“Diversity is inviting someone to a party. Inclusion is asking them to dance.” John Dyer.
I saw this quote on twitter last weekend and it has been haunting me. I think that one of the loneliest times is when you are part of a group, but not really. It is like break time at a conference when you know no one; it is like being on the volleyball court but not feeling like you can really play; it is like being invited to a party but then no one talks to you and you aren’t sure how to enter the conversation. And, I wonder what it is like for our vulnerable students who have been invited to be part of our classrooms but may not feel like they belong.
True inclusion in a classroom is really hard for both the student and the teacher. We know that students who are successful at being included, despite having learning disabilities or behavioural problems or physical disabilities, are those who have a strong sense of self, who are able to take risks, who advocate for themselves. When you feel lonely or out of place, those are hard things to be. For teachers, trying to find tasks that meet everyone’s learning needs is tricky. It is often difficult to find the extra time to work with vulnerable students. And, it can be frustrating when these vulnerable students don’t appear to want our help.
Recognizing that it is a difficult task, here are some ideas that might make our vulnerable students feel like they are being asked to dance….
- Make sure that they think you really and truly like them. Study after study has determined that students do better when they have a relationship with their teachers. This does not mean that you do not have high expectations for them or let them “get away” with stuff. But, they have to think you care. And, since they aren’t used to thinking that anyone cares, you will probably have to make more than your average effort.
- Have open-ended tasks. When we have tasks with multiple entry points then everyone can join in. Or, offer a choice of tasks: have 3 – 4 possible problems in math class; have a choice of graphic organizers in subject classes; allow students a choice of writing topics or books to read.
- Don’t let students pick their partners. When students choose their own partners, often our vulnerable students are left out. Again, it’s like being given a dance partner instead of being asked to dance. For each group or partner activity, think carefully about whether you want random groupings, homogeneous groupings or heterogeneous groupings. There are good reasons for all three. Be planned and purposeful about how you group. For more information about grouping see this post.
- Modify the class task if possible; don’t give an alternate task. There is nothing like feeling excluded when the class gets the white worksheet and you get the pink one that is obviously “easier” than everyone else’s. (I admit I used to do this because it was easier for me as a teacher to organize.) Often you can modify the class task by limiting the number of questions or changing the format slightly. If you know how it needs to be modified but don’t have the time, ask your EA to do it while you are teaching the first part of the lesson. (I am happy to help, too).
- Do have high expectations. It would be awful to not be asked to dance because no one thought you could. Be careful that the help provided is not in the form of “getting the assignment done” but that the assignment is at the right challenge level for the student. At the end of finishing an assignment we want all students to feel that they actually did something important, not that someone got them through something they didn’t understand.