Inclusive Pedagogy: Noticing the Subtle Differences in the Classroom

For me, the article on inclusive pedagogy resonated the most with me. As recent as last year, when I hear of inclusiveness in the classroom, I think primarily of race and gender. However, sometimes last year (I think April, 2018), I attended a Networked Learning Initiatives (NLI) on differentiation in the classroom that changed my perspective on differences in the classroom. This was an interesting 2-hour session that was worth every second. I learned many things and I will share some of them in the paragraphs that follow.

To start with, I learned what differentiation in the classroom is. Simply put, differentiation in the classroom is being aware of the differences in our students. Differences could range from almost imperceptible challenges such as learning disability to more blatant ones such as race and gender. When I registered for this NLI session, I had the later in mind. However, I soon found out that the term ‘differences’ was more nuanced than I had imagined. In fact, during the session, one of the participants shared an example of a student in her class who was always having bad grades. She thought it was due to lack of efforts, only for her to later realize that the student had a learning disability, which made comprehending course content difficult. Unfortunately, the student was not even aware of their disability. This really made me reflect and I thought to myself: “In what ways could I have been insensitive to such minuscule differences in my classroom?” “could there have been someone in my classes with challenges such as learning disability that I failed to notice?” How many times have we tagged students as lazy while they may have been suffering from a learning disability?

Needless to say, after this NLI session, I decided to be intentional about looking out for such subtle differences in my classroom going forward. However, it is not enough to be aware of differences but we need to take necessary steps to accommodate students with challenges that we might not even be conscious of. The way we design our instructional materials is crucial. For example, when preparing lecture slides, we should ask ourselves if it is legible enough for students who might have difficulty with reading. Or if we want to play a video, we should make sure it is subtitled, in case there are students who might have hearing difficulties. There are several other examples of how to be intentional about inclusivity in the classroom, however, I will stop this blog post here.

I think my eureka moment about inclusivity in the classroom was this NLI session, and since then I have strived to be a more inclusive teacher, and I am still striving. The infographic below presents a good summary of inclusivity in the classroom.

Image result for inclusiveness in the classroom

skinzie

Thanks so much for your post! I love the infographic and how it drives home the point that we must remember the uniqueness of each of our students and the absurdity of trying to address a variety of needs with a single approach. I really appreciate the point you made about seeking to make our classrooms accessible to all (even before we encounter a student with a diagnosed disability, etc.). I worked for a while in a college’s Disability Services department and one thing that I learned there was that changes that might have previously been labeled as “special accommodations for someone with a disability” are often helpful to many other students in a classroom as well. Subtitles on videos are one such example. Even for students that do not have hearing difficulties, subtitles can still be helpful in comprehending and retaining information. There are countless other adjustments we can make to help make our classrooms accessible to all students. Thanks again for sharing!

Ibukun D. Alegbeleye

Thanks for the comment, Shannon! I like how you put this, “special accommodations for someone with a disability are often helpful to many other students in a classroom as well.” I couldn’t agree more.

Sara

Hi Dami,

This was a very insightful post. I am glad that you had the opportunity to take the NLI workshop/course (?) it sounds like it was a great catalyst to open your mind to the spectrum of difference that we can experience in our classrooms. You’re right: acknowledging difference is the first step, but accommodating is the real challenge. I can relate to the sentiment of striving toward creating inclusive classrooms–I too want my students to know I am sensitive to their needs and am prepared to meet them where they are so I can provide the best experience possible for each and every individual. I’m with Shannon–the infographic is great. Thank you for sharing!

Ibukun D. Alegbeleye

Thank you for the comment, Sara! I like how you phrased this, “I too want my students to know I am sensitive to their needs and am prepared to meet them where they are so I can provide the best experience possible for each and every individual.” You couldn’t have said it any better. I think the students would appreciate the effort, even in cases where it is insufficient.

Vibhav Nanda

Hi,
Thanks for this post! I love it, especially because it resonates with me! I personally had weak eyes and couldn’t see the black board from my “assigned” seat in class room (3rd grade). Consequentially, I was falling behind and my teachers always berated me for being lazy. At the end of 3rd (or 4th?) grade my parents took me for an eye test and found out about my weak eyes — leading to poor academic performance.

