Here is your challenge: You arrive on the island Karuba, where you must lead an expedition team of adventurers as they navigate their way through the dense jungle to reach the island’s temples. To add to your challenge, your adventurers are setting out from different sides of the island, and the jungle paths are dense and overgrown. As you lead your adventurers on their individual journeys, you must find and uncover the ancient jungle trails. Many paths have dead ends, and you need to be patient to find the best routes. Keep your eyes peeled: there are gold nuggets to collect along the way!
The Karuba scenario comes from one of my favourite board games, and serves as a useful analogy for teaching and learning. Our students are adventurers trying to navigate through the jungle of learning to the temples of comprehension and progress. No two students are the same and their routes will vary. But despite the differences between students’ aptitudes, skills, and levels, we need to help each and every one of them discover the paths that will lead them to their temples. Creating an inclusive classroom can help us ensure that none of our adventurers are left abandoned in the jungle.
In practical terms, inclusivity involves making changes and modifications to content, approaches, structures and strategies, so that we can address and respond to the diversity of needs of all students, including those with learning differences (UNESCO, 2005). But it also extends to how our students feel: it is about having ‘a sense of belonging: feeling respected, valued for who you are; feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so that you can do your best work’ (Miller and Katz, 2002).
Inclusion and differentiation are intrinsically linked: to ensure our classrooms are inclusive, we need to differentiate. Differentiation is about considering, valuing, and catering for all of our students’ individual needs, and modifying - or differentiating - our teaching approaches and resources accordingly. Classrooms that cater for ‘different readiness levels, interests, and learning profiles’ (Eisenmann, 2017), can support differentiation by providing multiple routes into learning, ensuring that every student can thrive and reach their potential.
Catering for all of students’ individual needs isn’t about providing different material for every student; this would be impractical and time consuming. But by offering multiple approaches to the same material, we can provide different paths through the jungle, giving all of our students greater opportunities for comprehension and development. To help you navigate through the teaching and learning jungle, here are some key ways you can provide multiple approaches to learning and create a more inclusive classroom environment.
Offer alternative routes
Offering students alternative choices about how they complete tasks and access materials not only enables them greater autonomy and increases engagement, it also provides them with different routes into comprehension, maximising the potential for successful learning.
One way of providing multiple approaches to learning is to embrace multimodality in our classrooms.
Multimodality is the application of multiple communication channels (such as writing, sound, gesture, image, or video) within one medium, and allows students to access meaning in a variety of ways. The increased use of digital technologies in recent decades means our students are now more familiar with multimodal content, and creates greater opportunities for us as teachers to combine resources to create meaning using a wide range of modalities (Magnusson & Godhe, 2019). Here are some examples of how to use multimodality in your classroom:
- Read written texts aloud to the class so that students can read and listen at the same time. If students need extra support, allow them to record you reading so they can replay it.
- Find (or ask students to bring in) images, songs and short films related to the topic they are studying.
- Offer students a choice of formats in which a task can be completed (e.g. a poster, a blog entry, or a video).
Another approach is to offer progressive tasks that gradually increase in difficulty, allowing students to work at their own pace, and empowering them to work in their own way. Some students work quickly through tasks, while others move at a more measured pace. What matters most is that students ‘progress from their respective beginning points, not that they all work alike’ (Tomlinson, 2017). Some students need extra challenge, others need extra support.
- Ask students to decide how much time they think they will need for an activity.
- Give students a series of tasks that gradually become more challenging, and allow them to set their own targets about how much they will complete.
Pick up gold along the way
Using multimodality and progressive tasks in our classrooms not only provides alternative routes for our learners, it also creates opportunities for us - and our students - to pick up gold along the way. As expedition leaders, we can observe which paths our adventurers choose, and encourage them to reflect on which are most useful. The activities, strategies, and approaches that our students identify as valuable can be compared with the gold nuggets picked up along the way. These gold nuggets help our students in future learning, and help us to differentiate and better cater for our students’ aptitudes, skills, and levels. Here are some ways you can support your students in finding the gold nuggets that work best for them:
- Build relationships that are meaningful, not just transactional. Allocate time in each lesson to learn about your students’ lives. Find out what inspires them and what they feel passionate about. As well as allowing you to better understand your learners, allowing time for students to talk about themselves also provides valuable communication practice, helping your students to forge stronger bonds between each other, creating a more supportive and inclusive classroom environment.
- Be transparent. Offer full disclosure on why you’re doing what you’re doing and how specific materials and tasks are designed to help your students to progress. Explaining the purpose of tasks, activities and approaches to your students not only supports the development of their learning skills, but also allows them space to respond and evaluate what works best for them.
- Carry out reflection tasks at the end of each lesson. Create tick-box evaluation forms to help your students identify what they found most enjoyable and which tasks and approaches helped them learn most effectively.
By offering our adventurers alternative routes through the learning jungle, we not only increase their chances of reaching their temples, we also allow them to pick up gold along the way.
Eisenmann, M. 2017. ‘Introduction: heterogeneity and differentiation’ in Maria Eisenmann and Theresa Summer (eds.). Basic Issues in EFL Teaching and Learning. Heidelberg: Winter, 297–311.
Magnusson, P. & Godhe, A-L. (2019). Multimodality in Language Education – Implications for Teaching. Designs for Learning: Stockholm University Press. Available from https://www.designsforlearning.nu/articles/10.16993/dfl.127/
Miller, F A, & Katz, J H (2002) The inclusion breakthrough: Unleashing the real power of diversity. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
Tomlinson, C.A. (2017) How to differentiate instruction in academically diverse classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
UNESCO. 2005. Guidelines for Inclusion: Ensuring Access to Education for All. Paris: UNESCO. Available from http:// www.ibe.unesco.org/sites/default/files/Guidelines_for_ Inclusion_UNESCO_2006.pdf
About the Author
Jade Blue is an English language teacher, trainer and materials writer, who teaches and delivers training workshops and seminars in Europe and Japan. Her primary research interests focus on learner-generated visuals in ELT and learner autonomy. She has presented at IATEFL and as a Keynote speaker at The Image Conference. Jade writes her own reflective ELT blog, has been published in Voices and English Teaching Professional, and has contributed to a Routledge publication on Reflective Practice in ELT.