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Inclusive teaching explained for teachers who are new to inclusion

| November 15, 2020 | 0 Comments


I have had the rare opportunity to work as a learning support specialist with teachers at an inclusive school for the past 20 years.

My role has been supporting both the students who experience barriers to learning and their teachers, and giving regular feedback to the boys’ parents. Inclusive environments offer great benefits for all students, and more especially for students with barriers to learning, who benefit from higher levels of engagement and social support that are modelled in positive behaviour from their peers.

Before we knew better, we taught with the content in mind, mostly to the average, and the students either understood or failed. It is relatively recently that we intentionally started to shift the focus of teaching from the syllabus content to the students’ learning needs. This calls for us to understand and to know our students.

What’s diverse about my class?

In every class, there always seems to be that child who does not quite fit in: the attention seeker, or the silent one, the one with terrible handwriting, or the one who does not know how to get started and who never submits homework. Recent lockdown restrictions due to COVID-19 seem to have pointed to the fact that many students can work well online. In my opinion, this would appear to indicate that teaching therefore has a lot to do with inspiring and motivating all students (the ‘why’ of learning) as opposed to the delivering of content (which can be done online).

Barriers to learning can be categorised into four broad groups, the last two categories being directly related to our dayto-day teaching and learning:1

• Systemic barriers: These include rigid policies and curricula.

• Societal barriers: These include issues around diversity and transformation, e.g. negative and harmful, prejudiced teacher attitudes and unconscious bias; lack of support and parental involvement; depression; etc.

• Pedagogic barriers: These would be inappropriate noninclusive teaching and assessment methods, insufficient teacher/student support, and a lack of resources and technology.

• Intrinsic barriers: These can be neurological, physical, sensory or cognitive, e.g. autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), aural/visual impairment, intellectual impairment and some forms of behavioural challenges.

The importance of knowing your students

The safe place for a teacher to start is to acknowledge that all students in a class can learn if they are taught in ways that are aligned with their preferred learning styles, coupled with some form of support. As a teacher, one must accept and respect the fact that all students are different in some way, and that each has different learning styles and needs. This will prepare us to approach teaching with varying methodologies; to change our attitudes, our behaviour and the methods we use to teach the curricula, and to create the learning environment to meet the varied needs of our students. The idea is to maximise participation for all students by tapping into their strengths.2

Knowing our students helps to settle unnecessary comebacks and failure. It could be as simple an approach as knowing which student has a visual impairment, and ensuring that they sit closer to the board or giving them enlarged print. It could simply include sending the busy child to clean the board, or varying one’s tone of voice to refocus the inattentive child. That gentle touch on the shoulder of a child who is undergoing counselling, or a wink to the behaviourally troubled child, communicates that ‘I know you, and I care’. Most important is taking time to know and learn our students, and to create a sense of well-being and belonging, which in return communicates love and fairness, especially for children who may feel marginalised.

Adjusting my teaching

As teachers, we must see ourselves as agents of change for inclusion. This is not only a government expectation, but should also be a goal for individual development. Once a teacher changes the way they teach, inclusive learning starts to happen naturally. Instead of teaching what works for most students, we teach in ways that respond to learners’ diverse needs. I cannot emphasise enough that this approach means equipping ourselves with teaching strategies that support all learners and their learning styles. There are two general approaches that I recommend for this, and teachers can choose which method makes more sense to them:

• The first one, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), is a more general approach to best practice and looks at the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of learning. It requires teachers to present the lesson in ways that respond to auditory, visual and practical aspects and which incorporate technology. In return, this approach requires that teachers also assess students using a variety of methods that are engaging.

• The second method, broadly referred to as differentiation, is more specific, and is tailored towards individual students and their learning needs. The teacher gathers information on the preferred learning styles and barriers to learning of the students in the class, and then tailors the teaching to accommodate them. This simply requires preparing a lesson as one would normally do, and then going through the list of learner needs and adjusting the lesson accordingly.

Universal Design for Learning

UDL is aimed at enhancing our teaching so that it is accessible to all learners, eliminating the need for specialist interventions and adaptations. The teaching methods selected respond effectively to learner diversity, including their ability, learning style, background and specific barriers to learning, by drawing upon a variety of methods that include the use of technology, collaborative learning and multisensory teaching, as illustrated below.3

Multiple ways of representation (the ‘what’ of learning): UDL recommends presenting lessons in multiple forms. It involves using visuals (textbooks/videos/diagrams/ pictures), audio (verbal explanations/listening to tapes/groupwork), practical hands-on learning (writing/dramatising/illustration) and blended learning (using technology for simulation/tape recordings), etc. This allows students to access the material in whichever way is best suited to their learning strength.

Multiple ways of engagement (the ‘why’ of learning): This has to do with the motivation for learning. It involves giving students choices, making our teaching relevant to their lives/contexts and making it interesting, including games of learning, movement, change of learning environment, creating opportunities that involve creativity and innovation, using cooperative groups and technology and projects, etc. This is what makes the students want to sit in a class and learn.

• Multiple ways of expression/action (the ‘how’ of learning): UDL suggests giving students multiple ways to engage with the learning material and show that learning happened. It involves supplementing written tests with oral presentations/group projects, etc.

Differentiated teaching

Differentiated teaching involves being cognisant of the significant differences that exist between students in terms of their ability (or disability), their rate of learning, their language proficiency, and their literacy and numeracy skills – and then using this knowledge to adapt the way the curriculum and learning activities are presented. These differences also determine the amount of additional support that individual students may need.

It leads to adjusting the content being discussed, the process used to learn or the result expected from students, to ensure that those at different starting points can receive the instruction they need to grow and succeed. It requires teachers to ask themselves how best each student demonstrates that they have learnt. Differentiation is therefore done in four areas: the content, the method of teaching , the teaching environment, and the
assessment tools:

• Differentiating the CONTENT: This is best explained by the layered curriculum based on Bloom’s taxonomy.4 It is also referred to as multilevel teaching, since it allows students to cover depth according to their ability level, without limiting top students.

• Differentiating the CONTENT: This is best explained by the layered curriculum based on Bloom’s taxonomy.4 It is also referred to as multilevel teaching, since it allows students to cover depth according to their ability level, without limiting top students.

• Differentiated teaching ENVIRONMENT: Is the classroom set up for cooperative groups? Are weaker students abandoned in one corner on their own? Is the ADD student sitting away from distractions? Is the child with hearing impairment positioned well? Can I access each student’s space? Should we move to a different venue for a change? Is my classroom welcoming to all? What resources are available to students? Are there opportunities for online learning?

• Differentiating ASSESSMENT: Allow students to demonstrate what they have learned in ways that express this best. Give varied assessments to supplement pen and paper tests to cater for different learning needs. Assessments should consider those students who need to be accommodated for tests and examinations.

Keeping records

‘Friday download’ is a great tool for keeping records. It involves keeping a diary or record book where a teacher notes their observations with regard to each student, especially those with barriers to learning. Notes should include positive behaviour and areas of concern/improvement. Feedback should be given to the person looking after the interests of the student (learning support specialists/psychologist/parent) on a regular basis. Collaboration is vital. At department meetings, there should be a sharing of which methods are working, and suggestions from colleagues can be given to assist and support where a teacher may be experiencing difficulty. The language used should always be pro-inclusion – not a complaining session, but a learning one. It may take a year or two to improve at this, but with the right mindset, nothing is impossible.


  1. See:
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  3. See:’s%20Taxonomy,Analysis%2C%20Synthesis%2C%20and%20Evaluation

Category: Spring 2020

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