Are you ready to make a truly inclusive classroom? To do so means challenging the status quo, removing curriculum barriers, and presenting educational goals in interesting ways to engage all learners and serve all students equally. Inclusive learning provides all students with access to flexible learning choices and effective paths for achieving educational goals in spaces where they experience a sense of belonging.
In an inclusive education environment, all children, regardless of ability or disability, learn together in the same age-appropriate classroom. It is based on the understanding that all children and families are valued equally and deserve access to the same opportunities. Here are some strategies you can use to create a more inclusive classroom.
1. Use universal design principles (UDL) to create accessible classrooms. UDL is a set of principles that strive to offer every student an equal opportunity to learn. According to UDL, there are three primary brain networks that are responsible for how a person learns: the recognition network, the strategic network and the affective network. These networks are the basis for the three main principles of UDL: representation (the what of learning), action and expression (the how of learning), and engagement (the why of learning). The National Center on UDL has a plethora of resources and information for educators interested in universal design.
Luis Perez, author of Mobile Learning for All, suggests starting small. He says, “You’re not going to apply every single guideline to every single lesson. It depends on which ones are relevant to your learning goals. Start with a single lesson or activity and then build success from that, and then start to look at other parts of your curriculum.”
2. Provide a variety of instructional formats. The first principle of universal design theory is the “what” of learning. While some students are visual learners, others may grasp information better when it is presented through text or when it is spoken orally or taught through kinesthetic learning. Some students do best with a combination of the above. While these differentiated teaching methods may support the needs of students with disabilities, they also offer diversity of instruction to the entire classroom, giving each and every student an opportunity to learn in the way they do best.
Similarly, using different mediums to present information and engage students is important in inclusive classrooms. Principle two of universal design theory calls for utilizing multiple means of action and expression. Some students may find that their best outlet and means of expression comes through writing, while others may prefer to give an oral presentation, act out a play, or create a piece of art. Each student is different and should be given the opportunity to express their knowledge through the methods that work best for them. Examples of mediums could include theater, art, video, and computer software in addition to the traditional mediums of lecture and text.
3. Know each student’s IEPs/504s. To create an equitable learning environment for everyone, it is important to familiarize yourself with students’ IEP and 504 plans. If you have a student with a 504 or IEP plan, you are legally required to make any necessary accommodations. Much like the concept of inclusive learning, 504s were designed to ensure that students with disabilities are allowed to learn in a regular classroom environment, while still being provided with services, educational aids, or accommodations they may require.
4. Develop a behavior management plan. Disruptive classroom behavior can affect not just the teacher, but other students in the classroom as well. Developing a behavior management plan can help you prepare for the inevitable moment a student or students exhibit disruptive behaviors, with the understanding that some behaviors are of much less consequence than others (talking out of turn vs. being defiant or aggressive).The behavior plan should be shared with parents and students so that everyone is aware of the expectations and consequences should those expectations not be met. The most effective plans typically involve a great deal of positive reinforcement and a clear understanding of the expectations. There are several different types of behavior management plans you can implement depending on the needs of your classroom, including a whole group plan, a small group plan, or an individual plan.
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