Welcome to our new inclusive classrooms series! As the release of two new RDEISE learning clusters approaches, we’ll take a closer look at inclusive teaching principles and strategies. In this post, we dissect what makes a classroom inclusive, and why it matters.
Intentionally designing an inclusive classroom fosters a sense of belonging and makes all learners feel intellectually supported. In an inclusive classroom, diversity is celebrated and considered at every step of the learning process. Inclusive teaching ensures that all students are engaged, their voices are heard, each student’s unique learning needs are accommodated, and students from marginalized groups aren’t excluded or sidelined, but rather validated and respected.
All classrooms are diverse spaces. Each student is unique, with their own intersectional identity, learning style, motivations, educational history, learning and career goals, prior knowledge, abilities, and ways of expressing what they’re learning. Students also have individual contexts, with different resources available to them at home, and varying personal challenges or barriers, such as systemic racism or ableism. An inclusive classroom keeps all these differences in mind to set all students up for success. Inclusive education benefits everyone: it helps all students, not only those from marginalized groups. Inclusive teaching strategies are simply good practice.
Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2021 showed that 35.6% of high school students in the United States reported experiences of racism in school. This was linked to higher rates of poor mental health, feelings of isolation at school, and difficulties with concentration, memory, and decision-making. The CDC stated that antiracist, culturally aware, and inclusive interventions are critical for promoting safe school environments for all students.
Race is not the only consideration in an inclusive classroom. About 1 in 44 American children are autistic, while 1 in 6 Americans between the ages of 3 and 17 were diagnosed with a disability such as cerebral palsy, ADHD, or blindness between 2009 and 2017, according to the CDC. Mobility International USA (MIASU) reports that 21% of youth aged 15 or older have a disability.
In addition, many disabilities and neurotypes are invisible, or only medically diagnosed later in life. There may be neurodivergent or disabled students who are currently undiagnosed, and who would also benefit from an inclusive learning environment. Creating an inclusive classroom is an effective approach to alleviating and addressing as many barriers to learning as possible, and provides students with different options for engagement.
Students may also face barriers like inaccessible learning materials or environments, a lack of culturally relevant examples in content, and content being presented in only one way. Students can face difficulties if they are given too little time to meaningfully engage when expected to verbally answer questions in class or write tests. Language that doesn’t demonstrate respect for aspects of students’ identities, such as race, gender, and disability, can be alienating and discourage participation in class. Other challenges might include aspects of students’ home environments, such as a low-income background, poor internet connections, or lack of access to devices.
“What is an Inclusive Classroom?” was released as a sneak peek of the second RDEISE learning cluster, “Inclusive and Antiracist Teaching Strategies.” The animation is a useful resource for educators in addressing various barriers and accommodating the diverse needs and learning styles of all their students.
The animation identifies 5 key characteristics of an inclusive classroom.
It is important to use a variety of strategies and techniques, as some will work better than others for specific students and/or learning contexts. Varying strategies and techniques also helps students to explore concepts from other perspectives, and to develop and diversify their own communication skills.
In the next installment of our Inclusive Classroom series, we will learn more about the challenges and opportunities associated with creating supportive teaching environments by talking to two experts in the field of inclusive education.
Our forthcoming Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Science Education (RDEISE) program, created in collaboration with leading scholars and experts, provides 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.