Desmond Tutu aptly said: “Inclusive good quality education is a foundation for dynamic and equitable societies.” This begs the question – How do we strive to achieve this within the classroom? In this articIe, I will define the term ‘inclusive practice’, discuss different strategies which promote inclusive practice and highlight the benefits thereof.
What is Inclusive Practice?
Inclusive practice in teaching recognises the diversity of students, allowing all students to fully participate in learning activities and demonstrate their knowledge and strengths. With inclusivity, all students, irrespective of their backgrounds, abilities or disabilities are provided with appropriate support, both educationally and socially, in a school setting. In terms of the curriculum, it means that the learning strategies used make learning accessible to all pupils in the classroom. Inclusion sees all learners as being of value and treated as unique individuals who can contribute to both the learning community and wider community.
Strategies to Promote Inclusive Practice in the Classroom
- Being approachable, welcoming and genuinely interested.
- Offer new opportunities to students, irrespective of their difficulties, by constantly monitoring their individual progress and taking practical steps to support their learning whilst promoting tolerance, acceptance and understanding.
- Having a culture where every child does matter, thus boosting the self-esteem and self-identity of young people as an integral part of the school environment.
- Being inclusive is not only about catering to the needs of SEN pupils only but should include all pupils, allowing each to reach their full potential through participation in not only the curriculum but also in extracurricular activities.
- Furthermore, teachers must ensure that suitable learning challenges are devised to meet children’s learning needs, giving them the opportunity to make progress.
- Within the classroom setting, every student should be valued and differences should be accepted, embraced, and celebrated. As such, an inclusive teaching and learning environment allows all children the opportunity to engage with the curriculum through active participation as equal members of the community.
- Also, learners with disabilities should be involved in not only the curriculum but also the school community at large, inclusive of extracurricular activities. Hence, this might mean extra resources and adaptations need to be catered for.
How do we achieve this?
- Managers and those in leadership positions should develop a sense of shared responsibility and ownership for every child’s overall social, emotional and academic progress.
- Structure and Ethos – Schools should have an attitude which welcomes all, where every individual is seen as a valued member of the school community. There should be a good working relationship among school staff, families and students.
- Student Placement – In order for students to derive maximum benefit from their education, it is important that they are placed in the correct environment which is conducive to their needs.
- Family and Community Involvement – There should be opportunities for families and the community to be part of the school’s activities and feel a sense of being informed and included.
- Teaching Approaches – These should be differentiated and flexible to incorporate varied learner needs.
- Additional Support Services – Identify individuals who need specific support structures and provide them with appropriate support as and where necessary including any modifications as required. At our school, we have a counselling section to assist with this and they can access outside assistance and agencies as well if required. We also have had a new Braille machine that helps our visually impaired students thrive.
Various readings have made me realise that the creation of an inclusive environment is critical for student attainment. Teachers need to carefully select materials that support students who have varied ability levels in their learning. It is important that there are materials which enable them to progress in their observations and their ability to read and to communicate with each other as an integral part of the learning process. Hence, these materials need to support their learning, giving them exercises with examples to scaffold their learning and to integrate related concepts to aid their understanding.
An inclusive environment can only be created if teachers have a clear understanding of individual students’ results and achievement levels. Assessment is clearly important, because it allows barriers to learning to be identified and tackled in order to increase participation from all people within the learning community. This information should be used to inform the planning of activities to cater for individual learner needs. The teacher can also identify whether additional support is necessary in terms of their emotional and social development.
Teachers are the key to ensuring that this inclusivity is upheld daily. Positive feedback should be given in order to encourage learners to persevere in their efforts and their learning. Inclusive classrooms provide opportunities for children to share in their learning and can be achieved using activities like paired work, group work, small group discussions and cooperative learning which allows learners to explore the full extent of topics, and to learn from and with their peers. It is vital that children are given the opportunity to take ownership for their learning and to demonstrate their knowledge. For example, teachers can allow a child and/or small group of learners to conduct a presentation for the rest of the group about their work, as opposed to handing in a written answer.
I find that it is important to give my learners opportunities to work in small groups and in pairs, as this not only helps pupils to learn from each other but also encourages them to take responsibility for their behaviour and learning when they are completing tasks to reach a goal. It is important that learners receive differentiated instructions from teachers so that they are able to understand the requirements of set tasks and activities, with those instructions being phrased and/or laid out according to a student’s preferred learning style; for example, providing pictures or diagrams for visual learners and/or for those who are learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) alongside written instructions will help with their comprehension.
Benefits of Inclusive Practice
Some of the benefits include the following:
- developing an understanding and respect for each individual in their class and/or learning community through recognising their unique characteristics and abilities
- being able to empathise with their classmates and provide appropriate, sensitive support in overcoming their issues; highlighting and providing opportunities to experience diversity within the school community which reflects that of wider society
- providing an environment which encourages the development of friendships and positive self-image as a result of participating in activities alongside their peers
- families benefit from this process by feeling positive about their children and themselves as a result of experiencing others acceptance of their children. This positivity is further extended as a result of their children making progress within the inclusive setting and having an increasing sense of belonging within the community.
- Teachers benefit through exchanging information about the activities that they plan and deliver with children, thus extending their range of teaching strategies and their general skills as educators
The benefits of receiving an inclusive education for learners themselves include:
- meaningful friendships
- increased awareness, appreciation and acceptance of difference which leads to greater access to social networks for those with disabilities and learning issues
- increased understanding and acceptance of diversity and greater levels of respect for all people
- it prepares all students for adult life in an inclusive society, an environment in which they have to interact with others and follow societal conventions
- the needs of all pupils are better met as a result of increased levels of communication between staff, greater levels of parent and family participation, which leads to higher expectations and better academic outcomes
- students feel more comfortable in the classroom and are able to articulate their ideas, thoughts and questions more readily. It allows students to experience success as a result of learning how to learn in a manner which acknowledges their preferred learning style, their background and their ability.
Ignacio Estrada sums up inclusion as ” If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn”. Stay inspired in your classrooms…
Dash, N. (2006) Inclusive Education for Children with Special Needs. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors
Falvey, M. A., Givner, C. C. (2005) ‘What is an Inclusive School?’ in Villa, R. A., Thousand, J. S. (Eds) Creating an Inclusive School (2nd Ed) pp. 1 – 11
Grace, S., Gravestock, P. (2009) Inclusion and Diversity: Meeting the Needs of All Students. Abingdon: Routledge
Kids Together (2010) ‘Benefits of Inclusive Education.’ Retrieved 1 May 2021 from http://www.kidstogether.org/inclusion/benefitsofinclusion.html
Land, S. (2004) ‘Effective Teaching Practices for Students in Inclusive Classrooms.’ Retrieved 1 May 2021 from http://education.wm.edu/centers/ttac/resources/articles/inclusion/effectiveteach/
Sage, R. (2007) Inclusion in Schools: Making a Difference. New York: Network Continuum Education
Trussler, S., Robinson, D. (2015) Inclusive Practice in the Primary School: A Guide for Teachers. London: Sage Publications Ltd