When Pathways first started in 2002, 100% of the students that enrolled into our after-school programs were children with disabilities. We were far from inclusive. Many thought our vision of inclusion was impossible and there were times we got so discourage it was hard to keep from throwing in the towel.
Five years ago, Pathways began to reach our vision of inclusion. About 65-70% of the students enrolled in our programs were without disabilities. It certainly did not happen overnight nor was it easy. There are as many ways to build inclusive programs as there are children, but we have narrowed it down to three steps we found to be the most critical to our success.
Start with the End in Mind
Pathways’ classes are done in 6 week segments and we often use a process called backmapping to build our curriculums. Backmapping is a process that starts with the end or the destination of the program in mind. Our instructors first create very clear and specific goals they want the children to achieve within the 6 week time period. The process of backmapping then begins by breaking the overall goals down into smaller objectives and skill sets. Each weekly class has its own set of objectives and skills. As an end result, all class objectives and skill sets must tie back together to build a step by step process or road map that helps children achieve the overall goals of the program. The curriculums are intentional and mapped out as to how we plan to progress the children each class toward their objectives.
Come Prepared with Adaptable Road Maps
Once we began to master the process of backmapping we thought our road map to inclusion was complete. This was our biggest mistake. There is never “one way” to learn and the diverse needs of the children showed us our road map was not complete. We realized our objectives and skills sets were fine for some children but overwhelming for others. We had to break the class objectives and skill sets into smaller bite sized pieces. We also had to become more flexible in allowing the children to create their own road map for success based upon their passions and unique learning needs and interests. We realized if we gave all the children the same road map with no other options, students began to get discouraged and quit the journey. We saw them began to feel excluded and some were unable to access the program’s learning objectives.
Our teachers enter programs prepared with alternatives and detours. We have found this takes more work upfront. However, the investment has produced better results for our students, and in the end, made everything easier for everyone. Many of our instructors have become so good at adapting curriculums they now can do it almost innately. We are constantly evaluating our curriculums and updating them to make sure the children are growing. Nothing ever remains in stone.
Make Learning Meaningful
Always be inquisitive when it comes to your students. Get to know their passions and what is meaningful to them. For example, Pathways offers Computer-Aided Design (CAD) classes. I reviewed the curriculum that a teacher initially developed. He had only one 3D design for every class. The objective was for the children to learn the skills that would enable them to mimic the designs he had made. Some children may need his designs to get jump started, but others would get bored having to regurgitate his exact design every week. He immediately saw his curriculum excluded some children who craved more creativity.
We explored all kinds of ways he could meet his objectives but give more control of the learning process and designs to the students. The students were ecstatic and learned all kinds of strategies to creatively meet the class objectives. The children made 3D trophies, race cars, and unicorn playgrounds. It wasn’t about who was able to mimic the design the teacher made in the best way. It became about students sharing and learning to use their creativity to meet the class objectives in their own unique way. As a result, the children learned to include others and respect diverse ideas and learning styles that were different from their own. Pathways learned that when we expected everyone to follow the same road map, we were excluding some children and creating a very closed minded view of the world. Our goal is to get children to expand their horizons, problem solve, and critically think, not memorize and imitate.
Building inclusion into curriculums requires hard work and a big investment of time and energy. The hardest part is the process doesn't have a finish line. Once you think you have perfected a curriculum, another child will come along that will challenge even our best made plans! However, when this happens we always return to the same three steps: 1) be clear about your overall goals, 2) backmap the overall goal into smaller objectives and skill sets, and 3) help the children to make their own unique road maps based upon what is most relevant and meaningful to their learning styles. The most important thing to remember is curriculums are never static they should always remain dynamic and growing!
All of the principles shared in this blog are universal and can be used in any environment. Employers can use these same principles to develop training programs that are more inclusive too! We have successfully used the principles in employment programs when placing people and providing job training!
Over the next few weeks we will begin to share some gold nuggets we have learned along the way about curriculum development and how it can be used to help every child feel included and to realize their potential!
Please feel free to comment below and share the steps you have used to develop a better road map toward inclusion! We welcome your input and experience! We all learn more when we Unite for Inclusion!
The video training for this blog can be accessed above by clicking on the head photo or you can also listen via a podcast by clicking here.
BUY INCLUDE ME!
All proceeds from the Include ME! book and donations will go toward our mission of promoting inclusion. Click below to purchase the book.