You Need These 7 Powerful Strategies for an Inclusive Classroom
You must have successful strategies for an inclusive classroom to meet the needs of all your students. Creating an inclusive classroom is nothing new – teachers have been doing it for decades! While the language may have changed, teachers continue to adapt their teaching and classroom environment to meet the needs of each individual student. Imagine this: you walk around your classroom and you see each child completing the same activity. Well, maybe not the same activity, but they’re all working on the same concept just at different levels! This differentiated, or leveled learning, is an inclusive classroom. Inclusive classrooms also ensure each individual feels welcomed and valued. Creating an inclusive classroom means prioritizing relationships and creating a loving classroom community.
Research shows one of the most effective strategies for differentiating content in an inclusive classroom is to utilize small group instruction. Small group instruction can be challenging and overwhelming – but I am here to help you! You can easily improve your small group instruction utilizing these 7 Tips for Effective Small Group Instruction!
Define Inclusive Classroom
There are so many terms in education, it can be hard to keep them straight! You may be asking yourself “What is an inclusive classroom?”. An inclusive classroom is one that builds a relationship with each student as an individual and works to meet his or her needs while valuing their culture and family. Currently, in the United States, many laws attempt to support an inclusive model in the classroom. The term “inclusive classroom” is most commonly used when referring to integrating students identified with special education needs into the general education classroom. A true inclusive classroom supports all students of various identities and their families.
Benefits of an Inclusive Classroom
The benefits of an inclusive classroom are ongoing! In an inclusive classroom, children learn to work with different types of personalities, abilities, and cultures. This places a large burden on the teacher as they navigate children’s natural curiosity about peers while respecting individual needs and cultures.
Once you have strategies for an inclusive classroom in place, every student benefits! Having these strategies in place from the beginning of the year makes your classroom run smoothly and encourages student independence and learning. While it can be challenging to create an inclusive classroom, taking the time now will pay for itself tenfold later on! Not only will your students make progress academically, but they will feel more connected to each other as they build a welcoming, inclusive classroom community.
Best Practices for an Inclusive Classroom
You may be wondering how to build an inclusive classroom and the answer is to follow best practices! The best practices for an inclusive classroom can vary widely, but they all have one thing in common: choice. The more student lead choice and self-advocacy you can incorporate into your lessons, the more inclusive classroom you will create.
UNIVERSAL DESIGN FOR LEARNING IN THE INCLUSIVE CLASSROOM
Universal design for learning (or UDL) is a key component to creating an inclusive classroom. These strategies are easy to implement and benefit all students! UDL promotes access to instruction within the classroom while supporting equity across all cultures and capabilities. Universal design for learning supports teachers thinking in how their students access the materials, build their knowledge, and internalize what they have learned. Learn more about UDL and its importance for creating an inclusive classroom here.
One of the most important strategies for an inclusive classroom surrounds access to instruction or materials. If your students are unable to understand or relate to the material, they are unable to learn. Think about your instruction – are you utilizing multiple mediums? Are you providing several opportunities for the students to explore the material? Are your students moving, talking, watching, drawing? Read on to find out some of the most effective strategies for an inclusive classroom!
USING UDL TO CREATE AN INCLUSIVE CLASSROOM
As you use UDL in your inclusive classroom, you may struggle to find time to teach the same lesson in multiple ways. You barely have time to teach one lesson! The answer to this time crunch? Utilize small group instruction. As you build your community and get to know your students, you will find some students learn best in a similar fashion. You can create a group with these students, or you can create a group of students with different learning styles to encourage conversation and exploration. The possibilities for inclusion are endless with small group instruction!
Why Your Inclusive Classroom Needs Small Group Instruction
Small group instruction is one of the most powerful strategies for an inclusive classroom. Small group instruction allows you to listen to each individual student and creates a safe space for students to share their knowledge as well. Students are twice as likely to share their thinking in a small group when compared to whole group instruction. Small group instruction allows you to easily introduce new material in the method which students can access best. It also allows you to tailor assessments to the individuals’ needs, which is crucial for accurate growth and data collection.
Using small group instruction in your inclusive classroom allows all students to explore and grow. Utilizing small groups allows you to easily differentiate instruction to meet students where they are at. Here are more strategies to easily differentiate instruction in your classroom, while creating an inclusive environment.
Small group Instruction in the Inclusive classroom
Your inclusive classroom needs small group instruction because you are one person. You are not able to meet the individual needs of each student at one time. While some students are physical (or kinesthetic learners), others require more auditory instruction and still more benefit from visual instruction! Some students benefit from hands-on, creative assessments while others prefer pencil and paper. Attempting to meet these large varieties of needs in a whole group setting is overwhelming, and nearly impossible. Utilizing small group instruction, you can ease your workload, build better relationships with your students, and increase overall growth. You can read about why small group instruction is key to student success here.
