The Importance of Inclusion in Educational Intervention
Inclusion and its Importance in Educational Intervention
When we talk about educational intervention, we must be aware that this intentional process must be carried out through key principles that can be used as a kind of compass for professionals: teachers, educators, trainers, tutors. Among these, one in particular stands out: that of inclusion.
Inclusion is anything but an empty term. If we were to provide an interpretation from an educational-didactic point of view, inclusion allows us to look at all those objective conditions that can "slow down" the educational opportunities of the individual (macro area of Special Educational Needs, SEN) and all those situations that can increase the risk of exclusion.
Inclusion, therefore, does not refer to "adequacy standards" (Booth - Ainscow, 2014) but involves the active participation of the student in their own life and education. It is important to emphasize that when we talk about inclusion, we are not referring to children, young people, students in a state of distress - it is not about asking a majority to integrate a minority - but about recognizing diversity.
The distinction between inclusion and integration
To avoid misunderstandings, it is also important to make a distinction between inclusion and integration. The former is a process, referring to the social, educational, and political dimensions, focusing on the potential of the student. It intervenes in the educational context, the training background, and then focuses on the student.
Integration has a specific perspective, it is a situation that looks at the individual, intervenes on the person and their "diversity". This discussion allows us to introduce two fundamental concepts: individualization and personalization.
Where does a student's potential lie: personalization and individualization
Where does a student's potential for development lie? In diversity or in difference? It lies in both. If different potential is shown and nurtured through a common developmental path, diverse potential relies on being "out of the ordinary".
From difference and diversity arise two fundamental pedagogical concepts: individualization and personalization. In this regard, Law 170/2010 (which we have discussed in the article on Specific Learning Disorders, SLD) states that schools must guarantee:
"the use of individualized and personalized teaching, with effective and flexible forms of school work that also take into account the peculiar characteristics of the individual, adopting an appropriate methodology and educational strategy."
But what does this mean? It should be clarified from the outset that the terms individualization and personalization are not synonymous and that both are - as also emphasized in Law 170/2010 - a guarantee for achieving good academic results. Therefore, didactic methodologies, compensatory tools, and dispensatory measures become central, especially for the academic success of students with Specific Learning Disorders (SLD).
The term individualization refers to the process through which the teacher structures a specific curriculum that provides a specific response to the needs of an individual student.
As for personalization, it refers to the process through which the student appropriates the educational proposal directed at everyone, interpreting it according to their own frames of reference. The teacher proposes a standard path that is valid for all students, but within it, designs additional alternative paths to which they can make modifications and didactic differentiations, in relation to the students' peculiarities.
These two concepts introduce us to the discourse revolving around the "modus educandi" that arises to ensure the understanding of the individual's educational needs and enables the implementation of functional solutions, overcoming rigidity and differences of all kinds: inclusive education.
The meaning of the term inclusive education is rooted in the educational, social, and political spheres, starting from integration and leading to the real inclusion of students in an environment that allows them to participate and take an active role in their own education.
Some students who require inclusive education are: students with special educational needs (SEN), students with specific learning disabilities (SLD), students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and students with disabilities.
The objective of inclusive education is to create optimal learning conditions in order to address difficulties and value differences. In this way, each student will have the opportunity to discover, enhance, and express their full potential. To facilitate understanding, here are some main goals of this approach:
- celebrating and valuing differences among students;
- differentiating, individualizing, and personalizing teaching activities;
- promoting student autonomy, awareness, and responsibility.
Today, there are many strategies that can be implemented for inclusive education and encourage new learning methods. Some particularly interesting ones that we will explore further in the next section are:
- cooperative learning
- the use of educational software for creating concept maps (such as Algor Education)
Tutoring is a support service for students that provides educational interventions to help overcome any obstacles to successful school attendance and active participation in all educational activities.
Its objectives include assisting students throughout their entire educational journey, encouraging their participation in the learning process, and removing any barriers to education through interventions tailored to the needs, abilities, and requirements of each individual student.
