An inclusive classroom environment means every child, no matter what their individual needs or barriers to learning, has equal access to high-quality education and opportunities to succeed. It is about creating an environment that works for all students, whether English is their first language, or they come from a minority group, or their socio-economic status.
How is it possible to create a space where all of your students can overcome their unique barriers to learning? Even though it is usually necessary to have plans in order to address the specific needs of children in your class, there are a number of things that all teachers can do to create a safe, happy, purposeful and inclusive environment.
1. Establish Rules for Respect and Inclusion
As a teacher, you set the tone in your classroom and can take a strong stance against issues like bullying. Help your students understand that rules on respect and inclusion can never be broken by displaying them somewhere in the classroom. These rules can be:
- Everyone has the right to feel safe, respected and welcomed
- Hateful or foul language is intolerant and prohibited
- Any act of violence or aggression is not allowed
- Respect the property of others – don’t break, steal or take without permission
2. Set high expectations for your students
A 2020 academic review by Ayse and Mehmet Kart shows that creating inclusive classroom environments reduces feelings of shame, fears of being bullied, and lack of disclosure among students with disabilities, as well as increasing tolerance and acceptance among regular students. This happens due to positive effects of cooperative relationships and new friendships formed in classrooms.
One of the best ways to foster cooperation from everyone is to arrange desks into small groups and facilitate lessons with active discussions, Megan Walsh stated in her 2018 study. This approach tells students that everyone, including those with special needs, is expected to participate in activities and feel included in the classroom.
Low expectations have impeded the IDEA (The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) federal law, according to Congress. Research by David Lansing Cameron and Bryan G. Cook shows a strong correlation between teacher’s high expectations and higher academic achievement of students with disabilities. When you set high expectations for all of your students, you send a clear message that children with disabilities have the capacity to reach their highest potential just like everyone else.
3. Helping children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Dyslexia
Individuals with autism report that changes can be extremely difficult causing stress and feelings of disorientation. Students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and dyslexia feel safe at school when they can predict how the lesson will go and what they will learn.
By adding little changes to your classroom environment, you can make a big difference for these students to get them comfortable during the learning process and open up. Here are some ideas:
- Display timetables
ASD and dyslexic children sometimes struggle with organization, so displaying a clear timetable somewhere in the class for all to see can make their day at school more predictable and calm. They can look forward to their favorite subjects and mentally prepare for the ones they enjoy less.
- Show key information
Displaying key information such as facts and vocabulary words can ease fears of not knowing how to answer a question or conquer a tricky task.
- Use Dyslexia-friendly color combinations
Change your slides to have less contrast instead of the traditional black font on a white background. Less contrast makes everyone’s reading easier, including yours.
Research-suggested color combinations:
- Use OpenDyslexic for Chrome
This extension changes default fonts on all web pages and makes them more readable to prevent confusion. It is a great solution in case you need to display any content from the web.
4. Let Children Choose How to Demonstrate What They Have Learned
Each child has different strengths. According to a November 2020 Edutopia article by Sarah Schroeder, assessment without a choice or autonomy offers a “narrow view of smart.” This shifts the focus of students from a natural learning process to assessment for a grade or compliance (due dates, formatting, etc). Instead of giving students a written test after each unit, allow them to choose how they will demonstrate their knowledge. A few options are:
- Taking pictures and presenting them to class
- Writing a blog
- Creating or drawing a poster/infographic
- Recording a video
- Making a learning journal
If you still must have written exams, you can still assign personal projects that empower students to show what they’re best at. Choice can be built into almost any part of the school day and gives students an opportunity to take control of their lives. This will prepare students for adulthood, when they will be faced to make a choice based on their judgement of personal strengths and weaknesses.
5. Evaluate your Curriculum
Inclusive classrooms are not possible without a curriculum that has a variety of perspectives and stories. With multiracial or multicultural school demographics, it is important to choose a curriculum that highlights members of the local community.
An inclusive and diverse curriculum can boost the self-esteem and confidence of underrepresented students. Most importantly, according to a report by Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox, and Diana Cordova-Cobo, students who have been exposed to diverse stories and faces during their classroom time will have less racial prejudice in the future as members of a global society.
One of the great things about Studies Weekly’s state-specific Social Studies curriculum is that it was developed with diversity and adaptation to local communities in mind. Students learn about people who played an important role in their state’s history, including people from minority groups. They also learn about their state’s flag, song, bird, and other fun facts that help them appreciate where they live.
Through these universal adaptations, your classroom can become more inclusive and benefit everyone by learning about patience, tolerance, and the benefits of diversity.