Classroom Practice

8 Tips for Classroom Inclusion

Written by Rochelle Tkach

The term inclusion can be somewhat misunderstood. Some professionals may only consider inclusive practices when they are trying to integrate a student with a severe exceptionality. When considering the term inclusion, it is imperative to think more broadly. No matter what backpacks your students are bringing with them into the room, they will all be filled with different needs, interests, and abilities. It would also be very rare that a teacher would get a class with no students identified with exceptionalities. For this reason, inclusion should be considered an everyday practice for teachers.

In the 21st century, education professionals have sparked much debate around the topic of inclusion. Most of this debate has come out of inclusive practices for students with more severe exceptionalities. While considering inclusion to be a broader practice among teachers, it is also important to understand the more specific debate around inclusion and how this is affecting the way classrooms look.

For many school boards, self-contained classrooms are still considered normal practice while others have shifted towards a full inclusion model of education. Simply put, self-contained classrooms consist of specific classrooms for students with exceptionalities that are designed to support their specific needs (Bennett, Dworet, & Weber, 2013). With pressure from parents and other professionals, school boards have swiftly adopted or begun to adopt an inclusive model to education where students are placed in regular classes full time (Bennett et al., 2013). It is apparent today that some school boards have tried to find a happy medium between the self-contained classroom and the inclusive classroom setting where students spend varied percentages of time in either learning environment. Nonetheless, it is crucial that when students are spending time in the regular classroom environment, teachers are equipped with resources to support an inclusive educational setting.

Whether you have students with physical exceptionalities or learning disabilities, or students who are gifted, understanding inclusion strategies in the 21st century can make the inclusion process smoother and less overwhelming. Furthermore, some students may need differentiated learning strategies to be included even if they do not have an exceptionality. One example of this would be a student who is learning English as a second language.

The following provides eight tips for inclusion that will hopefully better prepare teachers as they try to meet the diverse needs of students this school year.

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Group Work & Screencasting

Mixed-ability grouping has been a common practice among teachers where the stronger students are grouped with the struggling students. However, a lot of kids grow up remembering how they always had to “teach the other kids.” This can be detrimental to students who may be identified as gifted and spend too much time trying to help other students keep up with their pace instead of reaching their own potential. Their abilities were therefore not being included in the learning. Furthermore, students who are struggling with certain skills may become too inclined to always have stronger students make up for that skill. Therefore, this may reduce the likelihood that this student would gain more practice with that particular skill.

Another form of group work is to have students grouped based on ability. Ability grouping can traditionally be seen in language arts where students are put into guided reading groups based on their reading level. This form of ability grouping is very visible. Many students are aware of whether they made it into the higher reading level group or lower level reading group. It is not always the healthiest form of group work and really does nothing for their motivation.

To make ability grouping more inclusive and effective, many teachers are now using this method while assigning the same task to every group. This can especially be seen in math and problem-based learning initiatives. With ability grouping and problem-based learning methods, students are able to work with other students at their level and potentially tap into their own unique skills and problem solving methods. Having a congress afterwards to allow students to share their problem solving methods is extremely rewarding for not only the students, but also for teachers! I have found that problem-based, inquiry-based, or project-based learning to all be extremely enlightening and rewarding. No student feels “different” or out of place. They all feel included and like they have some form of knowledge to contribute to the class discussion around a question or problem. There is also less emphasis placed on ability and more emphasis placed on inclusion where everyone is working together to solve the same problem.

To add an edtech spin on things, I highly recommend downloading a screencasting app. Screencasting apps are easy platforms for students to present their drawings, mathematical equations, or brainstorming notes either through writing tools, audio recordings, pictures, text, or videos. These apps allow students to use multi-modal presentation tools and present their work much like a slideshow. However, as students are building their slideshow, the app is recording the whole video and audio process. Students’ process of forming ideas and building towards their end product can then be watched for assessment or displayed for students to learn from one another. When trying to monitor inclusion practices, this type of app allows you to monitor whether your form of group work is effective (i.e., mixed ability or ability grouping). It further provides assistive technology features to support students’ expression of ideas. Students can choose to record their voice instead of type text. They can explain their ideas through the built-in pen tool and even upload pictures or videos to support their ideas. Overall, this app is a fantastic edtech resource to replace outdated chart paper and enhance inclusion for all. I highly recommend the following screencasting apps:

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Google Translate

As I mentioned earlier in this post, some students need inclusive practices for reasons other than exceptionalities. Students who are learning English as a second language for instance would benefit just as much from the audio recording and drawing tools in the screen-casting app while trying to express their ideas. This accommodation supports an easier inclusion and contribution to group work. Some students learning English will likely struggle with even the expression of ideas before being able to record or visually represent their thoughts. For this reason, I highly recommend Google Translate.

