Practicing inclusive pedagogy

The ideas and viewpoints expressed in the posts on the Ideas and Creations blog are solely the view of the author(s). Luther College's mission statement calls us to "embrace diversity and challenge one another to learn in community," and to be "enlivened and transformed by encounters with one another, by the exchange of ideas, and by the life of faith and learning." Alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends of the college are encouraged to express their views, model "good disagreement" and engage in respectful dialogue.

Inclusive pedagogy or inclusive teaching describes instructional strategies used to create engaging learning environments. Inclusive teaching equips students to learn from differences in perspectives, learning styles, cultural and social backgrounds, and exceptionalities in the classroom. Practitioners of inclusive pedagogy vary course design and assessments to give students a number of ways to demonstrate their mastery of the course content and skills.

Inclusive teaching brings students' experiences into the classroom. By validating what students know, we can encourage them to be more confident about their abilities and gifts. Validating students for who they are also invites them to think through the complexities and contradictions inherent in a complex understanding of the world.

Typical strategies that promote inclusion help students to ask deeper questions about what they are learning. Instructors invigorate their classrooms by creating engaging group assignments, organizing student led discussions, developing simulations, designing portfolios, promoting fieldwork and supporting media projects. The instructor not only delivers the content but also develops the students.

Inclusive teaching also builds culturally competent classrooms; places where students learn to communicate effectively across their differences. If we want students to learn and grow both as people and as masters of their disciplines, it is essential to work with the different approaches, views, interests and values they bring to the classroom. If we honor these differences, students can become more flexible in their perspectives without sacrificing their deepest commitments.

Inclusive pedagogy is built on four foundational principles:

Focusing on teaching and learning

At Luther, effective teaching is shaped both by rigorous academic content and by the desire for students to build efficacy, resiliency and a range of interpersonal skills. Luther has some unbelievably dedicated teachers.

Building classrooms where students feel valued, respected and safe

Students need to feel that they belong in your class and at Luther. Building community encourages learning.

Acknowledging the different experiences and interests that students have and bringing those differences into class discussions

A liberal arts education provides opportunities for professors and students to get to know each other as individuals. Professors can interrupt the hasty judgments and stereotypes that threaten student learning. At Luther, professors can respond to students' abilities, interests and needs.

Helping students become more culturally competent by teaching critical thinking and practicing intercultural communication skills

Instructors can use discussion techniques to create open and responsive communities where students learn to value multiple ways of knowing and learning. At Luther, students' and teachers' backgrounds and perspectives can be discussed and questioned so that cultural differences are understood and "bridged to" rather than denied or minimized.

In conclusion, inclusive pedagogy or inclusive teaching is content specific and student-centered. An inclusive classroom is safe enough for students to think through the complexities, contradictions and possibilities inherent in a complex understanding of the world.

Sheila Radford-Hill

Sheila Radford-Hill

Sheila Radford-Hill is an educator, author and community activist who became the first executive director of the Luther Diversity Center in August 2003. Her responsibilities involve extending the benefits of diversity at the college and serving faculty and students as a resource for inclusion. She is a faculty associate who teaches Paideia II courses and a course in English, Africana studies, and women and gender studies.

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