What General Educators Have to Say about Successfully Including Students with Down Syndrome in Their Classes

By Wolpert, Gloria | Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Fall-Winter 2001 | Go to article overview
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What General Educators Have to Say about Successfully Including Students with Down Syndrome in Their Classes


Wolpert, Gloria, Journal of Research in Childhood Education


Abstract. The purpose of this study was to review the instructor and classroom management procedures of those general education teachers involved in the inclusion of children with Down syndrome who have been rated as successful by the children's parents. Using a parent affiliate list provided by the National Down Syndrome Society, 250 questionnaires were mailed to families in the United States. From this group, 195 parents indicated that they thought their children were included successfully, and they then forwarded questionnaires to their children's general education inclusion teachers. Of those, 189 teachers, from kindergarten through 12th grade, returned their questionnaires. According to the reports from the teachers designated by parents as successfully including students with Down syndrome in their classes, praise was the best motivator for the children with Down syndrome and the most effective learning methods were individual and small-group instruction, hands-on activities, and the use of computers fo r practice and drill. When asked for recommendations to improve the inclusion model, the teachers suggested more planning time to modify assignments and tests, more individual instruction time built into the schedule, and more information on learning characteristics of children with Down syndrome.

Since the origins of special education, educators' philosophies on inclusion have differed. These differences reflect issues of curriculum change, classifications and labels, assessment, discipline and management, and teacher education. During the 1990s, political and policy debates about inclusion touched off numerous disagreements among parents, special educators, general educators, psychologists, and related service professionals. Research studies have found improved academic outcomes for students with developmental disabilities in general education settings (Fields, Leroy, & Rivera, 1994; Huntington, 1998). With growing concern for diversity in education, inclusion has been accepted as the moral, legal, and practical way to approach special education reform (Gartner & Lipsky, 1987; Perner & Porter, 1998). In the United States, however, only 9.7% of these students have been placed in inclusive settings (U.S. Department of Education, 1998).

Children with Down syndrome have a wide range of functional differences and different learning styles that usually require more planning of curricular choices and experiences, compared to that for general education students (Cicchetti & Beeghly, 1990). These differences often have meant that children with Down syndrome have been placed in segregated educational programs, consisting of specialized services and smaller groupings (Blatt, 1981; Ellis, Deshler, Lentz, Schumaker, & Clark, 1991). Also, the language, motor, and social skill differences that often characterize students with Down syndrome may affect the teacher's choices of instructional methods and behavior management strategies (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1998; Hasselbring & Goin, 1989; Perner & Porter, 1998).

Individual and small-group instruction have been found to improve the learning capacity of children with developmental disabilities (Haring & Brown, 1976; Snell, 1983; Wolery, Bailey, & Sugai, 1988). This was one of the original reasons for the separate, smaller education classes in the 1950s and 1960s, and is also true with general education students (Munk, Van Laarhoven, Goodman, & Repp, 1998). As general education classes are typically larger than traditional, self-contained special education classes, one might conclude that inclusion may not be the best option for the education of children with Down syndrome. There is much more to the education experience than direct instruction, however, and the sole use of individual and small-group instruction may inhibit the development of these children's social skills and ultimate functioning as members of the larger general population (Rosenthal-Malik, 1998).

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