What You Didn’t Know About Common Core Curriculum in the Inclusive Classroom
Believe it or not, students within inclusive classrooms have more in common than one would think.
On the surface, one sees mixed abilities, differing needs, diverse skill sets, and various interests. Students can be seen reading different types and levels of books, drawing, creating, writing, and working in small groups. However, on closer look, the students have more similarities than not. They can recall the topic of the presentation in social studies, they can admire one another’s art piece, they can discuss the results of a science experiment, they can recall important events in the class novel, and they all have a weekly spelling list. And, yes, they all laugh at their teacher’s jokes.
Students in an inclusive class share many of the same learning and educational experiences. The learning and educational experiences that unite students in such diverse classrooms stem from the equal access they have to a quality curriculum. In other words, students are learning from the same content in the same environment with the same teacher. This aspect is one of the many characteristics that identify and define inclusion. In an inclusive classroom, students learn together from the same research-based curriculum.
More About Curriculum
Prior to 2009, individual states created their own curriculum for specific subject areas. In an attempt to prepare all students across America for college and beyond, a set of standardized, rigorous learning outcomes were created. Known as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS for short), it outlines the learning goals for every student in Math and English Language Arts (for both fiction and non-fiction text). To date, 42 states have adopted the national CCSS standards.
Curriculum for subjects such as social studies and science are still state-specific.
Teachers use CCSS and other state standards to guide their lesson planning, instruction, and assessment. For example, a fourth-grade teacher might give students a reading on a passage on sea turtles to teach students how to cite facts from the text. Some students may not learn the standards in the same way (teachers use strategies such as UDL to reach different learners). For students who are not learning the standards at the same rate or level of understanding as their peers, instructional accommodations and/or modifications are made to adapt the material.
As an alternative, educators in some states (such as Wisconsin) have created a modified version of the CCSS for students with disabilities. The alternate achievement standards are aligned with the Common Core, and highlight the most essential learning outcomes. For example, the CCSS provides the following English language arts standard for Kindergarten students:
RL.K.1 – With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
Whereas, the alternative CCSS provides a modified version of the same standard:
EE.RL.K.1 – With guidance and support, identify details in familiar stories.
As with any modified program, however, the alternative standards can only be used upon agreement of the student’s parents/guardians and school personnel. The decision to use modified standards is always noted in the student’s Individual Education Program.
More than Just Physical Inclusion
Imagine a classroom in which students with disabilities are not sitting with their peers and participating in the same learning experiences. Not only are the students with disabilities physically and socially separated from their peers, they are further excluded in-class lessons, discussions, activities, and/or group work. The gap between students with and without disabilities widens and they have even less in common than before. In an inclusive classroom, students not only sit together and socialize but they learn together. Inclusive classrooms are places where students have more in common than we think.