Teaching Today

5 Principles as Pathways to Inclusive Teaching

Soulaymane Kachani, Catherine Ross and Amanda Irvin offer concrete strategies that are guided by research to use in the classroom.

February 19, 2020
 
 
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Implementing inclusive teaching strategies in your classroom does not require huge changes or full course redesigns. Nor does inclusive teaching demand the abandonment of favorite classroom techniques, topics, readings or assignments. Rather, it suggests ways to be more intentional about how you deploy those tools to create the best learning environment for your students.

In fact, inclusive teaching practices may not be something totally new; you may already be using many inclusive teaching strategies without specifically calling them such. You can implement them in small steps along a number of paths, as long as your compass is set to intentionality and forethought.

To help instructors better structure their intentional approaches to inclusion in teaching, the Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning synthesized the research on inclusive teaching into five principles, then added research summaries and suggested teaching strategies to accompany each principle. The five principles, which serve as guideposts for the different paths that lead to inclusive teaching practices, provide instructors some options for their journey, as described in detail in our Guide for Inclusive Teaching at Columbia. Our goal is to offer instructors everywhere many ways to meet their teaching needs through strategies that are guided by these research-based principles.

We encourage all instructors to review the strategies in the five principles below. You can choose what works best for your own teaching style and disciplinary context, students, learning goals and classrooms -- both digital and physical. While all five principles are essential to cultivating an inclusive teaching practice, you do not need to use every teaching strategy to get to inclusive teaching; instructors should adopt the strategies that work best to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in their distinct teaching contexts.

Principle 1: Establish and support a class climate that fosters belonging for all students. Instructors should recognize and value students’ varied identities, experiences and backgrounds and work to create a space where students are both challenged and heard. Research has shown that course climate can influence everything from student engagement in class to student motivation and persistence -- and is strongly connected to how much students learn.

Teaching Strategies

  • Build instructor-student rapport. Make a point of learning students’ names (and how to pronounce them) and get to know students through in-class surveys and activities, office hours, and online chats. Share your passions, interests and personal learning process with students.
  • Build student-student rapport. Encourage students to work in pairs or groups and share learning experiences.
  • Treat each student as an individual. Do not expect them to speak for an entire demographic group or make suppositions about their membership in one. Ask for preferred pronouns.
  • Avoid making assumptions about students’ abilities based on stereotypes. Be aware of those stereotypes and work to not perpetuate them.
  • Convey the same level of confidence in the abilities of all of your students. Be even-handed and cautious about being overprotective of or unduly strict toward any group or individual.
  • Address challenging classroom behaviors and attitudes, such as microaggressions and offensive and alienating comments. Make it a teachable moment, asking students to reflect critically on assumptions and positions without attributing motives.

See here for other classroom practices related to these teaching strategies.

Principle 2: Set explicit student expectations. Give students clear guidelines for class components, so they know what learning they are accountable for, including how they will be graded and why. Explicit articulation of learning objectives and goals, transparency around performance expectations and criteria-based grading systems empower students to share the responsibility for their learning and to develop growth mind-sets.

Teaching Strategies

  • Explicitly articulate assessment criteria. Share grading rubrics and practice applying those rubrics to anonymized work. Offer students multiple low-stakes opportunities for demonstrating learning.
  • Provide timely, clear and actionable feedback that helps students take ownership of their learning.
  • Establish community agreements and discussion guidelines. Work with students to create those guidelines to promote an inclusive learning environment.
  • Provide examples of exemplary work. Use those examples to communicate expectations, facilitate understanding, demonstrate discipline-specific skills and help articulate assessment expectations and standards.
  • Model expected behavior. Adhere to community agreements and display the skills that students are asked to demonstrate in their assessments and assignments.

See here for other classroom practices related to these teaching strategies.

Principle 3: Select course content that recognizes diversity and acknowledges barriers to inclusion. Effective instructors meaningfully consider the role that content plays in creating a learning environment where students see themselves reflected and valued. Content -- broadly defined to include metaphors, case studies, project and assignment topics, statistics and data, as well as textbooks and course readings -- sends powerful messages to students about their place in the discipline and in the courses we teach.

Teaching Strategies

  • Select content that engages a diversity of ideas and perspectives. Consider whether some perspectives are systematically underrepresented or absent.
  • Choose content by authors of diverse backgrounds. Discuss contributions made to the field by historically underrepresented groups.
  • Use multiple and diverse examples that do not marginalize students. Use examples that speak across gender, cultures and socioeconomic statuses, ages, and religions.

See here for other classroom practices related to these teaching strategies.

Principle 4: Design all course elements for accessibility. Recognize the diversity of different learners’ abilities and experiences and provide multiple ways for them to engage with course materials and express what they have learned. Using Universal Design for Learning approaches to course design and teaching ensures that all students will be able to demonstrate their learning without unnecessary challenges unrelated to the academic content of the course. Such approaches benefit all learners and eliminate the guesswork for instructors when determining whether the learning experiences they are designing will be both cognitively and physically accessible to everyone.

Teaching Strategies

  • Provide multiple means of representation and supporting materials (illustrations, glossaries, etc.). Use a variety of modalities and adjustable formats.
  • Provide multiple means of action and expression. Offer a range of assessments for students to demonstrate learning and frequent opportunities for feedback on progress.
  • Provide multiple means of engagement. Encourage learner autonomy with choice of topics or assignment formats. Invite students to co-design elements of classroom activities or assignments.

See here for other classroom practices related to these teaching strategies.

Principle 5: Reflect on your beliefs about teaching to maximize self-awareness and commitment to inclusion. Examine your personal assumptions and views. Inclusive teaching requires that you be intentional and explicit about the strategies you want to use in your teaching. Thus, self-reflection is a necessary step for the planning, preparation and implementation of those strategies. Ask yourself the questions outlined below.

Teaching Strategies

  • What are my identities and how do my students perceive me? Consider your positionality and take inventory of the way your affiliations and identities shape your perceptions of others and their perceptions of you.
  • What are my implicit or explicit biases? Do I propagate, neutralize or challenge stereotypes in my class? Take an honest inventory of your own conscious and unconscious biases and strive to create an explicitly centralizing classroom climate.
  • How do I handle challenges in the classroom? Build your awareness of student behaviors (tardiness, lack of preparation, indifference) that trigger strong emotions for you and strategize how to maintain your equilibrium.
  • How might the ways I set up classroom spaces and activities foster inclusion or disinclusion? Be attentive to your own use of space in the classroom (where you stand and sit, for example) and vary your class activities to offer opportunities for students to participate in large group, paired, small group and individual work.

See here for other classroom practices related to these teaching strategies.

We invite you to reflect on how many of these practices you already use in your classes, as well as to consider any new ones you might want to try based on areas that might need more attention in your teaching. This is not about students’ preferences but about how students learn. The practices in the Guide for Inclusive Teaching at Columbia are based on decades of research that demonstrate how students’ perceptions of class climate can significantly impact their learning. The very best result of choosing to teach inclusively -- transparency of intention, explicit conversations about learning and a sharing of power and responsibility for learning between student and instructor -- is that it creates equitable and transformative learning opportunities for all of our students.

Bio

Soulaymane Kachani is vice provost for teaching, learning and innovation at Columbia University. Catherine Ross is executive director of the Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning. Amanda Irvin is director of faculty programs and services at the Center for Teaching and Learning and an instructor and co-creator of the open online course Inclusive Teaching: Supporting All Students in the College Classroom.

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