Intentionally creating inclusive learning communities takes time and careful planning. These key elements of the Shared Inquiry™ method and Junior Great Books® build transferable lifelong learning skills:
- Welcoming students’ questions, interests, and needs
- Sustained interaction
- Interpretive focus
- Rich, thought-provoking texts and objects of inquiry
The more regularly you include these elements in your classroom routine, the more every learner will benefit—as will the whole community, now and in the future.
You can use these five guidelines to increase your classroom’s inclusivity with or without implementing Junior Great Books programs. But to better understand these practices and why they work so well, we recommend two interactive webinars that we offer regularly and for which you can register at any time:
Intentionally focus on listening, and work to improve the quality of your own and your students’ listening skills. Really listening, at many levels, is at the core of being inclusive. Keep in mind that these are lifelong skills, so you are guiding practice sessions over time and progress will be incremental.
- Track participation in discussions, and invite students who haven’t yet spoken into the conversation. Be sure to note when students are listening to others, as well as times when they are speaking.
- Consider setting listening goals (individual and group) before discussions and reflecting afterward on what worked or could be improved next time.
- As needed, develop individualized plans and goals to support participation.
- Encourage students to respond directly to one another and to ask questions (this can make it much easier for quieter students to join in).
Welcoming students’ questions, interests, and needs
Shared Inquiry engages and includes all learners because it is driven by the questions, ideas, interests, and needs of participants. Good planning and a solid foundation in Shared Inquiry will help you lead truly inclusive student-centered learning across the curriculum.
- Use students’ own words as you ask follow-up questions, and try to ask questions rather than praise students’ responses or give your own opinions.
- Conduct readings of texts in different ways, including reading aloud, having students read silently, or having them read with a partner. Rereading and annotation activities can also be tailored.
- Allocate time for sharing student responses and especially for sharing questions. Some students will likely have more vocabulary, comprehension, or background questions. Having students collaborate in small groups to do word work, research, or another reading of the text can help.
- Other students may benefit from visualizing, illustrating, or dramatizing key scenes. Incorporating movement and creativity during the inquiry process benefits all students.
One and done just won’t do it. Sustained interaction with complex material enables depth of understanding that simply isn’t possible otherwise. Multiple encounters with the text also enable students to share more perspectives and experiences.
Everyone needs to read complex texts at least twice. We need time to have first reactions, share questions, and then go deeper by responding to one another. Because each of our lives is unique, our questions, ideas, and understandings of texts can be very different. That’s not only expected and normal—it’s also a wonderful way to go deeper and learn more together through Shared Inquiry.
Questions that have more than one reasonable answer that can be supported with evidence make learning more inclusive in several ways. These interpretive questions require high-level thinking and are the of focus Shared Inquiry discussion and activities. Interpretive questions promote divergent thinking and deeper comprehension since there is no one “right” answer. An interpretive focus requires looking at problems from different angles and weighing evidence for various options. These questions also take into account that learners connect new information to their prior experiences, cultures, and knowledge. Intentionally created collaborative learning is built around sharing, respecting, and celebrating that diversity.
Rich, thought-provoking texts and objects of inquiry
What has the power to engage the mind, heart, and soul? What makes us wonder and become wiser? It can be a powerful story, perhaps one that allows a glimpse of the past or another culture. Or it may be another type of art, or an object from nature. Rich objects of inquiry offer opportunities for the exploration of essential questions and big ideas—about justice, conflict, friendship, and so on—that invite us all into conversation as equals, each with a unique take on the world.
When the object at the center of a learning experience is sufficiently complex that no one person can fully comprehend or take it all in, then our overall approach is more inclusive—because we know we need to work together. We know we need to take the time to inquire, to ask and answer each other’s questions, to reflect and revisit, and to weigh evidence and draw conclusions based on the multiple perspectives we’ve considered. Then we know it’s worth it because there’s heart, soul, and wonder at the center of our exploration.