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. 

Most importantly, students will continue to have opportunities to develop their social, emotional, physical, and intellectual abilities. 
In this post, I list 10 easy ways for teachers to make their virtual classroom inclusive of all students, regardless of ability. It is important to note that the activities are suggested with the following assumptions in mind:

   Your students have access to the school learning platform.
   Your students has the necessary supports in place to be able to use the school learning platform.
   Your students are participating in a way that is most appropriate and comfortable for them.

   The activities will be delivered using the appropriate  goals, accommodations, and modifications that are outlined in the student’s 504 Plan or Individual Education Plan. 

All About Me! – This traditional beginning-of-the-year activity doesn’t have to be dropped just because classes are online. Use this activity (whether by survey, questionnaire, or project) to find out about your student’s likes, dislikes, learning preferences, favorite subjects, and more. The wealth of information that you collect will help you plan future lessons and activities. Check out this great example from teacher Catlin Tucker who recommends making the survey as an assignment rather than an option. Here is another example from Modern Homeschool Family:

Free Printable All About Me Worksheet - Modern Homeschool Family

Set the Stage – Even though instruction will be delivered virtually, it is still important to set student expectations. Furthermore, these expectations should be explicitly taught so all students understand what is asked of them. For example, students must learn how to respond to instruction appropriately online. The teacher might have them use an emoji, a hand signal, or respond in the chat box depending on the lesson. Have a look at this video that discusses classroom etiquette when learning online. 

Routine Round-Up – Ensure that routines are established in your virtual classroom. Routines provide predictability and security in addition to helping students develop their executive functioning skills. For example, create routines for students to sign in and out of class, submit homework, and take bathroom breaks during instruction. You can use this checklist by Carrie Presley to help you create your own procedures. 

Make a Class Motto – Class mottos are a great way to develop a positive, class culture. They can help build class relationships, confidence, and purpose. With your class, brainstorm a motto that you and your students can refer to at different times in the school day and/or year. Have a look at these helpful steps for making a class motto! Also, check out my teacher resource book, Inclusion in Action, for reasons why class mottos are essential.

Morning Meeting – This powerful activity can be just as effective online as it is in the physical classroom. Regardless of grade, set aside some time at the beginning of the school day to welcome students to class, outline the agenda for the day, make important announcements, and ask students how they are doing. Check out this link for examples of Morning Meeting activities that can be adapted for a variety of grade levels. 

Who Am I?  - Now, more than ever, our students need to connect with one another. Social distancing and self-isolation over the past few months severely limited the time that students interacted with one another. Make sure to build time in the day for students to socialize and build relationships. Games such as, “Guess Who” is a great icebreaker that allows students to share information about themselves. Classmates are given clues about a “mystery student” (such as their favorite sport or favorite place to visit) and asked to guess their identity. Look at this link for an example of a “Who Am I” template which can be adapted for different grade levels. 

Vision Boards – This school year will look vastly different is so many ways. In addition to the virtual instruction that will take place, many school traditions and events will be altered. For a lot of students, these activities are “benchmarks” in the progression of the school year. They signal important dates, breaks in the school year, and the end of the school year. To compensate for a school year that might look differently, ask students to set their own benchmarks whether they are academic, physical, or personal. For example, a student might set a goal to complete a project, or learn a new skill by spring break. Go here to see some examples of vision boards. 

Liam's Vision Board - English 8EP - Williams
Vision Board English 8EP

Freeze Game – Not all our students will be able to sit and pay attention to a class lesson on a computer screen. Be sure to build in breaks that get kids moving and keep their brain engaged in learning. Playing a simple game such as “Freeze” will give all kids some time to shake, squirm, and wiggle. Simply ask the students to stop what they are doing and move their bodies in some way (dance, jump, shake, etc.). As soon as you say the word, “Freeze”, they are to immediately stop (no matter what position they are in). Make sure to explain the activity before trying it and practice it a few times so students understand how the game works. This video offers some different ways of playing the game and can be adapted to the online learning environment.

Let’s Do Lunch – Building connections with our students online is just as important as it is in the physical classroom. Students still feel the need to belong in a safe, warm, and welcoming environment. In return, teachers have the opportunity to get to know their student’s interests, talents, and challenges. Invite a small group of students (depending on the student and their comfort level) to have a virtual lunch break with you. Rotate the students through the year and enjoy the time you have getting to know them! Here is an example on how to plan a virtual lunch with your students. 

Mistakes are Meant to be Made – As students adjust to a way of learning, teachers can create a safe online space where patience is practiced and mistakes can be made. In this activity borrowed fromZoo U, students turn “mistakes” into masterpieces. Using a doodle created by the teacher, students can work together or independently to turn the doodle into a drawing. Afterwards, the students can share their artwork and discuss how oftentimes the mistakes we make aren’t so bad after all. Go to this link and show your students some examples of accidental art!

Can you think of any more? Be sure to comment below! 

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