Inclusive teaching strategies

Inclusive teaching refers to practices that support meaningful and accessible learning for all students.  The strategies covered on this page aim to recognize the diverse strengths students and instructors bring to class.

Design your course with inclusivity in mind

Including perspectives from historically marginalized groups can provide a fuller and more accurate portrayal of an issue; it also communicates to students the value of considering multiple views.

Designing your course with inclusivity in mind

When planning course content, reflect on how content has been traditionally structured:

  • Is the content organized in a way that obstructs, distorts, or excludes certain ideas or groups?
  • How does your field create new knowledge and decide what knowledge is valuable? What assumptions or power dynamics guide this process?
  • What new research is available that addresses past distortions and exclusions?
  • How would the course change if this new research were included?
  • How might a change in this course reflect its relationship to the rest of the curriculum?

Additional considerations:

  • Is there a new thematic approach to this material that will help to foreground cultural diversity?
  • How might new material be integrated so that it’s not simply an “add-on”?
  • What teaching strategies will facilitate student learning of this new material?

Resources:

  • Ngyuen Littlefield, L., Nolan, S. A. (2013). Your sphere of influence: How to infuse cultural diversity into your psychology classes: Strategies for ensuring that diversity is an integral part of the psychology curriculum. American Psychological Association.
  • Saunders, S., Kardia, D. (2016). Creating inclusive college classrooms. Center for Research on Teaching and Learning.

Universal design (UD) is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

While helpful in meeting the needs of students with disabilities, UD guidelines support all students. Here’s an overview of UD principles and how you might begin to implement them in your course.

Additional information and strategies:

Scholarly literature from across disciplines is available to support your inclusive teaching. You can learn about the literature and find support through the Center for Teaching and Learning, other events on campus, national conferences and publications about teaching, and online resources.

Online resources:

Journals:

Books:

  • Adams, M., Blumenfeld, W., Castaneda, C. R., Hackman, H. W., Peters, M. L., Zuniga, X. (Eds.) (2010), Readings for Diversity and Social Justice. 2nd Edition. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Center for Teaching and Learning (1997). Teaching for Inclusion: Diversity in the College ClassroomChapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Center for Teaching and Learning.

Value students’ backgrounds and personal experiences

Research on student learning confirms that students learn by connecting new information to what they already know. Creating a classroom in which students can draw on their lived experiences can enhance their ability to meet the course’s learning outcomes.

Maximizing the varied educational backgrounds and personal experiences of students

Collect information about students’ prior knowledge of the course content, relevant educational experiences, and personal experiences that might impact their learning. Many instructors use index cards, an online survey, or a questionnaire given on the first day of the quarter.

Check-in with students throughout the quarter about their experience in the course

  • Gather feedback from students about their experiences with the teaching methods and course climate. Ask which aspects of the course are helpful to their learning and what changes would better support their learning.
  • Some instructors use the Stop-Start-Continue method to quickly gather student feedback during the quarter. This method can be used to gauge student learning and perceptions of the class climate.

Make it easy for students to provide confidential feedback

Allowing students to give anonymous feedback may provide more honest and accurate feedback. Some methods for doing so include surveys or a mid-quarter feedback session facilitated by a CTL consultant.

A teacher will never know if a classroom is inclusive of all students unless they are willing to ask. Inclusion is a personal experience. The sense in the room is that the teacher cares about each student’s success and that honest conversations can progress in that room.

Matthew GockelUW Seattle Social Work Graduate Student

Visit CTL’s Gathering Student Feedback page for additional information.

Create a respectful, productive learning environment

Equipping students with information to succeed in the course helps all students, especially those who might not be familiar with institutional or disciplinary practices.

Creating a respectful and productive learning environment

Clearly communicate how students can do well in your course, and if needed, what they can do to improve their performance. Grading rubrics can be an effective way to inform students about how you assess their work and how to meet expectations for success.

For more information on rubrics, see:

Share campus resources with the class. Students who are struggling academically and/or emotionally may be unaware that resources are available to support them.

