Main image

What is an inclusive classroom and why is it important?

Main image

Accessible education is at the core of WSET’s principles, and with an ever-changing teaching landscape, it is paramount to understand how to create an inclusive environment. 

This week, Joseph Aninakwa, (Ah-ni-na-kwa), Inclusion and Diversity Consultant at Inclusive Employers, delves into “What is an inclusive classroom and why is it important?”.  

We’re also sharing an exclusive downloadable pdf: “5 top tips to creating an inclusive classroom”, scroll down to download. 

What is inclusion? 

Inclusion is a sense of belonging. belonging to a certain group, feeling part of something, feeling part of the classroom and the direction the rest of the class is going in, not feeling left behind or not feeling excluded. 

Joseph Akininawa
Joseph Aninakwa, Inclusion and Diversity Consultant at Inclusive Employers

What’s the purpose of inclusion? 

The purpose of inclusion is to embrace all people irrespective of race, gender, age, disability, sexuality and other identities. It is about truly giving equal access opportunities and removing all barriers. It is about building an inclusive culture that supports and encourages learners to be themselves and contribute to their fullest potential, which means we can help to unlock the benefit of a diverse classroom for everyone. 

Why is inclusive learning so important? 

An inclusive classroom, and inclusive learning, are designed and planned to meet the needs of every learner. In every classroom, learners will progress at different speeds and require different approaches in order to grasp the learning content. It is up to us as trainers to ensure our learning environment is accessible to and inclusive of everyone.  

Every person has the ability to learn and the right to reach their highest potential. An inclusive learning environment is vital. An inclusive learning environment is less focused on the teacher and formal instruction and more focused on the learning that is taking place.  

This is what’s called ‘student centred’. What this means is that we centre the students’ needs and ways of learning, not our own. Being student centred encourages us to be flexible, creative and to always put the learners’ needs at the centre of what we do.  

Being open to finding what works best for each student and adjusting the instruction so that everyone has a chance to meet their needs is a primary focus in the inclusive learning environment.  

What does inclusion look like within the classroom? 

Inclusion in the classroom is a whole area of research and practice (often called ‘differentiation’) in schools, colleges and universities that we can draw from as trainers. While inclusion in this context specifically means the changes made to a learning environment to include all learners, it has a lot of crossover with inclusion and diversity at work. They answer the same question: how do we make sure everyone can succeed? 

Differentiation means changing the pace, level, or kind of instruction you provide in response to individual learners’ needs, styles, or interests. 

There are four ways to differentiate: 

1. Content: Students can do independent projects based on their strengths and interests. 

2. Product: The teacher can give students different assignments and performance tasks. In this situation, students need to be assessed with the same learning expectations. 

3. Process: In this case, the teacher gives students unique opportunities to learn simultaneously.

4. Environment: The learning environment (for instance, the virtual or in-person classroom space) is set up to be comfortable, accessible, inclusive and safe.  

Student learning in a classroom

How do we create a classroom that is inclusive of neurodivergent students and those with learning difficulties and disabilities? 

What is Neurodiversity? 

Neurodiversity refers to the normal variation in the human brain, both in its makeup and its functioning. Every brain is different; there are no two brains exactly alike. Even identical twins that have the same genes will not have the exact same brain. Our brain is shaped by our genetic make-up and our environment so identical twins' experiences will have shaped their brains differently. 

Originally the term neurodiversity was used to refer to those who had recognised conditions such as autism, ADD/ADHD, or other neurological disabilities. The word was coined in the late 1990s by two individuals: journalist Harvey Blume, and autism advocate Judy Singer. Blume wrote in the September 1, 1998 issue of The Atlantic: “Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. 

How teachers, lectures and learning providers best support students in the classroom.

Although research shows that 15% of the UK population can be classed as neurodivergent, many of the complexities surrounding their conditions and thought processes are widely misunderstood or misinterpreted by the public.  

Teachers have a very important role to play in supporting students to feel included, understood, appreciated and confident in their ability to do their very best in school and in life. Consequently, by teachers encouraging and showing appreciation towards students, they will in turn process information much differently from one another. They will gain an understanding of what it really means to be a neurodivergent student and how they can help to develop them to reach their full potential 

Here are four ways that teachers can effectively support neurodiversity in the classroom: 

  • A psychologically safe classroom is an environment in which students don’t worry about looking stupid if something doesn’t make sense to them or have to ask questions for clarification.  
  • Rosenshine’s second Principle of Instruction highlights the importance of presenting information in small, sequential steps so students can master a concept without feeling overwhelmed.  
  • To make lessons more accessible to neurodivergent students, teachers need to consider utilising different teaching and learning methods in the classroom. This is because different students will respond to different strategies, depending on how they think and process information.  
  • Just because some neurodiverse students may communicate differently does not mean they are not capable of performing well academically. Like any other student, it is important that we do not limit our expectations because “this student is neurodiverse". Although teachers should be flexible and understanding, they also need to set high, but realistic expectations. 

Creating an inclusive classroom can be so beneficial to your students, which will help them thrive, and reach their full potential, will give you a whole new perspective on teaching and will enhance your students' experience. 

Tap here to download Top tips & Inclusive language 

This article was prepared by Joseph Aninakwa, (Ah-ni-na-kwa), Inclusion and Diversity Consultant at Inclusive Employers

Related content: