Updated: Nov 9, 2020
Having asked the question to a wide range of teaching staff, it became clear that making lessons inclusive is a challenge that many teachers face. In this article I will do my best to summarize the research in this area & as always, provide useful tips that will inform teaching staff & have an immediate impact in the classroom.
What is an inclusive lesson?
It is vital that as educators, we share the same idea of what is meant by the term 'inclusive'. This is a tricky subject as from my own experience, we are sometimes taught methods to differentiate with the aim of being more 'inclusive', while without meaning to, we are actually doing the opposite. As published by the government, and quoted from the UN (2016), an inclusive approach to teaching and learning is the continuous process of eliminating barriers that students may face. These barriers could be linked to a wide spectrum of characteristics but again the philosophy is the same- we should recognise barriers and do whatever we can in our power to remove them. The importance of this subject is made apparent by Colum & Mcintyre (2019) as they identify social inclusion, through relationships with peers and teachers, as being key to academic success. While there are several possible areas of teaching that require such a focus, I would like to center this particular article to the most common issues a teacher is likely to face. As suggested by Florian (2012), making lessons inclusive to students of a wide range of teacher assumed ability levels is a common classroom challenge. As teachers, to provide an 'inclusive' approach to planning and teaching, we may have to consider these ability levels, along with SEN & potential language barriers to name a few.
A Philosophy of 'Catering to all'.
According to the work of Florian (2012), providing an inclusive approach for students across the spectrum of predicted grades & assumed ability levels requires that the teacher provides ALL students with access to the same work and similar learning outcomes or objectives. It has been suggested that providing students with different work that is more suited to "their" level is not an inclusive approach, and while this is often confused with differentiation, it is actually a way of excluding students from learning. Theoharis et al, (2008), states that teachers should consider student difficulty in learning as an issue for teachers to solve and not a problem with the learner. The same principles apply when planning for particular SEN students and in the very different case of trying to help a student overcome language barriers. It is important to hold the attitude that every student will be able to access and learn something in your class, no matter what barriers there may be.
Inclusive lesson planning.
Research by Theoharis et al, (2008) suggests that when planning, teachers should consider a small sample of students that best represent the class as a whole. This means, selecting a range of students that are considered to be of different ability levels, perhaps identifying the individual students that are most likely to succeed and those that you expect to have more difficulties. Once these students have been identified, your lesson plan should include notes on how you will scaffold any content to give all of these students access to the main learning outcome. This may be in the form of extra visual content, access to definitions of key words, or additional opportunities to ask questions and gain support. In order to ensure that this is done in an inclusive way, it may be beneficial to allow all of the students access to any support interventions. I have used dictionaries as an additional support for an 'EAL' student, however this was disguised as I gave them out to the whole class. In doing so, the class were working in a more cohesive way, with an inclusive environment rather than one that separates 'EAL' from the rest. Teachers may also benefit from implementing mixed ability seating plans or groupings at particular times. Separating students into 'higher/lower' ability with a seating plan can sometimes be quite noticeable to the students. It has also been suggested that mixed ability seating arrangements can engage, motivate and lead to better outcomes for those considered less able. (Azizah, 2011)
Teaching tips for inclusive practice.
Try to avoid completely differentiating learning objectives and outcomes and begin to think about how all students can access the lesson content. While they may access it at different levels, I have found that it effective to teach to the top and scaffold down with the aim of getting all students to an understanding of the same content.
Consider a range of students when planning, a good way to do this is to select around 3 students of different ability levels, or students that are facing different types of barriers to learning. Write down some notes or bullet points on each individual, what the barriers may be and how they could be supported. Finally, keep this in front of you when planning- making adjustments where necessary in order to maximise the chances of each of these students succeeding. For example, if one of the students struggles with literacy, include a necessary intervention in the lesson plan.
Think about any interventions and whether they could benefit the whole class rather than just one or two targeted individuals. This creates a feeling of unity in the class. For example if a student benefits from visual resources, provide them for everybody. In doing this, you are including everybody and not separating students by your perception of their ability.
Try mixing higher attaining students with students that may find your lesson more challenging. This may inspire, motivate and allow students to benefit from the support of a high attaining peer.
I'm sure we all agree that lessons should be as inclusive as possible. It would be great to hear your thoughts on these strategies, and some examples of your own in the comments section. If you have found this useful, feel free to get in touch via twitter and do not hesitate to share around Edutwitter!