  • Sharing resources such as the OUGL Writing Center, CLUE, the Q Center, the Veterans Center, SafeCampus, DO-IT, and the Counseling Center with all students at the beginning of the course can be done easily on a Canvas page, handout, or on the syllabus.
  • A longer list of campus resources is available on the Graduate School’s Diversity and Inclusion Programs and Resources page.

All courses have the potential for negative interactions. Even if students do not discuss obviously sensitive or controversial topics, establishing expectations for behavior early in the course can support students’ willingness to engage in learning activities and prevent possible conflicts. Involving students in establishing ground rules builds both consensus and relevant class norms.

Brookfield and Preskill (2005) suggest one method for helping students create their own ground rules:

  1. Ask students to think about the best group discussions they have participated in and what made those discussions satisfying.
  2. Ask students to think about the worst group discussions they have participated in and reflect on what made those discussions so unsatisfactory.
  3. For each of the positive characteristics identified, ask students to suggest three things the group could do to ensure these characteristics are present.
  4. For each of the negative characteristics identified, ask students to suggest three things the group could do to ensure these characteristics are not present.
  5. Use students’ suggestions to draft a set of ground rules that you all agree on, and distribute them in writing.
  6. Periodically ask the class to reflect on whether the ground rules established at the beginning of the semester are working, and make adjustments as necessary.

From Brookfield & Preskill (2005). Discussion as a way of teaching: Tools and techniques for democratic classrooms (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Always respond promptly to discriminatory or inappropriate remarks. When students have a strong response to a comment, don’t diminish or try to downplay their response.

If a classroom interaction exceeds the bounds of civility, there are many steps you can take to respond to disruptions in the classroom.

While “hot moments” can happen in discussions on any topic, the CTL also offers resources on discussing current events of racial violence in the US.

Find additional strategies and resources for managing discussions at:

Equitable class participation does not have to mean that all students are expected to participate in the same way or the same amount of times. Make sure that students are able to participate in class in ways that will help them achieve learning goals for the course and that no one is kept from participating by the way the course is taught.

Here are some strategies for building an equitable classroom:

  • Acknowledge many forms of participation, such as contributions to class discussion, online discussion boards, and comments made in writing.
  • Pause for 7-10 seconds after asking a question so that students can adequately formulate responses or questions.
  • Remind students that you welcome and value questions.
  • Look for opportunities to interact with individual students (before and after class, in moments of transition, etc.) and inviting students to visit office hours.
  • Refer to students by name whenever possible.
  • Clearly state expectations for student participation and giving feedback on how students are doing, including what they are doing well and how they can improve.
  • Seek students’ feedback on participation, including the type of opportunities  they would like to have in order to successfully participate in the course.
  • Use a variety of methods for active learning, such as individual, pair, and small group activities. See resources on active learning.
  • When students work in groups, provide structure for their work by having them fill specific roles or tasks (such as summarizing or recapping information), and including other mechanisms for individual accountability to the group.

See also:

  • University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, “Cross Cultural Group Work.”
  • Cohen, E. G., Lotan, R.A. (2014).  Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Assess what your doing in the classroom

Effective teaching is about experimentation and refinement. Not everything you do in the classroom will work – that’s ok. Gathering data is the first step in identifying areas for improvement.

Assessing inclusive teaching

Patterns can point to potential problem areas, as well as indicate what’s effective:

  • Overall, are students succeeding or having difficulty with specific content or assignments?
  • Are there patterns in student learning that indicate a need for further inquiry, such as a specific assignment that international students seem to find overly challenging?

Assessing student learning throughout the quarter and using a variety of methods can allow students more opportunities to demonstrate their learning and provide a more complete picture.

You’ll find additional resources on methods for assessing student learning on the CTL’s Gathering student feedback page.

