Creating an Inclusive Online Classroom

We don’t call on the first child to raise his hand

As teachers we avoid calling on the first child who raises her hand, because when we do, we take away the other students’ chance to think. When the first child is called upon, all thinking stops and all the attention goes to the teacher, who declares the answer correct or incorrect. Meanwhile, the kids who need more time become overwhelmed and even less likely to try. Furthermore, with some regularity, the quickest response is not the best one.

A good teacher works to extend the “thinking” portion of the classroom conversation in order to allow the students to more fully interact with the ideas. I think of this process as a “slowing down” of the classroom, so that the students can spend the maximum amount of time possible considering the idea or the question that the teacher wants them to engage with. The intention is to create more thoughtful conversation.

We know how to create inclusive off-line classrooms

I have always worked in inclusion classrooms, where I have taught children with a wide range of learning styles and needs. I have a number of devices for slowing down my students and helping the conversation settle into a space of quiet contemplation. Some of my favorite tricks include “Turn and Talk,” or “Stop and Jot.” In Turn and Talk, all of the students talk with the student to their side about the topic at hand. In Stop and Jot, the teacher asks a question and then asks the kids to be quiet for a few minutes while they write down an answer to the question, or some notes about their thinking. Each of these teaching strategies makes it possible for everyone to participate more fully. I do not fool myself into thinking that I can meet every learners needs, but I will certainly work towards that.

How can we create inclusive online classrooms?

I am working to keep my online classroom inclusive, as well. I find that frequently the same students respond to questions and participate, while other students are less likely to. I have to work to figure out how to engage everyone. In the WizIQ classroom, I have been using the break out rooms in the same way that I use Stop and Jot or Turn and Chat in my regular classroom. I give the kids an idea to ponder, and send them into break out rooms to discuss it in small groups. For example, recently, we were considering heroes. I asked the kids to spend their time in the breakout rooms thinking about what makes a hero, and generating a list of the characteristics of heroes. I then asked the kids to report back on what one of the other students in the breakout room had said. I frequently do this, so that my students learn not only to talk, but to listen to each other.

I have also created tutorials for my students, like the one discussed in this post: Providing as many different mechanisms for engaging with the task can only help. If the task is assigned orally in the online classroom, sent as a document and as an audio recording of my voice, and accompanied by an online tutorial, I can expect them to understand.

Research, please

While all of these techniques promote learning, none of them directly work to create a more inclusive online classroom. I decided to do some online research. Google searches with the words “Inclusive online classes,” came up with almost no hits. I tried different variations and synonyms, and I could find very little information about the topic.
This leads me to the questions: how are teachers creating inclusive online classrooms and where is the research into best practices? Does anyone know of actual research? The more exploring I did, the less I found. Small group work, explaining the task in many ways, and using all available technology are important first steps, but I would love to know what techniques have been proven effective.

I am a teacher, hiker, mother, dancer and home-maker. I have taught pre-school through SAT prep. I am exploring ways to create on-line learning communities for home-schooled middle school and high school students. In particular, I am starting a low-residency on-line middle school. I would like to help young people explore important ideas while enjoying their lives! You can learn more about my programs at

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