When it comes to creating an inclusive classroom, it's very important to be certain that the physical layout and the functioning of your room does not favor any child over another.
Obviously, there will always be “front” and “not-in-front” parts to your classroom, but all children must be rotated through all sections.
And never, ever locate students in your room so that it is more convenient for you. For example, it is all too common for teachers to place those kids with IEP's (who must leave the room for Special Education support) near the door. The justification is that they are then able to slip in and out without bothering the rest of the students.
That is just plain awful.
When somebody steps into your room, they should not be able to tell who your Special Education students are. They must be fully integrated with the other students.
How they enter and leave the classroom is only a matter of setting expectations. By the way, when they do return from being away from your close-knit group, they should be greeted with:
“Welcome back; here's what we’re doing.”
Treating Special Education kids in any way that diminishes them can really get my temper up!
But this principle doesn't apply only to kids with IEP's; trouble-prone, talkative, or even checked-out students belong at the front of the room just as much as tuned-in, behaving kids.
Student-centered teaching means that every child in our rooms feels very keenly that they are not a second-class citizen in any way. Maybe they get treated that way in other areas of their lives, but not while they are under our care.
Video tips: best seating for Special Education inclusion
Humans love to label other humans. Unfortunately, this labeling usually occurs almost immediately after being introduced!
And, of course, humans are also extremely reluctant to change labels once they have been applied. Are you still trying to escape some labels that your family applied to you in your youth? Yeah… I thought so.
Just as we will never allow children to diminish each other by labeling, we should never do it ourselves. And this applies to both “good” and “bad” labels. It's as detrimental to call undue attention to your high-performing students as it is to single out those who are having difficulty.
This is what I had to say on this topic in my book Elementary Einsteins: 4 Simple Steps to Challenging Gifted Students in Your Classroom:
“I truly believe that every child is gifted at something, and each and every one of those gifts needs to be recognized and celebrated in the elementary classroom. That's how we build community.”
“Specialness” is often a label that is used to set people apart. This will unravel your classroom community very quickly. As a consequence, I do not even use the term “gifted” when referring to the gifted kids in my room. It's very similar to the way I do not use the term “Special Education” when referring to kids with IEP's.
Instead, I establish an expectation that every child gets the individual attention they need to succeed. This allows me to describe each child's needs in terms of what they individually require for effective learning.
So when students learn that certain kids are going to a gifted program, I explain that those children have a different learning style; they need to have some project-based learning, which is why they leave the classroom one day a week to receive it.
In the same vein, I explain that Special Education kids need more one-on-one and small-group support, and that's why they receive extra help or pull-out time.
When every child in your room knows deep in his heart that he will receive exactly what he needs from his teacher to learn most effectively, he won’t begrudge the time or attention other kids get. In this way, everyone is “special”… but no one is any more special than anyone else.