7 Tips for a Thriving Inclusive Classroom

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Creating an inclusive classroom is important because it’s likely that students in any given class exhibit a wide range of needs.

Some of these needs might be identified on paper with IEPs or 504 plans. At other times, you might not see anything on paper, yet you can see that the needs exist. The factors might be cognitive, emotional, social, sensory, socioeconomic—or any combination of the above. Either way, it’s a challenging blend to address.

With creative strategies and a willingness to try new things, you can create a thriving inclusive classroom. Try out the below tips, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a positive educational experience for every student in your room:

1. Consider How to Encourage (And Allow For) Movement

Let’s face it: humans weren’t meant to sit behind their desks all day. Staying still can be especially difficult for our students with certain attentional and sensory needs.

It might be a challenge to permit much movement in a classroom that’s limited on space, especially when some students might not have good impulse control.

Consider how you can encourage safe movement within your limited space. Try putting resistance bands around the legs of student desks to allow students to quietly fidget without disrupting others.

Be sure to incorporate movement into the majority of your lessons, with plenty of opportunities to stand up and move around. Take advantage of learning opportunities like “stations,” gallery walks, or movement-based activities on an interactive whiteboard.

Incorporate movement into your lessons with an approach that’s similar to the TPR (total physical response) used by ESL teachers. In your language arts class, ask your students to mimic your movements while acting out a vocabulary word or playing out a scene from a chapter book.

In math, utilize manipulatives as much as possible—even if those manipulatives are made from repurposed household items. If you can get students up and moving, you can help address their sensory and attentional needs.

2. Allow for Different Response Mechanisms

Some students with special needs might not feel comfortable attempting to answer your discussion questions in front of the entire class. Negative peer reactions might have conditioned these students to remain silent, even when they know the answer.

Try involving these students in discussions by utilizing more props. Ask them to write down their answer on a piece of paper, then walk around the room, taking a quick survey of everyone. Try handing out mini whiteboards and ask your students to write down their answers in a similar way.

“Exit slips” are another favorite strategy, used to assess learning on the way out. Create a jar where students can deposit their answers as they leave their group, or as they leave the room.

3. Create “Job-Driven” Heterogeneous Groupings

Group work shouldn’t be done just for the sake of “doing group work.” A thriving inclusive classroom will position each student in a specific job or role, which will contribute to the educational experience of every student.

Students should be engaged in opportunities that utilize their strengths. A student who struggles with mathematical calculations might be more comfortable creating hand-drawn art. Another student who isn’t able to read on grade level might be a skilled athlete. Consider how you can capitalize upon these strengths to allow these students to fulfill a role—perhaps they could illustrate an important concept or create a game that relates to the topic at hand.

Your students will feel like they have a purpose in their group—and in your classroom—when they have specific duties that they are able to complete successfully without a great deal of guidance from you.

4. Create “Competition With Oneself” Instead of “Competition With Others”

Your inclusive classroom shouldn’t be a competitive classroom, because many of your students with special needs will likely struggle to enter that top percentile.

Consider instead how you can encourage students to set their own individual goals and track their own benchmarks. Visual aids such as graphing, especially through bar graphs, can help students see their own improvements throughout time. It’s through these means of tracking their learning that students can start to recognize their growth.

5. Help Students to Make Their Own Goals

As you’re helping your students make their own goals, you should introduce the “goal-setting” idea to everyone at once, so as not to single out any individual student.

Ask students to consider the areas they would like to improve upon within the scope of your classroom. The areas might be academic, social, organizational, or something else.

The goal should be easy for the student to track. “Paying attention during math class” might be difficult to track, but “Raising my hand at least once during class” will be much easier for a student to track.

6. Make Space for Different Styles of Learning

No matter how interesting your PowerPoint is (to you), it’s possible that one or more of your students doesn’t feel the same way. Perhaps these students aren’t visual learners. Maybe they would learn better by doing something, like pretending to be a storekeeper instead of watching numbers appear on a screen.

Some (or a lot) of your students might also tune out when you talk at length. As much as you might feel offended by this, there’s a strong possibility that these students might not be audio learners, or they might even have auditory processing difficulties.

Figure out how you can engage these students in other ways through less “talk” and more of something else.

7. Consider How to Make the Content Relevant to Special Interests

Some of your students with special needs might also have special interests. These students might frequently reference these interests, such as trains, ATVs, Star Wars, or etc.

How can you make your seemingly “irrelevant” content relevant to these students? Try to tie in their interests as much as possible. Use their interests in a teacher-created word problem, or invite them to write a story utilizing your weekly vocabulary words and characters from their favorite movie.

The possibilities are endless as you create ties between the things that your students know and love, and the things that they need to learn in your class.

Your thriving inclusive classroom will help prepare your students to thrive in the larger world. Meet your learners where they are, and you’ll encourage them to soar higher!

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About the Author:

Danielle Martin is on a mission to help kids (and teachers) thrive. She has taught nine different grade levels in three different states. She currently works in several virtual classrooms across the web. Danielle writes professionally for various organizations; she also enjoys writing fiction.