Our classrooms are a tapestry of students with different cultures, socioeconomic circumstances, race and abilities. Whether intentional or not, there is social, emotional, physical and intellectual diversity even within the most seemingly cohesive group of students. There is social, emotional, physical and intellectual diversity even within the most seemingly cohesive group of students, which means there are also challenges to teaching diverse groups and ensuring all students feel involved and included.
With those challenges in mind, teaching strategies such as Universal Design for Learning (UDL) have been established. UDL is a successful, research-based method of making the curriculum accessible for all students. Inherently inclusive, it provides a framework for teachers to use when planning lesson plans and instruction. For example, teachers are asked to consider multiple ways for students to engage in a lesson, as well as opportunities and ways to share what they have learned. In addition to using UDL, teachers can also use the following strategies to include all students in the classroom. Here are five examples of how to make your classroom more inclusive:
1. Use Visuals
Teachers already know that using visuals to teach a concept is very effective. Anchor charts, posters, diagrams and maps have long been used for successful instruction. However, visuals can also be used to make the curriculum more accessible beyond the subject areas. Creating a daily schedule, using clocks and timers, nametags, labels or symbols for classroom materials and written direction can all have a significant positive impact on student learning.
Visuals in the classroom can create smoother transitions between activities. Students can predict and prepare for change, know where materials are located when needed as well as find direction independently. According to Lisa Altman and Julie Riley’s presentation, visual aids support a variety of learners and are an important element of the inclusion process.
Teachers already know that using visuals to help teach a concept is very effective. Anchor charts, posters, diagrams and maps have long been used for successful instruction. However, visuals can also be used to make the curriculum more accessible beyond the subject areas. Creating a daily schedule, using clocks and timers, name tags, labels or symbols for classroom materials and written direction can all have a significant impact on student learning.
2. Assign Classroom Jobs
Seemingly simple, the installation of “classroom jobs” actually supports a core component of inclusion. Aside from academics, inclusive education also supports social and emotional development in students. Because of the range of student abilities and attributes, students are taught to be accepting of one another’s uniqueness.
One way to help build acceptance is to assign each student a meaningful classroom job. Whether daily or weekly, a classroom job is the responsibility of the student. It requires the student to demonstrate his or her leadership and ability to contribute to the class. In turn, the student feels valued and needed. A document called Classroom Jobs posted by Teach for America outlines the benefits of classroom jobs and the types of jobs students can do within a classroom.
3. Provide Choice
In line with the principles of UDL, by providing student choice, teachers can provide students with the opportunity to freely express their skills, talents and preferences. By providing students with options, teachers can create lessons and experiences that are engaging, which leads to more motivated students.
In fact, research from Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci’s 2000 paper, “Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions,” concludes that the self-determination theory of motivation shows that engaging in choice is a central feature in supporting a person’s autonomy.
Teachers can offer students choice when responding to subject matter, assessment, embedded in daily routines or even homework. In addition, teachers can offer students choice based on ability or interest. For example, students may choose five activities from a set of 10. Or, a student may choose a topic for a research-related assignment. Student choice, when balanced with teacher-directed instruction, is another way to facilitate inclusion.
4. Switch Up Seating
Too often, students are given a seating assignment at the beginning of the school year and then are expected to remain in the same spot until the last day of school. With that type of classroom management strategy, students are restricted to interacting with only a few surrounding classmates for the majority of the day. Opportunities for group work, cooperative learning and peer relationships become limited. Even worse, a student can be seated in an area that is distracting to his or her learning, interfere with mobility or obstruct view. For example, some students will become distracted if they sit beside a window, under a vent or near a clock.
To facilitate the inclusion of various learning styles, teachers can plan to re-assign student seating on a regular basis. Many teachers prefer monthly seating changes. In addition, teachers can alter student groupings. Students can be moved into small groups, large groups or even pairs. It is important, however, that the teacher be aware that this type of change may not be beneficial to all students and make accommodations when necessary. For the large majority of students, though, changes in seating can successfully facilitate inclusion on academic, intellectual and physical levels.
5. Parents as Partners
Parents are the most important resource a teacher can have in the classroom. Not only do they offer a helping hand during field trips or school events, a parent has valuable knowledge that can support their child’s education. Therefore, it is essential for teachers to view parents as an important part of an inclusive classroom. Teachers can make parents feel welcome and valued through class newsletters, volunteering, communication books or homework planners as well as giving regular feedback regarding student progress.
Parents, in return, can identify their student’s strengths or areas for growth that may not be immediately evident in the classroom. They can provide information on a child’s likes and dislikes, and any special skills or hobbies outside of school. For teachers, this additional information can be helpful when planning class activities such as having a student “expert” teach a concept to the class. Establishing a welcoming and respectful environment in the classroom for parents will support a teacher’s efforts to become more inclusive in numerous ways.