Megan Heaney is a sixth-grade language arts and math teacher at The Windward School, a school designed to give children with dyslexia and language-based learning disabilities the skills they need to achieve their potential. She attended Manhattan College for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in elementary and special education with a concentration in mathematics. Her New York State certifications include Childhood Education (Grades 1-6) and Students with Disabilities (Grades 1-6).
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?
Although there are many instructional strategies, I believe the single most effective inclusive instructional strategy for students facing learning challenges is equal participation. In order to be inclusive of all students, I ensure that each of my students participate as close to an equal amount of times per class as possible. Since some students are hesitant to raise their hand in class to answer a question or offer a comment, I work together with the student to find a way to prompt them to participate.
For example, the student and I create a nonverbal cue together to remind the student to join in. Another option some students prefer is a hand signal or tap on the desk before calling on them for the next question, so they are prepared to participate. This helps foster a warm classroom community in which everyone feels welcome and eager to contribute. Additionally, equal participation guarantees that each student’s voice is heard, thus instilling in each student that they are vital to our classroom community. This is especially important for students who face learning differences, so they know their voice is just as important as everyone else’s and deserves to be heard.
Once students know they are essential in my class community, they trust and respect me as a teacher. They know that I understand their strengths and weaknesses and can help scaffold them when responding to an inferential or higher-level question. Therefore, they feel proud about participating and gain confidence since they were able to answer the question accurately. As a result of equal participation, students remain engaged throughout the lesson and I am able to informally assess students’ understanding, which supports being inclusive of all students’ needs.
"As a result of equal participation, students remain engaged throughout the lesson and I am able to informally assess students’ understanding, which supports being inclusive of all students’ needs."
In addition, I like to find new and exciting ways to vary participation in order to involve all students. Incorporating each student’s name and something about them into math word problems or including a fun fact about each student in a writing lesson are two approaches. Certainly, including each student throughout class discussions is key for an inclusive community, especially with students facing learning challenges.