The aim is not only to combat the increasing phenomenon of school dropout but also to structure supplementary and remedial educational activities that take into account the characteristics of each student, thus filling any gaps and ensuring the necessary requirements for an adequate educational path.
So, how is a tutoring program structured? Typically, tutoring is a service provided by qualified individuals such as teachers, senior students, or students from the same class, known as tutors, to support students with diverse abilities, known as tutees. This experience contributes to the cultural, social, and professional development of the student by accompanying them through different moments of the educational process.
Tutoring takes on the specificity of an educational relationship and among its objectives are:
- to promote the learning process;
- to strengthen skills;
- to enhance self-esteem.
The aim is to stimulate the process of empowerment and the gradual acquisition of autonomy. The tutor seeks to put the student in a position to gain experience, learn, and even make mistakes, while maintaining a supportive role without substituting themselves for the tutee or the tutoring coordinator.
From my personal experience as a tutor, I have come to understand that the commitment of tutors in terms of support is unmatched throughout the journey. The main characteristic of this wonderful growth process is social engagement. Tutors must constantly reinvent themselves to make students feel their presence and support.
Based on my years of experience as a tutor, I would summarize the advantages of a tutoring program for both tutors and tutees with different abilities as follows:
- Receiving help from figures that the tutee considers "more skilled" and competent, such as teachers, classmates, and senior students, allows the student to perceive the situations they are involved in and find them accessible because they are mediated by a trusted figure. This increases their self-esteem and motivates them to do better.
- The tutor develops a new dimension of personal competence and implements the things they have learned during their experience.
Together, the educational relationship is shaped and always evolving.
Another strategy to support inclusive teaching today is cooperative learning. The focus is shifted from "me" to "us"; individuals cannot achieve the intended goals without the group, and vice versa. Resources and learning spaces are shared, and roles are interconnected. The active participation of each individual promotes the success of the group, and collaboration is established to help classmates in difficulty.
Through cooperative learning, students develop social skills such as learning behaviors to adopt in relationships with others (e.g., active and passive listening, speaking softly). With skillful guidance, they can develop efficient task performance skills, conflict resolution skills, decision-making skills, and problem-solving skills. They will be able to reflect on their learning together, how they interacted, and ask themselves, "What did we do well?"
Can all of this be useful for inclusive teaching and a classroom context with students with special educational needs (SEN) and specific learning disabilities (SLD)?
Supporters of cooperative learning believe that this method is crucial for students with special educational needs, positively impacting their academic performance, inclusion, and integration.
This methodology strengthens motivation and meets the needs of individuals with special needs. Additionally, cooperative learning can significantly improve and reinforce interpersonal relationships among students. When the class adopts a cooperative rather than competitive attitude, students with SEN or SLD can contribute to the success of the group and are more likely to be accepted by their peers.
"Bringing together diversities" (Vygotsky) offers everyone the opportunity to enrich themselves. From this perspective, many authors believe that it is important to respect the criterion of heterogeneity in cooperative learning groups.
Strategies and tools for inclusive teaching, concept maps
Digital tools play a fundamental role in inclusive teaching. Today, schools have had to deal with the significant difficulty that students with specific learning disabilities (SLD) face in reading, summarizing, and memorizing texts of various lengths. That is why compensatory strategies have been introduced to make the learning journey less complex for these students.
The tool of concept mapping is crucial from the start. Students with SLD often struggle to grasp information sequentially and establish connections between concepts. Identifying the focus of the topic through the construction of a map autonomously is essential.
Among the many web applications for building multimedia maps, Algor Education offers students the opportunity to create their own maps both at school and at home, thus celebrating a form of inclusive teaching that we have already mentioned, cooperative learning. When these two elements are combined, with methodology on one side and tools on the other, they can facilitate the learning steps of a student with SLD and others in a classroom setting.
Algor was designed to cater to those who need to organize, memorize, and learn concepts, such as teachers or tutors. As a tool developed to compensate and dispense, with its "auto-create" function, students can input text from various sources to obtain a concept map that synthesizes or suggests ideas from the original text.
Article by Mariana Ciaglia, pedagogist.