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Web Event2: In Order to Change Colleges You Must Change Elementary Schools First

Taylor11's picture

When thinking about changing the structure of higher educational institutions in order to make it more accessible for people with disabilities is very encouraging.  Everyone should be able to have access and the ability to attend college.  But before people begin to change the structure of the college classroom people should start with changing the structure of the elementary classroom.  Elementary school is where many students begin to shape how a “normal” classroom should be structured, how to study and retain information the “normal” way, and how they view people with disabilities.  By changing elementary schools, it will make changing higher educational institutions easier because what is now viewed as not “normal” will be seen as “normal”.   It also just might begin to destigmatize people with disabilities.

Lets first start with the structure of the classroom.  All elementary classroom are structured in a very similar way.  Ever room has a teacher’s desk that is placed in one of the corners, there is a blackboard, there are a bunch of desks, and there is a place to put your backpacks.  The images below are a perfect example of what an elementary classroom consist of. These are images from a proposal for building an elementary school and they were labeled “typically kindergarten classroom”.  I feel these are perfect examples of how a classroom is viewed and is known as.  This is the kind of classroom that students grow up to expect and are use to.  Besides the classroom structure the lessen plan that a teacher uses is very structured.  There is the demonstration angle, there is the hands-on idea, there is the hands-off concept, there is the straight lecture tactic, and there is the split up into group plan.  Teachers are taught these different ways to convey the information to the students in a way that they understand.  These are the structures that students become accustom to as the make their way through the different grades of elementary school and soon become expected and deemed “normal”. 

What if you’re a student that is physically disabled and can’t get your wheel chair into the classroom or fit in one of the desk?  What if you’re a student who is struggling to follow and comprehend the information despite the different (limited) tactics that the teacher uses?  What do those students do?  Those students are taken out of the “normal” classroom setting and are separated from the rest of the class, the “normal” kids.  By doing this it creates a line, a line that become even more engraved as the students get older.  It forces and allows kids to develop the idea that students with disabilities are different and should be treated different.  This needs to change.  Instead of taking the kids who struggle outside the classroom they should remain in the class with the rest of the kids and the atmosphere just has to change.  In an article “The Cooperative Elementary School: Effects on Students’ Achievement, Attitudes, and Social Relations” by Robert J. Stevens and Robert E. Slavin they conducted an experiment in which students that were handicapped remained in the classroom and the way the teachers taught change instead of taking the students out of the classroom.  This is a summary of what they examined:


“After 2 years, academically handicapped students in cooperative elementary schools had significantly higher achievement in reading vocabulary, reading comprehension, language expression, math computation, and math application in comparison with similar students in comparison schools. There also were better social relations in cooperative elementary schools, and handicapped students were more accepted socially by their non-handicapped peers than were similar students in traditional schools with pullout remedial programs.”


This idea of cooperative learning did not just affect the results of the handicap children but it also benefited the other students:


“After the second year, students had significantly higher achievement in reading vocabulary, reading comprehension, language expression, and math computation than did their peers in traditional schools.”


The part that I really want to highlight at this point is the social aspect of the research.  Since the children with disabilities weren’t separated from the rest of the class they weren’t seen as different or others, instead they were more accepted.  This is the beginning step in order to destigmatize people with disabilities.  By allowing students with disabilities to remain in the classroom it will allow that idea to become the new “normal”.  Students will no longer just been seen as the kids with disabilities but instead as their peers.  This will allow for students with disabilities to be more accepted in higher educational institutions because it will be the norm. 

This study can also be used to show how by changing the way teachers teach and structure the classroom can allow for both students with disabilities and students without them to excel.  It also shows that by changing the structure of how information is taught can allow for the disabled to become abled, allowing them to become more confident.  By establishing that confidence and showing students that there are many different ways to learn can allow them to form that possiblity of going to college. 

The structure of the classroom needs to be more flexible and willing to try new things instead of sending the problem away.  Right now students with disabilities are either sent to a different room and passed on, or are lost in the classroom and ignored by the teacher because they don’t want to or know how to handle the situation.  Students with disabilities and students without need to be given various ways of learning instead of being taught one way.  By starting at a younger age students are more willing to try new things and test different ways of learning because they haven’t been drilled with what is the right and only way to learn like their older counter parts.  Personally, it is hard for me to conceptualize different methods to digest and study information because I have only been shown the normative way of learning for so long that changing it would be more disabling then to keep it the same. 

In order to change college institutions one must start from the bottom and work their way up.  By starting from bottom it will allow for a new norm to form and hopefully it will be one in which all students are just seen as students and everyone is abled in the classroom instead of disabled.



Here is a link to the article if you are interested in reading more about it:

where I got the pictures from:


Amoylan's picture

we both talked a lot about

we both talked a lot about the norm of schools for kids with physical and less visible disabilities. We both brought up the importance of flexibility in accessibility and how there is a "typical" classroom or school structure and accesibility is usually a renovation to that, or an afterthought. 

Anne Dalke's picture

Changing the Structure

I certainly take your point that intervening in normative structures shouldn’t wait til college; the earlier we can help students learn about the diversity of selves in the world, and the diversity of ways to learn about the world, the less re-structuring colleges will have to do, and the less re-learning there will be for students like yourself: “Personally, it is hard for me to conceptualize different methods to digest and study information because I have only been shown the normative way of learning for so long.”

So I celebrate the first move of your paper.

Where I’m wanting more, though, is in the concrete specifics of how this happens. You begin your event with illustrations of conventional elementary school classrooms, but the interventions that you describe are not aimed @ changing the physical layout of the classroom; they are drawn instead from a 1995 essay about cooperative learning, which reports on the successful mainstreaming of disabled (then called “handicapped”) children. You claim, based on this report, that “since the children with disabilities weren’t separated from the rest of the class they weren’t seen as different or others, instead they were more accepted…. Seen as peers…accepted as the norm.” But how does that acceptance and normalization take place?

If a blind student joins the group, what happens to visual projects? If a deaf student joins the group, what happens to classroom dialogue? If a student in a wheelchair joins the group, what happens to running play? I need a much more specific account of how the process of incorporation and normalization proceeds: teachers as well as students need to be taught about how to make difference “the norm,” how to enable the “disabled.”

The central question of your last paper (which I chided you for constructing as a binary) was whether the self was fluid, changing in response to context, or “true, authentic, comfortable with who she is, capable of being the same person no matter who she is around”? I hear echoes of the later—comfortable and capable—in this project, but I can’t see clearly yet how you see that being brought to fruition, how the self, and the self’s understanding of others different from oneself, will change in response to context. Tell me more!

Also: check out Amoylan’s essay on queer disability, as well as Ann Lemieux’s on queer and LD students—in preparation for y'all's talking together in class…