IATEFL 2018 An inclusive ELT classroom: being asked to dance – Maria Dolores Gomez

“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” Myers (2012)

[What a brilliant quote!]

Activity 1:

Work with a partner. Decide who will be Student A. In one minute Student A is going to report to Student B about a wonderful holiday or about yesterday. Student B no words containing the letter ‘E’ This is to show how apparently easy tasks that we assign every day to students in class can be difficult without our knowing it. Students may have difficulties that we cannot see, that are underneath.


Maria works at a school of languages in Spain, an institution that caters for people who can’t afford to go to expensive language schools. Ages 16 upwards, two days a week. Increasingly, they are finding they have more people who have special needs/requirements but this is unknown until they require some accommodation for exams. So only the tip of the iceberg is seen until then.

A typical class:

  • Carmen 59 Huntingdon’s disease
  • Manuel 57 just retired from the military
  • Lupe 34 fled Venezuela for political reasons
  • Luisa 31 Mental health problem
  • Susana 29 panic attacks
  • Juan 29 Mild aspergers
  • Student very shy
  • Student avoids contact with the opposite sex
  • Student thinks s(he) is too old.

Educational, geographical problems, economic, social, cultural differences, health problems, disability.

Education 2030 – Incheon declaration and framework for action ensure Targets 4.5 and 4.7 eliminate discrimination in education; education for sustainable development and global citizenship.

We all expect there to be ramps for people in wheelchairs or people who have had accidents or people with pushchairs. It is part of the universal design – an architectural movement begun in the 80s by an architect who had to use a wheel chair and was very frustrated as it was hard for people who weren’t mobile to move around. Principles: equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, tolerance for error, low physical effort, size and space for approach and use. We can use universal design for learning (UDL) by providing options for perception. expression and comprehension.

Inclusive pedagogy

Being able to transform the capabilities of people who say they don’t have capabilities. Not something that teachers can do alone. Learning is a shared responsibility between teacher and learner (co-agency). Need to build up trust for that. Ts and Ss make meaning, two way feedback. It’s everybody together – our actions as teachers impact the students. We need a growth mindset.


I cannot be a teacher without exposing who I am (Paulo Freire). Teachers are models of emotional intelligence. This involves empathy, compassion, for others and self, and attunement. Emotions in the classroom are like neon signs telling your brain “remember this!” How do we communicate emotions? Proxemics (rules about appropriate use of personal space e.g. ), boday appearance (alterations to your body), body positioning and movement (how your body appears), gestures, facial expressions, paralanguage (clues to identity or emotions contained in our voices).

No matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment (Carol Dweck) Everyone can make effort regardless of level or ability.


Use tools like Project Implicit – Harvard University – take a test to see if you have some kind of biases. Teaching tolerance. Representation matters (if you want to show people who don’t look like the typical people you see in course books) The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. The protagonist is not as you would expect. The undateables. Some people who may not feel seen in the class might feel seen when working with this kind of material. Even something as simple as mentioning dyslexia is also a problem for adults.

Reduce memory load – give instructions in different media, not just verbally but also written. Make sure students can see your mouth. Allow think time. Don’t feel this is a waste of time!

  • Make text reader friendly. Use large fonts.
  • Have high expectations still.
  • Use assistive technology
  • Communication – she recommends using Edmodo.
  • Assessment – use different tools e.g. Kahoot, Quizzes, Plickers (for younger kids), Quizalize, Kaizena (allows written and oral comments). For older students who are not used to being assessed with new techniques: chocolate chip cookie rubric (demonstrates how the criteria work by showing them as applied to cookies!)

This is not all about disabilities. Maybe students just feel they are too old, too…? Whatever the case, let’s get them dancing.


One thought on “IATEFL 2018 An inclusive ELT classroom: being asked to dance – Maria Dolores Gomez

  1. Pingback: IATEFLections: a round-up for 2018 – Lizzie Pinard

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