Inclusive delivery: Using ‘WH’ questions to structure and orientate teaching sessions

Dr Adrian J. Wallbank, Lecturer in Educational Development, Oxford Centre for Academic Enhancement and Development, Oxford Brookes University

Inclusion has been high on the agenda for many years, but one of the most essential aspects of inclusion – the pedagogy – is often neglected in favour of more eye-catching (but no less essential) deliverables such as diversifying and decolonising the curriculum. Indeed, this aspect of inclusion has often become a site where wider culture wars are played out. Recently in the UK, the Quality Assurance Agency incorporated ‘equality, diversity and inclusion’ into its subject benchmark statements – a drive which the Higher Education Minister, Robert Halfon, has branded ‘decolonising nonsense’ (THE, 2022) and which the Daily Mail newspaper suggested was a demand for universities to ‘go woke’ as a result of ‘the left-wing ideology of student activists’. This initiative is nothing of the sort, of course, but one thing that is often either overlooked or misconstrued here is the fact decolonising and diversifying a curriculum doesn’t of itself make a module inclusive. Inclusion is not just about decolonisation, diversity and celebrating individual backgrounds and experiences, it’s also about inclusive pedagogical delivery. Accommodations are often readily made for students with physical disabilities and immense progress has been made to render buildings, classrooms and timetables (to name but a few examples) accessible. But what about so-called ‘hidden’ disabilities such as dyslexia, ADHD or autism? You might not be able to see them, but they are still a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act (2010), and these students are legally entitled to ‘reasonable adjustments’. Without clear, accessible, adequate scaffolding and orientation / signposting within teaching sessions, for example, many neurodiverse students can easily become ‘lost’ or cognitively overloaded – thus presenting a barrier to learning. I’d argue, however, like others have done before me (e.g. Layer 2017), that ‘reasonable adjustments’ need not necessarily be complicated or indeed implemented if we adopt an inclusive pedagogy. The ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ frameworks / networks of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), I would suggest, provide an ideal platform / toolkit for rendering content pedagogically inclusive, especially in respect of structuring and orientating our sessions.

Neurodiverse students often find that orientation and a ‘roadmap’ to their learning activities help structure their ideas and enable them to get a better, more holistic handle on what is going on. They often need to see how what they are doing / learning fits in with the ‘big picture’ (Wallbank, 2018, Cooper, 2019 and Eide and Eide, 2011) and once they can see the map, the requirement to present material in linear form becomes more easily managed and navigable (Cooper, 2019, p.90). By frequently referencing learning activities in the sessions back to an overarching, preferably visual ‘roadmap’, students are less inclined to lose focus and are likely to find their learning more productive. It also saves on staff having to repeat content due to students losing focus. Models of coaching advocate the use of open questions (the ‘what’, how’ and ‘why’ principles of Universal Design for Learning) to facilitate engagement, self-reflection and learning, and the basic framework of such questions can provide a convenient and flexible framework through which ALL learning can be scaffolded, structured and delivered. For example, the content of a lecture about the Cold War could be scaffolded and orientated as follows:

Core framing question: Example content: 
What? By starting with the ‘big picture’ you can provide a clear overview and sense of orientation. All subsequent information, and delivery is then scaffolded around this core, overarching issue / topic and structure. The open question also starts to orientate the applicability of the topic / issues to the students.   What was the Cold War? What happened? What was its significance? 
Why? Gives a specific orientation, both conceptually and practically. Learners with SpLDs often need to know why something happened, needs to happen or exists so that they can see how it fits into the ‘big picture’. There can also be links here to syllabus / assessment requirements, employability etc.   Why did the Cold War happen? Why did it end? Why was it significant? 
How? This gets more specific and explores the ‘meat’ of the topic. It also acts as a convenient tool for questioning student understanding and providing a revision framework.   How was the Cold War enacted? How did it change things? How did critics, theorists, artists, scientists etc. respond? How did the general public respond? 

For additional content and orientation, further WH questions’ can be integrated such as when? where? who? and why? Signposting the structure of the session in this way provides valuable orientation, context, ‘hooks’ and direction / reference points for students with working memory problems, it aids encoding and retrieval from the long-term memory, and the key transitions between questions provide reset points for their concentration (whilst also acts as a convenient ‘map’ of the session and notetaking).  Arguably, it’s not just good pedagogy, but good for all students, and makes the materials being presented more accessible and inclusive. Inclusive pedagogy isn’t just about putting lecture slides on a VLE in advance of the session or recording the session, it’s also about clear, logically structured, scaffolded delivery. Furthermore, no aspect of the content can be accused of being ‘dumbed down’ – it’s just as complex as it always was, it’s just delineated in a clearer manner. Importantly, it requires no special skills or training to deploy. Pedagogical inclusion might not be as hard as we might think – it might just be about good teaching.

Dr Adrian J. Wallbank is Lecturer in Educational Development at the Oxford Centre for Academic Enhancement and Development, Oxford Brookes University, where he leads the General Teaching Associates course, teaches across the EXPLORE staff development programme, leads on assessment for the core IDEAS Inclusive Curriculum Development model, and convenes the Brookes International HE Reading Group.  Adrian has research and teaching interests in academic writing, dyslexia and inclusion, neurodiversity, transition pedagogies, Universal Design for Learning, one-to-one pedagogies, and the philosophy of Higher Education. As a successful academic with dyslexia, Adrian is passionate about inclusion and works tirelessly to help enable both students and staff to achieve their full academic and professional potential. Adrian is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and is currently working on two new books relating to academic writing, assessment and inclusion, and Foundation Year pedagogies.


CAST. (2018) Universal Design for Learning Guidelines, version 2.2. 

Cooper, R. (2019). ‘Specific Learning Difficulties’. In K. Krčmář (Ed.), The Inclusivity Gap (pp.80-95) Aberdeen: Inspired by Learning. 

Eide, B. L., and Eide, F. F. (2011) The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. London: Hay House. 

Harding, Eleanor, (2022), ‘Universities Ordered to go Woke: Courses from Computing to Classics are told to ‘Decolonise’ by Degrees Watchdog and Teach about Impact of Colonialism and ‘White Supremacy”, Daily Mail, 15th November, 2022. Available at: 

Layer, G. Department for Education, (2017), Inclusive Teaching and Learning in Higher Education as a route to Excellence. Available from: GOV.UK. 

Morgan, John, (2022) ‘New Minister Halfon Criticises QAA’s ‘Decolonisation Nonsense”, Times Higher Education, 16th November, 2022. Available from:  Wallbank, A. J. (2018). Academic Writing and Dyslexia: A Visual Guide to Writing at University. London: Routledge. 

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