Inclusive Teaching: 10 Ways To Ensure Every Student Excels In School

Inclusive teaching is a compelling concept that can feel overwhelming to implement. Not only are instructors tasked with providing an inclusive classroom environment for students at various academic levels, they must also take into consideration differences in background, learning abilities, mental health, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

It’s therefore imperative for educators to adopt an inclusive teaching framework that levels the educational playing field by providing necessary alternatives and fostering a supportive classroom atmosphere. This requires an intentional, humanized approach, blending “culturally responsive teaching and psychologically inclusive course design,” according to the Humanizing Online STEM project.

Thankfully, you don’t have to redesign your curriculum for inclusive teaching on your own. We’ll show you 10 ways to implement this strategy using interactive classroom technology and other accessibility improvements. Keep reading to find out why inclusive teaching is key to the future of student success and how you can make a difference.

Why is inclusive teaching important?

Inclusive teaching cultivates a learning environment in which every student feels valued and respected. This positive atmosphere instills a sense of belonging and helps students feel safe when participating in discussions or engaging in activities.

For example, quieter students may be hesitant to speak up during class discussions, which not only deprives the class of their input but could hinder their individual comprehension. By providing different avenues to contribute their point of view or questions to discussions—like Poll Everywhere’s anonymous Q&A activity—instructors can gather input from all students.

Additionally, educators can cater to diverse learning styles and abilities when they implement inclusive teaching. This in turn improves academic performance by providing students with alternative methods for participating in class or giving them the freedom to approach assignments in different ways.

A 2023 EDUCAUSE report found that 62-63% of students with a learning disability or mental health disorder were satisfied with technology support at their institution, while only 35-39% of students with mobility or sensory impairments were satisfied. This shows a clear need for further accessibility considerations in classrooms and on campuses.

The benefits of inclusive learning environments are numerous, including not limited to:

  • Encouraging active participation and collaboration
  • Fostering a sense of community in the classroom
  • Exposing students to a wider variety of diverse perspectives
  • Improving knowledge retention
  • Bolstering students’ sense of inclusion and support
  • Developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Improving student well-being

Now, let’s dig a little deeper into inclusive teaching strategies and how to apply them.

10 inclusive teaching strategies

1. Encourage respectful discussions

Be transparent and clear about what’s expected of students from the get-go by outlining rules for behavior in your classroom syllabus. This should include a note about engaging in civil discussions, especially if your course plan includes debates or potentially sensitive topics.

You’ll also want to have strategies on hand to keep discussions on target and considerate of others. Yale’s Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning offers a “Teaching Controversial Topics” guide and Flinders University published “Inclusive Practices for Managing Controversial Issues in the Classroom,” both of which are helpful starting points.

Pronouns are important: Younger generations are more likely to say there are more than two genders, making gender-neutral and other specific pronouns an important consideration during classroom discussions. Portland State University’s guide to pronouns can help instructors prepare their classroom to support and recognize students’ identities.

2. Use think-pair-share activities

Think-pair-share activities start with students individually reflecting on a problem or question and writing down their answers. They then partner with another student and share their answers with each other, discussing thoughts and perspectives and ultimately learning from one another.

This activity promotes peer learning and collaboration and also encourages students to develop a deeper understanding of course concepts. In fact, there are numerous   you can effectively use to implement active learning in your classroom.

Gamification is another alternative learning method that fosters a sense of achievement, collaboration, and friendly competition. Instructors can award badges, track progress in a leaderboard, offer side missions, and use a variety of gamified challenges to keep students engaged.

3. Give your students options

By allowing students to choose how they’ll complete an assignment, such as submitting an essay, presenting on a topic, or building a multimedia project, you can effectively cater to different learning preferences and forms of expression.

Opening the door to unique ways to fulfill assignment requirements can also provide other students with alternative learning methods. For example, a student may decide to submit their assignment as an interactive website and other students may find it easier to understand the topic by clicking through and investigating the site.

Using a variety of assessment methods in your class can provide students a chance to demonstrate their comprehension in different ways. Multiple-choice quizzes can provide different insights into how well students understand the course material compared to project-based  .

4. Offer multiple ways to communicate

Not all students have the luxury of verbal communication, especially now that hybrid and online classrooms are more common. Ensure every one of your students can reach you by implementing a mix of written and digital communication channels in addition to speaking face-to-face. You can also remain open to asynchronous communication alongside office hours.

This can look like emails, discussion forums, Zoom videos with transcripts, and even communication platforms like Slack.

In the fall of 2020, the University of Notre Dame welcomed students back to hybrid classrooms that used Zoom to host and record lectures alongside in-person class time. University students found the Zoom recordings helpful if they needed to catch up on a missed class or review content at a later time—especially for students whose primary language isn’t English.

Did you know? Poll Everywhere integrates with Zoom so you can still send out polls and gather feedback without that frustrating swap between windows and apps.

