Now that you have established your learning outcomes, designed your assessments, and defined the learning environment that you and your students want to create, it is important to think about how you and the learners in your class will work together to maintain an inclusive learning space. This requires thinking intentionally about how you will manage classroom discussions, as well as what teaching strategies will you will need to keep your students engaged and invested in the course content. In keeping with the construction metaphor, this section will provide strategies for making the house you have built a “home” in which your students feel welcomed and supported. Again, creating a sense of “home” is just as much the responsibility of the guests as it is for the host(s). Therefore, this toolbox also includes ideas for helping students be “hospitable guests.” The structure for this section is as follows:
- Implement evidence-based teaching strategies (Part 1)
- Build rapport with students (Part 2)
- Develop strategies for facilitating difficult dialogues & managing classroom incivility (Part 3)
- Solicit feedback from students throughout duration of course (Part 4)
As you implement the strategies in this section, you may find that some of these practices will not be effective for all your students. Remember that though the information presented is research-based and has had proven success in a number of contexts, they may not be appropriate for every course or for every student. Assess your context and reflect regularly on the practices that you use, so that you can decide what will be most helpful to your students. Inclusive teaching is not a set of “tips of the trade,” but rather a trial and error process of constant assessment of practice. This assessment will often involve individual reflection on the part of the instructor and, in some cases, some discussions and reflections with your students. The key to success in inclusive teaching is all about being flexible, patient, self-reflective and teachable.
Implement Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies
Evidence-based Teaching Strategies (EBTS) aim at making learning visible to both teacher and the students in the learning environment. They embody strategies that clarify what the instructors are teaching and what the students are learning that could facilitate students’ achievement. Transparency, impact, and metacognition are the significant themes of these strategies. The “evidence-based” part of the title indicates that the strategies are generated from educational research. These practices contribute to students’ learning productivity, have a substantially high effect on student results, and are applicable in various fields.
EBTS are an applicable pedagogical framework for inclusive teaching because they make the instruction accessible to all of the students in the learning environment. Additionally, the EBTS’ emphasis on working in groups and pairs necessitate a willingness on the part of both the instructor and students to be open to different perspectives.
Build Rapport with Students
One of the most challenging yet important aspects of teaching is connecting and building rapport with students. When instructors have positive relationships with students, the latter feel included, welcomed and motivated to learn. According to the 2018 UT Climate Survey, about 26% of students have considered leaving UT at some point in their college careers (Rankin & Associates, 2018). When asked why they had considered leaving, about 51% of respondents indicated that they did not have a sense of belonging (Rankin & Associates, 2018). While you as an instructor may not have control over what your students experience outside your classroom, you can work with your students to create a welcoming, inclusive environment. The following are ten tips to help you do this effectively:
- On the first day and throughout the course, learn more about your students (such as hometown, interests, academic and career goals) and help them get to know each other.
Many instructors have students do activities on the first day such as interviewing each other or introducing themselves to the class. Other ideas for relationship building activities include:
- Have students play “human” BINGO. The link for this activity can be found on the WRHA website..
- Have students complete an information sheet in which they share with you their interests, fun facts about themselves, preferred name and pronouns, career goals, hometown, and expectations/concerns that they may have about the class. The University of California at Berkeley has sample questionnaires, as well as tips for the first day of class on their teaching website..
- Have students complete the “Flower Activity.” This is a great way for students to start talking with one another and for you to learn about your students’ interests.
- Have students complete an online survey with information about themselves in Canvas.
- Learn students’ names and use them when interacting with them in class. This can be accomplished by having students make name signs to put on their desks for the first couple of weeks of class or by having students make personal profiles with pictures in Canvas. Some instructors may even have students post videos in which they introduce themselves on Canvas as a first class assignment. If you decide to do this, be sure to provide instructions on how to create, upload and caption videos.
- Mix in small group work with whole class discussions, allowing all students to fully contribute to conversation in less stressful groups of three or four. Ask one question (avoiding tandem questions, which can be confusing) and vary methods of asking questions, such as allowing pair-shareor one-minute free writing before students join in a whole class discussion. This allows students time to think and rehearse answers.
- Examine your assessments and surveys for bias. Check your assessments, course announcement and materials to ensure that they utilize inclusive language. Emerson College has a guide for inclusive language that can be found on its Guidelines for Inclusive Language webpage.
- Share some details about your experiences. You might not feel comfortable sharing certain details about your life with students, but sharing some experiences with them about your learning process in the discipline and in adapting to college life can help put them at ease about your course and about college in general.
- Use nonverbals for encouragement (smiling, nodding as students talk, and waiting comfortably) and light humor to put students at ease. Be mindful of your body language as it can affect your interactions with students.
