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Best Practices

The LTO Best Practices

Issue No. 63: The Inclusive Classroom

Welcome to the sixty-third issue of The LTO Best Practices. Each month, the Learning & Teaching Office will be spotlighting a timely topic in education and professional development in teaching. This March, our topic is "The Inclusive Classroom."

Check out our page of Teaching Tips handouts for more downloadable documents on a variety of teaching topics.

Best Practices

Ryerson describes itself as "proudly diverse and intentionally inclusive." Creating an inclusive classroom environment will help communicate these values to students. The benefits of an inclusive classroom include the following:

  • Connecting and engaging with a variety of students.
  • Being prepared for "spark moments" or issues that arise when controversial material is discussed.
  • Helping students connect with course materials that are relevant to them.
  • Helping students feel comfortable in the classroom environment to voice their ideas/thoughts/questions.
  • Giving students multiple opportunities to succeed by accommodating different learning preferences, abilities, and backgrounds (CTE Cornell).

Get to know your students

The first step toward an inclusive classroom is getting to know your students. Ask yourself:

  • Who are your students?
  • Why they are taking your class?
  • How you can improve their learning in and out of class? (CTE Cornell)

 

To get to know your students, think about your students' prior knowledge, intellectual development, cultural background, and generational experiences and expectations (Eberly Center, Carnegie Mellon University). You can get to know your students by giving them a short survey on the first day of class or in D2L.

Access a sample Google Form and Spreadsheet that can be used to survey your students.

Build a sense of community

One way to create a sense of community is through the use of collaborative activities. One type of collaborative activity that you can use to set the tone on the first day of class is an ice breaker. Ice breakers are effective because they:

  • "Create a relaxed environment where students share ideas more freely, and participate more fully in the course."
  • "Encourage students to share ownership for the learning environment of the class."
  • "Establish positive rapport with students and foster a productive learning environment."
  • "Prepare students for collaborative group work" (CTE Cornell)

 

By helping students build social networks, you can not only create community, but you can also foster resilience and well-being in your students.

Simon Fraser University has provided a set of potential ice breaker activities for use in the classroom [pdf]

Create a positive classroom culture

Be open with students from the beginning of class - share your teaching philosophy with them, acknowledge the stressful elements of the course when reviewing the syllabus, and use check-in activities to connect with students.

Build a respectful environment for discussion by allowing students to collaboratively set ground rules for the class. By engaging students with the formation of a social contract, you can create a mutually agreed upon set of rules that will create a culture of respect in your classroom. 

The CTE at Cornell suggests the following best practices:

  • "Decide what is non-negotiable for you as the instructor."
  • "Plan to facilitate a conversation around ground rules as a class or present your proposal and give students the opportunity to modify it."
  • "In small groups, have students think about past learning environments. Which learning environments were productive? What were the characteristics of that environment? Which learning environments were not productive? What were the characteristics of that environment?"
  • "Ask students to list the conditions needed to ensure that positive characteristics exist in a learning environment. Have them create a similar list of required conditions to prevent negative characteristics."
  • "Based on these conversations, have students create a draft list of ground rules for your class. Collect and compile these."
  • "Adjust them as you see necessary and redistribute them to the class for agreement. Once everyone agrees, put ground rules in your syllabus."
  • "Revisit them throughout the semester to check with students that the ground rules are still working. Make adjustments as necessary" (CTE Cornell)

 

Learn more about creating class contracts and classroom management [pdf].

sample classroom contract is available as a Google Doc to download or share with your students.

Utilizing Inclusive Teaching Strategies

When planning to teach inclusively, remember that the "inclusiveness of a classroom will depend upon the kinds of interactions that occur between and among you and the students in the classroom.  

Ask the following questions when planning your course, and consider some of the options available to make the class more inclusive:

  • Whose voices, perspectives, and scholarship are being represented?
    • Can you include multiple perspectives on each topic of the course? Is there material you can include that has been produced by people from different backgrounds or viewpoints? Keep in mind that your choice of whose voice to include conveys to students whose voices have value.
  • How are the perspectives and experiences of various groups being represented?
    • Always remember to "include works authored by members of the group that the class is discussing" as well as "materials that address underrepresented groups' experiences in ways that do not trivialize or marginalize these groups' experiences."
  • Are you making assumptions about students learning behaviours and capacities?
  • How can the way you plan your course assist in making students feel more included?
    • Are the cultural reference points and examples you use in class ones that will be familiar to all your students? Have you planned to use a variety of instructional strategies? Are you aware of any controversial topics and how you will address them? How will you form groups and delegate tasks to insure that no students end up isolated?
  • How will you address the diversity of your students?

 

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"The LTO Best Practices" is produced monthly by Michelle Schwartz, Instructional Design and Research Strategist at the Learning & Teaching Office, Ryerson University.

Do you have any thoughts, suggestions, or best practices that you would like to see appear in this newsletter? Please send all submissions to michelle.schwartz@ryerson.ca. We look forward to including your contributions in our next issue!

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Phone: 416.979.5000 x6598
Email: lto@ryerson.ca

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