Inclusive Pedagogy and the Language-Learning Classroom

Inclusive Pedagogy and the Language-Learning Classroom

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Sarah Le Pichon, an Assistant French Instructor at the University of Texas at Austin, on the topic of inclusive pedagogies. Students, administrators, and faculty here at UT are developing inclusive policies and practices. If your institution is considering the same changes, we hope the following information will help.

We also saw a clear link to open educational resources in Sarah’s advice: inclusive teaching requires adapting or adding on to your curriculum to address your students’ varying identities, and these changes are easier with a curriculum composed of openly licensed materials that can be adapted based on individual needs.

Language pedagogy most often focuses on linguistic theory and the most successful modes of language learning. Discussions of inclusivity, however, are crucial to successful language pedagogy; in fact, language learning and teaching are largely about coming in contact with different populations and broadening our world view. More importantly, instructors must remember that students cannot leave their identities at the door when they enter our classrooms, and we must therefore adopt pedagogical practices that acknowledge and welcome all populations and identities. Inclusive pedagogies aim to outline implementable practices that encourage open and welcoming learning environments for all populations and identities.

Remember​: These techniques work differently depending on where you are in your career, as well as on the teaching context and your own teaching ethos or style. Use techniques you feel comfortable with; hold off on ones you don’t.

Welcoming Trans- & Gender Non-Conforming Students into our Language Classrooms

Trans- and gender non-conforming students may feel particular anxiety in entering a language classroom, where partner work abounds and where, most often, gender pronouns and gender agreements are addressed on a consistent basis. Language classrooms must finds ways to welcome trans- and gender non-conforming students, and aim to minimize anxiety that might hold students back from learning a language. We should not, however, assume that any individual is ready to or wants to share their gender identity with the classroom or their partner. This means that instructors should be prepared and trained to have conversations with trans- and gender non-conforming students, and work together to establish the best course of action for them in the classroom.

  • Make Room for Your Students​:
    • Distribute notecards the first day of class that ask for the student’s name as it appears on the registrar, their preferred name, and their pronouns. Present yourself to your students using this model as you distribute the notecards, for example: “My name is Sarah Le Pichon, and I go by Sarah. My pronouns are she/her/hers. You are welcome to leave your pronouns section blank, or if you would like to discuss further, you can indicate that on your notecard as well.”
    • Follow your students’ lead: Have a conversation with your trans- and gender non-conforming students about how they would like for you to proceed in the classroom and with their peers.
    • Offer options: For example, give them the option to stick with a single partner they feel comfortable with for the semester, rather than switching partners, thereby avoiding unnecessary misgenderings, or repeated requests.
  • Know Your Information:​
    • Know your gender-neutral pronoun information. If you feel like it is complicated, go over it and practice using those pronouns and making those agreements until it comes to you more easily.
    • Do research on how trans- and gender non-conforming issues are addressed in the language and various cultures you teach. These conversations might be very different from one country to another, even if those countries share a language. Acknowledge the different ways in which this conversation is being held across different cultures. Many languages also have several different options for non-binary individuals; research these different linguistic possibilities, and offer your students options.
    • Provide students with accessible and clear information, and diverse resources: show them blogs, videos, articles, etc. from trans- and gender non-conforming individuals who speak the language you teach.

Representation: Race and Diversity

Cultural discussions that address matters such as race are crucial to an inclusive language classroom. Think about and practice methods to properly and confidently mediate discussions on these complex cultural topics so that you feel more comfortable and knowledgeable when addressing these in the classroom, while providing authentic resources that allow a diverse set of voices to be heard.

  • Rethink Your Texts:​
    • Diversify your texts! Think and rethink your material every semester. Find authentic online material that makes your students feel represented, including blogs, videos, articles, etc. from various identity groups.
    • Eliminate any exclusionary language: make sure none of your material stereotypes, mocks, or in any other way targets an identity group.
  • Create an Open Environment​:
    • Have open conversations with your students about how these conversations are being had in the various countries in which your language is spoken.
    • Acknowledge gaps in knowledge, and your own experience/privilege; this is especially important if you yourself are not a part of the identity group you are discussing.

Providing Resources and Working Beyond the Classroom

While not all of us have the opportunity to rethink our materials and texts, we all have the opportunity to provide our students with adequate resources. There are always ways you can create an inclusive syllabus, and small ways you can diversify the material you present to your students.

  • Be Prepared with Referrals:​
    • Know the resources your students need, and provide specifics (counseling and mental health services, services for students with disabilities, behavioral concerns advice line, student emergency services, Ombuds Office, etc.), including phone numbers and/or e-mail addresses. Add these to your syllabus and/or course site.
  • Seek Other Input​:
    • Let other voices be heard by providing outside/online resources (blogs, YouTube videos, etc…). Create a weekly newsletter that links to all of the resources you’ve studied or discussed that week.
    • If you feel comfortable doing so, talk to your supervisor about inclusive materials and additions.

For more information:

Sarah Le Pichon is a PhD student in French Studies working on non-conforming individuals and identity negotiations in the nineteenth century. She has taught French at various levels, from pre-k to higher-education classrooms, since 2013. She now leads Trauma-Informed Teaching workshops for staff and faculty in addition to working as a French instructor at UT Austin. Sarah also creates inclusivity workshops for various groups on campus. Most recently, she was invited to speak at the Faculty Innovation Center’s Inclusive Teaching and Learning Symposium. She does not claim to be an expert on any topic, except for the Harry Potter series.


  1. Very valuable article for all of us in the classroom! Thank you for including it.


    Laura Franklin
    Professor of French

  2. Dr Valeria LoIacono says

    Very well informed article and very interesting or at least certainly to me as I sometimes teach languages and am involved with education i.e teach at universities here in the UK. Great post!

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