Tuesday, April 20, 2010

From Inclusion to RtI

I have been a Special Education teacher for my entire career. I have seen all kinds of models come and go in popularity. They all have their great hope and challenges. When I first started teaching in 1970, all Special Education students were slowly moved to self-contained classes. When the efficacy studies showed that students did better socially in those classrooms but didn't do as well academically, Resource Rooms became the new fad where Special Education students were pulled out for part of the day for some of their academic work and remained in their general education class for the rest of their day. After years of that model the efficacy studies once again showed that the Special Education students didn't fair well because their day was too chopped up with little coordination between what was going on in the Resource Room and what was going on in the general education classroom. As a result the students were often just confused. Then inclusion swooped in with its push-in programs. We left kids in the classroom and the Special Education teacher worked with struggling students in their classroom. The idea is that you offer a "continuum." In other words you offer all of these options, but in most schools - even our best schools - that is more dream than reality.

Recently in a conversation with an inclusion teacher, we decided that this analogy best describes what it is like to be the general education teacher in an inclusion class. You come upon a lake and you see three boats. In one boat all of the children have paddles and they are all paddling in different directions, making no progress. In another boat there are enough paddles in the bottom of the boat but the children are all looking around trying to decide what to do. They don't know what the paddles do or how to use them to move forward. The last boat is empty, but around the boat, children are drowning. The first boat represents those students that are at the highest level in your class who all think they know what to do, but without a teacher to help direct the course, they will continue to go in circles or to not move at all. The middle boat represents the normally developing children who have all the tools but just don't know how to use them without a teacher to develop their skills. The empty boat represents the students that are struggling - the ones who are drowning without your help. As you arrive on the scene, who do you help? On your worst day, that is the way teaching feels, as if you can't possible get to every student and that without your guidance and intervention some students will not make it. If there are too many children drowning in your class, you can only save those that are about to go under and you wonder if you will ever have time to guide the rest to safety. It's a scenario that keeps me awake at night.

In the ideal world there is rescue and balance so that while one person is saving those that are drowning, another is practicing with those who don't know how to paddle and still another drops in to get all those that are paddling rowing in the same direction, but that is so much easier said than done. The only people who say that can be done easily or effortlessly are the ones designing the programs, not the ones living it. On the best of days, there are enough hands to touch every single child and you leave at the end of the day with a smile on your face and a skip in your step. Doesn't every single child deserve an education like that? It's just a matter of figuring out how to make that happen... Is RtI the next great model? Will it be the answer we've searched for all these many years? Will it provide the life preservers and compass that we are looking for?


Melanie Holtsman said...

Oh boy, does your post resonate with me. I have spent many a sleepless night thinking up a new strategy for a student, an activity I can do to challenge my highest learners or a new approach to reach my most emotionallly troubled student. I feel like I have tried everything at some time or another and yet I am still eager to hear new ideas, information and research with hopes that I may finally find answers to my questions.

I don't know if RTI will be the answer, but what I like about RTI is that it is now everyone's dilemma to solve. "Those kids" don't belong with another teacher who will solve their problem. We ALL are will hopefully be meeting ALL needs, whether we have the resources we want and need we can finally say we are all in the same boat navigating our way.

Looking to the future with hope!

Anonymous said...

Wow .......I loved your comments ......but, as a national presenter and trainer on Inclusive Practices, I am intrigued with your skepticism.......are we not compelled by UDEA, and held accountable by NCLB to do what is right for kids? My feeling is that we think we can just ease into the whole Inclusive Practices and RTI thing, and.... be okay........well, we are doing a good job easing in ...... it's been THE LAW for over 30 years ....it's time to do what's right for kids.......just sayin'.