Thursday, 10 September 2015

Creating an inclusive learning environment

An inclusive learning environment is one where everyone who is present feels included, and is able to actively engage while feeling safe and welcome. Importantly it also recognises and takes into account differences between learners, and values and encourages diversity. This is especially pertinent when the classroom is made up of people from different cultural backgrounds and languages, as is often the case in South Africa.

Impact of classroom climate on learning and performance

The climate in the classroom is a critical factor in the success of learning. It can make a huge difference. A warm, welcoming, safe, inclusive and nurturing space is much more likely to aid learning than a sterile, intimidating, unwelcoming one.

Teaching is a social activity and depends on the interaction between teacher and learner. We need to always bear this in mind, as the teacher’s approach and the climate he or she creates can have a big impact on learning and performance.

Here are some of the more specific ways in which an inclusive classroom climate positively affects learning and performance:

Participation in knowledge sharing
In an inclusive climate learners are more likely to participate in discussions and other interactions, as they feel that their contribution is valued. They are more likely to volunteer knowledge and opinions and to make a contribution, which benefits both the group and the individual. In a non-inclusive climate where not everyone feels equally valued, those who don’t will withdraw from participating.

Emotional reactions
More often than not, an inclusive learning classroom is filled with learners who have enthusiasm for learning and a desire for discovery, who have higher levels of self satisfaction and who take pride in their contributions and achievements. These emotions further reinforce the willingness and enjoyment of learning and contribute to the learner’s success.

Motivation for learning
Learners in an inclusive classroom environment are typically more motivated. This increased motivation is linked to the positive emotional experience mentioned above. By contrast, a non-inclusive classroom environment causes negative experiences like boredom or withdrawal.

Meeting expectations
Learners tend to perform in a way that is related to the expectations that are placed on them by the teacher. A learner who is expected and encouraged to do well will approach the task with more motivation and generally have better results as a consequence. This is also known as the Pygmalion effect, where learners meet the expectations of teachers if they believe that the teacher thinks they are smart and capable. Significantly, the opposite also occurs: when learners perceive that stereotypical negative expectations are being placed on them – for example, that underprivileged children don’t perform well – they tend to under perform, not matter how capable they actually are.

Another important characteristic of an inclusive learning environment is that it allows the teacher to use his or her authority to empower everyone to take ownership of the learning process. This requires recognising and including the perspectives of all the learners in the classroom, so that none of them will feel left out due to their perspectives not being represented, which can cause them to withdraw.

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