Text reads: Inclusive Classroom Strategies. A cartoon illustration shows a Black teacher, with an empty speech bubble, standing in front of a class of students. The 2 students in the front row are visible, and they both have their hands raised to ask questions.

Inclusive Classrooms: Strategies for Educators

"One thing we’ve learned is that one size does not fit all. People are very varied in terms of their background. They’re very varied in what they bring to the table. And they’re very varied in what they’re interested in. It’s quite clear that the future of learning is going to be much more personalized. Much more adapted to your needs, your interests and your goals." —Robert Lue, LabXchange founder

Welcome back to our inclusive classrooms series! As the release of two new Racial Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity in Science Education (RDEISE) learning clusters approaches, we’re taking a closer look at inclusive teaching principles and strategies. We’ve shared an exclusive preview of the RDEISE project, and discussed what makes a classroom inclusive and why it matters. This month, we share some specific strategies and ideas for creating an inclusive learning environment.

Evidence shows that Black students and other students of color, disabled students, LGBTQIA+ students, students from low-income backgrounds, and students from other marginalized groups continue to face challenges within the classroom. The legacy of racism can be seen in the disproportionate underrepresentation in STEM fields of racialized groups such as Black Americans. To increase diversity in science and diverse leadership in science, teachers must be equipped with inclusive teaching strategies. 

“A top priority for me was to make my classroom resources equitable for all students, and allow students to progress at their own pace.” Uma Mahajan, GREEN Charter School, Greenville, SC

While inclusive teaching as a concept and practice is for the benefit of all students, the specific barriers faced by students from marginalized communities, such as Black students and other students of color, can be addressed in an inclusive classroom. Using the 5 key characteristics of an inclusive classroom identified in the animation “What is an Inclusive Classroom,” we share some useful strategies, examples, tips, and ideas for educators aiming to create inclusive learning environments.

 A portrait of Jenny Frank, Head of Educator Programming and Engagement at LabXchange. She is a white woman with long blonde hair, wearing glasses and a smart green and white striped shirt. A quotation reads: Recognizing that my students have diverse backgrounds, learning styles, and abilities, it is imperative that I look for ways to differentiate my classroom instruction and tailor learning to meet individual needs.
Quotation source: Teacher Impact: 7 Strategies for Reaching Students

General strategies for creating an inclusive learning environment:

  • Reflect on your own identity, and how it has shaped your life and career. Self-awareness enables educators to create more comfortable learning environments for all of their students, as well as to model both confidence and open-mindedness. 
  • Interrogate your own beliefs and assumptions. Even the most open-minded individuals hold certain biases, but they are difficult to address if we don’t know what they are, or even realize we have them. The more individuals reflect on their biases, the easier they will become to recognize as they present themselves. This goes hand in hand with staying up-to-date with current affairs and actively seeking out resources about the types of biases that exist.
  • Call out bigotry and avoid perpetuating stereotypes. It is important to address racism, sexism, ableism and other bigoted content if it comes up in learning material. Also, make it clear that racist, sexist, ableist and other disrespectful jokes, comments, or slurs will not be tolerated in the classroom. Avoid dividing students up by social categories such as gender, as this reinforces stereotypes and could create an uncomfortable environment.  
  • Use inclusive language. Don’t use language that gives the impression that you are uncomfortable with disability, or that frames disability as an inherently negative quality to cure or overcome. Avoid expressions such as “the only disability in life is a bad attitude,” as it invalidates students’ very real experiences of exclusion and discrimination.
“Building relationships with students is crucial. Learn what interests them and then use that to drive your instruction.” - Autumn Rivera, 2022 Colorado Teacher of the Year

It's also important that all students have opportunities to actively participate, can pose ideas and construct their knowledge of the course content, have the time to think, and are explicitly welcomed into intellectual discussion of the course content.

  • Ensure that the classroom environment and learning materials are accessible. The physical space in a classroom should be easily navigable for all students, including those who use mobility aids, such as wheelchairs. For example, ensure that desks and other items of furniture are spaced far enough apart to make it easy to move between them. 
  • Learning content should be made available in a range of forms. Any print material should also be available electronically and in an audio format. Visual content such as pictures and graphs should be presented in tactile form or include image descriptions (or alt text).
  • Encourage curiosity over perfection. Students should feel comfortable asking questions, and not be shut down when they don’t fully understand something. Allow students to express their learnings and answers to questions in their own words, rather than encouraging rote memorization or focusing on perfect articulation and impressive vocabulary.
 A portrait of Joy-Nicole Smith, middle-grade virtual science teacher. She is a Black woman with dark, curly hair and a bright smile. She is wearing a string of pearls. A quotation reads: I hope to encourage students to view STEM from a multifaceted perspective, and connect with scientists from diverse backgrounds. Often, science is siphoned into subject matter. It is important we expand our view to include the people critical in spearheading monumental changes in history.
Quotation source: Educator Spotlight: Joy-Nicole Smith

Finally, all students should be able to make a personal connection to the course material:

  • Ensure that there is diverse representation in the curriculum. Students need to see themselves and their peers reflected back to them in learning content. Visual learning aids should feature different types of people, such as people of color, people of all genders, and people with disabilities. This reduces stereotypes, and helps all students envision a future for themselves in STEM.
  • Guest speakers should also be drawn from a diverse pool. This allows students to make personal connections to the course material, expands their understanding of STEM, and demonstrates real-world examples of careers in STEM. An idea would be to invite alumni from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to speak to students, or incorporate narratives from the LabXchange library into lesson plans. Educators could also showcase multidisciplinary professionals, for example, artists who incorporate their background in STEM into their work. 
  • Teach students about historically important figures from all backgrounds. For example, when teaching cell culture, educate students on the crucial contribution that Henrietta Lacks made to science and bioethics. Other historically relevant figures include aerospace engineer and former astronaut Guion Stewart Bluford Jr, and the African American women of NASA such as Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan who worked behind the scenes to send astronauts to space. However, be sure to avoid tokenism — doing something only for the sake of symbolizing diversity, or reducing people down to their social identities only, and not recognizing their full humanity. An example of tokenism would be only teaching about Black scientists during Black History Month, and not during the rest of the year.  

Our forthcoming Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Science Education (RDEISE) program, created in collaboration with leading scholars and experts, will provide educators with high-quality curricular materials and evidence-based antiracist and inclusive teaching tools to use in the classroom. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up-to-date.

Sources:

Creating Accessible Classrooms. (n.d.). Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, Indiana University

Written by
LabXchange RDEISE team

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