It’s challenging for teachers to see one or two students falling behind the rest of the class — either because they can’t understand the learning materials or because they simply don’t connect with them. However, deploying inclusive teaching strategies is a tough balancing act, especially in a classroom with a broad spectrum of abilities and backgrounds. Here we look at five inclusive teaching strategies that can help foster a safe and welcoming learning environment for every student.
What is an Inclusive Approach to Teaching?
At the most basic level, an inclusive approach to teaching is one that supports the participation and personal development of all students in a class, no matter the teaching style.
However, simply encouraging your most reserved students to speak up may not create an inclusive classroom. In fact, it could have the opposite effect: forcing participation from a student who does not feel comfortable in the learning environment can make them feel even more alienated.
A genuinely inclusive approach to teaching asks why some students feel more included than others. An individual’s ability, learning style, and sociocultural background can all contribute to their sense of belonging (or lack of it) within the four walls of the classroom.
Inclusive teaching strategies involve identifying any exclusionary factors — biases within the syllabus, gender stereotypes, inter-student tensions, and more — and doing everything within one’s power to eliminate them.
Inclusive Classroom Strategies
Nurturing an inclusive classroom environment is not an exact science, since all groups have their unique dynamics that require attention and consideration. That being said, there are a few practices one can adopt in order to build a solid foundation for inclusivity. Here are five strategies for inclusive education that can help build a learning environment in which students feel welcome and understood.
1. Establish Rules for Discussion of Sensitive Topics
In a perfect world, students would freely discuss important issues like race, gender, and social class, sharing their own personal experiences to enrich the understanding of their peers. However, without adequate direction from the educator, discussions of sensitive topics can lead to inter-student tensions or conflict.
Creating a set of conversational ground rules (which can include things like acceptable terminology, tips for avoiding stereotypes, debate rules, etc.) can lead to safer, more inclusive, and more productive discussions. These rules could be displayed on a poster in the classroom.
2. Build a Diverse Curriculum
Creating a safe space is a good foundation for inclusive learning, but students are still likely to feel excluded if they do not feel represented by the curriculum. According to the 2020 UNESCO global education monitoring report, “curricula need to reassure all groups at risk of exclusion that they are fundamental to the education project, whether in terms of content or implementation.”
Building a diverse curriculum shouldn’t feel like a compromise: incorporating diverse perspectives ultimately leads to a more thought-provoking experience for all students, regardless of their background. Reading lists should include non-white, non-male authors, and course materials should amplify marginalized voices.
Take steps to avoid tokenism. For example, if some of your students are of African origin, adding an African novel to a literature course substantially bolsters inclusivity, while simply using an African name on a worksheet exercise has a lesser impact.
3. Follow Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Principles
Students aren’t solely defined by their sociocultural background. Everyone has a unique learning style with specific strengths and weaknesses. This makes it challenging for teachers to find universally effective teaching methods.
Universal Design for Learning is a helpful framework for creating curricula and lesson plans that appeal to different personalities. Its principles include conveying information in a variety of forms, assigning “flexible” projects (where students can complete the task via essay, presentation, video, or other media), and building on each student’s personal strengths.
4. Provide Accessibility
Inclusive teaching strategies should accommodate students with disabilities and learning differences. The makeup of your specific class should inform the steps you need to take in order to ensure accessibility for all.
Providing accessibility and creating an inclusive environment for all students can involve both proactive steps (using large, clear text in presentations to help students with dyslexia, for example) and reactive steps (recognizing when a student with autism is uncomfortable with a group task and steering the activity in a new direction, for example).
5. Gather Feedback and Adapt
When all is said and done, students themselves are the best judges of whether they feel included or excluded. Try soliciting feedback from students at the end of the semester, perhaps in the form of an anonymous survey. If some of them express discomfort or dissatisfaction with the learning environment, use their suggestions to adapt your strategies for the future.
Inclusive Classroom Activities
While deploying the five strategies listed above, educators can try some of these specific inclusive classroom activities to stimulate student expression while maintaining a sense of inclusivity. However, be sure to give your students advance warning of the activity in order to gauge whether they feel comfortable participating.
- Introductory name-sharing icebreaker: inviting students to share and explain the origin of their name (first name, surname, nickname, etc.) can be an enlightening experience while also helping students get to know each other during the first week of a new semester.
- Create a family photo wall: younger students may appreciate the chance to bring in and discuss some family photographs — providing students with a chance to see families from other cultural backgrounds — which can then be pinned to a board in the classroom.
- Discussion of privilege: encouraging older students to reflect on and discuss how they are the benefactors (or victims) of class and racial privilege can help build an understanding of diverse perspectives and experiences.
Implementing Inclusive Classroom Strategies in Your School
Creating an inclusive teaching environment requires a great deal of foresight, patience, and an ability to reflect and adapt to your students’ needs. However, the benefits are well worth the effort: fostering inclusivity ensures that no student feels isolated or unable to work, which ultimately benefits the group as a whole.
Alongside implementing inclusive teaching strategies in your classroom, Sphero provides accessible tools that encourage students’ imagination and perseverance through STEAM and computer science. Schedule a product demo today.