Crafting an Inclusive Course Climate

Students need a classroom environment where they can share their views while being challenged by the course content. Research suggests that when students perceive a negative course climate, it affects their cognitive development, including reading comprehension, quantitative reasoning, and critical thinking. To craft an inclusive course climate, consider building on the suggestions from Creating a Welcoming Classroom with the strategies presented below. For additional resources, link to Resources for the Diverse Classroom.

For a research-based approach to creating a course climate that enhances students’ learning, see “Why do student development and course climate matter for student learning?” Chapter 6 in How Learning Works. In addition to synthesizing theories of student development, the authors examine the impact of course climate on student learning.

Below we’ve summarized strategies suggested by the research:

  1. Help students learn to wrestle with uncertainty. To foster intellectual development, challenge students with critical thinking problems that present multiple worldviews.
  2. Seek multiple answers and resources. Model for students the ways that knowledge develops, how ideas are questioned and tested over time, and how problems can have multiple solutions. Stay in problem-posing mode rather than hastening to problem-solving mode to encourage students to think deeply on an issue.
  3. Use evidence in your feedback to students. Rubrics and other tools can help you model the practice of using evidence to support opinions.
  4. Reflect on your assumptions. Our assumptions about students can impact our interactions, which can impact student learning.
  5. Frame learning success strategies in growth mindset terms, rather than accidentally referencing a stereotype. (See stereotype threat.)
  6. Present a range of examples to illustrate course concepts.
  7. Implement course climate assessments. You could meet with students, request a midterm CATALyst, or set up a classroom observation to find out how your course climate is perceived.
  8. Plan ahead for sensitive course content by preparing students to learn from controversy. Frame sensitive content by noting awareness that it may have personal significance, connecting it to your course goals, and reviewing your classroom ground rules.
  9. Don’t ignore tensions: address them as soon as possible and try to turn them into learning opportunities.
  10. Model active listening and ask students to practice this skill.

Anti-racist Pedagogy

Resources from Cultivating an Anti-racist Classroom Culture Session

At a session in September 2020, faculty discussed pedagogical strategies for cultivating an anti-racist classroom culture through the lens of Black Lives Matter. This session was a venue to share approaches and insights that go beyond the inclusive syllabus statement to further promote anti-racist practices throughout the semester. Panelists included Keisha Allen (EDUC), Ramon Goings (LLC), and Joby Taylor (Shriver Center).

Resources from Confronting Racism in the Margins Session

At a session in February 2022 entitled Confronting Racism in the Margins: Inclusive Writing Across the Disciplines, faculty discussed the short reading “Racism in the Margins” by Gabriel Morrison and Kathleen Tonry. The text highlights the prevalence of implicit racism in instructors’ feedback on students’ writing assignments across the disciplines. We grappled with ideas for taking antiracist action at UMBC to support our faculty in “advocating for writerly agency” of students. In turn, we will work toward our institution’s commitment to inclusive excellence. As the reading notes, “racism in the margins” demands action within writing-intensive courses across the disciplines and is not restricted to Writing Centers or general composition-courses.

Pedagogical Solutions to Barriers of Invisible Disabilities

At a session in February 2021, faculty discussed pedagogical strategies for cultivating an accessible classroom culture through the lens of invisible disabilities. Nearly 20% of college undergraduates in the United States report having a disability, the majority of which may be “hidden” to the public eye. Yet, there is a disparity between the potential number of disabled students and those that seek formal accommodations through their University. This means that when we proactively design our courses to accommodate a variety of learners, we are likely benefiting a wider audience than we realize. We shared approaches and insights that go beyond traditional academic accommodations to further promote inclusion of our neurodiverse students.


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