1 What are Inclusive Pedagogies?

What are Inclusive Pedagogies?

Inclusive pedagogies are practices that create equitable and socially just learning environments, ensuring that all learners have an equal opportunity to demonstrate their achievement of course learning outcomes.  These practices are based on ways of thinking about education that consider individual, curricular, and social factors that impact students’ ability to learn effectively.

Individual, Curricular, and Systems Factors Impacting Learning[1]

Often, when students struggle to succeed in a course or program, we respond to the challenge as an individual student problem.  For example, common assumptions that arise when students new to the Canadian postsecondary education system struggle are that “they can’t do it” or that “failure is their fault” (Killick, 2018).  For example, we may suggest that students are lacking prerequisite language or academic skills, and that this lack is preventing success (Carroll & Ryan, 2005). While there are cases where students may benefit from individual academic support, focusing entirely on the individual level can perpetuate a system of deficit thinking about students.  A primary characteristic of deficit thinking is its tendency to blame victims of inequitable systems for their own difficulties (Davis & Museus, 2019), neglecting consideration of other broader conditions that can impact learning. For example, students may have the necessary academic ability for success, but may be hindered by a lack of time for academic work caused by work obligations or family commitments. Therefore, while connecting students to individual supports may be a helpful response for some learners, consideration of curricular and systemic factors is also necessary.

A curricular lens focuses on the ways that curriculum design and delivery may inhibit effective learning for students.  Rather than viewing students as lacking the ability to meet objectives, this perspective considers that the curriculum itself may be dis/abled, lacking the ability to adapt to student learning needs (Waitoller & King, 2016).  The curricular lens investigates both the content of the curriculum and the normative pedagogical practices used within a discipline. A curriculum can be dis/abled when it fails to incorporate content that represents the cultural diversit(ies) of the learners it aims to educate (Waitoller & King, 2016), or lacks the relevance to meet their learning needs (Kirkness & Barnhardt, 2001).  A curriculum can also be dis/abled when it does not offer multiple means for students to access content and to demonstrate their successful achievement of learning outcomes (Waitoller & King, 2016).

Finally, a systemic lens considers the ways in which dominant educational and societal norms create barriers to learning. Davis and Museus (2019) highlight that the deficit mindsets, with their focus on individual performance, serve to maintain the status quo of the dominant culture, and to perpetuate systems that marginalize.  Approaching inclusive pedagogy from a systemic lens may include consideration of the ways that the dominance of the English language or Eurocentric ways of knowing create and maintain barriers for many learners.  A systemic lens provides space to consider the broader cultural and educational assumptions that shape what happens in the classroom, and to reimagine what might be possible by expanding pedagogical possibilities to incorporate new norms.

Voice and Agency

Wrigley (2005) describes inclusive pedagogies as those which enhance the voice and agency of the learner.   Voice includes the opportunity for students to be engaged in active discussion that incorporates their own lived experiences.  Agency involves choices in how to learn, how to communicate knowledge, and how to use learning in a meaningful and authentic way.  Incorporating voice and agency, according to Wrigley, may involve de-privileging theoretical knowledge over experiential knowledge, allowing for meaningful integration of lived experience, knowledge, and practice.

Enhancing learner agency can also occur through forms of authentic assessment that allow students to apply their course knowledge to a real-world or simulated real-world task (Indiana University Bloomington CITL, 2021).  Authentic assessment tasks enhance learner agency by providing opportunities to integrate course knowledge, skills, and broader knowledges and approaches that students bring to their learning from previous life experience. Rather than studying as passive consumers of knowledge that may feel foreign to their own context, learners with agency and voice are actively engaged in demonstrating their ability to apply their learning to future professional contexts.

Supporting learners in using their voice in academic contexts is a key principle of the academic literacies framework (Lea & Street, 1998). Students entering new learning environments, whether they involve new educational cultures or new disciplinary cultures, may find their ability to voice ideas limited through a lack of understanding of the conventions of academic and disciplinary communication. Academic literacies works to unpack these conventions and to provide scaffolded support to students so that their voice and perspectives are expressed in academic and professional settings. These principles for supporting student voice in disciplinary contexts are explored in the chapters on Identifying and Supporting Academic Literacies and Supporting Multilingual Writers.

The principles of universal design for learning (UDL) (CAST, 2021) also provide a framework for enhancing learner voice and agency.  UDL challenges deficit conversations about student learning by highlighting the fact that diverse learners can meet curricular learning objectives when offered choice about the ways they engage with learning, the ways in which information is delivered, and the ways in which they demonstrate their learning.  UDL is particularly helpful in offering learners agency to learn in a way that best aligns with their learning strengths, making proactive choices about the ways in which they will meaningfully engage with course learning objectives.  These principles will be explored further in the Implementing Universal Design for Learning chapter.

