With higher education’s increasing diversity (Habley et al., 2012), inclusive classroom pedagogies are more important than ever. Inclusive teaching can be defined as “the ways in which pedagogy, curricula and assessment are designed and delivered to engage students in learning that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to all. It embraces a view of the individual and individual difference as the source of diversity that can enrich the lives and learning of others” (Hockings, 2010, p. 1; Stentiford & Koutsouris, 2021). This guide will provide some helpful principles and practices to make classrooms more inclusive for all students to be successful, regardless of their needs. The three core principles of inclusive teaching addressed in this guide are widening access, increasing representation, and avoiding a deficit lens.
The first principle, access, is often viewed as efforts to simply increase the numbers of students from underrepresented and marginalized backgrounds in an institution. Embedded in this approach is an assumption that students will automatically be successful once they make it to the institution, without considering whether our campuses are actually built to support diverse groups (Ainscow, 1999). Our efforts must move past this version of access and continue to inclusion by efforts toward “overcoming barriers to participation” (Ainscow, 1999, p. 218). In other words, access should be measured by student success, not just the sheer numbers of diverse students (Hurtado et al., 2012).
Additionally, access can mean different things for different types of students. For racially and ethnically diverse students, access might mean recognition of the types of social and cultural capital necessary to be successful at the institution that students from marginalized backgrounds have not yet had access to. One example is the capital it requires to know how to make connections with professors and learning how to navigate the organizational systems within the institution (Jack, 2015). Considering these discrepancies, faculty should make their office hours and contact information clear without assuming all students would know it is in the syllabus, continually reiterate to students that they are invited and welcome to ask for assistance, and include references to institutional resources for student success in easily accessible places. Another example of increasing access that leads to success is adding aspects of faith and learning into the course, as research shows that one of the key drivers of thriving for Students of Color is their faith development in college (Schreiner, 2012). The structural barriers to their inclusion that diverse students face require solutions in all aspects of an institution, and the classroom is an area where students have close access to peers and faculty that can support them (Schreiner, 2012).
Access for students from low-income backgrounds might mean assistance with course materials through offering open educational resources (OER). OER “are teaching, learning, and research materials that are either (a) in the public domain or (b) licensed in a manner that provides everyone with free and perpetual permission to engage” in being able to retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute the materials (“Open Education,” n.d.). Low-income students often experience great financial barriers to their success in college (Aries & Seider, 2005) and expensive textbooks are but one example. For example, students at Baylor spend an average of $340 per semester on their textbooks, a number that may be unattainable for many low-income students. Utilizing OER in the classroom is a way to serve all students, specifically those with greater financial need, in a way that does not reveal anyone’s needs should they desire to not disclose them (Zhadko & Ko, 2019).
Access for students with disability accommodation needs means implementing practices that are key to a Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Such practices that are useful to providing many ways of communicating course material are “closed captioning the videos, describing the images, and ensuring that you post all handouts and slides electronically and in compatible formats (e.g., for text-to-speech)” (Kennette & Wilson, 2019, p. 3). Though implementing these accommodations requires effort, it is a good practice to have such resources available to all students from the start of the course to protect the confidentiality of students who also may wish to keep their needs private. And these can be beneficial resources for students who do not require learning accommodations. Another helpful practice is to familiarize oneself with the institution’s accommodations office, as well as broader disability rights, to ensure students are receiving the proper information and support.
The second principle for creating inclusive teaching practices is to increase representation in the classroom. Diverse groups of students seeing themselves and their experiences represented in the curriculum can be a powerful motivator for their success and self-concept. It is important to note that one should be intentional about the type of representation provided, in that it should be positive rather than upholding negative stereotypes about certain groups (El-Burki, 2017). Some practical examples of increasing representation in the classroom might be to read works written by diverse voices, highlighting notable scholars in the discipline who belong to historically marginalized groups, bringing in guest speakers, using media with broad representation, or applying knowledge learned in the classroom to real world problems. Planning for increasing diversity in the curriculum can both “be a formal process from some perspectives, but it is also an informal, interactive, ongoing process,” (Black et al., 2019, p. 122) where one is willing to adjust both in class and throughout the semester to ensure all students are being represented. This may be more challenging for some disciplines than others depending on the nature of the course, but it is important to think creatively to help foster a sense of belonging and classroom community.
Another form of increasing representation in the classroom is through allowing different forms of participation based on students’ needs. The standard expectations for participation in the classroom, that of speaking up in a group discussion setting, may be difficult for students from various backgrounds for a multitude of reasons besides them being unprepared for class or not engaging in discussion (White, 2011). Students may be experiencing a language barrier, feel uncomfortable contributing if they are the only Student of Color, be unable to hear the professor, or be preoccupied with worries about their finances, to name just a few examples. There is something to be said for encouraging students to step outside of their comfort zone, but there can also be great benefits to allowing students to participate in different ways (White, 2011). Some suggestions for practice might be allowing students to write their thoughts in assigned reflections or discussion posts rather than share with the whole class, or even using small group settings within the classroom to ensure all students have their voices heard (White, 2011; hooks, 1994).
Avoiding Deficit Lens
The final principle of inclusive teaching practices is to avoid a deficit lens when supporting students from marginalized groups. Common understandings of students from diverse backgrounds offer the perspective of what students are lacking compared to their peers (Bastedo & Jaquette, 2011; Jack, 2015). Instead, it is beneficial to focus on models that emphasize all that diverse students have to offer as assets to their classrooms and institutions (Yosso, 2005; Huber, 2009). Yosso (2005) and Huber (2009) note how diverse students offer their aspirations, linguistic talents, familial background, social connections, ability to navigate the institution, resistance to systemic barriers, and spiritual perspectives because of their backgrounds and upbringing.
A practical way of embracing these assets in the classroom is to allow students to learn from one another in various ways, through discussion or group work, for example. Another way is to view the process of expanding access to learning methods as a way for students to showcase the gifts they possess. Though it is certainly important to understand the barriers that students face so that institutions may alleviate them, it is also vital that students who are from historically marginalized groups receive the dignity of being viewed from a lens of hope and value for all they have to give rather than emphasize what they lack (Tuck, 2009). Choosing to shift one’s understanding of diverse groups from deficit ideology (or even an ideology of grit that says individuals can push through the barriers they face should they just work hard enough) to an understanding of the structural barriers that marginalized groups experience cultivates compassion and understanding for students who may struggle in the college environment (Gorksi, 2016).
Inclusive teaching is vital for the success of all students. It may seem that to make the classroom inclusive is to deviate from classroom norms, but it is worth noting that the norms of the classroom are often designed with an institution’s “typical” student in mind (hooks, 1994). To broaden opportunities for success in the classroom is not to reduce standards or deviate from excellence, but to expand one’s understanding of what excellence looks like in order to value all that students have to offer (Yosso, 2005).
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