Oh inclusive practices seminar, I have no words for thee. Our inclusive practices seminar ended today on a very demure note. Class began with the handing in of film study papers and the return of our course books, which had been collected last week. You probably don’t really know what I’m talking about, so allow me to elaborate.

The inclusive practices seminar is a weekly course that revolves around, well…developing inclusive classrooms. Originally designed as a true seminar course in which the class would be divided into small groups of say 20 students, it was changed at the last minute to a lecture-style course while still retaining the assignment and discussion aspects of a seminar. The class came with a course book loaded with readings that covered topics ranging from the specifics of gifted and talented learners to curriculum considerations to partnerships in inclusive practice (collaboration between teachers, parents and students). In addition to weekly readings from the course book, we were asked to participate on a weekly basis in online discussion forums. Assignments for the course would include two self-assessments, a paper on high incidence learning exceptionalities, and a film study on an exceptionality of our choice.

One of the biggest complaints about this seminar has been the attempt to run it as a seminar through a large scale lecture-styled forum. In order to foster discussion on the various topics covered in class, each student is placed in a group of ten other students and every week two groups were asked to present a summary of their online discussion to the entire lecture hall. Though easy to do if all students participate in the discussion, the frustration occurred where public speaking was concerned. It seemed to be too difficult for most students to stand up in front of a class of two hundred colleagues and deliver a summary of discussion topics. This surprises me to a certain degree, a large component of teaching is public speaking. I’ve been told by some that the difficulty is not in public speaking perse, but rather that the scale of the audience is the issue.

(As to the discussion boards, they tended to be very repetitious as students would post their thoughts on the board without reading previous messages. This became especially true for students who posted last because many of the ideas had already been submitted, leaving little room for originality.)

In addition to complaints about the discussion groups, there were also complaints regarding the use of technology in the classroom. It seemed as though almost every class was hindered by either the visual displays or the audio output, whereby a simple presentation might have sound but no video or vice-versa. Over the course of this program, we have repeatedly been taught that flexibility is an important skill to develop, that we should be developing in our lesson plans back-up solutions in case our first approach completely fails. This seminar has shown us how utterly crucial it is to have a back-up plan as more often than not, the technology failed presenters and content could not be delivered. One presenter who came to speak to us about FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) attempted to show a DVD which for some reason still unknown to us, would show the visuals but not play the sound. Despite constant issues with the podium (where all the audio-visual controls are located), the course organizers insisted on relying upon technology to present the materials. Very rarely was information put up using an overhead. Even more rare was a presentation delivered solely using the presenter’s public speaking skills.

Where the seminar did succeed, despite its many shortcomings, was the constant use of guest speakers; people with in-depth knowledge on various learning difficulties such as autism, Tourette’s syndrome, FASD, and gifted learners. These presenters offered us a more detailed look at their work and their realms of expertise, thereby absolving our professors from researching and regurgitating information for us on a weekly basis.

The final assignment consisted of a film study, which as its name suggests, is much like a book report but using a movie instead. For my own report, I studied Sherlock Holmes as a gifted learner. A case can be made for his powers of deduction and his ability to solve cases through careful and meticulous examination of facts and clues. Some might argue the reasoning for studying the infamous detective, but if one examines the facts of his life, his habits, and his effect on the people around him, it becomes clear that he is in fact quite gifted in the area of logical reasoning.

I would finish with the most important concept that I gained from this seminar. Inclusion means more than simply making sure that all students are included in the projects and classroom community, they must feel a sense of belonging in order for a learning environment to truly be called inclusive. Without feeling like they belong, students cannot be engaged mentally and emotionally in the content of a classroom because there exists a barrier, though unseen, between them and the educator. That emotional component to student engagement is something that I have touched on briefly in other posts, but it is not one to be missed when considering inclusive practices.