Inclusive Education: Definition, Examples, and Classroom Strategies

In 1990, the United States Congress revamped the All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) into what is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This has helped guarantee the rights that individuals with disabilities have to the education that they deserve. 

This legislation has been bolstered in 1997 and more importantly in 2004 with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 to give greater access to general education classrooms to those with disabilities. The goal is to include these individuals as much as possible into the general education environment to help give opportunities to them. This is regarded as Inclusive Education


How this typically works in schools is that individuals with disabilities will be in general education classrooms periodically throughout the day with usually one to two support classes to ensure their success. According to the National Center for Education Statistics in their 2015 study on individuals ages 6-12 under IDEA 95% were placed in regular schools and of that 95 %, 62.% spent at least 80% of the time inside general classes.  

It is vital for teachers to take a closer look at their instructional methods and ensure that they’re not only meeting the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) of these students but making sure a creative and inclusive environment is made. One of the biggest fears with creating an inclusive classroom with individuals who have disabilities is that it will negatively affect the general education students is one that, on the surface, might seem realistic at first glance but the research shows the exact opposite. 


Gail McGregor of the Allegheny University of the Health Sciences in her study Inclusive Schooling Practices: Pedagogical and Research Foundations. A Synthesis of the Literature that Informs Best Practices about Inclusive Schooling. She summarizes some of the additional research done in this area with the following:

“Results indicated no difference in engagement rates between classrooms, suggesting no negative impact on instructional opportunities. Similar findings are reported by McDonnell et al. (1997) in another direct comparison of classrooms with and without students with severe disabilities. […]. In each case, the general education students and students with disabilities that were part of small cooperative groups demonstrated academic gains.”

In McGregor’s abstract she states “although many teachers are initially reluctant about inclusion, they become confident in their abilities with support and experience” which shows the other major fear, this time on the side of the teachers, is also alleviated. Once teachers realize that many of the best classroom strategies and practices to create an inclusive learning environment are nearly identical to regular best classroom strategies then this daunting idea becomes less so. Some of these practices are:

  • Peer Tutoring and Cooperative Learning
  • Focus on Small Group Activities
  • Independent Practice (allows for individualized attention)
  • Tiered Lessons
  •  Universal Design for Learning (UDL) 
  • Differentiated Instruction

Inclusive classrooms are becoming more common as schools try to integrate special education into regular classes. Thankfully due to the mounting research showcasing the benefits of doing so not only for individuals with disabilities but for regular students as well, there is less resistance to such integration. Teachers just have to continue utilizing their educational best practices and they’ll continue to be just as successful when their classes weren’t as integrated.

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