Inclusive Teaching

Course Design Strategies for Student Identity Development

inclusive teaching banner_FINALby Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Student identity development is an expanding interdisciplinary field that strives to identify, describe, predict, and explain behaviors that shape identity (Evans, Forney, Guido, Renn, Patton, 2010). One of the main focus areas for the field is the study of psychosocial events that help shape student identity as college students transition from adolescence into adulthood (Chickering & Reisser, 1993).  While there are several opportunities to support identity development within higher education, below are a few resources to help instructors develop a more holistic and inclusive learning environment for identity development.

For a review on theories related to student identity development – visit our mini-literature review. [LINK]

Incorporate critical thinking into class exercises

In the book, Teaching for Learning: 101 Intentionally Designed Educational Activities to Put Students on the Path to Success (2015), authors Major, Harris, and Zakrajsek offer several activities that can be incorporated into a course. The book is an exhaustive overview of research-proven teaching techniques and strategies designed to improve learning outcomes.  The activities offer students an opportunity to critically think about course material as well as provide students a space for personal development that may be situated in cultural and specific contexts.

Offer reflexive critical reflection

Incorporating a critical reflection exercise into a course may also support students’ identity development.  Stephen Brookfield’s “Classroom Critical Incident Questionnaire” can provide a quick opportunity for students to internally process their relationship to learning.  Distributed during the last few minutes of class, the questionnaire offers the following questions:

•      At what moment were you most engaged as a learner?

•      At what moment were you most distanced as a learner?

•      What action that anyone in the room took did you find most affirming or helpful?

•      What action that anyone in the room took did you find most puzzling or confusing?

•      What surprised you most?

The instructor can collect them at the end of the period or offer a place for students to share their answers in a think/pair/share exercises.  While the questionnaire gives a teacher an opportunity to obtain good information about how students are learning, the exercise also gives students an opportunity to practice many of the behaviors described in Chickering and Reisser’s Seven Vectors of Identity Development.  Completing the questionnaire offers students an opportunity to develop content competence and to manage emotions (Brookfield, 1995; Chickering & Reisser, 1993).

Consider Inclusive Teaching strategies

In order to reflect the diverse identities of college students, instructors may want to strive to incorporate inclusive teaching strategies into their course plan.  Inclusive teaching strategies help instructors to address the needs of students from a variety of backgrounds, learning styles and abilities.  Goodman (2011) offers a few suggestions to help faculty situate learning experiences that contribute to identity development for all students.  Her strategies include: (1) affirm all identities, (2) examine how differences matter, (3) show that people receive privileges whether or not they recognize them (4) emphasize the systemic nature of oppression, (5) heighten investment in the benefits of a greater awareness of privilege, and (6) provide positive role models and options for action.

If you would like to explore further how to incorporate strategies to support student identity development into your course, please contact the Reinert Center at to schedule a teaching consultation.


Brookfield, S.D (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. Jossey-Bass, 1995.

Chickering, A. W., & Reisser, L. (1993). Education and Identity. Jossey-Bass.

Evans, N. J., Forney, D., Guido, F., Renn, K., & Patton, L. (2010). Student Development in College: Theory, Research and Practice (2nd Ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Goodman, D. J. (2011). Promoting Diversity and Social Justice: Educating People from Privileged Groups. Routledge.

Major, C. H., Harris, M. S., & Zakrajsek, T. (2015). Teaching for Learning: 101 Intentionally Designed Educational Activities to Put Students on the Path to Success. Routledge.

Perry, W. G. (1999). Forms of Ethical and Intellectual Development in the College Years: A Scheme. Jossey-Bass.

This blog post is part of the Reinert Center’s 2016-2017 focus on Inclusive Teaching. To learn more about the year’s theme, and about programs and resources associated with it, see our webpage on Inclusive Teaching [LINK]. To talk with someone about how you can design and teach courses in more inclusive ways, contact the Reinert Center at