Using theatre to enhance teaching and learning

and improve institutional climate


Highlight on a recent performance:
(dis)Ability in the Classroom

What obstacles to student learning might you inadvertently be introducing into your classroom? How can you plan courses and lesson plans in ways that effectively anticipate a range of student abilities? What resources and practices can help you work with students who disclose learning disabilities? What are good strategies for fostering respect and understanding about learning disabilities within your classrooms?

Participants discussed all of these questions in a recent workshop with the CRLT Players on "(dis)Abilities in the Classroom." Using theater to prompt reflection and discussion, the session explored various challenges faced by U-M students with learning disabilities and provided concrete strategies for instructors to support students in navigating those challenges. As emphasized by this CRLT Occasional Paper, students with disabilities are attending and succeeding at U-M in increasing numbers. As our classroom communities become more diverse in this way, it's critical for U-M teachers to anticipate and respond productively to a range of student abilities in their classrooms.

During the workshop, participants brainstormed a wide range of teaching strategies that echo the best practices for inclusive teaching recommended by the CRLT Occasional Paper as well as U-M's Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) office. As their Faculty Handbook--a great resource for all U-M teachers--explains, many strategies for anticipating or accommodating students with learning disabilities are simply good pedagogy.

Specific teaching practices suggested at the workshop include:

  • Normalize disabilities in the classroom: e.g., by including a syllabus statement, welcoming students who require accommodation to contact you, and noting openly that students read or process information at very different paces.
  • Present class materials in a variety of modes--for instance, using printed as well as verbal instructions. 
  • Give students ample time for reading, calculating, or processing material that you present in class.
  • Provide specific instructions for students who complete in-class tasks early so they aren't just 'filling time' while other students work at their own pace.
  • Whenever possible, provide students materials well in advance of class so they can all process it without the pressure or distraction of peers working alongside them.
  • Respect students' choice to control how and when to discuss their learning disabilities with you; use the same language they do to talk about their disabilities.
  • Avail yourself of CRLT and SSD resources to learn more about disabilities in the classroom!