How can college instructors teach more inclusively?

Instructors seeking to engage with a more diverse student body, minimize inequities, and ensure student success are finding it beneficial to create more structured classrooms and consider inclusion in every teaching decision, two UNC professors write in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Viji Sathy, a teaching associate professor of psychology and neuroscience and an administrator in the office of undergraduate education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Kelly A. Hogan, an associate dean of instructional innovation and a STEM teaching professor in biology, emphasize the importance of increasing classroom structure as a way to reach more students without harming those who don’t need it.

Recognizing that students have “different cultural backgrounds, personalities, learning differences, and confidence levels,” Sathy and Hogan recommend that instructors revisit their “syllabus, assignments, tests, and pedagogy,” adding that “all students appreciate and thrive from additional structure, and some benefit disproportionately.”

Increase contemplation time

Sathy and Hogan outline several tips for interacting inclusively with students, starting with offering periods of silence in the classroom, which gives students the opportunity to think and write their ideas down before discussions. This lowers the risk of students monopolizing the conversation while leaving others behind, and prevents students from accepting other ideas before considering their own.

Diversify engagement options

They also recommend deliberately counteracting common self-perceptions that stunt learning, such as impostor syndrome or a fixed mind-set. They suggest allowing for anonymous participation—using notecards and clickers, for example—as a way to include some introverts or those holding a minority opinion on a particular topic. Other tactics include connecting with students personally by using their names, inviting them to share their pronouns, and sending notes to students to acknowledge their success on an exam or paper.

Reduce stakes of tests

Looking at course design, Sathy and Hogan say that instructors should lecture less, consider how students’ interests might intersect with the course content, give lots of low-stakes quizzes, reduce the stakes of major assignments, and share typical test questions to help students understand what they are likely to encounter on exams.

The authors say these methods—which have been tried in both small and large classrooms—led to “narrowed achievement gaps, increased interest in our disciplines, fewer students off-task in our classrooms, and more students expressing their thanks at the end of a semester.”

Topics in this story

Next Up

High default rates among students who drop out further fueling completion efforts

The loan default rate for students who leave college early is three times that of students who graduate. A new book shows how schools are intervening to keep students on track.