June 10th, 2019

What Two Students Want You to Know About Inclusive Teaching

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Inclusive teaching fosters welcoming and diverse environment in the classroom

Inclusive teaching involves creating equitable and welcoming educational environments for the diverse learners in our classrooms. Such approaches may involve, but are not limited to: designing educational experiences informed by the pre-knowledge, skills, demographic backgrounds, and attitudes that learners bring to the classroom; creating an inviting course environment where students feel a sense of belonging; integrating diversity into course content; and being aware of and mitigating any harmful effects of biases (Tanner 2013).  Various inclusive teaching practices are associated with increased student learning (Finkelstein, Sharma and Furlonger 2019).

Students can be key informants for inclusive teaching efforts (Cook-Sather et al. 2014; Cook-Sather and Felten 2017). Below, two undergraduates who are co-authors on this article, and also peer educators focused on social justice and teaching center fellows, summarize what they would like you to know about being inclusive in the classroom.

Ayat Husseini ‘20

One of the most important aspects of inclusivity in the classroom is recognizing and acknowledging that students come from varying backgrounds. Of their social identities, socioeconomic status often plays a big role in students’ engagement and experience in the classroom.

A student’s socioeconomic status can greatly impact their understanding of college conventions, their prior experiences with course material, and their ability to afford taking a class. Instructors can play a major role in supporting students who come from lower-income backgrounds. While recognizing this fact is important and necessary, acknowledging students’ varying backgrounds through actions that help level the playing field and help support students is key to inclusivity.

With regards to differing understandings of college conventions, professors can help students by explaining ideas that may seem like common knowledge. For example, it is possible that matriculating first-generation students may not know what office hours are or when to use them. Setting the classroom experience up on the first day when going through the syllabus and explaining what office hours are is a great way to make students feel more included.

Another way to create a more inclusive classroom is to support students who may not have the same level of experience with course material as others who had more preparation during high school. One way to do this is to provide supplementary materials online that are available to the entire class, this way students do not feel uncomfortable when needing to ask for them.

Finally, recognizing the fact that students come from different socioeconomic backgrounds has much to do with the cost of course materials. Because class materials (textbooks, online codes, online programs, etc.) can be a financial burden to some students, instructors can limit the price of their course materials as much as possible. To do so, instructors can use free textbooks online, use older editions of textbooks, place copies of books and textbooks on reserve at school libraries, photocopy chapters and put them online for students and abide by copyright laws (e.g. Fair Use), ask whether the library is able to purchase electronic versions of the book so that students have access, and invite students to let them know if they are having trouble affording the materials.

These are just some ways to help students feel more included in the classroom by recognizing and acknowledging the impact that socioeconomic status can and often does have to a student’s academic experiences.

Anna DeVault ‘21

For me, transparency and vulnerability are two of the most promising factors for instructors in creating an inclusive classroom. Both can be applied to any class subject, size, or format, starting on the first day of class.

In terms of transparency, students may go into a class with the mentality that they don’t want to “disappoint” their instructor. When an instructor lets students know that they expect occasional failures, that they are there to help them learn, and they genuinely care about their success, instructors can create an open dialogue for the rest of the course and appease students’ concerns of being a disappointment. Therefore, students are not afraid to come to their instructor when they are struggling because they know their teacher wants to help, and they will not make them feel embarrassed or ashamed.

When I say vulnerability, I mean establishing a mutual understanding with students, and understanding that they are human beings and that their lives are just as complex as that of the instructor. This can manifest in multiple ways.

For example, through an understanding that many students can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars in each class every semester on textbooks. On the other hand, it can simply mean that students will feel comfortable with their instructor and accepted in the classroom as a whole. To summarize, when students are treated as fellow human beings, inclusive and comfortable environments can follow.

Student voices, such as those included above, can provide lenses for viewing inclusive teaching beyond the sole perspective of the instructor, and greatly inform pedagogical efforts.

Authors

Tracie Addy, PhD, MPhil, is the Director of the Center for the Integration of Teaching, Learning and Scholarship at Lafayette College.

Ayat Husseini is a junior at Lafayette College studying International Affairs, and Anthropology and Sociology.

Anna DeVault is a sophomore at Lafayette College studying Biology and French.

References

Cook-Sather, Alison and Peter Felten. (2017). “Where Student Engagement Meets Faculty Development: How Student-Faculty Pedagogical Partnership Fosters a Sense of Belonging.” Student Engagement in Higher Education Journal 1(2): 3-11.

Cook-Sather, Alison,  Catherine Bovill and Peter Felten. (2014). Engaging Students as Partners in Learning & Teaching: A Guide for Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Finkelstein, Simon, Umesh Sharma and Brett Furlonger. (2019). “The inclusive practices of classroom teachers: a scoping review and thematic analysis.” International Journal of Inclusive Education.  https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2019.1572232

Tanner, Kimberly D. (2013). “Structure matters: twenty-one teaching strategies to promote student engagement and cultivate classroom equity.” CBE life sciences education 12(3): 322-31.