Classroom Diversity: An Introduction to Student Differences
In this module, you learned about a number of the most important aspects of student diversity: cultural, linguistic, exceptionalities, and socio-economic status. You learned, too, that the perceptions that teachers bring with them to the classroom can be shaped by their background knowledge and life experiences. Those perceptions can also be based on stereotypes, which may or may not be accurate. Wherever they come from, teacher perceptions influence how they view their students and their students’ families. When teachers are aware of this tendency, however, and when they take the time to get to know their students better, they are able to respond to them more objectively. Moreover, teachers need to understand the ways in which their perceptions might influence their expectations for their students and, subsequently, the ways in which they teach. For this reason, in addition to getting to know their students, teachers should use a range of instructional strategies and supports when working with a diverse classroom of students. When teachers understand the following considerations, they are more likely to create successful learning experiences for all of their students.
What teachers should understand
Instruction might be confusing to students if their cultural experiences or background knowledge are different from or inconsistent with those of their teacher.
Mastering academic content might be difficult for students who are not proficient in English.
A disability might affect a student’s learning, and therefore the teacher might need to make instructional adjustments if the student is to be successful.
Students might not have access to additional educational resources and supports outside of school.
In this audio, Lanette Waddell, former Director of Teaching and Learning in Urban Schools (TLUS), suggests ways that teachers can better get to know their students (time: 2:56).
Lanette Waddell, PhD Former Assistant Professor, Former TLUS Director Vanderbilt University
The number-one thing that’s important in any school is to know your students in multiple ways. You have to know who your students are. You have to know the families. You have to know their communities, and you have to be able to look at it, not through just your lens, but look at it from their lens and look at how it impacts why they do things, and not just immediately assume that what they’re doing is wrong or negative or rude or disrespectful, though that can happen. But how you can interact with it in a way, to talk to them about it, help you see it from their point of view, and help them to see how acting in a different way helps with teaching and learning in the school. I talk about knowing students academically, socially, and personally. You do need to know their academic skills or academic strengths and weaknesses in order to prepare the curriculum that you’re going to teach. But you also need to know how do they interact with others, how do they interact with you, how do they interact with principals, parents, families, community, how do they do with other people? And then also personally. What are their personal strengths and weaknesses, what do they personally like and dislike, what do they think about school, what do they think about their home life? And all of those things are super important to understand. It’s so important, especially since we know that most teachers are middle-class. Regardless of race, being middle class versus being poor is different. And we bring that subconsciously into our teaching, and we expect students to want to be that way. And when they’re not, we tend to see that as negative instead of seeing it as different. So knowing who your kids are and being able to compare that to how you think about the way you want students to be could help you be more open to how they behave, what they do, how they respond and react to things. And it will allow you to think more about how you then respond to what they do and what they say, and it would probably create a much stronger classroom if you are able to do that. Your goal as a teacher is to think about what are the opportunities I provide to get to know my students? Do I have multiple ways to know who they are, to see them outside of the classroom, to talk to their parents, to talk to them at lunchtime, or talk to them in the hallway, to get to know who they are in a way that goes beyond the teaching realm? And it’s difficult. It’s much easier in elementary school when you have twenty-five kids all day. You can get to know them within a month, get to know a little bit about all of them, and get to know them all well probably by Christmas. But in middle schools and high schools, it’s much more deliberate on the part of the teacher to go out of their way. We encourage our teachers to join clubs, to be coaches, to even go to community sporting events where the kids are playing, to visit activities that are happening on the weekends. You get to see the kids in a different environment. You get to see them interacting with parents. It takes time, but the end result is worth it. It’s just that you have to persevere and put yourself in a situation where you can get to see all these things happening.
Revisiting Initial Thoughts
Think back to your initial responses to the following questions. After working through the resources in this module, do you still agree with your Initial Thoughts? If not, what aspects of your answers would you change?
Is it important to acknowledge students’ diversity in classroom settings? Why or why not?
What should teachers understand in order to address student diversity in their classrooms?
When you are ready, proceed to the Assessment section.