Teaching and learning methodologies are constantly evolving and improving over time. Classrooms and lecture theaters of today look different from those of a decade or more ago. Likewise, they offer a very different experience for the students involved. So let’s examine the rise of inclusive teaching and delve into some of the best strategies for creating a more inclusive learning experience.
Inclusive teaching or inclusive learning is being discussed more and more in today’s teaching circles especially given its numerous benefits. With the increased levels of discussion, we thought it could be useful to dive deeper into what inclusive teaching is and what educators can do to transform their classrooms or lecture theaters.
Before we discuss some strategies for creating an inclusive learning experience for students of all age groups, we must first answer some basic but essential questions.
Inclusive teaching often referred to as equitable or equality-focused teaching, is a method in which educators create a learning environment where all students - regardless of ethnicity, disabilities, gender, sexual orientation, and background - have equal opportunities to succeed.
All students must receive equal treatment and respect. Students must also be afforded every opportunity to reach their full potential. Educators must identify blockers, barriers, or boundaries preventing students from partaking, completing assignments, and learning.
Moreover, educators may self-assess to remove bias from their teaching method and appraise the source materials to ensure diversity. This means educators must consider how they interact with their students and grade assessments, and whether the material students read and consume comes from authors and sources with differing opinions, backgrounds, ethnicities, and so on.
We may conclude that inclusive teaching is quite a broad and far-reaching method that significantly impacts how students learn and how educators structure their lesson plans. Now we must examine what you can do to adopt an inclusive teaching methodology in your classroom or lecture hall.
When looking more in-depth into this topic we see that there are common characteristics and features that many inclusive classrooms share. For example, some may be:
We can see that there are several factors here for us to consider. You may be thinking that in order to employ all of these features you need to invest a significant amount of time and effort. This is, of course, true. But bear in mind that nothing worthwhile is achieved without some effort and the numerous benefits make this a worthwhile endeavor.
There are several ways in which educators everywhere can make their classroom or lecture theater or whatever environment more inclusive for all of their students. And while we give some examples and strategies for achieving this, we also need to examine some of the features of inclusive teaching and the numerous benefits that educators who adopt this approach will undoubtedly see.
Firstly, safety in this scenario implies a psychologically safe space within which students can express themselves and their opinions without fear of teasing, retribution, or backlash. It goes without saying that school should be a physically safe space free from harm or abuse too.
To do this, educators must make it abundantly clear that everyone needs to respect the views of others, show empathy, and not bully students for misunderstanding, for struggling, or for simply being incorrect.
Showing respect to one another is a key element of any interactive classroom. Educators may need to set ground rules and remind students before they proceed with a lesson.
In math class, some students are struggling to grasp a new equation and need to ask the teacher to repeat the explanation once more and to go into more detail this time around. In a psychologically safe space, these students would not hesitate to express their confusion and would not worry about being teased for misunderstanding.
There is a vast amount of academics and experts that can provide top-quality information on any given subject. For many students, seeing an author or studying a historical or influential figure of a similar background or situation can help them better connect to what they are learning.
Likewise, diverse views and opinions will help students develop their critical thinking skills and provide a more holistic view of a given topic. Letting students identify biases in authors, compare their works, and see for themselves which they can relate to, will provide a more enriching experience than using the same books and use cases over and over.
In a history lecture on the Vietnam war, instead of only looking at the war from the US perspective with source material from US collegiate professors, the lecturer combines studies from other academics, with accounts from US and Vietnamese soldiers to offer various perspectives. Likewise, the soldiers come from different classes and ethnic backgrounds, while the scholars have varying opinions on the war.
Knowing your students and adapting your teaching method to their needs should be a high priority for any teacher. Some students may have limited access to laptops and the internet at home, so their homework should not be overly reliant on spending hours creating Google Docs or searching the internet for answers.
Other students may have learning disabilities that could make reading difficult. Thus they may require more video or audio material to help them keep pace with their fellow students. The ultimate goal here is to ensure that no student is left behind simply because they have different needs from their classmates.
Two students in the class have medium to severe writing difficulties while another struggles with reading, thus leaving them at a disadvantage in written exams. The teacher thus decides to make the next French examination an oral exam so these students can better showcase their knowledge and comprehension of the language.
To some, raising a hand and enthusiastically answering a question is the easiest thing in the world to do. For others, this is a daunting experience, and despite having all the knowledge required to properly and correctly showcase what they know, some students lack the courage to do so. Thus, removing this barrier will go a long way to creating a more open and inclusive environment. If educators can give an added confidence boost to those students who need it, they will be far less likely to see the same confident hands shoot up.
