How can we include every learner?
Inclusion is a tough business. For many years, I committed the cardinal sin of only learning the names of those students who stood out in some way: the loudest, the naughtiest or the keenest. To make matters worse, if I wanted to ask a question, I was much more likely to ask one of those students simply because I knew their names to call on them.
As a student myself, I often wanted to participate more in class but held back, hoping to be asked because I was too shy to volunteer an answer without encouragement.
Inclusion for all
I therefore decided to find ways to be more inclusive not only to encourage those less-confident students but also to ensure I know and can assess every student in my class equally well.
1. Know their names!
Tom Sherrington wrote recently about students’ rights to have their names known and pronounced correctly by staff. Many students at our school have names they prefer to go by that are different to those on the register but this is no excuse not to learn their names. I give every student a name card at the start of the year and tell them to change the name on there if necessary. This helps me learn their name quickly and also means I can call on them at any time (of course, you can use your seating plan to do this too).
When calling on students fails and we get the dreaded “I don’t know”, it is usually because we haven’t given them enough time to prepare their answers. When posing a more challenging question, I give students think-time which is always silent but can be used to make notes. This is an opportunity for them to silently rehearse their answer. Nobody wants to be seen as the economics teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
3. Front the writing
This is a strategy from Doug Lemov’s Teach like a Champion. Similar to encouraging students to make notes during think-time, I sometimes ask them to generate a written answer prior to sharing. After discussion, students go back to their original answer and improve it and I can spot excellence to be shared.
4. Paired discussions
I often follow think-time with a paired discussion. There are clear guidelines for this (students get an equal amount of time each and must question each other if their partner is struggling to fill their time). This is a second rehearsal opportunity and a chance for them to extend their answers by listening to each other’s ideas. This is also an opportunity for me to wander round and note down any great answers.
As all students have had rehearsal opportunities, they should all have an answer prepared even if it needs to be built on. I am not against hands-up but do feel that cold-calling enables me to assess a better cross-section of students and build the confidence of those who would not normally offer an answer but may well have a great one ready! It has to be used with care.
6. Exit wall
I have an enlarged grid in my room for each class with everyone’s name on. I use this for them to leave Post-It note answers on. As I have an answer from every student, I can not only assess understanding but also choose any interesting answers to explore in the next lesson. This is much quicker than looking through their books and it also means I can project all 30 answers if appropriate.
7. Generating lists
My desks are arranged in tables of four. So, if I want to do a quick ideas generator, I select one student from each table to start (after think-time!) and ask them to take turns going around their table. My Year 7s are currently studying The Iliad so we use this activity to generate evidence for Achilles behaving like an anti-hero. Again, I can easily follow this with cold-calling as all students have had rehearsal time.
8. Whole-class feedback
I found out about this idea from Rebecca Foster and I love it! It involves creating a PowerPoint with a SPAG box, target box and praise box. This would then form the basis of a feedback lesson. It is inclusive because the praise box often includes work from students who would not volunteer, boosting their confidence and showcasing their excellence.
It takes time and lots of modelling for these strategies to become a habit. But with practice and consistency, these techniques can make a classroom more inclusive and also build the confidence of quieter students. This enables you to assess all students more effectively (and therefore improved student progress) and improve your relationships.