I have observed many French teachers using this app or website to support all of their students learn French. Google can be easily set to a student’s native language so that it is personalized and set-up for their success. As students run into an idea that they are struggling to phrase into English or even another language, they can access Google Translate through the Google search engine or through the downloaded Google Translate app. Students just need to type the phrase into the text section (which can be done in their native language), and the program will then provide the translation. It is quite simple and many programs have been around for years doing this same task. However, I have found Google Translate to be very accurate and easy to use. It is also available on a Chromebook, which further utilizes this device.

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Note-Taking Success

One of the hardest transitions from elementary to secondary school can be the shift in independence. In secondary school, students are given much more independence to keep their own notes, agendas, and resources organized. This can be extremely overwhelming for some students who have exceptionalities with attention and processing skills. This is especially true for students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD). One of the best resources that I have seen to help support organization is the Livescribe Pen. It is worth investing in for your classroom or recommending to the Learning Resource Teacher, Instructional Coach, or Administrators at your school.

Livescribe is essentially a pen and audio recorder mixed into one. Students write in special notebooks that the pen then uses to record every word, scribble, or diagram! As the pen records the notes, it can also record and overlay any audio (i.e., the teacher’s instructions) that accompanies the written notes. This is an optional feature. Through the Livescribe app, students’ can write their notes in the notebook and see their writing appear in a digital document. Once the note appears in the app, students can then turn it into computer text. They can also tap on parts of the note to play back audio that was recorded during that moment in time.

Overall, the ability for audio recording can support students who struggle to write down their notes in time before the teacher is done talking. This pen promotes student inclusion because teachers do not have to worry about important information being missed. Furthermore, students are able to foster their own independence like their peers. The Livescribe pen is fantastic to help students stay organized. I personally believe this device is better for students who know they are going to be taking notes that cannot be typed up. For instance, in mathematics and science courses, there will likely be more diagrams and equations that would be very difficult to create digitally. The pen allows students to take down all of these diagrams and equations while also having audio backup in case something was missed! It is a brilliant way to foster inclusion.

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WordQ and SpeakQ

It can sometimes be difficult to integrate technology into the classroom with the various needs and abilities among students. Some students may have physical difficulties while others may have speech difficulties. Some companies like Strategic Transitions have developed software and apps to specifically support students with exceptionalities through assistive technology. It has always been a goal of assistive technology to alter the environment for a student that enables and includes them in the everyday classroom learning. Since many students in the junior and intermediate grades are at the point of reading to learn and writing, WordQ and SpeakQ are a fantastic investment for your classroom.

WordQ is a word prediction software or app that helps predict what the writer is trying to type as they are typing. As a student begins to type, the program will provide a dropdown list of predicted words. Overtime, the program will learn with the student and become more accurate with predictions based on the writer’s style. The software will further read back text to the writer. There are English, French, and Spanish versions of the program.

SpeakQ is a plugin now available for WordQ. It is a speech recognition software where students can speak a word and the program will recognize it to then transfer to text. Students are therefore given the opportunity to type the words they know using word prediction and speak the words they do not know through the speech prediction plug-in. For students who may be learning a new language and still struggling with pronunciation, the program will offer suggested words based on what the student is trying to say. Just like WordQ, SpeakQ will also learn with the student and eventually learn the student’s voice and pronunciation of certain words.

For students who struggle with motor skills, spelling, learning a specific language, or writing in general, WordQ can help scaffold students towards reaching their writing potential. It further helps students become more independent when writing and therefore provide a greater sense of inclusion during the writing process.

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Never Underestimate Low Tech Options!

