Accessible to all
Inclusion is the buzz word du jour, but what does it really mean? And what’s the benefit? We find out more about the importance of creating a learning experience that’s truly accessible to all…
One of the biggest fears in the teenage mind is the dreaded ‘d’ word – being different.
While religion, language, sexuality, race, family set up, disability, emotional and behavioural problems and educational ability are all aspects of diversity that make up society, young people often view these traits as things which make them stick out. Without the right support in place, this feeling of difference can act as a barrier when it comes to learning and development.
This is why it’s so important that teachers think inclusively about their lessons. As well as promoting a feeling of equality and stamping out discrimination in your school, this will also develop a positive learning environment, giving your pupils a head start as successful learners.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
The Scottish education system has always prided itself on promoting equality, and schools have long been promoting inclusive practices. It’s more than a legal requirement – inclusive teaching has a huge impact on your pupils educationally, socially and emotionally.
“Inclusion is about enabling all learners to participate meaningfully,” explains Dr Lisa McAuliffe, an education lecturer at the University of West of Scotland who heads up the Inclusive Education postgraduate qualification. “Curriculum for Excellence talks about all learners becoming effective contributors. All learners need to feel that they are making a valuable contribution. It’s about having a sense of belonging and being accepted for who you are.”
In inclusive teaching, the learning environment is organised in ways to meet the needs of individuals. By removing a barrier, whether this is a lack of support at home, a physical or learning disability, negative attitudes from classmates or even language issues, children can participate and make a meaningful contribution to the work of class. Children who are not fully engaged in lessons are more likely to be disruptive to get attention. If students are fully involved in the lesson, they’ll learn, achieve and the praise that everyone wants.
Inclusive teaching isn’t just about helping kids from different backgrounds engage and achieve – creating an inclusive learning environment helps all young people gain a better understanding of diversity, social justice and equality.
“We need to make sure that, from a young age, children are engaged with these issues,” says Dr McAuliffe. “We want pupils to develop more inclusive thinking and more inclusive attitudes in the hope that these will lead to a more inclusive society and we’ll see less discrimination and prejudice.”
Promoting inclusive attitudes works in the favour of your whole school – a lot of playground bullying stems from ignorance and a lack of understanding of others. If children are taught as early as possible that diversity is the norm, it’ll help reduce instances of bullying in schools.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
This all sounds great, but the big question is, how do you carry it out? Time is the most precious resource for teachers and, unfortunately, there’s never enough of it. Getting to know the thirty young faces in your class and their individual needs and preferences in as little as an hour a week is a hard task.
“We need to be thinking, before you even go in the classroom, about the learning experience that we’re planning out for learners,” Dr McAuliffe explains. “Even in classes where difference might not be as obvious, there will be a range of needs and there will be a range of backgrounds that children will come from.
“There is a principle that is used in architecture that is called ‘universal design’, which is all about making buildings and products as accessible as possible for the widest possible population that will be using them. In our case, we make learning as accessible as possible right from the start so that we don’t have to make too many modifications later on for children who might be experiencing difficulties.”
The most obvious starting point is the way in which lessons are presented. Consider different learning preferences when you’re preparing and incorporate audio, video or image resources. All pupils benefit from a multisensory approach, including those who may have difficulty accessing ideas that are presented exclusively through text. Dr McAuliffe adds: “If we start from the position that diversity is the norm, rather than going for the mythical average, we can engage all learners to the greatest extent possible.”
Think too about the types of people and backgrounds represented in your resources – steer away from what Dr McAuliffe calls the “Cornflakes ad family” and look at representing different cultures, religions, abilities and family groups in your learning materials.
TALK ABOUT IT
One of the best ways to work on your inclusive teaching practices is through one of the simplest yet most powerful methods of CPD – talking to your colleagues. Ask management to arrange time for staff to exchange ideas, talk about their own classroom experiences and share any knowledge they have on specific areas.
“Talking to each other and learning from each other is very, very important,” Dr McAuliffe agrees. “Engage with your wider community too. If there are aspects of inclusion that you might not know much about or you might want to find out more about, talk to voluntary organisations – they are absolutely fantastic.”
Charities and voluntary groups are often more than happy to visit school groups, whether they’re tackling racism, religious intolerance, homophobia, sectarianism, poverty or discrimination against asylum seekers and travellers. Voluntary groups might be able to provide classroom resources, lesson plans and ideas for discussion, often for little or no fee, so get in touch now to see what they can do for you.
GET TO WORK
Creating a fully-inclusive learning space won’t happen overnight, and it will take some time. Results won’t be seen straight away in your pupils, and it might take a while to get the right support and resources ready. With patience, and some extra work here and there, things will fall into place.
So start thinking inclusively now. With a little bit of effort, forward-thinking and research, your classroom will become more accessible to all.
Equality Human Rights Commission
National Framework for Inclusion