5. Encourage student feedback

Student feedback, either administered as a diagnostic assessment or in a less formal way, can provide educators with vital insights from learners. This can be taken a step further by allowing anonymous feedback, encouraging students to share their thoughts and concerns without fear of judgment.

Instructors can proactively seek feedback through a number of means, but discussions and surveys may be the easiest to implement. Tech tools like Poll Everywhere allow you to send students quick polls, multiple-choice surveys and Q&A discussions to gather feedback.

Taking action is just as important as inviting feedback. Polls and surveys that don’t result in change or even acknowledgment by the instructor can have the opposite effect where students don’t feel valued or heard.

Bonus tip: Using tech to gather student feedback can improve participation in class. Find out more ways to boost student engagement in our guide.

6. Implement universal design principles

Universal design for learning (UDL) is a framework educators can use to create an inclusive classroom that isn’t overly personalized. The UDL framework focuses on the following contexts:

  • Engagement, or the why of learning
  • Representation, or the what of learning
  • Action and expression, or the how of learning

These three concepts are applicable to multiple aspects of education, such as adding alt text to improve image accessibility, making learning relevant, and assessing engagement alongside knowledge of course content.

UDL is flexible enough to accommodate various teaching methods, learning preferences and abilities.

7. Add diversity to your curriculum

While adjusting your curriculum, check to make sure it includes diverse perspectives from a range of cultures, backgrounds, and experiences. This exposes students to a collection of narratives that inevitably fosters a more open-minded view of the world.

The University of Michigan offers these tips for choosing diverse course content for higher-education classrooms:

  • Include materials created by people of different backgrounds: Consider not only race but gender, political affiliation, socio-economic standing, and religion. By including materials that reflect diverse perspectives, instructors send the message that all voices are valued.
  • Ensure perspectives don’t trivialize or marginalize: Be sure that differing perspectives are given equal space and time in texts and other content used in your course. This can happen when a textbook mentions a differing perspective as a side note (often in a box) or at the end of a chapter.
  • Portray examples as neutral: By not representing others’ policies or viewpoints as good or bad, you encourage students to consider the complexity and background behind those policies and viewpoints.
  • Don’t oversimplify things in black and white: Especially important for racial issues, a thoughtful approach to controversial topics encourages critical thinking and inclusive discussion.

Pro tip: Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs can help students and staff challenge implicit bias and build an intentionally equitable learning experience.

8. Adapt to student needs and preferences

We mentioned using surveys to gather student feedback, and these are also helpful for assessing the needs and preferences of your students.

Taking stock at the beginning of the semester helps you adapt to student learning styles and abilities. For example, you may find during an initial survey that a student has trouble hearing and understanding audio content. Now you can take informed steps to adapt your course materials by providing accessible written alternatives or closed captions.

You should also continue to check for new developments throughout the course, which may stem from:

  • Changes to students’ lives outside the classroom
  • Struggles with certain course content
  • Cultural holidays
  • And more

You can use a similar approach to gauge how well students grasp the current content and adapt your lesson plan to spend more time on difficult subjects or jump ahead.

9. Be on the lookout for implicit bias

We all hope to be open to diverse perspectives and backgrounds, but we’re all subject to bias. By regularly reflecting on your teaching practices and potential biases, you can find opportunities for growth and unlearning personal prejudices.

One way to gain insights into your teaching methods and any implicit biases is to collaborate with your colleagues. ASCD provides four different types of DEI curriculum audits your department can utilize, including diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice audits.

Another way is to seek out books, podcasts, articles, and films that help you identify unwanted biases, learn how to spot and stop microaggressions, and become a better ally. This “Anti-Racism Sources for White People” Google Doc is a great place to start—if the title of the doc seems targeted, keep in mind that in 2021, the majority of full-time faculty (73%) and students (7.8 million) were white.

10. Design coursework for both introverts and extroverts

Different assignment types appeal to different student strengths and weaknesses. For example, a quieter student may not excel at giving a presentation but may turn in an outstanding essay.

In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain makes the point that classroom activities often favor extroverts. They tend to reward students who raise their hands, participate in discussions, and work well in group projects.

As an instructor, there are specific ways you can cultivate more introverted students, but don’t neglect your more extroverted students either.

You can support both by intentionally devising a college classroom that incorporates introverted activities, like silent reading, writing essays, and reflective work, as well as extroverted activities, like group projects, class discussions, and presentations.

Students on the far end of either spectrum may struggle with some of these activities, but these are opportunities for them to overcome weaknesses and either come out of their shells or learn to be comfortable with challenging situations.

Technology like Poll Everywhere fosters inclusivity

Developing technology and new apps make it easier than ever for your students to communicate in a way that works best for them.

That includes Poll Everywhere, which allows you to anonymously survey your students in real time. Ask questions, and they can use a link or code to respond through their phones, tablets, or laptops. Their answers will populate in real-time charts and graphs. You’ll get immediate insight into student preferences, topics they need help with, and how they respond to your teaching style.

By improving accessibility through tech and remaining mindful of inclusive teaching practices, instructors can create a classroom that welcomes and encourages the success of every student.