Sometimes giving students an iPad or computer can be rather counterproductive to support their inclusion and focused behaviour. For some students, simpler low-tech solutions are just as effective. I find that low-tech devices are fantastic to support the learning needs of students with behavioral identifications. If you know that you have a student coming into your classroom that struggles with focusing, paying attention, and on-task behavior, some of the following may be worth investing in. These low-tech devices can support a more constructive inclusion of these students during everyday classroom activities:

  • Bouncy or wobble chair
  • Chew pencil topper
  • Fidget toys (i.e., playdough)
  • Weighted animals
  • Quiet centers

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Take Advantage of Digital Games

It is not surprising that gamification or games ended up in this article! They are probably one of the most prominent inclusive practices in educational systems. Teachers are starting to see the educational benefits of self-directed learning through games. All students have the ability to play the same games with the same characters or theme, but they can do so while practicing skills at their own level. For math, I highly recommend Dreambox or Prodigy. For reading, Ooka Island is a fantastic game. I know many teachers already understand the inclusive benefits of games so I am not going to spend too much time discussing this tip in depth. However, I will point out that it is imperative to not use games as an isolated phenomenon that happens once or twice a week as a “reward” for students who have finished all of their work. Digital games should be embedded in learning as a way for teachers to monitor students’ progress, assign assessments, and further spark a level of engagement and on-task behavior. It should be seen as an inclusive instructional practice and not as an add-on if there is additional time left in the school day.

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Differentiate the Same Reading Material

Probably one of the hardest components to inclusive practices is trying to make a lesson differentiated for all academic levels and needs. Sometimes an accommodation like the WordQ or SpeakQ software is needed to provide a more inclusive environment. However, to make learning inclusive and appropriate for all, it may require modifications to be made to the content. These modifications could include making the content more or less challenging. Since differentiated reading levels are one of the more common modifications, and teachers are often faced with up to a five-year gap between reading levels (i.e. lowest reader reading at a grade 1 level and highest reader reading at a grade 6 level), it would be helpful to have a go-to resource when trying to differentiate the same topic or reading content for all literacy levels.

One of my favorite edtech resources to support differentiated reading levels while also being able to teach cross-curricular topics is the News-O-Matic app. News-O-Matic is a daily newspaper for students with topics that range from sports to science to traditions and celebrations. Everyday, News-O-Matic posts a news release with five news articles that are already in kid-friendly language. If your school board has the option to buy into the full version of the program, which can be done through volume app purchasing, each news article can be differentiated based on a student’s specific reading level. Basically, teachers would have an account with all of their students’ accounts set-up. The teacher can then go in and modify the reading level based on Lexile reading levels. When students log in to their News-O-Matic account, all of the articles will look the same and be on the same topic, but based on specific students’ reading levels, they will be modified within students’ accounts. Overall, this is a fantastic way to foster an inclusive reading practice without students feeling different or left out of the task.

Now, if you didn’t already think that was enough, this app has MANY more features to support inclusion through assistive and multi-modal options. Students always have the option to listen to the text instead of reading it. There is a “read-to-me” option for every article. Students are further able to extend their understanding of an article through a movie or additional pictures. With the full version of News-O-Matic, students can also complete some comprehension questions at the end and the results will be sent to the teacher. Overall, News-O-Matic is a fantastic resource to foster inclusion while reading and learning about different curriculum topics.

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Learning Bird

My final tip for teachers is to take advantage of the fantastic edtech resource Learning Bird. I am sure many of you have heard of the flipped classroom and blended classroom teaching models. Learning Bird is a digital platform with instructional videos that foster a blended learning environment. Instead of spending all of your classroom time teaching content through traditional methods, the instructional videos in Learning Bird can teach this same content in many different ways. In other words, the instructional videos that you disseminate to your students can be differentiated based on students needs, therefore making your lesson inclusive for all learning preferences.

In Learning Bird, every student has their own account. This allows teachers to either assign the whole class a playlist of videos or differentiate the playlist for certain students. Since every student learns at their own pace, teachers can take advantage of the fact that they do not have to be present when students are watching the instructional videos. Students can take the playlists home and listen to them at their own speed or watch them when they have some extra class time. Time is therefore not a big restraint to learning content since students are given ample time to thoroughly soak up and learn the content.

I hope that you found these eight tips for inclusion helpful for the current school year! Good luck with your new class and take advantage of the head start you have on preparing inclusive practices early in the year.

About the author

Rochelle Tkach

Rochelle Tkach (@RochelleTkach) is a guest contributor to the Learning Bird blog as well as an Ontario Certified Teacher working as an Elementary Occasional Teacher for the District School Board of Niagara.
She is a passionate educator advocating for 21st century learning practices. When she is not sparking creativity in the classroom, she is working diligently to complete a Master of Education at Brock University. Her research focuses on how tablets can enhance students’ 21st century skills through the specific features and multi-modality embedded within apps. Rochelle’s mission is to place more emphasis on EdTech pedagogy and the reasons behind why EdTech should be blended into the inclusive classroom.

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