Here are some ways to better understand what is supporting or obstructing learning:

  • Ask students to fill out a brief anonymous online survey about what helps them learn in the class, what doesn’t help them learn, and what might better support their learning.
  • Explicitly ask students about their classroom experience in terms of how comfortable or supported they feel in engaging in class activities. Some questions you might ask include:
    • How comfortable do you feel engaging in class activities?
    • What has helped you to engage?
    • What could be done to further support your engagement?
  • Ask student representatives to meet with you regularly to share feedback from class. Consider asking different students to serve as representatives throughout the quarter.
  • Classroom Assessment Techniques are relatively fast and easy ways to assess student learning as well as student perceptions of the learning environment.
  • Work with a colleague or an instructional consultant at the CTL to collect anonymous feedback from students.

When asking for student feedback:

  • Ask for feedback that is free of any identifying information; anonymous feedback can allow for more honest answers.
  • Keep the number of questions to a minimum.
  • Online or in class, always follow up with students afterward, summarizing their overall feedback in terms of:
    • What’s working that you will continue to do.
    • Suggested changes you’re willing to make.
    • Suggested changes you cannot, or will not, change and why.
  • Gather student feedback throughout the quarter. Doing so allows you to incorporate feedback in real time and communicates that you value and use the information.

Resources on gathering student feedback about course climate:

  • Ambrose, S. A. (2010). Why do student development and course climate matter for student learning? In How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (pp. 153-188). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Holley, L. C., & Steiner, S. (2005). Safe space: Student perspectives on classroom environment. Journal of Social Work Education, Vol. 41(1), pp. 49-64.

Develop a reflective teaching practice

Examining and reflecting on how your own identities shape your pedagogical values, biases, and relationships with students can help you build a more effective, engaging classroom. Here are a few strategies and resources for practicing self-reflection in teaching.

Reflecting on teaching practices to support professional growth

  • Learn about issues of social privilege and oppression, including groups whose experience differs from your own based on race, sexuality, religion, gender, ability, nationality, or other social differences.
  • Work to become aware of implicit biases and stereotypes and how these may manifest in your teaching.
  • Get an outside perspective. Ask a colleague, friend, or CTL consultant to come in and observe a class and your interactions with students and/or course materials.
  • Keep a journal to briefly jot down your observations of student interactions and experiences in the classroom.
  • Find support. Connect with colleagues who can be relied on to discuss issues with, provide challenge as well as support and commiseration when things do not go as planned.

On instructor identities:

  • Barnett, P. E. (2013 summer). Unpacking teachers’ invisible knapsacks: Social identity and privilege in higher education. Liberal Education, Vol. 99(3). Washington D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
  • Freedman, D. P., Holmes, M. S., Garland-Thomson, R. (2003). The Teacher’s Body: Embodiment, Authority, and Identity in the Academy. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Gutiérrez, . M. G. (2012). Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.
  • Kardia, D.B., Wright, M.C. (2004). Instructor Identity: The Impact of Gender and Race on Faculty Experiences with Teaching. Occasional Paper No. 19. University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching.
  • Rosen, R.C. (Ed.) (2013). Class and the College Classroom: Essays on Teaching. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic.
  • Stanley, C.A. (Ed.) (2006). Faculty of Color: Teaching in Predominantly White Colleges and Universities. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.
  • Tatum, B. (1992). Talking about race, learning about racism: The ‘application of’ racial identity development theory in the classroom. Harvard Educational Review, 62(1), 1–24.
  • Tuitt, F., Hanna, M., Martinez, L., Del Carmen Salazar, M., & Griffin, R. (2009 Fall). Teaching in the line of fire: Faculty of color in the academy. Thought & Action. Washington D.C.: National Education Association.
  • Vargas, L. (2002). Women Faculty of Color in the White Classroom. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

On Whiteness and White privilege specifically:

  • Baldwin, J. (1998). A Talk to Teachers. James Baldwin: Collected Essays. New York, NY: Library Classics of the United States.
  • DeAngelo, R. (2011). White fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, Vol 3 (3), pp. 54-70.
  • Frankenberg, R. (1996). When we are capable of stopping, we begin to see. In Becky Thompson & Sangeeta Tyagi (Eds.), Names We Call Home: Autobiography on Racial Identity. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Rothman, J. (2014 May 12). The origins of “privilege.” (Interview with Peggy McIntosh). The New Yorker Magazine.