Toolkit on Teaching for Diversity - Encountering and acknowledging diversity in the classroom

 

Introduction: what is diversity?

Every child is unique. All classrooms are diverse in that they have children who are boys, girls, tall, short, left-handed, right-handed, etc. However, to narrow the concept for this toolkit we define diversity in the classroom as those characteristics, including cultural, linguistic, ethnic, religious and socio-economic differences that can affect the specific ways in which development potential and learning are realised.

Diversity in classrooms is a complex issue and presents formidable challenges to educators. However, unlike many who view diversity as a hindrance in academic environments, or as a problem to be ‘solved’, this toolkit champions it as offering a unique opportunity for enriched learning.

Respect for all students and belief in their potential as learners is a crucial underlying element of effective teaching for diversity.

This section of the toolkit:

  • encourages teachers to critically reflect on what diversity is and how it shows itself in the classroom
  • provides pointers on how teachers can begin to reflect on their knowledge of and attitudes toward diversity, 
  • offers worksheets and activities for how to accomplish this, both on their own and through activities with their students

There are no universal solutions or specific rules for responding to cultural, linguistic, ethnic, religious, and socio-economic diversity in the classroom. Research on good practices is limited and the topic is complex and dynamic. The material in this section is intended to help you increase your awareness of issues surrounding diversity in the classroom, drawing from research whenever possible.

 

How can you recognize diversity, and variance within diversity, in the classroom?

Starting point: Reflecting on diversity in your own classroom:

How diverse is your classroom, and in what ways?  As a first step, try to get to know the students you will be teaching—both as members of groups they belong to and as individuals.

Web Resources and Further Reading:

How to recognize variance within diversity?

When we say that a classroom is diverse, it is important to think about the terms we use.  Do many students come from a particular group?  Or do they come from a number of different groups?  What do we know about them as individuals, separate from the groups they may belong to?

We often make generalisations about individuals coming from the same ethnic or cultural background. For example, assuming that all Asians are _____ can lead to stereotypes and assumptions. However, stereotypes and assumptions can have an impact on expectations of student performance.

 

Web Resources and Further Reading:

How to perceive and acknowledge attitudes towards diversity?

Effective teaching for diversity requires that teachers first be aware of their own attitudes, stereotypes, and prejudices. Think about yourself. How have your culture and background influenced your norms and values?  How have these, in turn, influenced your behavioural patterns and problem-solving styles? Your teaching practices?

Asking these questions is a good starting point for developing practices for teaching for diversity. It can be hard to admit that some long-standing attitudes about certain groups can be negative, especially if it means that it is difficult to effectively teach these groups.

Web Resources and Further Reading:

Discussing ‘cultural differences’ and diversity in the classroom

Once you have reflected on your own thoughts and attitudes regarding diversity, it is also important to engage with students on their experiences.

People often have deeply ingrained ideas about what is right, normal and natural, and these values and beliefs determine how individuals behave.  When people with different backgrounds interact, some complications and confusions are bound to arise. If teachers ignore or avoid these complications, the resulting teaching solutions are likely to be overly simplified and be of limited value.  An added bonus of discussing diversity in the classroom is that it can help teachers confront obstacles to teaching their diverse classrooms.

Web Resources and Further Reading:

--------------------------------------------------

---  Back to Toolkit on Teaching for Diversity - Introduction ---