Teaching Inclusively: An Interactive Workshop

Mary Jo Festle, Elon University

Photo of people sitting and talking in a circle

Photo by MD Duran on Unsplash

This session will take place at the 2020 OAH Annual Meeting | Conference on American History in Washington, D.C. Read the full abstract and speaker information here.

The historians I know have good intentions: they want all their students to learn history well, and they strive to be fair. They wouldn’t dream of telling an offensive joke or intentionally excluding or discriminating against any students.

But is that enough?

A recent Gardner Institute study of 28,000 students taking introductory U.S. history courses at 32 institutions revealed that race, family income level, gender, and status as a first-generation college student were the best predictors of who would not succeed. The study concluded that the ways we teach introductory level history courses may be “subtly but effectively promoting inequity.”¹ David Pace observed that ineffective teaching strategies may unintentionally help perpetuate the trend where mainly privileged, “pre-educated” students do well.²

Teaching well is always challenging, but we are teaching in especially challenging times. News and social media are polarized, and students come to our classrooms having seen few models for thoughtful, open-minded, and civil interchange. In addition, our students are a complex bunch; they are very different from one another in their personal characteristics related to race, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation as well as their socioeconomic, religious, and family backgrounds. Through no fault of their own, the quality of their high school preparation differs dramatically.

Is it possible to level the playing field? Can we give all our students (who are willing to work hard and in the right direction) a chance to succeed – and to do so without lowering our standards? Might we do better at engaging and empowering all our students?

The good news is that we instructors aren’t powerless. In recent years there has been a proliferation of findings from the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) related to “inclusive teaching.” This research analyzes course design, assignment design, assessment and feedback, motivation, classroom climate, student experiences, stereotype threat, and the ways faculty communicate (in class and on syllabi). If they’re willing to seek it out, history faculty can know a great deal about the dynamics that get in the way of students learning well, and small practical steps that can make a difference.

Increasingly, historians realize that inclusive teaching is good teaching. Inclusive teaching doesn’t mean that all students end up performing equally well, but that an instructor has taken evidence-based steps so that those who excel aren’t just those who get an A in every class or went to a great high school. Inclusive instructors understand that the class climate can either contribute to or inhibit a student’s learning, and that our actions (as well as our attitudes and course content) contribute to the climate. They strive to understand the challenges that various students face and create a class environment where all students feel they belong. Students see this sort of instructor as fair and approachable, and as someone who respects students both as individuals and members of cultural groups.

At this 90-minute workshop, participants will be introduced to some of the research findings, hear some evidence-based options, and consider whether they might apply some of them to their own courses.

 ¹Andrew K. Koch, “Many Thousands Failed; A Wakeup Call to History Educators,” Perspectives on History, May 2017

 ²David Pace, “The History Classroom in an Era of Crisis: A Change of Course is Needed,” Perspectives on History, May 2017.

Posted: February 11, 2020
Tagged: Conference, Previews, Teaching, Pedagogy