Child Inclusive Programming
Learning from Our Students with Child Inclusive Programming
An Exploration of the Revolution in Learning Driven
Listening to the Voices of the Unheard
"...are we instead miscommunicating, making assumptions based on our personal experience?"
Active listening is one of the most important skills a teacher uses, yet so many children remain unheard in the classroom. Educators work hard to speak a child's language, in fact many states and school districts in the US require that students receive instruction in their primary language if that language is not English. Even so, there are many nonverbal forms of communication. When we come from a hot breakfast in a warm home to stand before a class of thirty 5th graders in a blighted urban center or an impoverished countryside on a frosty February morning, do we speak the language of their privation? Or are we instead miscommunicating, making assumptions based on our personal experience? Do we make the effort to speak the emotional language of those who come from marginalized communities? More importantly, since all teachers try their best, are educators given the time and tools to build a personal rapport with their diverse body of students? It's increasingly clear that these disconnects in culture and demographics form barriers to education that we have yet to address nationally. Free school breakfasts, free and reduced lunches, and laundry rooms next to the gym help, but they can't bridge the gap alone.
A Tradition of Conformity
Traditional schooling (Smith, 1998), what you and I received and what continues to be taught in America's schools today, is child exclusive: districts are not equipped to devote the time and resources to personalize education that recognizes diverse abilities or cultural and demographic differences, so instead education is one-size-fits-all, like the long forgotten novelty hat at the back of your closet gathering dust. Some districts have more money and resources and can afford to accessorize, with a small number of seats in extra-help programs and enrichment programs where they're able, but even this is far too little to make a difference in an overall trend of "teaching to the wall." We cannot be a nation of educators teaching to a room full of chairs, we must empower each educator to use their unique gifts to engage in a learning dialogue with each individual student.
Child Inclusive Programming (ChIPs), a New Path Forward
Child Inclusive Programming (ChIP) is an interwoven system of principles and guidelines which empower educators to engage their students as individuals and harness the value of that diversity of experience to inform the shared learning environment. Like a quilt, our students are each like pieces of fabric that have their own characteristics: each having a story, shape, texture, color. ChIP is the work of assembling, stitching multiple and varied pieces of material together to form a functional whole while maintaining their distinct characteristics. So too must our classrooms and our schools become like quilts: where knowledge is the thread that binds our students’ diverse experiences, their hopes and fears, and their humanity allowing each student to keep their distinct characteristics . ChIP learning environments are often a harmony, seldom a chorus, and solos are few and far between.
Moving Towards Diversity of Experience
"...generalizing along lines of race, language, nation of origin or other qualities only leads to a diversification of the stereotypes we perpetuate"
A key principle of ChIP is "Diversity of Experience," the radical notion that generalizing along lines of race, language, nation of origin or other qualities only leads to a diversification of the stereotypes we perpetuate. There is no single urban poor experience and poor whites from Appalachia have more in common with poor Latinos from Camden, New Jersey than either might first realize. Diversity of Experience is a core principle of ChIP because all classrooms contain it and few classrooms embrace it. The concept also provides ample room for the neurodiverse, those students who learn and communicate in ways which are different from what a traditional curriculum anticipates, and who are too often painted with the broad brush of their disabilities, as though they were a notation in a medical manual rather than a fully realized human being with hopes and dreams as unique as themselves.
Seeking Out Our Valued Differences
Deeply enmeshed in the recognition of our Diversity of Experience is the ChIP principle of "Valued Differences." Traditional teaching focuses on modifications to a status quo curriculum to enhance accessibility, implying that differences like neurodiversity, native language, and physical disability are inherent flaws preventing access to a good and right curriculum. This approach completely invalidates the experience of the individual when it is in fact a flawed curriculum which is inaccessible, not a flaw of the student. Studies support what is called the “curb cut effect,” where disability-friendly features are appreciated by a larger than intended audience. For example, bilingual primary school curriculums encourage all students to become bilingual, instead of simply adding additional requirements on non-native English speakers who must now add ESL coursework to an already busy schedule. Likewise, schools with a mix of deaf and hearing students have shown an increase in the number of students who learn to sign. A variety of child-driven preschool curriculums have shown the focus and tenacity that autistic children can bring to the topics that they passionately introduce to their classmates and teachers.
Conclusion and Going Further
There’s a lot more to ChIP than just those two principles. For example, ChIP also places a high value on self-discipline, empathy, courage, and perseverance. Children have a natural inclination to care for those around them, to pursue new skills, and to keep attempting tasks even when unsuccessful, so long as they have the right support and encouragement. As adults, we often lose many of these qualities through life experience and social bias (i.e. “Some people just aren’t good at math”). ChIP requires that we–parents, teachers, administrators, policy-makers–be informed by the innate strengths of our children, and think strategically about nurturing those strengths, while learning more about ourselves along the way.
Smith, F. (1998). The book of learning and forgetting. Teachers College Press.