Diversity In the Classroom

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 1.35.04 PMImage Source: Pixabay

Diversity, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is, “the condition or fact of being different.”

The differences between students can be almost endless (Brookfield, 2015):

  • Age;
  • Gender;
  • Citizenship status;
  • Racial background;
  • Primary language;
  • Preferential learning style;
  • Talents and skills;
  • Level of:
    • Motivation;
    • Self-regulation;
    • Self-direction;
  • Personality;
  • Extroversion and introversion;
  • Sexual identity;
  • Social status;
  • Religious affiliation;
  • Cultural background.

How on earth is the teacher supposed to deal with all this diversity? Even Brookfield (2015) admits that, “(d)iversity can never be fully addressed to the satisfaction of all involved” (p 108). But before we all quite trying, he offers us this: “(i)f your purpose is to help people learn, then you must be open to constantly varying your activities to what we find out about the range of students we work with” (Brookfield, 2015, p 108).

Some of the differences with how students learn and personality variances can be mitigated by employing a variety of different and effective learning strategies. Brookfield (2015) also suggests:

  • Team teaching (p 102) “. . . whenever two or three people with different racial identities, talents and personalities form a teaching team, the possibilities for connecting to a wider range of students expand exponentially.”
  • Mixing Student Groups (p 103) “Do you cluster together individuals who are roughly the same and who you think will therefore work well together? Or do you create a pedagogic bouillabaisse – a mix of different experiential, racial and personality ingredients plus contrasting ability levels that are stirred together to produce a satisfying blend? I would argue that both approaches are necessary and called for at different time.”
  • Mixing Modalities (p 105) – applying a variety of teaching strategies.

In my search to learn more about issues of diversity in the classroom, I came across this resource from Harvard University’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. It takes a look at the classroom contract and its impact on students; what is explicitly laid out for students in the syllabus and what is implicit – the unspoken contract of classroom dynamics that leaves students wondering “(w)hat will be my position . . . will I have to talk; can I talk; how will I get to talk; will I be dominant, or not? How will I be judged? What is expected of me?” (Classroom Dynamics & Diversity, n.d., para 4).

In a diverse classroom, these implicit issues can become real barriers for learning, which is why we must strive to bring these issues out in the open for discussion as well.

Differences between students can also bring conflict. Classroom Dynamics & Diversity (n.d.) describes a classroom ‘hot moment’ as the “ . . .moment when the conversation either stops or erupts because of the volatile nature of the subject matter, or because of conflicts among students” (para 8). The article has links for Examples of Hot Moments and Diversity and Tips for Dealing with Hot Moments. The quick and dirty take home tips for me when dealing with a hot moment were:

  • Calm yourself;
  • Detach yourself from emotion;
  • Acknowledge the moment with the students;
  • Make the issue (not the individual(s)) the focus for discussion and turn it into a learning opportunity for everyone.

The article helped me recognize the importance of knowing my own biases as a teacher and appreciating the effects my attitudes have on classroom dynamics.

Diversity in the classroom is a complex issue that requires the instructor to be skilled in applying varied strategies to maximize learning for all students; to have an awareness of how his or her actions and attitudes are impacting the classroom; and to have the flexibility and openness to make revisions in actions and thinking patterns. Lofty aspirations I hope to some day be able to meet!

References

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Classroom Dynamics & Diversity (n.d.). Harvard University Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from https://bokcenter.harvard.edu/classroom-dynamics-diversity

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