating openings
  • Restating what another individual contributed to make sure the information is clear
  • Verbalizing the message you feel is being implied
  • Asking the speaker to clarify
  • Allowing silence to occur so participants can reflect
  • Putting events in the proper order and context
  • Summarizing so that everyone has an opportunity to agree or disagree with what was said


Apter, S.J., & Propper, C.A. (1986). Ecological perspectives on youth violence. In S.J. Apter & A.P. Goldstein (Eds.), Youth violence: Programs and prospects (pp.159-160). New York: Pergamon Press.

Birch, S.H., & Ladd, G. W. (1998). Children’s interpersonal behaviors and the teacher-child relationship. Developmental Psychology, 35, 61-80.

Block, M.E. (1994). A teacher’s guide to including students with disabilities in regular physical education. Baltimore: Paul H. Brooks.

Chow, P., Blais, L., & Hemingway, J. (1999). An outsider looking in: Total inclusion and the concept of equifinality. Education, 119(3), 53-58.

Daniels, V.I. (1998). How to manage disruptive behavior in inclusive classrooms. Teaching Exceptional Children, 25(3), 53-58.

Ford, A., Davern, K., & Schnorr, R. (2001). Learners with significant disabilities: Curricular relevance in an era of standards-based reform. Remedial and Special Education, 22(4), 214-222.

Good, T.L., & Brophy, J. (1995). Contemporary educational psychology (5 th Ed.). Reading, MA: Addison Wesley Longman.

Gore, J.M., & Zeichner, K.M. (1991). Action research and reflective teaching in preservice teacher education: A case study from the United States. Teaching and Teacher Education, 7(2), 119-136.

Guild, P. (1994). The culture/learning style connection. Educational Leadership, May, 16-21.

Jackson, R., & Harper, K. (2002). Teacher planning and the universal design for learning. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum.

Jackson, R., Harper, K., & Jackson, J. (2002). Effective teaching practices and their barriers limiting their use in accessing the curriculum: A review of recent literature. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum.

Pisha, B., & Coyne, P. (2001). Smart from the start. The promise of Universal Design for Learning. Remedial and Special Education, 22(4), 197-203.

Pugach, M., & Johnson, L.J. (1988). Rethinking the relationship between consultation and collaborative problem-solving. Focus on Exceptional Children, 21(4), 1-8.

Redl, F. (1959). The concept of the life space interview. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 29, 1-18.

Rose, D., & Meyer, A. (2002). Universal design for individual differences. Educational Leadership,58(3), 39-43.

Tomlinson, C. (1995). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Tomlinson, C. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms (2 nd Ed.). Alexandria, VA. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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