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What Is Mainstreaming?
Mainstreaming is an educational method that says a classroom should include many different kinds of learners. The term "mainstreaming" was first used in the 1970s and describes the education of students with disabilities with those who do not have disabilities. In a mainstreamed classroom, all kids, including gifted kids and children with disabilities, learn together in the same classroom. Mainstreaming is now more commonly known as inclusion, and many school systems today are using inclusion in their districts. Is your school mainstreamed?
What Happens in a Classroom That's Mainstreamed?
The purpose of mainstreaming is to equally support and promote a typical classroom experience for all students. Many specific changes need to take place for a classroom to become successfully mainstreamed. Teachers need to be trained to use new teaching methods, teachers' aides must be added, and special equipment must be provided.
In any classroom setting, the teacher needs to be able to meet every student's needs. In a mainstreamed classroom, meeting every student's needs is more challenging because there are learners with so many different kinds of needs. Teachers who have mainstreamed classes are trained to provide different things for different students, making sure there is something for everyone. For example, assignments may vary to meet the needs of all learners - from kids with special talents to kids with special needs.
Because it is impossible for one teacher to help everyone at once, there is at least one teacher's aid in the room. "Sometimes, the teacher's aid will work with a small group of people while the regular teacher will lecture or do a project with the rest of the class," says Laura Andrews, a teacher from New Jersey. "That way, the small group can focus on the extra help they need while the rest of the class can learn some additional information, review old material, or start something new." With more than one teacher in the room, everyone gets the extra attention they need.
In a mainstreamed classroom, teachers and aids use special teaching methods. Instead of just lecturing all day to the whole class, teachers break kids up into groups, put students at different learning "stations," and have independent tutoring time, too. For example, in a mainstreamed social studies class, you could watch a video on Russian geography, get into groups with other kids to simulate living in Russia, and then have personal attention when you write a journal entry about life as a kid in Russia. Varied activities in school definitely help all kinds of kids learn, and it makes learning more interesting, too!
Mainstreamed classrooms have specialized equipment and learning materials on hand. There might be a variety of books for different reading levels, you might see some kids with Alphasmart laptop computers that help with spelling, or there might be a special area to accommodate a kid who uses a wheelchair. The extra equipment is provided to help everyone in the classroom learn as much as possible, including you!
How Mainstreaming Affects Kids
The best part about mainstreaming is the positive effect it can have on all students in the classroom. Kids without disabilities benefit by learning to be patient with kids who need extra help in class. According to the book Inclusive Education, research shows that students without disabilities who are in a mainstreamed classroom accept and value the differences in their classmates, have enhanced self-esteem, and a genuine capacity for friendship.
In a mainstreamed class, kids can learn firsthand that everyone has different needs as well as different strengths. A kid who needs more time to process what he's reading may also be the fastest runner or the kindest friend. Someone who needs extra help with multiplication tables may have amazing artistic talent or know the most about animals. The kid who has to review Spanish vocabulary more often may be a math whiz or a musical genius.
The best mainstreamed classroom becomes a place where differences are respected, everyone's needs are attended to, and everyone's strengths and talents are appreciated - and that kind of learning environment is healthy for everyone! The skills kids develop in mainstreamed classrooms can help them be better members of their workplaces and communities later on. Plus, the extra time that's necessary to help all kids learn encourages both the typical and special needs learners to work a little harder. Learning to work hard is the key to success in whatever you want to do - whether it's getting good grades, being a great goaltender in soccer, mastering the piano or violin, or being successful later on at whatever career you choose.
Because working with different people allows you to become more tolerant, accepting, and understanding, everyone benefits. In a mainstreamed classroom, you'll experience new ways of instruction, you'll see varied materials to help you understand, and you'll learn about how others have a different way of thinking than you do. But perhaps best of all, you'll get to know all kinds of kids. You might end up making a new friend from helping someone with her spelling list!
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