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Nicole Eredics
BY Nicole Eredics

5 Ways Inclusive Classrooms Are Different from Self-Contained Classrooms

Are you the parent of a student with disabilities in the public school system? If so, it’s likely that your child is educated in either a self-contained or an inclusive setting. It’s important to know the difference between self-contained classrooms and inclusive classrooms, and why it matters. Families can help schools identify which educational setting works best for their child. They can also expect schools to provide the most appropriate education possible.

Self-Contained Classrooms

Self-contained classrooms were established decades ago when students with disabilities were first placed in the public school system. Prior to self-contained classrooms, most children with disabilities were educated in separate facilities. The purpose of the self-contained classroom is to give students with disabilities specialized interventions and support. The class is sometimes smaller in size than a general education class, with a lead teacher and several

The purpose of the self-contained classroom is to give students with disabilities specialized interventions and support. The class is sometimes smaller in size than a general education class, with a lead teacher and several paraprofessionals who provide assistance. Students spend the majority of their day in the self-contained classroom. While beneficial for some students, self-contained classrooms have limitations that inclusive classrooms do not.

Inclusive Classrooms

Inclusive classrooms educate students with and without disabilities. Studies since the 1970s have proven over and over again that students with disabilities who are taught alongside typically developing students make tremendous gains in all areas of personal growth and development. As such, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (a federal law that governs how people with disabilities are educated in American schools) states that children need to have access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom to the maximum extent possible.

Benefits of Inclusive Classrooms

Here are five specific ways in which inclusive classrooms are different from self-contained classrooms:

1. Students with disabilities are given the same educational opportunities as their typically developing peers.

This is because they spend the majority of their day in the inclusive class together. Specialty services and supports are brought to the student, curriculum is modified, and accommodations are made for learning. Wherever possible, the student remains with his or her class.

2. Inclusive classrooms give students the opportunity to interact and learn with others who have a wide variety of abilities and backgrounds.

Students learn about one another, develop respect, and gain a deeper understanding of diversity. They are socially prepared for a future beyond school.

3. Inclusive classrooms are hubs of activity.

Teachers use a variety of research-based teaching methods, resources, and learning materials to reach the span of ability levels and learning styles. Group work, discussions, and demonstrations are seen daily in an inclusive class. Students are given a variety of ways to learn and show what they know.

4. Inclusive classrooms create a greater sense of community for all families.

Parents and siblings share common experiences with others. For example, they see one another at assemblies, celebrations, school activities, and fundraisers. As a result, families of children with disabilities become more integrated into school life.

5. Inclusive classrooms provide a rich education with high standards.

Students have the input and support of numerous learning specialists, such as a special education teacher, occupational therapist, counselor, and speech-language pathologist. In addition, they have the benefit of a classroom teacher who is well versed in teaching and learning methods. This collaboration of education professionals ensures that all students have their educational needs met in high quality environments.

Promoting Inclusion

While inclusive education is not a new concept, it is unfortunately not a common one either. Many schools across the U.S. have yet to adopt the inclusion model, favoring self-contained classrooms instead. However, from the examples above, you can see that inclusive classrooms are very beneficial to students with disabilities. This knowledge can help families give input into educational decisions made about their child and advocate for inclusive opportunities.

Nicole Eredics

Written on November 21, 2016 by:

Nicole Eredics is an elementary teacher who has spent over 15 years working in inclusive classrooms. She is also a parent, advocate and education writer. Nicole is creator of the blog The Inclusive Class, where she regularly writes about inclusive education for teachers and parents. She can also be found on Twitter at @Inclusive_Class, Facebook at The Inclusive Class, and Pinterest.
  • Melissa Rolfe Cronk

    My daughter had learning disabilities, she was mainstreamed (inclusive classroom) from kindergarten through ninth grade. After a meeting with the school board before entering highschool, it had been decided that she would be placed in a contained classroom for the remainder of her high school years. Against my wishes this is where she went for 10th grade. It was a disaster. She was bullied, treated differently by teachers. Kids misbehaved. Teacher was unable to control the classroom. Just total chaos. The end result, my child had reached the age of 16 and quit! I explained to the board.You cannot take a mainstreamed child after several years and place her in a different setting. The contained classroom held children that have been together for many years and had not had the chance to experience diversity, and also how to act in a inclusive setting. The school district had failed my child. She was exceptional, she had always tried hard, got along with her peers. She was always a pleasure to teach. After several meetings with the school, six months later she enrolled back into her high school. This time she was put back in her inclusive setting, graduated with her peers that she had grown with, the kids that included her, the ones that believed in her. I’m a huge supporter for the Inclusive program. The results are huge! She is now 26 and close to receiving her bachelor’s degree. This is a young lady that was told from the get go that she would never reach her full potential, and never GO to college.

    • dan

      It is illegal for the school to decide to move your child to a more restricted environment without your approval. Not sure how that happened but I am in special education and the parents (BY LAW) must consent to that.

  • mandyripsam

    My 9 year old has had a iep and mainstreem since she was in young fives. She is in the 3rd grade now and still recieves support services and does really well when assignments are modifed to her learning style.
    We still have a hard time getting constient communications from the school and adminstration team but teachers have all been amazing. Seems in Michigan teachers are more diversed in knowledge then the support staff. Having a advocate has helped. It shouldn’t ha e come to saying I have a advocate in order to get adminstration on board but that is sadly what it takes to get the job done.

  • tasha mitchell

    This article is much too bias. Total inclusion is not for all children with learning disabilities.


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