- When giving written feedback, support diversity among students by asking them to provide more concrete details, illustrations, and clarifications. This encourages critical thinking from all types of backgrounds. Also, affirm whenever possible indications of new awareness and intellectual risks, and suggest next steps and resources to extend students’ thinking.
- Demonstrate your desire and expectation for verbal participation among all students. This can be done by asking, “Let’s hear from some of the people who have not had a chance to comment yet.”
- Examine students’ comfort level with your course environment (lab, online, outdoors, community, as well as classroom). Think about whether the physical environment is accessible to all students. If not, then think of ways to make the environment more comfortable or ask your students for ideas.
- If something in your assessment seems to be misunderstood by students (even one or two), look critically and admit mistakes! Learning to be more inclusive is a process. So, commit to being humble and admit mistakes whey happen (because they will!). Examine your assessments and make a concerted effort to address student questions and concerns as swiftly as possible.
Develop Strategies for Facilitating Difficult Dialogues & Managing Classroom Incivility
Spark or “hot” moments are inevitable when you have students with diverse perspectives and backgrounds. While these situations can be challenging to navigate, these heated instances or outbursts can also be transformed into powerful learning opportunities for you and for your students. The following are some tips for facilitating class discussions and addressing classroom incivility:
Establishing policies at the beginning of the course sets boundaries for all students, as well as the instructor. Clear standards protect everyone’s rights and prevent many instances of incivility throughout the course. Again, doing this with students may help with buy-in. Be sure to include university-wide policies on your syllabus.In some cases, doing some role-playing can also be useful to assess students’ understanding of policies, as well as clarify issues that you may not have addressed on the syllabus.
An inclusive learning environment is a safe and respectful context where both the students and the instructor can authentically share their thoughts, and construct meaning and intent together. The following are some strategies for promoting community around the co-creation of expectations for class discussions:
- Include value and diversity statements in your syllabus and discuss them on the first day of the class. Ask the students to share their thoughts and converse about some implications of practice.
- Develop a learning environment contract. According to the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching, this contract may include the following standards:
- Use a respectful tone when addressing one another in class.
- Avoid interrupting a fellow classmate or the instructor when they are speaking.
- Avoid name-calling and verbal attacks. The latter might include dismissing someone else’s comment (e.g., “That’s stupid” or “You’re wrong.”), responding to someone’s concern with a sarcastic remark and/or making assumptions about what someone has said without first asking what they mean.
- Listen carefully to each other and ask clarifying questions to understand what the others think rather that what you assume they think.
- Build community by giving feedback about the classroom environment. You can provide comment boxes for students to submit their feedback, or allow students to share their thoughts on the index cards at the end of class.
- Visit office hours or schedule a time to speak to the instructor if you have questions or concerns.
- Encourage the students to ask open-ended questions or phrases like “Say more about that…” to implement active listening.
- Help students separate impact and intent of a comment by asking the following questions:
- Actions: “What did the other person actually say or do?”
- Impact: “What is the impact of this on me?”
- Assumptions: Based on this impact, what assumptions am I making about what the other person intended?”
- Encourage the students to use “I” messages.
- Example: “Your argument is unclear and irrelevant” vs. “I am not sure I understand what you say. Please help me hear what I am missing.”
- Use the five-minute rule as a way of taking an invisible or marginalized perspective and entertaining it respectfully for a short period of time (see Vogelsang & McGee, 2015 or Vanderbilt Center for Teaching).
- Rule: Anyone who feels that a particular point of view is not being taken seriously has a right to point this out and call for this exercise to be used.
- Discussion: The group then agrees to take five minutes to consider the merits of this perspective, refrain from criticizing it, and make every effort to believe it. Only those who can speak in support of it are allowed to speak, using the questions below as prompts. All critics must remain silent.
- Questions and prompts:
- What’s interesting or helpful about this view?
- What are some intriguing features that others might not have noticed?
- What would be different if you accepted this view as true?
- In what sense and under what conditions might this idea be true?
Realize that there may be times in which you as the instructor can get frustrated or angry at student comments. While students may be directing their frustration in the classroom, their remarks may be the product of events that might have taken place outside your class. To address your emotions, consider the following:
- Resist the urge to take student comments personally and instead separate the student from the remark.
- Asking where their idea come from. If it is not reasonable to address the comment during class, remind students of the established codes of conduct in class and/or redirect the discussion to a different subject.
When the “spark” moments do happen – and they will – a good strategy to defuse the situation could be to acknowledge the feelings of the parties involved. The effectiveness of this strategy largely depends on how extensive the interruption is and on the rapport that the instructor has with the students.The important issue is to decide whether the interruption could be converted into a learning moment for all students, or if it simply is a detraction from student learning. In either case, research and experiential practice assert that it is best to acknowledge students’ feelings (whether during class or outside of class) that will be reproduced in another occasion if not addressed effectively.
