Faculty Spotlight Series: Julia Di Capua on Effective Inclusive Instructional Strategy

Stephanie Huie

Westchester Middle School Teacher Ms. Di Capua shares her expertise on the single most effective inclusive instructional strategy for teaching students with learning challenges. 

The Windward School is a learning community that recognizes the profession of teaching is a craft that takes an incredible amount of study, practice, and reflection to perfect. Thus, it is part of the School's mission to develop a faculty that is expert in teaching children with language-based learning disabilities. In our Faculty Friday series, we will be highlighting Windward faculty members and their expertise on a variety of educational topics. 

What is the single most effective inclusive instructional strategy you have used with students facing learning challenges?  

The single most effective inclusive instructional strategy I have utilized with students facing learning challenges involves taking a breath and counting to three, five, or perhaps even ten after posing a question to students. This simple strategy is aptly referred to as “wait time”: the amount of time a teacher waits before calling on a student to respond. Put simply, there is a direct relationship between an increase in wait time and student participation for all learners. 

Teachers almost always feel pressed for time. A popular line expressed in the hallways or in the teacher’s lounge is, “There is never enough time in the period,” and this often is the case. However, lost in that line of thought is the fact that teachers have an enormous amount of control over their allotted time. As teachers, we control and manipulate every second of classroom time. As such, we are always making decisions about whether we dedicate it to questioning, listening to student responses, reading, writing, and hopefully some healthy laughs. Providing students with sufficient wait time is merely giving them the time they need to engage, and it is an easy reallocation of a few of the precious seconds teachers have in each period. 

Providing students with sufficient wait time is merely giving them the time they need to engage, and it is an easy reallocation of a few of the precious seconds teachers have in each period. 

Many students facing learning difficulties, particularly language-based challenges, require additional time to process information and formulate both written and oral responses. As teachers, we want our students to engage meaningfully with content, and, above all, to participate. Without student participation, teachers cannot gauge comprehension, modify, or correct responses, and, perhaps most importantly, provide students with positive reinforcement. Yet, so many teachers have fallen into the trap of calling on the first eager learner who raises his or her hand. While the moments following a teacher question might feel closer to a millisecond, it is often not enough time for many students to even begin processing the information at hand. The result is discrete but profoundly tragic.  

In fact, not utilizing appropriate wait time is virtually the equivalent of placing noise cancelling headphones on students’ ears and then expecting them to answer a question or offer a thoughtful comment. If students cannot process, they cannot comprehend, and how could one participate without having first grasped the question? The terrible irony is that in daily life we would almost never encourage students to rush, and we certainly praise those who took time and care to complete tasks. Therefore, this simple instructional strategy is key. 

While there are countless educational strategies circulating and trending in teacher education programs and schools, we must return to the basics. Rather than focusing on not having enough time, we must utilize our time wisely and lean into the simple concept of wait time. Above all, using this inclusive instructional strategy means maintaining dignity and respect for all learners. It involves leveraging quality over quantity of teacher questions and student responses and creating a space in which all students are given the opportunity to engage.