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Inclusivity In The Classroom: The Practical Importance

Date submitted: 18th May 2019

So what is inclusivity?

Inclusive education is for every student. Every aspect of the curriculum can be tailored for every student, and can aid in understanding others. This means it is not only teachers who have attitudes towards inclusivity, but students learn the notion of inclusivity as well.

Including everyone in opportunities for education and community building should be a central tenet for teachers5 as they plan, teach, and reflect. The school curriculum should have more than caveats for inclusive adaptation; rather, the curriculum and associated pedagogy should reflect the inclusive nature of a societal culture of inclusivity from the outset6, 8. This means that as children interact with each other in a school setting, their understandings of each other come through what they are being taught in a formal sense as well as an informal sense27. Lessons need to have opportunities for students to learn both from teachers as well as each other, as all students have differing viewpoints4, 17. This means the curriculum and pedagogy should combine government-mandated key learning areas with the needs and desires of students and their families15. By neglecting one or the other, we neglect the needs of each child to participate in the world in which they were born, and in the way they were born26. This means in order to include everyone in the classroom teachers should utilise more than just planning – it extends to the attitudes24 and languages7, 12 stemming from this planning into everyday classroom interactions15. Our attitudes to teaching each child and how we represent that through our speech, actions, and overall and specific pedagogy models to students what society should look like, especially with regard to inclusivity. To assess whether students are engaging inclusively, teachers should look at two areas: content knowledge and environmental engagement16. Generally, children who are the best learners have the best engagement in the classroom environment27, so this means teachers should reflect upon whether the classroom environment is a factor for inhibiting or encouraging participation. This reflection essay, just like the inclusivity it is motivated by, should never be a static attitude. Since people and their worlds are always changing, so too the processes for inclusion should be ever-evolving while still desiring student participation in the classroom and school-wide culture8, 9, 18. This means ultimately the school and classroom cultures should be to start with each student and mould the curriculum around their abilities rather than the other way around.

By knowing how and why to include all students, teachers model inclusivity to all students. Through this modelling in the classroom and school environments, students will take these attitudes with them throughout their lives, which will reflect in society. Thus, as long as inclusive education is for everyone, so too will society reflect that all people should be included.

Society is better when this attitude is applied to society as a whole rather than just aspects of it. The aforementioned forms of inclusive education provide opportunities to develop a sense of belonging to a group of people or to a place10, 19. Although theoretical knowledge and government mandated documents and curricula are important in sculpting our classroom and school cultures15, we should "start not with [these] general theories or applications that are suitable for many, but with each individual child,"9, p.XI. How can teachers teach unless they know how students learn? By starting from the student, teachers can create lesson plans inclusively so no student in their class misses out6, 23. This means various aspects of lesson planning accept and celebrate students' differences rather than normalising them8, 13. This also means that students participating in these lesson plans develop these attitudes of inclusivity as well17 since the attitude is designed into the lesson plan alongside the curriculum and key learning areas. By developing these attitudes and understandings of inclusion, students will be able to take these with them throughout their lives20, 21, which in turn creates a more inclusive society. If inclusivity is an innate part of teachers' curriculum, students will develop attitudes beyond mere tolerance, but of acceptance, of empathy, of encouraging one another throughout their lives19, thus creating a society in which inclusivity is a given and not something which needs to taught or re-taught in a university classroom.

So what might inclusivity look like?

All students can become confident, creative, and active and informed learners1. For any particular classroom, a variety of resources can be useful for the school as a whole and for the classroom specifically.

For students to become active and informed learners, they should learn processes of observation an discussion14, since inclusion is a subjective experience23. Books and other literature can be used as a tool for empathetic understandings of students' worlds around them7, 9, 11. By asking questions along the lines of, 'Do you think everyone could see themselves in this story?', and, 'Could this story be improved when you change or include a character?', children may be able to develop these empathetic understandings. These questions may change depending upon the needs of the children as well as their current development within the scope of the curriculum. Both literature which does and does not represent an inclusive viewpoint can be useful teaching tools15. As students discuss different points of view, especially through the 'Think, Pair, Share' model of discussion, they will be able to formulate their own point of view, then compare it with an increasing number of others' points of view.

Varying viewpoints from those with those viewpoints may be beneficial to students in this class2, 3, 19. By inviting into the classroom people who students may not have built a relationship with over time can improve empathetic and inclusive understandings14, 16. Depending upon the class demographics, this may span many people who have felt the effects of a disabiling society, such as one with retinitis pigmentosa, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, or even an ethnicity uncommon to the area. For students to ask questions and discuss a viewpoint directly with someone of the experience means students may have direct access to another's understanding, rather than mere conjecture. Human connection can have a longer-lasting effect on most students when compared with reading something from a book or website25. So by having people willing to share their experiences of how and when they feel included and ostracised by society or people generally can shape how the students can act and react in their lives to come.

