How teachers can create inclusive learning spaces

Inclusive learning spaces
A walk to the school on a particularly rainy day, with daughter Juniper, compelled seasoned illustrator Amy June Bates to compose ‘The Big Umbrella’ — a simple, sweet yet riveting story that addresses the themes of inclusion, acceptance, and empathy. On the surface level, the story almost reads like a delightful story of a big, red, magical umbrella that is suitable for small children. Only when we delve a little deeper, we understand that the metaphor of the umbrella is the metaphor for an all-embracing, inclusive society that consciously makes room for the ‘others’. Everyone, and truly everyone, is welcome under the umbrella.  The umbrella shelters anyone who wants to be sheltered and there is always room for everyone-tall or short, plaid or hairy, without caring who has how many legs!

The world with all its natural, geographical, and physical diversities is a wonderland for children. What adds more to their curiosity is how its human inhabitants lead dramatically different lives from each other. These dramatic differences exist in a classroom as well. This is where the need arises to teach young children about the diverse lives of not only their classmates but also the people who are not in their immediate family. Children should know about the lives of people who might not find enough representation in popular culture. Similarly, children with disabilities or who belong to underserved groups should also feel represented, heard, and accepted in the classroom.

As teachers are essentially the only adult group apart from parents with whom children spend the most time, it becomes important to initiate conversations around inclusion and create a space like the Big Umbrella. Presented below are the various strategies that have come up in our research about how teachers can make learning spaces more inclusive.

Model inclusive communication

Inclusive language is the stepping stone to any successful inclusive learning space. What we consider as inclusive language should be gender responsive, socio-culturally responsible, free of prejudices, and respectful. Teachers should look past deeply entrenched biased language, help students unlearn them, and foster inclusive language. For instance, using gender sensitive pronouns is part of developing gender-sensitive communication in classrooms. This video breaks down the concept of gender-sensitive pronouns and how we can use them in our conversations.

Easier learning in smaller fractions

Children learning
Each student in a classroom has diverse needs and it becomes difficult to cater to everyone’s needs, especially if it is a large class. Dividing the class into smaller groups makes teaching easier and more productive. Teaching in groups can be done by cooperative learning and peer tutoring.
In cooperative learning, a class is divided into small groups of students. A student in this group has to work together with other participants to ensure that all the participants of the group, including that student, have a fruitful learning experience. Students work together to maximise individual as well as group learning.

In peer tutoring, students (often belonging to the same age group but with varied abilities) work together in pairs. They share a symbiotic relationship based on mutualism where both the participants benefit from the learning experience. Children without disabilities develop a deep sense of responsibility towards their peers with disabilities. Children with disabilities also develop a respectful attitude towards their classmates who are supporting them.

Taking help from assistive technology

Assistive technology


Students with complex support needs communicate differently, using assistive technology supports. Assistive technology comprises any assistive hardware, software, or technical tool which provides support to an individual and facilitates the individual’s functioning. These special types of equipment help make education accessible and engaging to students with diverse learning needs. Assistive technology ranges from high tech wheelchairs to something as low tech as a pencil grip.

In tandem with making these tools available to children who need them, it is essential to make other students understand the works of these communication technologies. This figure from Tecla explains the numerous functions of assistive technology in a classroom.

Accommodating various learning paces

The learning speed of a student is sometimes depicted using a learning curve. Those who are fast learners and can grasp a topic quickly have a steep learning curve. Others in the classroom might be equally capable but take longer than their other classmates to form a sound understanding of the subject. They have an elongated learning curve. The overarching problem is that generally most of the day-to-day classroom instruction is aimed at students who are quick learners. It then becomes essential to provide additional time and effort to the latter category of students to integrate them in regular classroom learning. Additional time and effort include allowing pupils to take a longer time to learn a topic and avoid setting a standardized pace for the entire class.

Advocate active listening

Active listening
One way to make each student feel heard and accepted in the class is by developing an atmosphere where the teacher and fellow students know how to listen actively. What we call active listening entails understanding both verbal and non-verbal cues. Apart from being a good listener, a teacher also passes on this specialized skill to the students. The listening exercise helps students build a close-knit community where all of them feel connected

Espouse culturally responsible literature

Culturally responsible literature
Studies have shown that children with disabilities or children who belong to underrepresented groups rarely find a voice in the mainstream culture. To combat this problem, it is important to include in the curriculum literary works showcasing diversified human experience. By reading the works, some students will be able to identify themselves with the work and feel represented, while others will be able to learn more about their classmates.
#inclusiveeducation #diversity #empower #gendersensitivity

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