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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 teachers (Cologon, 2014a) 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 outset (Cologon, 2014b, 2014d). 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 sense (Vygotsky, et al., 1978). Lessons need to have opportunities for students to learn both from teachers as well as each other, as all students have differing viewpoints (Black, et al., 2014; Lalvani & Bacon, 2018). This means the curriculum and pedagogy should combine government-mandated key learning areas with the needs and desires of students and their families (Groundwater-Smith, et al., 2015). 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 born (UNICEF, 2019). This means in order to include everyone in the classroom teachers should utilise more than just planning – it extends to the attitudes (Tait, 2016) and languages (Cologon, 2014c; Fellowes & Oakley, 2011) stemming from this planning into everyday classroom interactions (Groundwater-Smith, et al, 2015). 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 engagement (Hodge, 2014). Generally, children who are the best learners have the best engagement in the classroom environment (Vygotsky, et al., 1978), 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 culture (Cologon, 2014d; Crowther, 2011; Nolan, et al., 2014). 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.

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 place (Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR], 2009; Northoff, 2008). Although theoretical knowledge and government mandated documents and curricula are important in sculpting our classroom and school cultures (Groundwater-Smith, et al., 2015), we should "start not with [these] general theories or applications that are suitable for many, but with each individual child," (Crowther, 2011, 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 out (Cologon, 2014b; Spencer-Cavaliere & Watkinson, 2010). This means various aspects of lesson planning accept and celebrate students' differences rather than normalising them (Cologon, 2014d; Furze, Savy, Brym, & Lie, 2012). This also means that students participating in these lesson plans develop these attitudes of inclusivity as well (Lalvani & Bacon, 2018) 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 lives (Peterson, 2015; Porter, 2016), 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 lives (Northoff, 2008), thus creating a society in which inclusivity is a given and not something which needs to taught or re-taught in a university classroom.

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.

So what might inclusivity look like?

All students can become confident, creative, and active and informed learners (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA], 2019). 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 discussion (Graham, 2014), since inclusion is a subjective experience (Spencer-Cavaliere, & Watkinson, 2010). Books and other literature can be used as a tool for empathetic understandings of students' worlds around them (Cologon, 2014c; Crowther, 2011; Emmitt, et al., 2010). 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 tools (Groundwater-Smith, et al., 2015). 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 class (Beamish & Bryer, 2014; Beamish & Saggers, 2014; Northoff, 2008). By inviting into the classroom people who students may not have built a relationship with over time can improve empathetic and inclusive understandings (Graham, 2014; Hodge, 2014). 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 website (Theobald, et al., 2014). 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 it (Cologon, 2014a; Graham, 2014), teachers' pedagogies and students actions and reaction can contribute to a school-wide culture of inclusivity (ACARA, 2019; Cologon, 2014b; Furze, et al., 2012; Spandagou, 2014). 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 learners (Peterson, 2015; Porter, 2016) 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 Australia (ACARA, 2019; Graham, 2014).

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