Audrey Spencer explains why disability identification and policy reform alone can leave teachers and students waiting and calls for more immediate, practical techniques to create inclusive classrooms.
While efforts to improve inclusion of learners with disabilities are gaining traction with donors and ministries of education, those efforts largely focus on identification and disability mapping to get policy into place. Approaching inclusive education solely from the lens of policy development leaves the classroom teacher and the children she serves waiting. Practical implementation of low and no-cost techniques and tools that create an inclusive classroom deserve support and attention on par with policy development, identification processes, and disability mapping. Integrating practical modalities now ensures that teachers are better equipped to implement policy and use allocated resources, if or when they start to flow down, and reduces the risk of labeling, stigma, and bigger learning gaps in the meantime. Across the globe, classroom teachers, principals, and specialists are embracing an understanding that they do not need to wait for diagnosis or identification of a child’s disability to teach responsively. And, they are putting that understanding to work.
Through DFID’s Syria Education Programme, teachers use techniques that increase rigor and build trust to ensure a classroom culture that involves everyone. Teacher Fana, Grade 3, uses a version of the stop and jot technique that she calls “Bus Stop,” so that students can support each other in discovery of a concept and learn from each other’s ways of thinking by reading to themselves, reading to someone else, and writing, illustrating, and discussing ideas with each other. Fana’s activity ensures that all students interact and engage with one another, including children with visible or invisible disabilities, learning gaps, or who struggle with self-confidence. Her colleague, Teacher Salima, Grade 4, has honed her use of questioning and intentionally calls on every student, regardless of whether they’ve raised their hand, to increase participation. This technique might seem intimidating to students at first, but Salima has used this approach to foster collaboration and respect, listening carefully to student responses, helping them connect each other’s ideas, and acknowledging different ways of thinking to arrive at a robust answer. Children in her class — even very shy ones — expect Salima to call on them because she values their ideas and wants to hear what they are thinking, not because she wants to catch them off guard.
These efforts reflect a critical shift in perspective that empowers teachers to adopt actions and behaviors that create a more inclusive classroom. When a teacher grapples with large class sizes, limited resources and a difficult operating environment, the best kind of program support focuses on small changes to how instruction is delivered rather than asking teachers to do more. Adding specialized modifications to lesson plans for each learner with a challenge is a lot to ask. It usually requires the efforts of a hero teacher and isn’t a sustainable or reasonable approach.
It is reasonable to provide teachers with practical techniques that encourage thinking such as, “If I give 10 seconds of wait time after I ask a question, then everyone can answer,” rather than putting teachers in the position to think, “This student has an auditory processing delay, so what can I do for them? I don’t have time or resources to help.” Integrating practices like wait time into the delivery of existing resources is within a teacher’s sphere of control. She doesn’t have to depend on policy development, budget allocations, or identification to be responsive. She is both equipped and accountable for what she can do, while resources to address vision, hearing, and special needs get sorted out by ministries, donors, and partners.