Students learn best when they feel invested in the material. That includes being able to identify with the authors they read or topics explored.
For example, some students might be intimidated by the prospect of giving an oral presentation or struggling with written assignments. A classroom that offers different ways to demonstrate knowledge can help address these stumbling blocks.
Originally created by architect Ron Mace, the concept of universal design, also known as inclusive design or barrier-free design, promotes the perception that projects and environments should serve all people to the best of their ability. It is a concept that has been applied to education in the form of inclusive learning and teaching strategies.
A simple example of a universally designed project is a sidewalk ramp, which benefits not only wheelchair users but also kids on bikes, parents pushing strollers, delivery people pulling heavy dollies and others with various injuries and mobility challenges. Universally designed structures are egalitarian and provide flexible use, such as sliding doors that open automatically.
With flexible instruction and a big-picture perspective, instructors can apply universal design principles to their classrooms. This can help ensure that all students can access their coursework.
Scaffolding is a teaching technique that provides learners with support as they master new concepts and skills. It allows teachers to challenge students to learn beyond their current knowledge of a subject. It also promotes student engagement and discussion among peers to expand comprehension of the material.
The key to scaffolding is to not be too far ahead or too far behind your students. For example, a teacher might introduce shapes like squares and circles before more complex shapes like diamonds or stars. This way, students can feel confident that they're not jumping too far over their heads and can remain interested in the lesson.
Effective scaffolding requires continuous diagnosis of student understanding and responsive support that culminates in handover to independence (van de Pol et al., 2014).
Students who learn differently often require materials to be presented in alternative formats. This can include braille, large print and digital text that conforms to accessibility standards. These formats benefit all learners but can especially support students with visual impairments or blindness, and those who speak English as a second language.
Teaching tools that give students a choice of how to show what they know can also help them build confidence in their abilities and feel empowered to express themselves. Students may prefer to write a report, give an oral presentation or create art.
Some children may feel uncomfortable with presenting to their peers or being assessed through written tests. An inclusive classroom will address these stumbling blocks by providing alternatives or finding other ways to assess their knowledge.
Inclusion also means using a variety of assessment methods to evaluate students. According to Universal Design for Learning, one of the guidelines, “Multiple Means of Action and Expression,” encourages instructors to use a range of assessments to help ensure that all learners are able to demonstrate their knowledge in ways that best suit them.
For example, some students may excel at writing while others may prefer to give a presentation or make art. Providing these alternate options to assess student knowledge provides a more accurate picture of what students know.
Inclusive classrooms can be used to teach kids of all abilities that being different is normal and nothing to be ashamed of or to be judged for. This is a crucial lesson for children to learn so that they can go on to live in our society and be successful.
While diversity encompasses many aspects of student identities and backgrounds, a classroom can still be diverse even if instructors don’t incorporate obvious diversity markers into the curriculum. Students whose lives are disrupted, struggle to meet their basic needs or feel that their voices don’t matter spend valuable energy on those issues and are less able to devote attention to learning.
Including diverse content representation in the curriculum helps students feel more invested and connected to their classmates. For example, some students may not enjoy reading written material and learn best from oral presentations or video lectures. Offering multiple means of engagement and action is a UDL guideline.
While it isn’t possible to know a student’s complete backstory, instructors can develop dialogues with their students, which help them become more familiar with their unique identities and backgrounds.