Creating an inclusive learning environment

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Course: Virtual Open Course (VOC): Collaborative Community Approach to Migrant Education
Book: Creating an inclusive learning environment
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Date: Tuesday, 16 April 2024, 6:41 PM


Creating an inclusive learning environment

1. How can we ensure that our classrooms and schools are places where all students are successful and feel that they belong?

Migrant students make up an ever increasing percentage of students in schools throughout most of Europe, Canada and the United States. These students and their families face numerous challenges as they work at transitioning to a new country, adjusting to their new environment, and learning the language of schooling.  Elizabeth Coehlo (2002) argues that there is widespread concern about the academic performance of newcomer children. These students often experience feelings of isolation and stress about their ability to learn the new language.  They have difficulty expressing their feelings and demonstrating knowledge and skills due to limited proficiency in the language of the school.

The role of schools is to create inclusive environments for students from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds where they feel safe, welcome and cared for. Sousa (2011) argues these are optimal and necessary conditions for learning; whereas feelings of insecurity, threat or anxiety can create barriers to learning.  Schools have great potential to serve as hubs to bring children, adults and community together and they play a vital role in helping newcomer children and families successfully transition into the school and community. Schools can become inclusive meeting places that create a safe space for students to explore the languages and cultures that they and their families bring to the school.

Many newcomer/migrant students arrive in their new schools with additional languages other than the language of the school. Schools and communities need to value the linguistic and cultural backgrounds and experiences that newcomer students bring to school communities. According to Cummins (2001) newcomer/migrant students' cultural knowledge and language abilities in their home language are important resources.

When educators take the time to find out about their students’ past experiences and culture and then incorporate students’ personal and cultural strengths into the context of teaching and learning, everyone benefits. (Coelho, 2012)  Gathering background information about newcomer students helps both students and teachers. She (2012) argues that educators who take the time to learn about their students’ past experiences, and home and community cultures, and incorporate students’ personal and cultural strengths into the context of teaching and learning are better able to provide a productive learning environment for students. 

In order for students to be successfully integrated into the school system and achieve academically, they must feel they are able to maintain their linguistic and cultural identity.   

1.1. Engaging and supporting newcomer/migrant students.

Researchers suggest the following strategies to create an inclusive learning environment:

  • Get to know your students and help them get to know one another 
  • Work together as a school staff to make the school welcoming for all students and their parents. This may include having a plan for welcoming families and involving all staff in the orientation of newcomers.
  • Become aware of the strengths and needs of new students and their families. This may include access to counseling, including trauma counseling, to facilitate student adjustment
  • Reflect the linguistic and cultural diversity of all students in such things as displays, artifacts, posters, pictures, music, games, storybooks, multimedia resources. Ensure that resources used in the classroom show a diversity of people, cultures and perspectives.
  • Use resources within the school and community. This may include using interpreters and cultural brokers to bridge linguistic and cultural barriers to communication.
  • Provide opportunities for family and community members to become involved in school activities. This may include parents serving as school helpers as well as providing them with opportunities to share cultural  knowledge and experiences with students in the classroom in their home language and language of the school.
  • Create multi-lingual newsletters, websites, handbooks and resources for parents in order to keep them informed about their child's education and events in the school.
  • Provide learning experiences such as fieldtrips to places where students and their families can learn about their own culture and history and that of others.
  • Learn and use key words and phrases in the first language of the students
  • Use a range of teaching strategies  that meet the needs of individual students (e.g., individualized teaching, collaborative learning activities, and peer mentoring)
  • Use  resources that reflect students' cultures.  This may include using heterogeneous groupings in the classroom, ensuring that students have ample opportunities to express themselves and demonstrate their learning in multiple ways, and e
  • Establish safe places in the school for students. This may include prayer rooms for religious minorities or diversity clubs.
  • Provide professional learning opportunities for teachers and parents
  • Nurture links with the community
  • Ensure all students are valued and respected and that discrimination is effectively and quickly addressed
  • Reflect on one's own bias and belief systems
  • Be  a positive role model

View these YouTube videos to explore strategies for making migrant/newcomer students feel welcome in their new school and for supporting their social and academic success.

Creating a welcoming classroom environment

Tips for welcoming newcomers

Supporting pre-school language learners


question markReflection:  After viewing the videos, reflect on the following: 

Which of the strategies discussed in the videos  will you try in your own classroom to engage and support students?

1.2. Engaging families of newcomer students

Family involvement has often been cited as a predictor of student success.  However, in the case of families of newcomer/migrant students, linguistic and cultural differences can impact the extent of parental involvement and  how they view their role in their child's education. Therefore, it is important to create a strong bond between the families of newcomer students and schools. 

Research supports building a whole school approach to help make all newcomer  students and their families feel welcome, safe and supported .  When educators are responsive to the unique needs of newcomer/migrant students they can help to foster a caring environment, and create a sense of community. Procedures and practices need to be in place to welcome newcomer students and their families.

View these YouTube videos to explore strategies to engage parents of newcomer/migrant students with school. 

Creating a Welcoming Environment for ELL Families

ELL Parent Engagement

Encouraging Parents to Learn 


question markReflection:  After viewing the videos, reflect on the following: 

Which of the strategies discussed in the videos will you try in your own classroom or school to engage families?

1.3. References

Coelho, E. (2012) Language and Learning in Multilingual Classrooms.  Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters. 

Cummins, J., Bismilla, V., Chow, P., Cohen, S., Giampapa, F., Leoni, L., Sandhu, P., & Sastri, P. (2005). Affirming identity in multilingual classrooms. Educational Leadership, 63(1), 38–43. 

Dachyshyn, D., Paradis, J., Kirova, A. (2009).  Working with Young Children who are Learning English as a New Language. Alberta Education, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Haynes, J.  Getting Started with English Language Learners: How Educators Can Meet the Challenge. (2007). Virginia, USA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). 

Law, B., and Eckes, M. (2000). The More-Than-Just Surviving Handbook. ESL for Every Classroom Teacher. Winnipeg, Canada:  Portage & Main Press.

Ministry of Education. (2007). Supporting English Language Learners in Kindergarten and Supporting English Language Learners - A practical guide for Ontario educators, Grades 1-8. Toronto, Ontario: Queens Printer for Ontario. (Video and print resources).

Sousa, D. (2011.) How the ELL Brain Learns.  California, USA: Corwin A SAGE Company.