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Self-Contained Classroom Defined

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By: Suzie Dalien, M.Ed.

Self-Contained Classroom Defined | Special Education Resource

Public schools have a diverse and unusual role in a child’s education. They are in charge of not only teaching the basic concepts of learning, but letting children know how to behave in a social setting. Of course, these are just a few of the duties a school has to undertake, and when you throw special education into the mix things can get stressful for a traditional school system.

Over the last few decades, the general school system’s infrastructure for special education has slowly been crumbling as schools rush to keep up with an increasingly diverse student population, and it has been struggling ever since. As more children become school age in this time of exploding populations, schools will be taxed to keep up with the incoming flow of children, which means redefining how special education services will fit into the new structure.

The term “special education” applies to children with special needs who are attending a regular school, and assists children with a variety of disabilities. How special education is handled, however, changes from school to school. Some schools have still not caught up with the concept of special education; everyone is included in the general school population and given the same opportunities across the board, regardless of limitations, but supportive services are provided to help with individual accommodations. Other schools rely on partial inclusion of children with special needs to best serve this sector of school, giving them a small part of the day in the company of the other children while doing certain activities or subjects.

Self-Contained Classrooms

A new concept in public learning environments has arisen over the last several years, and it is called the self-contained classroom. Regular classrooms have anywhere from 20 to 30 students, on average, which means that children spend a good part of each school day with a group of their peers. For children with special needs, this can become overwhelming and possibly cause them to fall behind in their learning and work. The self-contained classroom focuses on the idea of smaller groups, a more close-knit environment, and one-on-one attention, which can help children with special needs feel safe while fostering creativity and learning.

These groups typically consist of 5 to 10 students and are run by a special education teacher and paraeducator, who takes instruction from the primary teacher. They can cater to a specific group of children who all have the same disability or learning needs, or can be a mixed group with unique abilities. This alternative form of classroom setting provides support and structure for children whose educational needs are not met by a general education, and is a great choice for schools with a special education program.

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A Brief History of Self-Contained Classrooms

While the concept of a smaller classroom environment has been around for decades, it wasn’t until the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into legislation in 2002 that self-contained classrooms rapidly grew in popularity. The law states that schools need to be held accountable for more issues than they had been previously, and were to provide a standardized education to all children of eligible age. Schools that might have had a lax special education program were left scrambling to update their school’s infrastructure so it could accommodate more children with special needs while providing a higher quality of education.

In addition to the increased accountability, schools are now required to provide a standard testing for all school-age children to help rank and rate the school’s performance. If a school participates in the full inclusion method for children with special needs, their overall test scores will be lower simply because all grades, regardless of learning disabilities, counted towards an overall rating. Primarily for this reason alone, more schools started to use the self-contained classroom method of teaching as a way to separate special education test scores from those of the general population.

In the past, children who had special needs spent the entire school day in a separate setting from their peers, which helped add to the stigma that there’s something “wrong” with students who have special needs. Students who are severely disabled of extremely disruptive might still spend their day isolated in their own classroom setting, but many schools try to combine the self-contained classroom with regular class interactions as a way to balance the inherent work/social ratio.

Placing select children with special needs into a regular school setting is incredibly important to their self-esteem, confidence and overall ability to handle social situations. This might not always be possible for children who are really limited in their scope of disability, but supervised interactions during the day can do wonders for a child’s sense of self. It’s important to let these children know that there is nothing wrong with them – they simply learn at a different pace from the others, and that’s what makes them special. Efforts should be taken to emphasis a child’s talents, not their shortcomings, which is why self-contained classrooms offer a welcome respite from the jungle that can be elementary, middle or high school.

Deciding which children qualify for a self-contained classroom environment has some controversy surrounding it, as the criteria seems to differ from school to school. Some children are chosen based on their physical or mental limitations, while other learning institutions expand their services to include children with emotional or behavioral issues that keep them from obtaining a general education in a regular classroom setting. There can be a difference of opinion from parent to school about which services the child with special needs should participate in, so it’s important to keep an open and honest channel of communication between you and the educator regarding your child’s best interests.

Special Education Resource offers customizable lesson plans, one-on-one tutoring and educators with years of special education experience. We want to see your child succeed on their path to better education, so feel free to browse our site, read other articles to gain insight, and please let us know if we can help you with a subject that might not be listed.



This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 11th, 2014 at 9:08 pm and is filed under Special Education Classrooms and tagged as . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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6 Responses to Self-Contained Classroom Defined

  • Karina Y Mercado says:

    Great information for people who are currently taking special education classes.

  • Mary Sisler says:

    My grandson is in a special needs classroom in the 5th grade. He’s doing early 4th grade work and struggling. How can it be fair that they test him with the regular 5th grade classrooms. He’ll always fail. How is this tolerated. We’ve already gone to the teacher, principle, school board. No help

    • Suzie Dalien, M.Ed. says:

      Mary… I’m so sorry to hear about the struggles your grandson is facing in school! Unfortunately, this practice is VERY common throughout the education system! I would love to discuss potential options and dive into more detail if you’re available? Please email me and let’s set up a time to chat. – Suzie@SpecialEdResource.com Thank you so much Mary!

  • Suzanne says:

    I have a 13year old in 8th grade. our school has a self contained and a resource room/support program. the school had an incredibly hard time adapting too that my son was basically borderline both… he has the academics of a self contained student but no physical delays and is able to understand a little more. but I”m finding that maybe based on his 1st/2nd grade level reading writing and math he should be self contained due to his severe delay. however at this school, there are students his age with worse delays which he isnt use to. he’s traditionally the slowest. also the school states oh our self contained students dont attemd science or social studies classes… they also are monitored even if they dont need it. for example my son was met by an aide as he gets of the bus and can only sit with the other self contained classroom students, and at lunch the same, they arent allowed to mix with other non special ed students hardly at all. and then they wonder why he get cant get along with peers very well

    • Suzie Dalien, M.Ed. says:

      Suzanne… Thank you so much for reaching out! I have a few questions for you… Does the school offer any other options for your son? Does his IEP state that he has to be in a self-contained classroom setting? Do they have inclusive classrooms where he can be in a regular setting with accommodations and extra help from a special education teacher? I don’t understand why he’s not able to learn in another type of classroom other than self-contained. Typically self-contained classrooms are for students with more behavioral concerns not academic. I would love to get more information from you and help in any way possible. Please contact me at suzie@specialedreaource.com Thanks again Suzanne!

  • Luna James says:

    Is there a law states a student can a student be put in a Self Contained classroom due to only having a physical disability? This goes against the ADA. I’m now 24, but when I was 8 I was put in a Self Contained class due to being a wheelchair user. When my IEP was done I tested average for my age and grade. At 8 I could read, write, add, subtract, multiply, and divid as well as my peers in General Education. I was put in a class where none of the students were able to write their name or knew the alphabet. There is of course nothing wrong with the children in the Self Contained class that were at a lower cognitive level than I was. As an adult I love working with children in Specail Ed. My point is that it is wrong to put a child in Specail Ed, and not allowing them into any mainstream classrooms due to requiring a wheelchair. Your above description does state that a child could be placed into a Self Contained classroom due to a physical disability. I hope you meant a physical disability that can effect cognitive function such as, Cerebral palsy. Putting a child in Specail Ed due to a physical handicap goes against the ADA. I hope you can help ensure me that in 2017 this isn’t still happening to handicapped children, when it was supposed to stop in the 70’s. I also hope that the text in the definition of who requires a Contained Class setting is corrected, or schools will use it as a means to say physically handicapped children do belong in Specail Ed/Self Contained classrooms. Thank you you taking the time to read about this matter.

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