Inclusive Classroom Essentials

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

5 Tips to Make Your School Holiday Celebrations More Inclusive

It is well known that the month of December is a joyful and festive time in schools across North America. It signals the end of a term, a lengthy winter break, and a time during which many families engage in cultural celebrations. 

In addition to daily lessons, students participate in concerts, pancake breakfasts, as well as arts and crafts activities during this time. December can be exciting for students!

However, school holiday celebrations can also be a source of stress and anxiety. Students with attention issues can find the repetition of concert practice excrutiating. For students who thrive on routines, the change in routine can make the school day difficult to navigate. Students with social anxiety might suffer at the thought of having to participate in a school performance. Unfortunately, some students find school holiday celebrations very challenging.

Therefore, I encourage educators to use the following tips to make holiday school celebrations more inclusive of students with specific social, emotional, physical, and intellectual needs.

Friday, October 2, 2020

10 Strategies for Teaching Students With Different Ability Levels in Your Classroom

55 million were out of school this past spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. School districts and teachers scrambled to get their classes online with as little disruption to their student's education as possible. However, despite school district's best efforts, students faced issues with equipment availability, poor Wifi, busy home environments, and declining mental health due to social isolation. Even now, with some districts implementing a hybrid model of learning part-time at home and at school there is a struggle to maintain consistency, As a result, our students face many barriers to learning.

So, what will education look like when our students return to their classrooms full time and pre-pandemic learning resumes? There is no doubt that we will see a disaparity in ability levels amongst the students given the time lost learning in a consistent, structured, and equitable educational environment. In fact, a recent study conducted by researchers at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University projected that most students will return to school with, "approximately 63-68% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year and with 37-50% of the learning gains in math."

Classes with Many Different Ability Levels

Thus, teachers can expect to have classrooms that consist of a wider variety of ability levels than ever before. While the typical, pre-pandemic 4th grade classroom might only have several students who require additional time and support with the curriuculm, our post-pandemic classrooms will have greater needs amongst a greater number of students. They will require more individualized support and intensive instruction to help make up for the learning they lost. 

You may wonder how one teacher can possibly provide such personalized assistance to a class of 30 students? It can seem like a daunting, unattainable task for even the most seasoned teachers. However, having taught in multi-age and multi-grade inclusive classrooms for many years, I can assure you that there are several strategies for teaching students with such a vast array of needs! It can be done! So, here are my suggestions.....

10 Strategies for Teaching Different Ability Levels

1. Begin with the right mind-set. All the students in your class are YOUR students. That means it is ultimately your responsiblity to teach them. Yes, you can use the support of the special education teacher, paraprofessional, learning specialists and colleagues. However, your students should be spending most of the day with you, learning as much of the same material as their peers, and recieving their learning supports in your class as to the greatest extent possible.

2. Create a classroom that welcomes all your learners. Give students the message that they belong despite any challenges they face. Help your students adopt a growth-mindset and have regular discussions with them about individual strengths and areas for further development. Explain that everyone learns at different rates and in different ways, which will foster a greater understanding of variation in individual abilities. Teach them the power of adding the word,"yet" when they talk about something they can't do.

3. Know where your students are at academically and know where they can possibly to go. Establish your student's baseline performance and then plan to help them reach further and higher. Presume competence and set high expectations.

4. Look at the over-arching themes for the curriuclum you are working with. If possible, try to create a cross-curricular thematic unit in which students can be learning the same topic but at their developmentally appropriate level. 

5. For each subject, think of your students who are:

  • working at grade level
  • who need support to work at grade level (they understand the material but need extra time with it or help accessing it)
  • who are not yet working at grade level
  • who work beyond grade level
For some subjects, such as ELA and Math, you will want to group students according to ability level. However, there are many opportunities for heterogeneous groupings as well. You can create groups based on interests, learning style, or preference.

6. Using the principles of Universal Design for Learning, design a class lesson that provides ways for your students of different ability levels to access, work with and learn curriculum. For example, you can:

a) Use
mulitple means of introducing the lesson such as showing a video, teaching a song, or reading a story

b) Use multiple ways of having the students interact with material to help them learn such as teaching vocabularly, symbols, using graphic organizers, or provide guided practice

c) Provide multiple ways for students to express their learning such as using different tools (writing, art, presentation) or different activities related to the concept. Choice Boards or Menus are a popular way of giving students ways to express their individual strengths. 

                      Teacher PD Choice Boards, Learning Menus and Playlists

7. Using the class UDL lesson, create tiered activities for the different ability levels. A tiered assigment are parallel activities that are aligned to meet different learning outcomes. For example, if the lesson is on sentences then the tiered activities could look like this:

a) Students who are working at grade level - write 3 complete sentences on any topic

b) Students who need support to work at grade level (they understand the material but need extra time with it or help accessing it) - identify complete sentences from a list

c) Students who are not yet working at grade level - Fill in the blank to complete a sentence (cloze activity).

d) Students who work beyond grade level - write 3 complex sentences (instruction can be given during the class lesson, through video, or via written instructions)

Here is a very simple example of an activity that is tiered. Notice how the second assignment has the addition of a word bank.


