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Inclusion Column

A New Approach to Learning that Ensures Inclusion

By: Juanjo Moreno

We have been talking and hearing about inclusion for a while now, to a point that the word “inclusion” is embedded in our daily vocabulary and conversations. We understand that, in order to be an inclusive community, one that is truly open-minded with a caring heart, we need to make ASFM a safe, welcoming, and loving place for everyone so that every single student is able to focus and worry about nothing else but their education. That is the main goal of inclusion, to make sure every single student, teacher, staff member, parent, or administrator feels safe, welcomed, cared for, and loved so learning can be maximized to its fullest potential.

So, how do we promote that in our classrooms? If we are already working towards that safe environment where students feel safe to learn however it is best for them, what is the pedagogical approach we, as teachers, are aiming to use so students’ potential and skills are maximized? The answer is easy: we need an approach that helps students learn how to do one important thing: Self-Advocate. We must fully implement a system where students can design their own learning journey based on their strengths, and teachers play the role of facilitators and mentors in that journey rather than content deliverers and lecturers. Sounds too good to be true, right? The good news: MSHS has already taken a big step in that direction.

Starting this year, amongst the redesign that already needed to be done to adapt our teaching to the Distance Learning mode, we also started the implementation of Learning Loops. Learning Loops are an innovative pedagogical approach to present the learning continuum or plan to our students, as well as to facilitate the planning of their own learning journey. It is a system that promotes students planning their own learning process while providing opportunities for the teacher to become a mentor and a facilitator of this process, allowing for a more individualized approach to learning. In the end, it promotes what we want for our students: to be the owners of their own learning and self-advocates for their own needs and interests.

In a nutshell, Learning Loops will work like this when fully implemented: The teacher will introduce the new unit by presenting the standards, learning outcomes and will also share the structure of the different Learning Loops that tell the story of this current unit; this is called the  Unit Launch. Then, students will start the first learning loop with the Engage phase, where they will translate the standards assigned to that particular loop into learning outcomes and success criteria with the help and guidance of their teacher. Now, here is where true inclusion and differentiation start (exciting!!): Using the success criteria created, each student will determine where they are in the learning process (according to their prior knowledge, what they already know and can do), and where they need to go (what they need to learn, what skills they need to develop, etc). Using this self-awareness, and after conferencing with their teacher, they will then decide (phase 2 of our Learning Loop) the path they need to take to meet the success criteria by the end of the learning loop. Students might ask themselves questions like “what do I need to learn to meet the success criteria” or “what skills do I still need to develop to meet the learning standard”.  Teachers will guide this process and provide support, ideas, and encouragement when students need it.

Once the path is clear, the students can now decide what they will Do to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to meet the expectations set by themselves. They will plan for learning actions that will enrich their learning journey and help them grow as learners. These can be a different selection of activities that will entice and motivate students to learn by using their own preferred learning style and interests. As teachers, this is like a dream come true because it allows us to meet individually with students to confirm their reported progress, to assess their learning, and to provide individual support as the learning is happening, not after an assessment or exam.

Then, after the student has gone through the learning actions, they are invited to reflect on their learning process. They do this by comparing their evidence of learning to the rubrics and success criteria but also by thinking about their own learning path: what worked for them, what can be improved, which resources they used the most, which ones they lacked, how their teacher can support them better, and so on. With this reflection in mind, they now bring their work and progress to other people (peers, teachers, mentors, family members) to present their evidence of learning and seek feedback to incorporate other voices in their learning journey and learn from each other. With this reflection and feedback, the students can make a plan to go back and revisit some of the learning actions if they discovered gaps in their learning, or to move on to the next Learning Loop. After a student has gone to every learning look in a particular unit, he or she is ready to showcase their learning in a Summative Assessment.  This process is repeated in every unit of every class.

We are in year one of implementation, and there is a long way to go before we see it work as we envision it, but the first step has been taken. The good thing is that since day one, Learning Loops promote student self-awareness, self-advocacy, and accountability; it allows students to own their learning and plan their own journey; it encourages them to learn at their own pace without feeling overwhelmed or alienated by “doing different activities”, it is everyday accommodation and differentiation for each individual student, done by the students. It is a good teaching practice and great pedagogy; it is creating independent and life-long learners who love who they are as students and enjoy developing their own journey. Inclusion at its finest.