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Inclusive Classrooms

If what is meaningful and important to a teacher is to become meaningful and important to a student, the student must feel valued by teachers for his or her potential as a person—not as a representative of the race, not as a means to university diversity, not as a weakness to be strengthened.
Lisa Delpit

Learning depends on active engagement, a principle that animates many conversations about effective teaching. Students vary, however, and effective teachers develop strategies for engaging the entire range of learners in their classrooms.

The foundational principle for making classrooms inclusive is to insure that every student in the classroom feels welcomed and valued as a member of the learning community. In Profoundly Multicultural Questions, Sonia Nieto argues that efforts to create inclusive classrooms must be coupled with analysis of the larger institutional structures in which those classrooms operate. Such an analysis will generate questions about the race, ethnic, gender and class background of students in particular courses or programs of study (calculus, for instance, versus precollege math), about the scheduling of classes (rooms, buildings, times), about the qualifications of and support for instructors, and about the provisions for supporting students’ lives outside the classroom.

In an effort to create and sustain inclusive classrooms, many learning community programs include coaching for college readiness as an explicit part of their curriculum. In addition, some campuses create learning community programs to attract and support specific student populations who may not be well served by the general curriculum. For a cohort of multi-lingual students, for example, educators at The University of Minnesota-Duluth created a learning community that combines basic writing, “ESL” reading, and world geography. Learning communities have also been developed to support returning students, women in science and engineering, and first-year African-American men.

The focus on integrative and interdisciplinary learning offers ample opportunities for inviting students to connect their background knowledge and experience with their academic courses in the context of addressing real-world problems. Learning community pedagogy, with its focus on active and collaborative learning and emphasis on students’ own sense-making processes, provides another important avenue for creating inclusive classrooms.


Full Participation: Building the Architecture for Diversity and Public Engagement in Higher Education
Susan Sturm, Timothy Eatman, John Saltmarsh, and Adam Bush. Columbia University Law School: Center for Institutional and Social Change. 2011.

"Multiplication is for White People": Raising Expectations for Other People's Children
Lisa Delpit. New York, NY: The New Press. 2011.

Higher Education and First-Generation Students: Cultivating Community, Voice, and Place for the New Majority
Rashné Rustom Jehangir. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan. 2010.

The Light in their Eyes: Creating Multicultural Learning Communities
Sonia Nieto. 10th Anniversary edition. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. 2009.

Teaching Inclusively: Resources for Course, Department, and Institutional Change in Higher Education
Matthew L. Ouellett, editor. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press. 2005.

Diversity, Educational Equity, and Learning Communities
Emily Lardner, with others. Learning Communities & Educational Reform monograph series. Olympia, WA: Washington Center. Summer 2005.

Approaching Diversity Through Learning Communities
Emily Decker Lardner. Chapter 7 in Sustaining Learning Communities. Jodi Levine Laufgraben and Nancy S. Shapiro, editors. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2004.

ESL Students in College Composition: The Writing Teacher in Search of a Stance
Francie Blake, Ramon Diaz, Steve Jones, and Girija Nagaswami. Viewpoints. 2004.

Profoundly Multicultural Questions
Sonia M. Nieto. Equity and Opportunity 60:4. December 2002/January 2003.

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
Beverly Tatum. New York, NY: Basic Books. 2003.

Transforming the Multicultural Education of Teachers: Theory, Research, and Practice
Michael Vavrus. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. 2002.

The ABC Approach to Creating Climates of Engagement on Diverse Campuses
Beverly Daniel Tatum. Liberal Education. Fall 2000.

Creating an Inclusive Classroom: An Overview

Teaching Tolerance
Website. Includes a series of videos by Sonia Nieto.

Complete list of resources