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A framework for inclusive teaching

Inclusive teaching is not about lowering standards. Instead, it is about ensuring our students can work in a way that enables them to fulfil their academic potential by enabling them to work effectively in a way that is transparentefficient, and flexible.

Rethinking the narrative of inclusivity

The term inclusion can be difficult to define and measure (Neely-Barnes and Elswick, 2016: 145), which can result in a lack of clarity regarding how to implement meaningful practical changes.

Whilst the motivation behind inclusive teaching is positive, in reality this can be problematic and daunting when teaching a large cohort of students with potentially very different needs. This is largely due to the fact that the dominant narrative on inclusion focuses on notions of ‘individual difference’. Therefore, the challenge for higher education, is to move beyond labels, which seek to categorise individual difference.

Patterns beyond labels

Many students from traditionally marginalised groups will face similar challenges in the context of learning in Higher Education. It is also important to note that these students do not experience distinctly different challenges than those of the wider student cohort. Rather, they often experience a more exaggerated version of the difficulties that all students face. Therefore, if we tailor our teaching and learning to meet the needs of this particular cohort, then all students will benefit. This becomes possible when we identify patterns in difficulty across three key areas of inclusion:

  • Physical inclusion: this refers to the learning environment and access to learning. For example, ramp access to buildings; recording of lectures.
  • Cultural inclusion: this refers to the content we teach and the examples we use. For example, having examples that are relevant to your students; decolonising curricula.
  • Cognitive inclusion: this refers to how students assimilate, process, recall and synthesise the knowledge we impart. For example, breaking up lectures with interactive activities; mapping out steps in a process.

Applying the ‘Patterns Before Labels’ model

Explore how the Patterns Before Labels model can be used to support thinking and practice in particular areas of curriculum and teaching development:

Supporting the needs of all learners

The pyramid model shown here (adapted from Wray, 2018) provides a useful way of conceptualising how to best support students. As well as the type of support a student requires, it can also be useful to think about the level of support needed. This can help to clarify expectations for staff and students and enables you to provide support which is more flexible and responsive, according to students’ potentially fluctuating support needs.

General approaches to teaching and learning

Inclusive practice can be developed as part of your general teaching and learning provision (the bottom tier of the pyramid model). Embedded inclusive approaches will support all students to succeed and promote opportunities for learning which are effective, efficient, and flexible. Developing inclusive practice will also help to anticipate student needs which will, in turn, reduce the need to make adjustments for individual students.

Tailored provision for individual students based on specific needs

In addition to general approaches to inclusive teaching and learning, student Disability Action Plans (DAPs) outline individual adjustments associated with specific support labels which will enable them to fully access and engage with the curriculum (middle tier).

Signposting for specialised support

As well as supporting your students within the curriculum, there are various professional services which can provide additional support to students (upper tier). A student’s support needs may fluctuate over time and it may be necessary to signpost students to further support. For example, students with a DAP may also be able to access specialised provision to support them such as mentoring or study skills. Students may also require access to specialised provision such as counselling.

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