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Providing information, education, and training to build knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes that will lead to increased independence, productivity, self determination, integration and inclusion (IPSII) for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

The Top Questions Asked About Inclusive Education

Question Eight: My child seems to have a lack of interest and engagement in the general education classroom. What can we do?

Patrick Schwarz: My child seems to have a lack of interest and engagement in the general education classroom. What can we do? One of my books is called Just Give Him the Whale and that is for teachers and families to support students or individuals with their passions and interests. And we've got also a kids' version of that called Pedro's Whale.

And the story of Pedro is Pedro really liked whales a lot, and he would carry a little whale figure around with him for support. And one thing that happened during one of the classes he was in, he was in kindergarten, and they were doing mathematics types of activities. And Pedro was playing with his whale figure and was not doing math at that time. And his teacher said, Pedro, right now we're not doing whales, we're doing math, and I'm going to put your whale on the choice table so when you finish your work, you can have a choice and use your whale.

Well, Pedro didn't like that and he hid under the table. And the principal was actually nearby and kind of came in and she said, What's up with Pedro? And the teacher said, Well, Pedro wasn't doing his math work. He was playing with a toy and we know students are not supposed to play with toys during class.

And the principal said to the teacher, she said, Sometimes new things are scary for Pedro. What is it that you want him to do in the classroom? She said, I want him to sit with his classmates, be able to do his work, and to be able to, to be able to gain benefits from doing that work and things like that. And the principal smiled and she said, Well, sometimes new things are scary for Pedro, and he may need a little extra comfort and support, and his whale provides him that. And she said, if you want him to do his best work, you just need to give him his whale.

So the teacher thought about it a lot and she incorporated a couple changes the following day. She actually started to use a whale stamp on his paper, and he was wanting to finish work to get that whale stamp. Pretty simple.

The next thing she was doing on the blocks like for counting, she put little whale figures on them and he was wanting to do the counting. And what a wonderful thing to provide support in the classroom. And this is not just Pedro. It's any student. I think learning comes alive when you bring in their interests and their passions. Perhaps they could use it for a project. Perhaps they could use it in writing an autobiography. Perhaps they could use it in terms of being a classroom expert about that topic. There's so many ways you can go about it.

Now Pedro happens to be a student with autism, and sometimes what teachers says is a particular student seems over focused or obsessed with their interest and passion. How do you get by that and do some different things? So here's something that we found out that was helpful.

So Pedro had a goal on his IEP, will initiate and engage in communication with other peers. And they were trying to get him to not engage in whale conversation as much. And I thought rather than not having him talk about whales, could we use the topic of whales as a springboard to go to some different places? So this is what I modeled for the teacher.

I said, Pedro, I got Pedro, and I said, Pedro, tell me everything you know about the blue whale. He could tell you lots of things about the blue whale. And then after that, I said, Thank you. I've learned some new things. Then after that, I said, Pedro, how are whales used to help you do your work in school? And he said, When I finish my work, I get a whale stamp. I like getting a whale stamp. And I said, Wow, that's great, Pedro. That's really nice. And I said, Give me some examples of different types of work you do.

So I just got off the whale topic, but I used the whale topic to get there. And isn't that a great way of using it as a springboard rather than taking it away altogether? The answer to this question is using passions and interests of learners, clearly for me, in school and they're learning. And if you take it away from them, is I think you're creating the profile for a dropout.

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This project was supported, in part by grant number 2001MNSCDD-03, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.

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