The Case for Practical Techniques for Inclusive Classrooms: Experiences from Rwanda and Tajikistan
This blog post was originally published by Chemonics. It focuses on specific, practical techniques that teachers have learned through two USAID projects, the Tajikistan Read With Me project and the Soma Umenye project in Rwanda.
While efforts to improve inclusion of learners with disabilities are gaining traction with donors and ministries of education, those efforts largely focus on identification and disability mapping to get policy into place. Approaching inclusive education solely from the lens of policy development leaves the classroom teacher and the children she serves waiting. Practical implementation of low and no-cost techniques and tools that create an inclusive classroom deserve support and attention on par with policy development, identification processes, and disability mapping. Integrating practical modalities now ensures that teachers are better equipped to implement policy and use allocated resources, if or when they start to flow down, and reduces the risk of labeling, stigma, and bigger learning gaps in the meantime. Across the globe, classroom teachers, principals, and specialists are embracing an understanding that they do not need to wait for diagnosis or identification of a child’s disability to teach responsively. And, they are putting that understanding to work.
Through DFID’s Syria Education Programme, teachers use techniques that increase rigor and build trust to ensure a classroom culture that involves everyone. Teacher Fana, Grade 3, uses a version of the stop and jot technique that she calls “Bus Stop,” so that students can support each other in discovery of a concept and learn from each other’s ways of thinking by reading to themselves, reading to someone else, and writing, illustrating, and discussing ideas with each other. Fana’s activity ensures that all students interact and engage with one another, including children with visible or invisible disabilities, learning gaps, or who struggle with self-confidence. Her colleague, Teacher Salima, Grade 4, has honed her use of questioning and intentionally calls on every student, regardless of whether they’ve raised their hand, to increase participation. This technique might seem intimidating to students at first, but Salima has used this approach to foster collaboration and respect, listening carefully to student responses, helping them connect each other’s ideas, and acknowledging different ways of thinking to arrive at a robust answer. Children in her class — even very shy ones — expect Salima to call on them because she values their ideas and wants to hear what they are thinking, not because she wants to catch them off guard.
These efforts reflect a critical shift in perspective that empowers teachers to adopt actions and behaviors that create a more inclusive classroom. When a teacher grapples with large class sizes, limited resources and a difficult operating environment, the best kind of program support focuses on small changes to how instruction is delivered rather than asking teachers to do more. Adding specialized modifications to lesson plans for each learner with a challenge is a lot to ask. It usually requires the efforts of a hero teacher and isn’t a sustainable or reasonable approach.
Access the disability inclusive education online learning module from the Global Education Learning Series
It is reasonable to provide teachers with practical techniques that encourage thinking such as, “If I give 10 seconds of wait time after I ask a question, then everyone can answer,” rather than putting teachers in the position to think, “This student has an auditory processing delay, so what can I do for them? I don’t have time or resources to help.” Integrating practices like wait time into the delivery of existing resources is within a teacher’s sphere of control. She doesn’t have to depend on policy development, budget allocations, or identification to be responsive. She is both equipped and accountable for what she can do, while resources to address vision, hearing, and special needs get sorted out by ministries, donors, and partners.
For example, the USAID Tajikistan Read With Me project equipped teachers with decision-making tools to help them take action when they encounter a general or specific challenge in the classroom. When a teacher notices a student having a particular challenge, she can consult her “If/Then/Do” chart and determine an appropriate intervention to give that student more time, more practice, or more ways to close a learning gap or meet a physical or psychosocial need. Teachers experienced more confidence in making decisions to address student needs and felt more equipped to take on challenges. Teachers felt encouraged to try interventions because the decision-making tool led them to a specific technique made with locally available resources that they could add to their instructional delivery or to a targeted activity. Teachers weren’t given more expensive resources to address specific visible or invisible disabilities. They were given a self-reliant approach to problem-solving connected to an observable learning challenge.
Doing what we can with what we have in each unique country context is core to practical implementation of inclusion in the classroom. In Rwanda, USAID’s Soma Umenye project is rolling out two complementary activities that operationalize Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles in this way. The Kinyarwanda Reading Camps delivered focused remediation to children performing significantly below grade level directly at their instructional level with targeted, explicit phonics lessons and ample time for practice at their independent level with hands-on literacy games and activities. Children demonstrated significant growth, and teachers reported enthusiasm for resources made with locally available materials; they wanted more time to practice using them and shared the desire to use the techniques and activities in their regular classrooms.
Soma Umenye’s UDL pilot supports teachers with techniques that help deliver everyday lessons from the existing teacher’s guide with an inclusive approach. The pilot prepares teachers to recognize typical student challenges in the classroom and to adjust instruction delivery responsively so that all students can participate. Teachers practice judiciously integrating wait time, giving precise cues and clues, prompting student talk and using strategic pairs and grouping, when possible, so that more children can meet the objective of the lesson. Participants note small changes they’ve made in delivery that lead to more engagement with learners of all ability levels. These changes include asking students to act out new vocabulary words rather than the teacher always providing a verbal explanation; sharing a visual schedule with the class at the beginning of the lesson, referring to it throughout so students know what’s coming next; and asking students to work in pairs to identify syllables and target sounds, an activity that involves every student instead of just a few when the teacher calls on them.
Unquestionably, advancing practical implementation of low and no-cost tools and techniques for inclusive education in the classroom is gaining traction with teachers in developing countries. Making small changes through concrete techniques that encourage teachers to deliver scripted lesson plans responsively is the kind of practical support that educators find helpful and motivating and is most likely to lead to positive student learning outcomes while policy evolves and systems strengthen. Chemonics looks forward to collaborations and partnerships on continued efforts that promote inclusive environments where every child has a chance to learn.