Phil Dexter has worked in English teaching with the British Council for over 30 years. He worked in several different countries in Europe, the Middle east and North Africa before returning to the UK in 2009. Currently the British Council UK Senior Consultant for English in Education Systems, he also leads training in the Pilgrims summer programme on the Special Educational Needs and Inclusive Learning Course.
One of the hottest topics in education right now is inclusivity, and this is no less true in the field of English language teaching. With over 30 years experience, Phil Dexter’s workshop is one not to be missed. Phil became interested in the topic after being strongly influenced by notable educators and writers in the field at Pilgrims, Marie Delaney and Sally Farley, and he has since devoted his work to this area through his role with the British Council.
I asked Phil to tell us a little more about his work and why this topic is so important. He stressed that inclusivity is much more about playing to the strengths of students and what they share in common, rather than their differences, and emphasising a rights-based approach: education for all.
GS: Why has neurodiversity and inclusivity become so important for you?
Inclusion has been (too) often considered to be associated with what is often called ‘special educational needs’ – for example dyslexia, autism spectrum conditions, ADHD, social emotional learning needs, physical/sensory needs and many others. While its really important that there is a main focus on including learners who may be identified (or not identified) with SEN conditions we need to understand that inclusion is for everyone and while we offer support for learners with a whole variety of the ‘special’, we need to move away from a deficit model of learning to one of understanding the importance of learning differences and promotion of a positive strengths- based approach based on what learners can do rather than what they can’t do.
We often say that we need to teach learners in ways they learn best and I agree with this. However, current research into cognition and ways of learning strongly indicates that while the nature and shape of our brains does to an extent determine how we learn, it’s just as much the quality of teaching and opportunities for learning that have a positive influence on the nature and shape of our brains. Therefore quality teaching and learning is where all the action this. Neurodiversity is important in understanding differences in learning, but we should not exaggerate these differences but rather focus as much on what learners need and have in common. This takes back to understanding that inclusivity is for everyone!
What more needs to be done to promote inclusivity in the classroom?
Inclusivity is primarily an attitude in valuing our learners (and ourselves) and a rights- based approach to education. It’s also about our relationship with our learners, believing in them and developing confidence in what we can all achieve. In this respect inclusivity is probably the key element of humanistic teaching and learning.
There are four main elements of inclusive practices – Access (ensuring learners are in school), Engagement (ensuring that the quality of the learning experience is one that is meaningful), enablement (ensuring that schools and teachers have the skills through teacher training and development) and empowerment through education systems and schools giving teachers the authority to innovate.
It is the small but significant steps we can take makes all the difference and help us move towards what is often called transformational learning outcomes.
What practical step can teachers begin by doing now on a day-to-day basis to address these issues?
For example, where possible give the learners choice on whether they might write, draw or model something and talk about it, present using technology, or act it out. Of course it’s not always possible to do this, but try to look at different ways of giving learners choice. It is however important not to prejudge who does what. In this way you can focus on the knowledge, skills and understanding that the learner has and you can teach and assess that – rather than focus on the format of what they are using. Look at how we can take small but significant steps that can make a difference. Don’t see inclusion as a huge pie to be eaten all at once which may give indigestion – or worse. Follow your good sense and intuitions and be prepared to take risks. Share with others. This is our inclusion journey.
author: Graham Strouts, teacher the Bridge
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