Strategies To Create An Inclusive Classroom

Strategies To Create An Inclusive Classroom written by:

Barbara Dixon, Former Manager
Diversity and Intercultural Services

Awareness of Diversity

  • Get to know yourself and be aware of how you have been culturally constructed and the implications of this has for classroom practices,
  • Be aware of your basic assumptions about learning and teaching,
  • Understand why you have designed your syllabus in the way that you have,
  • Recognize that learning styles differ, and that your students may not learn well if you use only your style,
  • Recognize that any teaching style to the exclusion of others will also exclude those students who do not learn best by that style,
  • Vary teaching techniques and strategies into the classroom,
  • Establish and maintain a climate of openness and interaction by disclosing personal information about yourself,
  • Get to know your students as individuals rather than as representatives of particular groups. For example, schedule two required office hours for each student, one at the beginning of your class and one at the end. Then, all students will feel as if you know them and respect them individually. "Minority" students in particular will feel more included if they have the opportunity to speak to you personally. They are then more likely to participate actively for the rest of the term.
  • Avoid making assumptions of similarities,
  • Avoid trivializing differences,
  • Accommodate students’ diverse learning styles, and
  • Promote collaboration between all students.

Provide Clear Instructions

  • Speak clearly at a comfortable pace,
  • Use words that describe a sequence: first, second, third…,
  • Use gestures or actions to illustrate what you are trying to communicate,
  • Avoid sentences with words such as "before, after, if (conditional), therefore, however,
  • Rephrase complex sentences using different words,
  • Check frequently for understanding and break instruction into small fragments,
  • Explain meanings of words and phrases that cannot be found in a standard dictionary, e.g. technical terms,
  • Avoid idioms, jargon and slang,
  • Make expectations explicit as they relate to course requirements including assessment practices,
  • Relate the material being presented to what has come before, and what is still to come in the same course,
  • Relate the material to the student’s personal experience, and
  • Continually summarize to establish mutual understanding.

Support Content

  • Handout lecture outline, notes, overheads to provide context of lectures prior to the class and to reduce time needed to copy,
  • Allow students to copy other students’ notes and/or ask other students to use carbon-copy paper to share notes,
  • Use visuals to illustrate what you are saying, e.g., overheads, notes, pictures, etc.,
  • Reflect diversity in your syllabus, in your readings, and in other materials such as visual aids,
  • Provide examples to reinforce what you are saying ensuring that the examples are culturally relevant to newcomers, immigrants and visible minority students,
  • Promote opportunities for students to access relevant resources to maximize learning, e.g. tell students they can watch videos again at the Library or let them take video home to watch, allow students to tape lectures, allow students to use a dictionary and/or translator in class, and
  • Provide opportunities for students to interact across cultures.

Check for Understanding

  • Do not just accept a "yes" or "no" answer or a nod when asking, "Do you understand?",
  • Do not ask questions that can be answered with "yes" or "no",
  • Ask for verbal feedback: What did I ask you to do? What did you understand? How should you…?,
  • Be sensitive to non-verbal cues that indicate confusion or frustration,
  • Encourage students to ask questions and to ask for clarification keeping in mind that this may not be culturally appropriate for all students
  • Be patient and allow more time for second language students to explain and ask for more information if necessary,
  • Ask students to write their questions or concerns down when you have difficulty understanding them and as a way to provide a safe environment for them to get clarification from you,
  • Continually monitor student progress, and
  • Identify at-risk students early and initiate culturally appropriate intervention measures.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Be aware that common, everyday gestures may mean something different to newcomers and immigrants,
  • Be aware that your personal space might be larger or smaller than is comfortable for the person you are talking with,
  • Be aware that some cultures touch more or less than you,
  • Be aware that language that sounds rude or abrupt may just be a direct transfer of the intonation from the other language,
  • Try to pronounce the person’s name correctly and do not give English nicknames unless requested,
  • Learn something about each of your students’ cultures,
  • Learn something about each of your students’ learning styles as they relate to the course content, e.g. hold meetings with each student, ask students to submit autobiography or journal,
  • Try to find opportunities for students to share their diverse experiences when this relates to course content,
  • Promote opportunities to meet with students individually,
  • Use inclusive language,
  • Do not misinterpret lack of eye contact,
  • Do not misinterpret laughter because for some newcomers and immigrants this is an indication of embarrassment or uncertainty,
  • Do not stereotype individuals and/or groups of students, and
  • Do not hold one group’s experience as the norm against which others’ are measured and evaluated.