What is a Self-Contained Classroom?

Self-contained classrooms have varied uses.

Anatomy and physiology class.
Anatomy and physiology class. Steve Debenport/Getty Images

A self-contained classroom is one in which the students share similar academic requirements. For example, all the gifted children in a school or school district will be contained in the same classroom.

Sometimes the children are all in the same grade level, but other times, particularly when there are a limited number of gifted children, the classroom may contain children spanning more than one grade level, grades four through six, for example.

The term more often refers to students with disabilities rather than students who are gifted or advanced. They tend to be implemented for children with disabilities who may not be able to participate in general education programs at all. These can include autism, attention deficit disorder (ADD), emotional disturbances, severe intellectual disabilities, multiple handicaps and children with serious or fragile medical conditions.

For children with behavioral problems or learning disabilities, the goal of a self-contained program is to increase the amount of time students spends in the traditional classroom environment. Often students in self contained programs go to special instruction areas such as art, music, physical education or humanities.

Depending if the program is implemented part-time or full-day, it can have mixed success rates for students and especially for teachers. Assuming each child has his or her own Individual Education Program (IEP), it can mean the teacher has to to make sure to meet the requirements of each one as well as teach the standard grade-level curriculum.

Students who spend only part of their day in a self-contained classroom, also known as a homogeneous classroom may struggle to keep up with the requirements of the standard curriculum. And students may feel themselves stigmatized socially if they have to go to a "special" class every day, even if that class is for gifted students.

Likewise, gifted students may come to believe that they're somehow better than their classmates because of the extra attention. It's incumbent upon school districts and instructors to integrate any self-contained programs in a sensitive way.

But for students with severe learning or behavioral problems, the presumably smaller class size may prove beneficial and allow for more one-on-one attention from a teacher.

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