The role of talk in an inclusive classroom

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on 17 January 2017.

Equity and inclusive education for all students is paramount to what we do as teachers. There is greater diversity in many classrooms than ever before and expectations that students have the relevant intercultural communication skills.

The classroom teacher plays a huge role in ensuring the classroom environment and culture helps every student feel accepted, safe and challenged to learn as much as possible (Sperry Smith, 2013).

There is a definite relationship between talk and inclusion. Communication between teacher and student and between students is essential in order to build strong relationships consisting of mutual trust and respect. From a constructivist view of learning, talk is also essential to students’ understanding of new information within their existing schema.

Setting up an inclusive classroom: changing practices

While I like to think I have a pretty inclusive classroom environment, there’s always room to improve. At the conclusion of a Navitas professional development course, we were encouraged to reflect upon our own teaching practices and how we might transform them.

Most of these changes that I plan to make to my own practice revolve around active, hands-on involvement in learning. Tempting as it is to keep full control and read from the PowerPoint slides, here we go!

  1. Get to know your students’ capabilities and provide appropriate scaffolding. Keeping Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) theory front-of-mind helps develop a mindset of making sure students are included through appropriately tailored learning, not left unsupported.
  2. Plan to spend the extra time and effort on relationships. It takes time to establish rapport, build relationships with students and foster relationships amongst students. This creates an environment where students feel safe enough to share and understand that what they have to say matters.
  3. Emphasise equal participation and the equal worth and value of each person within the classroom (Churchill et al, 2013). As Martin Luther King said, “Equality means dignity”.
  4. Adopt an interactive approach. We should be working closely with our students, listening, encouraging ideas, and providing adequate scaffolding when necessary.
  5. Provide a variety of engaging experiences and activities that require collaboration. Collaboration enhances problem-solving skills through hearing about different approaches, allowing students and teachers to gain insight into what others are thinking, allowing problems to be refined and new insights into thinking to be achieved. Use the simple ‘think-pair-share’ to get people talking with one peer then sharing with the class. Change it up with peer tutoring, pairing a knowledgeable student with a student with less understanding of the topic. There are many combinations for peer collaboration – that is, for pairing students to find a solution to a problem that they may otherwise have been unable to solve independently (Jones, 2012).
  6. Encourage students to share their experiences orally. I really believe in letting students talk. When I stop my PowerPoint and stop talking, students begin verbalising their own learning out loud.
  7. Encourage students to reflect on their work – what they did well and what they could have done better next time. Get everybody talking within the classroom to share their reflections and metacognitive strategies that can help in future.

The relationship between talk and inclusion is clear. Also, self-verbalisation is one of the most effective ways for students to learn.
And, if you really need another reason, talking and building these relationships makes teaching and learning so much more enjoyable!

How do you plan for purposeful student talk? Check out David Barrs’ work (including a video and infographics) on ways to reduce unaware teacher talk and increase purposeful student talk.

Watch my full presentation on inclusivity and talk below:

To continue the discussion or to share your own practice, please contact  Learning and Teaching Services.