In summary, inclusive pedagogies encompass a range of strategies, some that focus specifically on the needs of culturally diverse learners, and others that apply more broadly. Supporting student voice and agency is an important way of ensuring that culturally diverse learners are empowered, rather than marginalized, in learning spaces.  These strategies ultimately benefit all learners, as all students carry a range of knowledges and “diverse diversities” (Dervin 2016) into the classroom, and express these in their learning.


Critical Inclusive Pedagogy

An inclusive pedagogical practice requires combining the critical and the practical; it requires reflective critique of the role of curriculum, systems, and the ways in which we engage in these systems as educators, as well as practical shifts in practice. In other words, inclusive pedagogy is a philosophy that is worked out through praxis, and that continues to develop through ongoing action and reflection.  Stewart (2016) frames this process as critical inclusive pedagogy.

The Foundations of Intercultural Teaching module offered an invitation to explore cultural and disciplinary identities. This foundational practice provides the grounds for exploring how our understandings of teaching, learning, and professional practice developed within our social contexts.  The inclusive pedagogies journey includes an invitation to build on this foundational understanding, exploring why our educational systems and curricula traditionally developed in particular directions, and who might be excluded from fully engaging in these systems. The inclusive pedagogies journey then invites shifts in practice which include shifting norms around faculty-student interaction, sharing power with students, empowering the student voice, and inviting students to actively bring their own stories and experience into learning (Stewart, 2016).

The remaining chapters of this book focus on specific classroom practices. Engaging in a critical inclusive pedagogical practice involves situating these practices in a broader intercultural teaching philosophy that aims towards justice, inclusion and equity. This foundation impacts how we engage in intercultural teaching. Considering these practices only as a series of technical changes can lead to overwhelm and frustration. As you engage with the content in the remaining chapters, consider which areas are likely to have the greatest impact on dismantling barriers for your students and within your disciplinary context.


CAST. (2021). About Universal Design for Learning. CAST | Until Learning Has No Limits. https://www.cast.org/impact/universal-design-for-learning-udl

Davis, L. P., & Museus, S. D. (2019). What Is deficit thinking? An analysis of conceptualizations of deficit thinking and implications for scholarly research. NCID Currents, 1(1). https://doi.org/10.3998/currents.17387731.0001.110

Dervin, F. (2016). Interculturality in education: A theoretical and methodological toolbox. Palgrave Macmillan.

Indiana University Bloomington Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2021). Authentic Assessment. Teaching Resources: Assessing Student Learning. https://citl.indiana.edu/teaching-resources/assessing-student-learning/authentic-assessment/index.html

Killick, D. (2018). Developing intercultural practice: academic development in a multicultural and globalizing world. http://www.myilibrary.com?id=1032840

Kirkness, V. J., & Barnhardt, R. (2001). First Nations and higher education: The four Rs – respect, relevance, reciprocity, responsibility. In R. Hayoe & J. Pan (Eds.), Knowledge across cultures: A contribution to dialogue among civilizations. Comparative Education Research Centre, The University of Hong Kong. http://www.ankn.uaf.edu/IEW/winhec/FourRs2ndEd.html.

Lea, M. R., & Street, B. V. (1998). Student writing in higher education: An academic literacies approach. Studies in Higher Education, 23(2), 157–172. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079812331380364

Ryan, J., & Carroll, J. (2005). “Canaries in the coalmine”: International students in Western universities. In J. Carroll & J. Ryan (Eds.), Teaching international students: improving learning for all (ebook, pp. 3–10). Routledge. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com

Stewart, S. (2016). Advancing a critical and inclusive practice. In F. Tuitt, C. Haynes, & S. Stewart (Eds.), Race, equity, and the learning environment: the global relevance of critical and inclusive pedagogies in higher education (First edition, pp. 9–22). Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Waitoller, F. R., & Thorius, K. A. K. (2016). Cross-pollinating culturally sustaining pedagogy and universal design for learning: Toward an inclusive pedagogy that accounts for Dis/Ability. Harvard Educational Review, 86(3), 366-389,473-474.

Wrigley, T. (2005). Inclusive pedagogies — restoring agency and voice to the learner. Revista Iberoamericana Sobre Calidad, Eficacia y Cambio En Educación, 3(1), 297–315.





  1. This framework was suggested by Seanna Takacs and Jennifer Hardwick, personal communication.


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