8. For subjects that require direct instruction and guided practice (such as ELA and Math) group students according to ability level. Have each group of students meet with you for a developmentally appropriate lesson. While you are providing instruction, assign the other groups relevant work that they can complete independently. For example, they can watch a video, complete word work, journal, read etc.  

Tip: Before you implement learning stations, teach the students what is expected during the time that they are working independently. Teach them how to access materials, get help, transition, and what to do when they are finished. Here is a great resource for implementating stations in your classroom.

Station Rotation Model: Avoid Falling into a Rut |

Source: Catlin Tucker

9. Ensure that your students know how to work independently. I cannot stress this enough!! Give explicit instruction on what is expected of them while you are working with other groups and then practice, practice, practice! For example, they should know:

  • where to work
  • how and when to access materials
  • how to ask for help
  • where to get help
  • what to do with finished work
  • what to do when finished work
  • how to transition to the next task
  • what to do if someone comes to the door or if there is a phone call

10. Try to start with a whole-class lesson as often as possible before breaking away for independent or group work. This creates a sense of community through shared experiences as well as giving all your students equal access the concepts you are teaching. Conversly, bring students back together at the end of a lesson for review or follow-up discussion.


Working in a classroom with multiple ability levels can be draining without the right preparation and supports. Collaborate with your colleagues, share resources, and enlist the help of learning specialists. Start with small and don't be afraid to re-try something if it doesn't work! You've got this :)

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Virtual Accommodations and Modifications

What do a beanbag chair, a living room couch, and a dining room table all have in common? They are just some of the many places where students in the U.S. are attending school this fall. 

The 2020-2021 school year is like no other. Instead of walking to class, many students are now logging in to their laptops and desktop computers to watch their teachers deliver a daily lesson. While some students are thriving online, others are ..........READ MORE HERE. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Work with Me!

Wondering how to make your school and classroom truly inclusive? Want to know more about the process of inclusion? Learn all you need to know about inclusion from an inclusion teacher! 

I am passionate about inclusive education and love to share what I have learned from over 15 years as an inclusion classroom teacher.

If you are eager to learn what inclusive education is, how to successfully include students with special needs in your classroom, advocate for inclusion or find resources, then we need to connect!

I am available for keynote presentations, breakout sessions, workshops, and webinars to organizations and schools interested in successfully including students with disabilities in the classroom. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

10 Easy Ways to Create an Inclusive Virtual Classroom

    Believe it or not, teachers can create inclusive learning environments even though students may not be physically present in the classroom this fall. 

Using research-based teaching strategies and activities, teachers can build an online community that is inclusive of students with a wide variety of abilities and interests. These teaching techniques can facilitate inclusion. Thus, not only will the student be present in the daily lessons, but he or she will also be an active participant. 

Monday, March 16, 2020

Tips for Helping Your Child Learn at Home During the Coronavirus Outbreak

As I write this, my daughter is packing up her dorm room and getting ready to come home from university even though the semester hasn't ended. In response to an outbreak of coronavirus, the school moved all classes online subsequently thrusting her into the world of virtual learning. One, that I'm not sure she is ready for.

My daughter needs to have structure and routine in her life as well as accountability. She prefers visual learning aids and the opportunity to ask questions while learning the new material. Collaboration with peers and class discussions also deepen her understanding of content. All, of which I'm not sure will be as overtly and readily available on a computer screen.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

How to Include Students with Disabilities by Modifying Curriculum in 3 Easy Steps!

Modifying curriculum for students who do not yet have an understanding of grade level content has long been the sole responsibility of the special education teacher. 

However, since the goal of inclusion is to include the student in as much of the general education environment and curriculum as possible, then we have to expect that modifications will occur as frequently as possible across all areas of the educational program. 

Thus, if we want to see full, authentic inclusion exist in our school system then making modifications needs to be the responsibility of EVERY teacher. 

(Read more here.)

Monday, October 7, 2019

What New Teachers Need to Know About Inclusive Classrooms

The more I talk to schools and families about inclusion, the more I realize that one of the biggest barriers to inclusion is the lack of training in teacher education programs. Through no fault of their own, new teachers know very little about inclusion. They are not given the knowledge, skill set, or resources to teach in inclusive classrooms. I would love to be in a situation where I could teach and prepare new teachers for inclusive classrooms but I'm not quite there yet. So, in the meantime, here are a few things that I want new teachers to know about inclusive classrooms.....

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

"Cheat Sheets for Inclusion" All in One Place!

Looking for all those "CHEAT SHEETS FOR INCLUSION" and can't find them? Here they are! All in one place! Download for FREE
These quick-glance sheets give tips, strategies, and information about inclusion. Easy to share with teachers, parents, and school staff. New "CHEAT SHEETS FOR INCLUSION" will be added regularly (Pro tip: they are shared first on The Inclusive Class Newsletter. Just go to and you can sign up for our monthly newsletter!).