I wish the teachers didn’t automatically assume that I was being lazy, and I wish they tried to understand what I was lacking. It’s not a big deal, they were just trying to make their lives easy whilst destroying self-confidence and self-esteem of a 3rd grader (sarcasm!)

Dami

Thanks for the comment, Vibhav! Many teachers would rather take the easy way out and attribute bad performances to student’s lack of effort without trying to find out why and how to accommodate such student. You are lucky to have found what was wrong on time. Hopefully, your self-confidence didn’t take a big hit, lol. Thanks for sharing your experience.

schen518

Love the infographic. I agree that many students are unaware of their learning disabilities. I remember during my freshman year of college where my friend, who was an honors student and valedictorian in high school, started struggling and almost failing in all of his classes. His professor told him to visit the student disability center and he was very offended. Even if a student is not aware of their disabilities, how can you nudge them so that they become self-aware and seek assistance without the student generating negative feelings?

Dami

Thanks for the comment. You’ve asked a great question, ” if a student is not aware of their disabilities, how can you nudge them so that they become self-aware and seek assistance without the student generating negative feelings?” It’s kind of tricky, really. I think the teacher’s approach is key here. If a teacher comes from the angle of “you have a problem,” the student might get offended. However, if you approach it like you’re trying to help a friend out, then the outcome might be more positive.

Ben Kirkland

So true, so true. It reminds me of of my last employ. In that business, it was so important for the well-being of my employees to address difficulties and tensions, to let them know I was actively involved, to let them know their needs were important. If my team was happy, I was happy. If they were kicking ass, I was kicking ass. And if they were unhappy, my day was disrupted. Yes, it was good for the company, but that wasn’t the point. The fact the company might do better was only an added bonus.
My team was small, my company large. I knew my team of 6 very well. My company of 60 took years to know personally. How do I do this with 60+ students in one semester? I see this as the one big challenge for educating our undergrads. They get in these massive classrooms and get lost. And we have to pay attention to their needs across the long hall. That’s hard.
I think that’s part of these lessons, and I’m totally up for the challenge. But, I don’t have answers. Any suggestions?

Dami

Thanks for the comment, Ben! It’s really difficult to do in a large class. That’s why we shouldn’t be having very large classes. Having said that, I think one could monitor students through their attendance and periodic assessments. But yeah, I agree, it’s hard to pay attention to their needs in a large class.

timstelter

Thanks for the post, Ibukun. Striving to accommodate our students as best as possible is important. We are students ourselves which gives us potential to even use our empathy to help design our courses to be accommodating. Reflecting on this post, I remember a student from another university who teaches told me at the start of each he would put out a survey during class to gauge the material students were interested in and how they best learn. It’s not completely focused differences per say, but is one way I would want to incorporate a conversation to be had rather than go through documentation.

Thanks again for the post!

Riya Nandi

That’s a great post Ibukun! But to kind of follow up on Ben’s point, inclusion becomes a challenge with growing number of students, i.e with growing diversity. I have felt this in the classes that I have been part of, in order to be more accommodating to the different kinds of needs of the students, to give more of them individual attention, the pace of the course slows down, and that becomes boring for some students who are grasping the material faster than some others! They aren’t getting enough engagement and hence lose some interest. Is there a good way to balance? Or is having small classes the only right way?

Dami

Riya,
Thanks for your comment. I agree, it gets complicated in a large class; the larger the class, the more complicated it gets. I don’t know of a good way to balance this, however, Tim’s idea of putting out a survey to see how they best learn and how to best meet their needs might be helpful.

Michael Hughes

Hey, great post and infographic! I also catch myself thinking of inclusion as a race/gender issue when it’s so much more than that. I often forget about the less visible components of it like disabilities. For a long time I had trouble focusing in long classes and was easily distracted. It was several years before teachers realized that I wasn’t a troublemaker or uninterested in the work. Hopefully, we can start tailoring teaching/learning to the individual, so they can perform better in class.

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