Moreover, with the rise of online learning and remote teaching, having a tool or series of tools that make it possible and simple for students joining online to jump right into the discussions is also an important step.
A lecturer notices that while students have the capabilities and knowledge to comprehensively answer their questions, there seems to be something preventing them from doing so when prompted. The lecturer, therefore, begins to use Mentimeter and notices that 90% of the class responds to each question highlighting the desire to provide anonymous responses.
Whether we like to admit it or not, even the best of us have implicit biases. While this may be difficult to admit, we can actively try to improve and mitigate this. It is essential for educators who should ideally not to show favoritism towards certain students or even act more negatively toward others. Students may also not be warm to teachers for a variety of reasons.
By building a rapport with students you may better be able to understand them and what makes them tick. Conversely, they may see you more than simply the person standing at the front of the room giving them homework. Students may thus be more willing to trust teachers and open up.
A teacher is disappointed by a student’s poor behavior in class, as well as their inconsistent results on tests. After struggling to subdue the student's poor behavior, after deciding to speak to the child they find out the student believes the teacher singles them out on purpose, thus making them lash out. The teacher, thus, knows they must approach this situation differently to help the student enjoy school better and ensure they do not show favoritism.
Something as simple as this template could go a long way.
Now that we have gone through a series of strategies and its definition, it’s time to examine the added benefits of this particular method of teaching and learning.
It’s best to bear in mind that many of these benefits will contribute to one another or become a byproduct of another.
Standing up in front of any class and reciting an answer can be daunting for many. I recall countless instances of teachers asking questions only for hands to be shoved into pockets or rooted to the underside of the desk. Conversely, many students become terrified at the prospect of reading in front of a group or completing a written assignment.
An inclusive environment will address these stumbling blocks by either helping children overcome their fear of public speaking or finding another way to assess them while they develop the skills necessary to tackle that particular obstacle.
By avoiding these awkward and often painful situations, students can become more confident with their answers and not have to worry about the method in which they provide them.
The goal of removing barriers and obstacles for students is an important one and doing so will encourage students to take part and make it a more enjoyable process. Students, no matter their age, will be far more likely to participate if they feel comfortable in their surroundings. This means that they will not be judged for what they say, that their opinions and views will be valued, and that there will never be negative pushback.
Likewise, if activities or assessments are less daunting for students, or cater to their specific needs, they need only worry about showcasing their knowledge and intelligence. Rather than coaxing responses out of students, educators that promote inclusive learning will more likely find students willing to participate willingly rather than simply because they have to.
Going hand in hand with both confidence levels and participation is engagement levels. Unengaged students are far less likely to retain knowledge, actively participate in class, and see good results in examinations and assessments. Engaged students are more likely to enjoy a subject if they are engaged throughout.
Engagement is a tricky thing to quantify, but if you’re in search of other ways to keep students engaged then we have some tips and tricks for you.
We have referenced the difficulties many students face when facing assessments and examinations. There are plenty of reasons students fail or struggle to express what they know. Those with writing difficulties will need more time or for someone to dictate what they say, while some will suffer from severe nerves and have a complete and total brain freeze when instructions are read aloud. Other students may have hearing problems or speech impediments that make oral or aural tests incredibly difficult.
Working to find ways of assessment that minimize these limitations can go a long way but so can self-reflection and self-evaluation. Unconscious biases can creep into our thought processes. For teachers and instructors at all levels, this can mean the difference between the benefit of the doubt to a negative mark in an examination resulting in a lesser grade.
We have all heard the age-old trope that no one likes school and that learning isn’t all that fun. The reality is far from true as we tend to only remember the most boring classes and subjects from our time in education when we reminisce on our time in both school and university.
Students that can see themselves in the authors they read or the themes and topics they explore in class will automatically be more invested in what they are learning. Devoid of this identification the topic can seem foreign and strange. Likewise, struggling with a series of written essays when you have difficulties writing will undoubtedly sour your opinion of exams.
Offering students an inclusive environment is quite a bit about offering them the best chance to succeed. Thus you are likewise allowing them to enjoy the learning experience and to be able to do it on their terms, in a way and in a place that makes them feel themselves.
Creating the ideal learning environment for your students, as we have said before, is a worthy use of your time that will certainly require some time and effort. But there are of course countless ways in which you can smoothen this process to make it more time efficient and effective for yourself and your students.
The web is full of collaboration and teaching tools that will help teachers, tutors, professors, and lecturers with everything they need to dive right into inclusive teaching. Mentimeter is on hand to help you create this environment by providing all students with a platform where they can submit their answers anonymously, share their opinions in confidence, and ask questions without worrying about putting their names to them.
We have a complete MentiAcademy course with exercises and resources that are guaranteed to help you create a more inclusive learning environment.