Promoting Inclusive Teaching in Ras Al Khaimah Schools
Al Qasimi Foundation
March 26, 2014
This spring, the Al Qasimi Foundation added new courses to its growing list of professional development offerings available to local educators. One of these courses, led by Ms. Vicky Allen of the Fujairah Higher Colleges of Technology, focuses on equipping teachers to better integrate students with special needs into traditional classrooms.
Entitled “Including Special Needs while Enhancing Education for All,” the new course was implemented partially as response to the federal government’s 2006 move toward further incorporating special needs students into UAE classrooms (UAE Disability Act). This initiative has led to an increase in the amount of requests for training from educators in both private and public schools, since many teachers feel they are ill-equipped to support students with learning differences.
“I have a deaf child in my class. How do I teach her new vocabulary?” asked one concerned teacher, who was participating in a 2013 professional development course about innovative approaches to teaching English.
In order to provide such teachers with tools that are relevant to the special education needs community, Ms. Allen’s course outlines a variety of special education needs, offers ways to identify these needs, and describes strategies to meet them in an inclusive classroom setting.
“There is such a wide variety of special needs that we have to focus on the ones the course participants are in direct contact with in their classrooms,” says Ms. Allen, who intends to “give as much practical advise as possible” throughout the professional development course.
An English teacher with a master’s degree focused on special education, Ms. Allen has invested many years teaching members of the deaf community. She draws upon this experience and her American Sign Language (ASL) skills to help teachers to respond to the learning differences and special needs that arise in inclusive educational settings. Ms. Allen also highlights the benefits that specialized teaching strategies offer to all students, even those without special needs.
“American Sign Language is extremely helpful in making language accessible for all students with varying learning needs, giving them another modality through which to communicate and learn.”
“ASL is not only for the deaf,” Ms. Allen continues, “Research has shown that it is beneficial for hearing toddlers, hearing students in the regular classroom, and those learning English as an additional language, as well as those with special needs. ASL promotes communication while expanding learning possibilities for all students in the classroom.”
Teachers in Ms. Allen’s professional development course agree.
“[ASL] is a great tool, making my students more focused by encouraging them to keep their eyes on my hands and the signs that I make,” reports Ms. Sobia Iqbal, who believes that ASL has improved her management skills in a grade one classroom while encouraging her students’ concentration.
Adds Ms. Shafna Hamza, “[Ms. Allen] makes us think about strategies to engage all students. I have an ADHD student in my class and can see some improvement.”
In addition to taking part in course meetings with Ms. Allen, participants in the Foundation’s course are researching special education needs independently, as part of the class’s final project. This kind of project enables teachers to pursue knowledge and skills for fostering inclusive learning environments in their respective contexts.
Like Ms. Allen, the Al Qasimi Foundation recognizes the value of inclusive learning strategies. Its own professional development courses are intentionally bilingual in order to support both English- and Arabic-speakers. For example, the “Including Special Needs” course is assisted by Mr. Ahmad Zakareya, a special needs instructor who trains government school teachers in Ras Al Khaimah. Mr. Zakareya brings his unique insights to the course while communicating Ms. Allen’s instruction to Arabic participants.
Mr. Zakareya believes that educational strategies are best complemented by positive attitudes among teachers and students alike. He encourages his fellow educators with a success story about one of his own special needs students who is motivated by the belief that he can accomplish anything. “He works harder and, as a result, is now one of my best [students],” explains Mr. Zakareya.
Mr. Amir Elbakry, another course participant, lends perspective to the issue of incorporating special education needs into an integrated classroom, in which all students share the same basic needs. He says, “We always have to match talent with ambition to make our students successful, and this [applies particularly to] students with special needs.”