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Classroom Interaction

Strategies and tactics to facilitate equity and inclusion within classroom interactions

  1. Collaborate with students on ground rules for discussion that call everyone in to participate, value each student's contribution and set boundaries that respect each person's individual identity and beliefs. From the University of Michigan, here are suggestions:
    • Listen respectfully, without interrupting
    • Listen actively and with an ear to understanding others' views (don’t just think about what you are going to say while someone else is talking)
    • Critique ideas, not individuals
    • Commit to learning, not debating. Comment in order to share information, not to persuade
    • Avoid blame, speculation and inflammatory language
    • Allow everyone the chance to speak
    • Avoid assumptions about any member of the class or generalizations about social groups. Do not ask individuals to speak for their (perceived) social group
  2. Given the power dynamic between instructor and students, democratize the classroom through Liberating Structures. Examples include:
    • Arranging chairs in a circle instead of rows facing the instructor
    • Sitting down (instead of standing at the front of the room) during student discussion
    • Breakout groups for collaborative discuss-and-report
    • Interactive lecture techniques
    • Think-pair-shares
    • Integrating alternate forms of participation
  3. Try the 5 Practices for Facilitating Productive Classroom Discussions based on the book by Margaret Smith and Mary Stein, and discussed for inclusive teaching by VCU Assistant Professor of Mathematics Rani Satyam, Ph.D.:
    • Anticipating: What are likely correct and incorrect student responses?
    • Monitoring: Ask questions to push student thinking and bring errors to light
    • Selecting: Select responses building to main idea and purposefully choose students to contribute (give less confident students time to prepare)
    • Sequencing: Students explain their thinking, from most common, to the more abstract
    • Connecting: Help students strategically analyze
  4. Refer to the following alternative style guides, to be purposefully up-to-date and sensitive with language used in classroom interactions:
  5. Keep in mind that terms that were innocuous in the past may now be considered hurtful. An example: the word ‘minority.’ Many professional organizations have called for a stop to using the word ‘minority,’ including the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ). “The word holds the connotation of an ‘oppressed group.’ The way it is too often utilized minimizes historically marginalized people and promotes erasure.” NAHJ continues, “The people who are considered part of ‘minority groups’ are diverse and deserve the proper context” to be specifically named. Forbes notes that the term ‘minority’ is inaccurate since non-whites already represent a majority of the world’s population.
  6. Be vigilant to avoid microaggressions (comments or actions based on a person’s identity that make them feel uncomfortable or disrespected). Although microaggressions can be common, they are not usually intentional. That’s why it is important to recognize microaggressions and the messages they send [PDF]. There are strategies to avoid microaggressions in online courses [PDF]. Since breakout groups and discussion threads may involve student interactions that are challenging to moderate, transparently stating values/expectations and communicating directly with students are key in managing a safe-for-all online course free of microaggressions.
  7. Deliver accessible presentations and lectures so that each student understands all content. Remember that making a presentation accessible makes it more useful for all students. Accessibility for presentations include:
    • Position presentation/slides in front of you, to avoid looking back.
    • Use a microphone whenever possible, and repeat individual student questions for the benefit of the whole group.
    • Use large, sans serif, bold fonts and simply designed visuals on uncluttered pages with plain backgrounds. Use high contrast colors, checking accessibility with this color contrast checker tool.
    • Describe essential content of visuals, but do not read word-for-word.
    • Use captioning for videos.
    • Provide materials ahead of time for students to follow along.
    • Don’t use jargon and spell out acronyms.
    • Summarize main concepts.
    • Record presentations and lectures for later viewing.
    • Check Powerpoint files for accessibility.
  8. Employing the principles of intentional, active listening can help inform a more inclusive understanding. During interactions with students, in addition to content, intentionally note:
    • energy student shows and if it changes as they talk
    • beliefs they communicate about themselves
    • values embodied in interactions
    • emotion that surrounds the content of what is said
    • personality clues revealed in what they say
    • information conveyed via body language