By not merely accepting diversity, but embracing it5, 14, teachers' pedagogies and students actions and reaction can contribute to a school-wide culture of inclusivity1, 6, 13, 22. This can be contributed to through the celebration of various national and international celebratory days, such as World Cerebral Palsy Day on 6th February, World Autism Day on 6th April, International Women's or Men's Day on the 8th March or 19th November respectively, as well as various National Days of those who are connected to our class, even if they are not students. These auspicious days can be discussed in a similar vein to the aforementioned literature, with a particular focus on why it is an important day and what it can mean for different people, both now and in the past.

For these students to become successful and lifelong learners20, 21 students should form their own ideas alongside continual discussion between themselves, other students, other people from other backgrounds, as well as engaging with the literature and other cultural understandings surrounding what it means to live in Australia1, 14.

1. Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, (2019). Student diversity. Retrieved from the ACARA website.
2. Beamish, W. & Bryer, F., (2014). Social and emotional learning. In S. Garvis & D. Pendergast (Eds.), Health & wellbeing in childhood (pp. 161-177). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
3. Beamish, W. & Saggers, B., (2014). Strengthening social and emotional learning in children with special needs. In S. Garvis & D. Pendergast (Eds.), Health & wellbeing in childhood (pp. 303-316). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
4. Black, A.L., Busch, G., & Woodrow, C., (2014). Contemplative practices for teaching, leadership, and wellbeing. In S. Garvis & D. Pendergast (Eds.), Health & wellbeing in childhood (pp. 361-376). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
5. Cologon, K., (2014a). Better together: inclusive education in the early years. In K. Cologon (Ed.), Inclusive education in the early years: right from the start (pp.3-26). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
6. Cologon, K., (2014b). Constructing inclusion: putting theory into practice. In K. Cologon (Ed.), Inclusive education in the early years: right from the start (pp.521-539). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
7. Cologon, K., (2014c). Inclusive literacy learning. In K. Cologon (Ed.), Inclusive education in the early years: right from the start (pp.359-380). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
8. Cologon, K., (2014d). 'Not just being accepted, but embraced': family perspectives on inclusion. In K. Cologon (Ed.), Inclusive education in the early years: right from the start (pp.91-114). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
9. Crowther, I., (2011). Creating effective learning environments. Toronto: Nelson Education Ltd.
10. Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations, (2009). Belonging, being & becoming: the early years learning framework for australia. Barton: Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations.
11. Emmitt, M., Zbaracki, M., Komesaroff, L., & Pollock, J., (2010). Language and learning: an introduction for teaching. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
12. Fellowes, J. & Oakley, G., (2011). Language, literacy and early childhood education. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
13. Furze, B., Savy, P., Brym, R., & Lie, J., (2012). Ech126 early childhood in australia: the social context. South Melbourne: Cengage.
14. Graham, L.J., (2014). [Un]becoming behaviour. In K. Cologon (Ed.), Inclusive education in the early years: right from the start (pp.482-499). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
15. Groundwater-Smith, S., Ewing, R., & Le Cornu, R., (2015). Teaching challenges and dilemmas. North Melbourne: Cengage Learning.
16. Hodge, K., (2014). Extending and enriching children's learning. In K. Cologon (Ed.), Inclusive education in the early years: right from the start (pp.500-520). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
17. Lalvani, P., & Bacon, J.K., (2019). Rethinking 'we are all special": anti-ableism curricula in early childhood classrooms. Young Exceptional Children, 22(2), 87–100.
18. Nolan, A., Stagnitti, K., Taket, A., & Casey, S., (2014). Supporting resilience. In S. Garvis & D. Pendergast (Eds.), Health & wellbeing in childhood (pp. 240-252). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
19. Northoff, G., (2008). Are our emotional feelings relational? a neurophilosophical investigation of the james-lange theory. Phenomenology And The Cognitive Sciences, 7(4), 501-527.
20. Peterson, C., (2015). Looking forward through the lifespan. Sydney: Pearson Education Australia.
21. Porter, L., (2016). Young children's behaviour. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
22. Spandagou, I., (2014). Adapting the curriculum in the school years. In K. Cologon (Ed.), Inclusive education in the early years: right from the start (pp.242-260). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
23. Spencer-Cavaliere, N. & Watkinson, E.J., (2010). Inclusion understood from the perspectives of children with disability. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 27, 275-293.
24. Tait, G., (2016). Making sense of mass education. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.
25. Theobald, M., Danby, S., Thompson, C., & Thorpe, K., (2014). Friendships. In S. Garvis & D. Pendergast (Eds.), Health & wellbeing in childhood (pp. 114-132). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
26. UNICEF (2015). A simplified Version of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child. Retrieved from the UNICEF website.
27. Vygotsky, L., Cole, M., John-Steiner, V., Scribner, S., and Souberman, E., (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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