Everyone is welcome. Everyone is valued. This is the message one would want to send out to their elementary class. But despite the best of intentions of building a vibrant, open, and inclusive classroom, the execution of the vision to reality can be challenging. Following are some expert tips to support your goal of building a dynamic learning environment.
- Invest in the Success Stories of Students. The most effective way to build an inclusive learning environment is to build relationships with students based on trust and reciprocity. Believing that each individual student is unique and honoring their potential and talents makes you a fellow traveler invested in their success story. It is a strength-based approach. Moving from the “one-size-fits-all” approach to respecting differing learning styles is important. Provide small group or individual, direct instruction so you can tailor content delivery more accurately for specific learners’ needs. Customize students’ experiences in your classroom, to build upon their strengths and help them develop and improve their understanding of topics with which they are struggling.
- Facilitate Empowering and Proactive Choices. By providing choice, teachers can provide students with the opportunity to freely express their skills, talents, and preferences. Teachers can create lessons and experiences that are engaging and relevant, which leads to more motivated students. For example, students may choose five activities from a set of 10. Or, a student may choose a topic for a research-related assignment. It is a key in supporting a person’s autonomy.
- Multisensory Stimulation and Visual Aids. Repeated multisensory stimulation brings new memories from the brain’s data storage areas to its executive function processing centers. At this stage, synapses are firing in brain centers of critical reasoning, prioritizing, judging, and pattern analyzing. This is the brain’s electrical dance of original, creative discovery—the “aha” moments, wherein optimal learning can happen. Visual aids, anchor charts, posters, diagrams, symbols for classroom materials and maps can all have a significant positive impact on student learning.
- Facilitate ownership of classroom roles. Whether daily or weekly, a classroom job inculcates a sense of responsibility and requires the student to demonstrate their leadership and ability to contribute to the class. In turn, the student feels valued and needed. Because of the range of student abilities and attributes, students are taught acceptance of one another’s uniqueness. Thus, it fosters inclusiveness.
- Positive Behavior Management System. A positive behavior management system allows the teacher to reinforce the strengths of individual learners and provides students with cues to good behavior. Supporting student behavior, maintaining a calm learning environment and providing predictable routines assists in creating optimal learning conditions for all students.
- Switch Seating Arrangements. Too often, students are stuck in their seats their entire academic year, restricting their interaction with only a few surrounding classmates. Opportunities for group work, cooperative learning and peer relationships become limited. Even worse, a student can be seated in an area that is distracting to his or her learning, interfere with mobility or obstruct view. Teachers can alter student groupings and make monthly seating changes.
- Parents as Allies. Parents are an important resource… and a wise teacher works with them. Teachers can make parents feel welcome through class newsletters, volunteering, communication books or homework planners as well as giving regular feedback regarding student progress. In turn, parents can complete the feedback loop in identifying student’s areas for growth that may not be immediately evident in the classroom. This additional information can be helpful when planning class activities and lessons.
- Harness the Power of Technology. Technology has become an integral part of the 21st-century classroom. Not only does it allow students to keep up with our changing world, it provides accessibility to the curriculum for learners with special needs. Whether it be a computer, iPad, audio/visual equipment or assistive devices, technology can play various roles in the inclusive classroom. It can offer educational software, provide an accessible curriculum to children with special needs and help differentiate lessons.
- Promote Play-Based Learning and Engage the Child’s Creativity. Games such as card games, board games and classroom games are often used by teachers to reinforce a new concept. However, they also play a large role in teaching students social skills and teamwork. Games can allow students to relax in the learning environment, enjoy one another’s company and form relationships. Also, art-based activities such as painting, drama, dancing, music can creatively engage students.
- Create Affinity Space and go Deeper into Heritage. It’s great to celebrate other cultures, but make sure you’re not reducing them to stereotypes. Bring in guest speakers who can speak to their own experiences, rather than trying to do it all yourself. Sometimes marginalized students need a place to get away from people who don’t share their experiences.
Antioch University provides a plethora of program choices, from a Master of Education to Certificates to Workshops and Continuing Education, to equip you with all the necessary skills to create progressive and inclusive classrooms.
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