Inclusive learning and teaching recognizes that all students are entitled to a learning experience that respects diversity, enables participation, removes barriers and considers a variety of learning needs and preferences.
Regardless of cultural backgrounds or socioeconomic status, children need to feel welcomed and valued in the classroom which creates a comfortable and healthy learning environment. When a teacher applies this technique to their classroom they are able to shape it into a positive learning atmosphere.
Why is inclusive learning important?
Inclusive teaching creates a learning environment where teachers develop supportive relationships with their students. This decreases unnecessary conflict and increases student participation and engagement. With these elements being correctly addressed, students are more likely to take academic risks, persist with difficult material, and better retain the subject matter.
This style of teaching has been directly correlated with learning outcomes, a student’s sense of belonging, and a prediction of motivation, engagement, and achievement.
How can it be applied?
- Examine your own bias. Reflect on your assumptions you may have about your students. What stereotypical notions do you have about student groups or backgrounds?
- Embrace student diversity. It is essential to value and embrace diversity in ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, backgrounds and even academic readiness.
- Recognize your student’s individual needs. This starts by observing and assessing needs then applying what you’ve learned to lesson planning.
- Don’t compare one student’s progress to another’s. Personal progress is key.
- Tailor teaching style to the student’s abilities, preferences, and learning styles. This is a crucial element of inclusive learning. Some students are visual learners while some are kinaesthetic learners. Varying lessons that encompass all different styles of learners is essential for an individual’s academic growth.
- Incorporate a diverse set of examples, resources, and materials. No matter how homogeneous or diverse a classroom may be, it is important to use examples or illustrations that represent a variety of perspectives and populations. This helps students understand the applicability of diverse concepts and helps them relate to the material.
- Reduce anonymity by getting to know you students. Build rapport and learn their individual perspectives and experiences.
These tactics, as well as many others, when applied foster a welcoming approach to the classroom. This ensures the dynamic between teachers and students is healthy and comfortable which builds a stimulating learning atmosphere.
What inclusive learning isn’t
Inclusive learning is the antithesis of some prior teaching methods used in the past.
For example, in the 1970’s the mainstreaming movement was the desired approach which is a one-size-fits-all method applied to teaching. The focus was the child’s readiness to learn rather than the teacher’s readiness to support diverse learners. This left students with disabilities, learning difficulties, or varied styles of learners ostracized from the educational program. Decades of research and countless studies have been conducted and applied since this era, which lead to the current best-practice teaching method.
Where are we now?
Harvard Professor Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences examines the extent to which students possess different kinds of minds and therefore learn, remember, perform and understand in different ways.
When taking this theory and applying it to lesson planning, curriculum development, or everyday classroom ambiance, students are able to academically thrive. Using this theory and embracing diversity, creating a welcoming classroom, and tailoring instruction to meet individual needs you have inclusive teaching. Students need to feel appreciated, safe, and welcomed in order to reach their full potential. Once they feel this way the teacher can challenge them academically, provoke thought, and build a positive learning atmosphere to promote growth.
Teaching has changed throughout the years, based on extensive research and progress. With the knowledge that has been learned throughout the decades, we know inclusive learning forms secure and confident students.
When a teacher is able to create a welcoming learning environment, remove barriers, and ensure inclusivity in the classroom, students are able to academically thrive. Because of this teaching style, students are confident to take academic risks, learn challenging material, and feel comfortable to ask questions. This creates a learning atmosphere where students and teachers alike are reaching their full potential.
Brandes Gress is a professional educator with a Bachelor’s degree in Child Development. She has over eight years of experience teaching preschool-aged children in the United States as well as internationally.