- Example: “I understand that this topic is difficult/ there are a lot of opinions about this topic, but…”
- Allocate time to discuss the topic and make sure to acknowledge everybody’s concerns.
- Use “Yes, And…” technique. The critical component is that you allow yourself to express your view and listen to the other person’s view as well. Once you have reached this stage, you can say: “Now that we really understand each other, what’s a good way to resolve this problem?” (Hook, 2017).
Asking students to provide empirical evidence for social phenomenon they claim or advocate would significantly contribute to raising of their social and critical consciousness. For instance, a student might say, “Latino immigrants are taking all our jobs.” By asking the student questions, the instructor might help them come to the following conclusion: “This article / experience, etc. suggested that Latino immigrants are taking our jobs.” When you know where a comment is coming from, it is easier to help students reflect on their ideas and learn different perspectives.
All students come with specific social backgrounds that informs their impressions about social and political phenomenon. When dealing with difficult dialogues, instructors should be mindful of students’ socio-economic status, religious backgrounds, nationality and immigration history and many other factors that play critical roles in forming their attitudes and beliefs. Having students fill out “information sheets” is a first step in getting to know more about the learners in your classes. Asking students to contextualize their comments is also helpful.
Solicit Feedback from Students throughout the Duration of the Course
Now that you have begun implementing the strategies in this toolbox, you may be thinking, “How do I know that these practices are effective in my class?” One way to find out is by asking your students. Asking for student feedback before the end of the semester approaches not only allows you to address any issues or concerns before students finish your course, but it also has the added benefit of helping you build rapport with your students. People like to feel heard and understood, so asking and taking into consideration student feedback (where appropriate) can build a sense of trust, increase student motivation, and make students feel valued.
According to Evans and McNelis (2000), student evaluations are not necessarily a definitive measure of teacher effectiveness; however, they can be useful in helping us improve our instruction and the learning environment as a whole. To better understand how to use evaluations, it is important to understand their value in terms of their pros and cons.
|Pros of Student Evaluations||Cons of Student Evaluations|
|Highlight trends and practices||Students can use them as retaliation|
|Can be used to improve instruction||Can be impacted by outside factors|
|Help to define what is working and what is not working in the curriculum/classroom environment||Can provide contradictory feedback|
Before engaging in a conversation about how best to use student evaluations, it is necessary to discuss how to administer them. Getting useful feedback from students can prove beneficial to your growth as an instructor. The following are some tips for how to solicit better feedback from student on midterm evaluations.
- Talk to students ahead of time about the value of evaluations for both you and for them.
- Define in advance what type of feedback would be most useful for you. The University of Texas at Austin’s Faculty Innovation Center provides a guide for students on how to give constructive feedback.
- Ensure that responses are anonymous, so that student grades will not be affected by the feedback.
- Keep your evaluation forms brief, but be sure to include some open-ended questions so that students have space to share their thoughts. Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching has sample forms that you can use for this purpose.
- Provide multiple ways for students to give feedback. While surveys are the most common method, using focus groups facilitated by a TA or a peer can also be helpful for students who may be more comfortable expressing their thoughts orally.
- Discuss candidly with students how you will use the feedback and, if you can, give examples of how you have used student feedback in the past.
Once you have gotten the feedback from your students, it is now time to think about how you will use the information moving forward. Here are some considerations as you read through the feedback:
- What trends do I notice in the feedback?
- What aspects of the course appear to be working well? Which areas need improvement?
- If students gave ideas for improving the course, which suggestions will be most helpful? How and when can I implement them?
- How will I communicate to students the feedback and ways in which I will use it for improving the course
- If I have excluded some of my students in some way, how will I address this?
For more tips on how to interpret student evaluations, please see the section entitled “Strategies for Self-Reflection.”
In addition to gathering ideas from your students, it may be helpful to keep a teaching journal, where you can take notes on your own and your students’ experiences moving through the course. For example, during week one, what did you do to familiarize students with the course and establish an inclusive learning environment? What were the students’ reactions to the activities that took place that week? What did you learn about your students, and how might you use this learning to inform your approach to your planned activities for week two?
Additionally, in subsequent weeks, you might even jot down thoughts on how you reflected in the moment during your course to apply prior insights about your students and yourself to your interactions with them. Over time, this method of reflective practice will help you bridge the gap between what you are learning about your teaching and your ability to translate this learning into thoughtful action.
Your teaching journal statements do not need to be lengthy, as even very brief but regular entries will prove helpful in prompting you to think critically about your experiences both during the course and after it has ended.