Structuring a successful inclusive classroom takes commitment and hard work. Thoughtful planning and intentional design will benefit all of your learners.
Five strategies for structuring a successful inclusive classroom:
1. Utilize a multi-sensory approach to learning
This is exactly what it sounds like; an approach to education that engages all of the senses. Some of us learn best by listening, some through reading. Some of us need to write something down to commit it to memory. Others won’t remember unless they repeat it back out loud. Still others need to touch, taste or even smell to fully grasp a new concept. Consistent use of different instructional approaches increases the likelihood that learning will be meaningful, relevant and lasting.
2. Individualize expectations
Individualizing expectations are as fair for gifted students as they are for those with unique learning needs and everyone in between. It’s a misnomer to think that holding different expectations for different students in the same classroom is unfair. Comparing students to one another is arbitrary. All students should be working toward progress from their own current level of functioning. Individualizing doesn’t “dumb down” the curriculum or hold students back. Instead, it allows students to develop and succeed according to their own individual needs.
3. Make use of station activities and centers
Centers are areas of the room that are dedicated to learning a specific topic or developing a specific skill and can provide students with the opportunity to learn at their own pace. All students benefit as centers enable the delivery of instruction to be differentiated according to individual students’ needs. There are different ways to structure centers within a classroom and content should be based on skill level, students’ ability to work independently and supervision.
4. Establish clear rules and expectations
Behavior management is critical to a successful learning environment. When students act out or are unable to focus, significant learning can not take place. Such behavior is indicative that needs are not being appropriately met. Create a classroom environment that reinforces positive behavior, stimulates attention and imagination and makes expectations clear.
5. Be flexible!
A teacher’s ability to adapt and change plans when necessary is critical to the success of an inclusive classroom. Seasoned teachers know how to “read the room”. This means that they are in tune with their students’ needs and abilities and know when something isn’t going as planned. The flexibility to scrap a lesson altogether when it isn’t working, or even to capture an amazing moment and run with it instead of the planned lesson is a skill that makes a teacher truly stand out.
Lisa Friedman is Matan’s Manager of Social Media and Alumni Networks. She is also an Education Director at a Reform congregation in Central New Jersey where she oversees the synagogue’s and religious school’s inclusive practice.