We all like to feel included. To feel that we belong, and that people care about us. To feel that we’re listened to and to feel that we’re represented. To feel that we have the same opportunities open to us that others have, regardless of our circumstances. And our students have a right to all these things.
Inclusion has been on the agenda in education for many years. Consider the names given to Educational laws and acts: The ‘No Child left behind Act’ (2001) and its successor the ‘Every Student Succeeds Act’ (2015) in the USA, or ‘Every Child Matters’ (2003) in the UK. The right to education of every child in accordance with the UN Convention was set out back in 1989 and Quality Education is the fourth of the 17 UN sustainable development goals.
Inclusion in education is already well embedded here in Spain and is one of the five pillars of the new education law, the LOMLOE, which is coming into force.
In this blog post we’re going to look at what inclusion means and provide resources that will help us be inclusive in our teaching practice.
Inclusion is a wide-ranging topic. It can be used to refer to students with special educational needs (SEN) and what we can do as teachers to meet these needs. This recent episode of the Pearson English Podcast sees James Laidler, teacher and SEN coordinator for over 18 years, share his advice for teachers. It’s a very positive podcast which looks not only at how to offer the right support to neurodiverse students, but also the different strengths that these learners may have and how to take advantage of them. It’s well worth half an hour of your time.
Before even getting into the classroom practice, inclusion can refer to mere access to education. We often consider this to be more of an issue for developing countries than countries like Spain, but access to education has been brought to the fore in the pandemic, with some students unable to access online lessons due to a lack of devices or connectivity at home. The town council where I live provided laptops and internet access to families of students that lacked them when schools were shut, an inclusive policy.
Inclusion can mean students feeling represented in our teaching materials. Does your coursebook include males and females equally when portraying or discussing different jobs or positions of power or influence? Liz Beer looks at the issue of gender equality (which is linked to inclusion) in this blog post. At the British Council’s recent Teaching For Success conference I saw an excellent session delivered by Amanda Hawthorne in which she drew on her dissertation into how Black people are represented in British Council teaching materials. In the course of her analysis she found that when Black and White people were portrayed together, Black people were far more likely to be portrayed as passive than the White people. It was a relevant and thought-provoking session and although the recording isn’t available online, the dissertation is. Part of inclusion is making sure our students can see themselves represented and being careful not to bias how they are represented.
Also falling under the inclusion umbrella is ‘differentiation’ or ‘mixed-ability teaching’ which refers to attending to the different levels of ability inherent in any class, for example by providing both extra support and extra challenge where necessary. This blog post provides practical ideas on ways to do this. In addition to thinking about what changes we might make to activities for individual students though, creating a collaborative classroom is great way of dealing with mixed ability and letting students’ different talents shine through.
Using lots of collaborative dynamics is also a key way of fomenting inclusion: it involves interpersonal communication, students listening to each other, gives every student protagonism and teaches students how to deal with conflict. Collaboration can also be taught directly. Consider this word cloud:
Ask students to categorise: Which of these behaviours promote good team work and which don’t? Can they add any more to both columns? We now have a checklist of what to do and what not to do when collaborating. And then when students move onto a collaborative task, they can reflect on how well they collaborated: to what extent did they fulfill the positive criteria and avoid the negative?
To go further into the types of behaviours that do and do not foment all students being included in class, bullying is an area that we can proactively look at with our students as opposed to reacting to it when it occurs. You can find a video-based lesson plan on cyber bullying for your teens here.
Aside from the behaviours of collaboration and inclusion, we can also focus on the language: it’s not only useful for collaborative tasks in speaking exams! So ‘What do you think?’ (Asking for opinion), ‘Just to make sure I’ve understood’ (Checking your understanding), ‘I really like your suggesion. But what about…?’ (Proposing an alternative idea) are all useful phrases to teach to promote collaboration and inclusion. Inclusion is bringing other people into the discussion and giving everyone a voice.
If a key part of inclusion is that every single student feels listened to and valued there’s a lot we can do. With our Young Learners in mind, let’s sing a song:
Singing a welcome song like this is one of a number of ways of making young learners feel that they belong. In this particular example, you great the students by name one by one and they shout ‘hello’ back to the teacher. The teacher has made eye contact with and greeted every student at the beginning of the lesson. The chords are C, Aminor, F and G if you want to try the song! Other welcome ideas I like for young learners include those teachers who give their students the chance to choose a greeting at the start of the lesson, like a dance or a hug (the latter is difficult at the moment, I know). I like these ideas because all students get an individual interaction with the teacher at the start of the lesson and all students feel included from the beginning.
Any kind of ‘Getting to Know You’ activities at the start of the year can help create an inclusive classroom, in the sense that the more we all know about each other, the more we can attend to each other’s needs and draw on what we know about people to include them.
This can involve the teacher asking students to do some writing to get information such as this:
My name is …
I’m interested in…
I don’t like…
I find it easy to…
I find it hard to…
I’m learning English because…
The most important thing in my life is…
and then later using this in class in conversations with students or in topics of lessons. For more ‘Getting to know you’ activities that involve student to student interaction, have a look at this blog post.
Once our students know each other a little better, they can try something like this:
In this activity students draw a hole for their face on a piece of A3 paper and cut it out. They write their name on the outer part of the paper and pass it round the class. Everyone writes a positive quality or short phrase on all their classmates’ papers. Students then put their faces inside their piece of paper with their qualities on. The teacher takes a photo and these are stuck on the wall: this class display is a reminder to students of their qualities and that they all belong. In terms of setting up this activity, it fits well as a follow-up task to an ‘adjectives of character’ lesson, though students can and should go beyond the language covered to express what they want to.
As we’ve seen in this blog post, inclusion is a very far-reaching topic, but it’s a very important one indeed. A Maya Angelou quote springs to mind to bring this blog post to an end: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”