Dr Anne Margaret Smith
Truly inclusive practice extends beyond adapting materials or managing the classroom so that everybody can access the course content. It is about building a classroom culture where everybody genuinely respects and supports each other, and embraces the diversity inherent in our communities. This is more easily achieved if the members of the group understand themselves well, and what makes them different from each other.
Self-awareness is arguably one of the most powerful learning tools we can develop (Goldberg et al., 2003); self-aware learners make better choices throughout education, in everything from finding a strategy to tackling a new task, to choosing modules on their degree scheme. It’s particularly important for neurodiverse learners (those with specific learning differences such as dyslexia), who may need to work very efficiently to keep up with the pace of their classmates.
One way of achieving this is through experiential activities. In the case of understanding neurodiversity, it is relatively straightforward to put a group of classmates, or members of staff, into a situation where they can feel what it might be like to process the world in a different way (see Smith, A. M. (2017) for ideas on this). This is a powerful way of putting across a message.
Another strategy is to initiate activities in class that encourage learners to reflect on their own abilities and the things they find challenging. By discussing these issues with their classmates, all students can begin to appreciate how varied we are in the way we approach learning tasks, and some will also pick up on successful strategies that other students use, thus extending their own repertoires. Anderson (2017) offers some suggestions of different ways of facilitating this.
The use of social stories has become quite common in educational contexts. Reading about characters we can relate to, following their adventures, and seeing their emerging self-awareness, is a great way for students to gain an understanding of the challenges that their neurodiverse classmates face. They might even recognise something of themselves in the characters they meet.
For reluctant readers and those who have English as an additional language, a comic format is an appealing alternative to text. Students can enjoy reading the stories, supported by the images, without being under pressure to answer comprehension questions at the end. It may be useful to discuss their responses to the characters, to help make explicit the points being made, but it does not have to be a formal activity. Students might even be tempted to produce their own comics about their own experiences, which could be extremely illuminating for their teachers!
Anderson, J. (2017) ‘Peer-needs Analysis: Sensitising learners to the needs of their classmates’. English Teaching Professional.
Goldberg, R., Higgins, E., Raskind, M. & Herman, K. (2003) ‘Predictors of success in individuals with learning disabilities. A qualitative analysis of a 20-year longitudinal study’. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 18 (4), 222-236.
Smith, A. M. (2017) Raising Awareness of SpLDs: activities to build a supportive learning environment. Morecambe: ELT well