April 30, 2015 by

3 Ways to Create an Inclusive Learning Environment

WholeChildBannerBy Jasper Fox Sr.

Imagine for a minute that you are a student again. Now imagine that learning within the school setting isn’t happening easily. You watch other students progress and wonder why it isn’t as easy for you. Maybe there is a lot going on at home or outside of school, or maybe learning is just harder for you. The bottom line is that an awful lot of students are struggling to make meaning of their educational experience.

Just last week, a window into the reasons students struggle went viral and got mainstream exposure on CNN. The article “#IWishMyTeacherKnew shares students’ heartbreak, hopes” provides insight into some of the forces causing students to stumble.

Schools need to provide a welcoming experience for all students, not just those who struggle, so that effective classroom strategies can be successfully employed. Here are three tactics to consider when creating an inclusive learning environment:

  1. Differentiating: We know that everyone learns differently, so move past the “one-size-fits-all” approach to instruction and assessment. Try allowing students to engage with information in a variety of formats, such as websites, videos, and podcasts. Books, magazines, and periodicals provide rich nontech ways for students to progress through materials as well. Provide small group or individual, direct instruction so you can tailor content delivery more accurately for specific learners’ needs. Assessment choices represent an opportunity for students to showcase their understanding in various ways. Examples include portfolios, presentations, and oral exams. When we customize students’ experiences in our classroom, we can build upon their strengths and help to develop and improve their understanding of topics with which they are struggling.
  2. Healthy Grading: Stop taking off points for behaviors like lateness, unpreparedness, or talking out of turn. While these and other behaviors are important to manage, they shouldn’t be used to mask or reflect students’ understanding of a topic. Instead, focus on what the students do know and let that show in your grade book. The components of an enlightened grading philosophy include
    1. Regular formative assessments in which quality, descriptive feedback is generated and personalized for each student.
    2. Opportunities for reiteration that are embedded within tests and quizzes.

Once satisfactory understanding is demonstrated on formative assessments, students are ready to attempt a summative test. Ensuring that students are prepared for an exam increases the likelihood of initial success—which builds confidence and purpose.

  1. Relationships: The most effective way to build an inclusive learning environment comes from forming meaningful connections with your students. Simple, time-honored techniques such as not raising your voice and saying their names correctly are great ways to start building relationships. By taking some extra time and effort to view each pupil as an individual and truly believing that each student can succeed, you’ll become partners in success.

Putting your students’ emotional needs first is important because without feeling safe and understood, no instructional strategy will be effective. By building relationships in the classroom, students will feel comfortable enough to come out and tell us what is on their minds without having to wait for an opportunity from you to do so. Students want to feel valued and like they are a part of a larger school community. By forming a bond between you and your students and providing a sound educational framework for success, real learning will occur.

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Jasper Fox Sr. teaches science at Copper Beech Middle School in the Lakeland Central School District in Shrub Oak, N.Y., where he is currently in his twelfth year of teaching. He was recently named the Educators Voice Honoree for Middle School Teacher of the Year at the 2014 Bammy Awards and was a semifinalist in the 2015 New York State Teacher of the Year program. An avid writer and connected educator, Fox maintains an active Twitter presence as @jasperfoxsr and writes for a variety of sites and publications.