How to Build an Inclusive Classroom
There are many resources and techniques for how to build an inclusive classroom. It is different for everyone! It may take some time along with trial and error to find the strategies that work best for your teaching style, your schedule, and your students. Keep your eye on the big picture. By making small changes to your daily routines, you can easily create an inclusive classroom! These strategies to build an inclusive classroom below are more about changing the way you approach your students than tangible items you need. By re-framing the way you think about your day in the classroom, you can meet the individual needs of your students. Be sure to step outside of your comfort zone and be self-reflective as you create an inclusive classroom environment.
Daily Check Ins
Daily check-ins are one of many powerful strategies to create an inclusive classroom. These check-ins should be natural and not occur at the door. Many students are overwhelmed by their mornings coming into school. Create a calm space for your students to acclimate in the morning. Noise levels should be quiet, work should be independent or easy, and students should have time to put their things away and adjust to the day without being rushed. As students stagger in, walk around the room and have a brief conversation with them individually. Create a schedule to check in with each child once to twice a week. Keep the conversation off academics. Find out what they like, their hobbies, things they do at home. As you build the connection, you’ll be able to incorporate these preferences into your inclusive environment.
Utilize Family Communication
While all families may not respond to your communication, they all appreciate it! Do not let radio silence discourage you from reaching out to your families. Caretakers, like teachers, are busy balancing all aspects of life and they appreciate the check-ins even if they don’t have the time to respond.
Family communication is a key strategy to creating an inclusive classroom, especially looking for family feedback. Ask yourself – how can you bring families’ cultures, values, and perspectives into your classroom? The best method is using Google™ Forms! The shorter the form the better. Focus on no more than 5 questions, including one short response. It is helpful to send these quarterly in addition to weekly emails about what is going on in the classroom. Use these forms to guide your instruction as well as have conversations with your students.
Using phone calls to communicate with families
Phone calls are also a useful tool when establishing relationships with families. If you have trouble getting ahold of families on the phone, try scheduling a phone call via email first. Create a script for yourself to ease anxiety while on the phone – or use the one below!
While it may be intimidating, incorporating families into your classroom is a key component of creating an inclusive environment. Ensuring all students feel valued and seen is the benefit of creating an inclusive classroom. The more you know about each family in your classroom, the easier you can incorporate their individualities and values into your conversations to create an inclusive classroom.
Creating an inclusive classroom is about valuing and incorporating all differences and individualities. To achieve this, one of the best strategies to create an inclusive classroom is to encourage conversations! Set the tone and expectations for difficult conversations during whole group lessons. Think about: what is the feeling in the room? Are people being heard? Are others actively listening? Create group expectations and re-visit these often. The most meaningful conversations in an inclusive classroom occur naturally between students as they learn and grow together but if there is a specific topic you’d like to talk about, grab a read-aloud! Take a look at these read-aloud stories for your elementary inclusive classroom.
Think Critically About Your Curriculum
When thinking about how to create an inclusive classroom it is important teachers reflect on not only their own practices but the materials they are using as well. Curriculums are created with in-depth research and data collection but often these are focused solely on academics and not the full child. It is also interesting to discover where the curriculum was created. This provides insights into the population that was used to collect data that determines the efficacy of the curriculum. Was it used across socioeconomic classes? Globally? Nationally? Examine your curriculum closely and have these conversations with your co-workers about the level of inclusiveness provided in your curriculum and what benefits your students, but also what might need some tweaking. Something as simple as creating your own visuals to match a curriculum’s given script can increase a students access to the skills being taught!
Integrate Assessment and Data Tracking
When implementing various strategies for an inclusive classroom it is important to be able to see what is making a difference for your students. While data tracking and assessments can seem overwhelming, they are a key component to creating a successful inclusive environment. Data tracking doesn’t have to be complicated – in fact, to be successful it shouldn’t be! Keeping a grid of students’ names and taking notes about what you notice and, or, what they say can be an easy way to see trends across your class and your students. What are they interested in? What are they struggling with? Which students would work better together?
Work as a Team
Creating an inclusive classroom is hard work – be sure to share the load! Use the resources in your building to try different strategies. Reach out to the specialists in your building: special educators, speech pathologists, related arts teachers, librarians….these professionals offer a wealth of knowledge to support your creating an inclusive classroom environment.
Self-reflection is the last of many strategies for an inclusive classroom. Thinking critically about your students and your teaching practice is the key to creating a successful inclusive environment. When you are intentional about your teaching and value your students’ thoughts, feelings and differences you are doing the best thing a teacher can do to create an inclusive classroom.
Strategies for Differentiating Content in an Inclusive Classroom
Here are some bonus strategies for differentiating content in an inclusive classroom! By making small changes accessible to everyone, each child is able to learn at his or her level.
- Provide several verions of a worksheet
- Have highlighters easily accessible
- Provide choice throughout your room
Be sure to check out these free tips on effective small group instruction to make the most out of your inclusive classroom!