Toolkit on Teaching for Diversity - How to make material more accessible to all students by including different kinds of thinking and knowing in the classroom?


Multiple instructional strategies

Experts recommend the use of multiple instructional means to achieve common learning outcomes for diverse students.  A variant of this idea that emphasizes and addresses intellectual diversity is differentiated instruction.  This strategy is based on the notion that students learn in various ways and at different rates, and that learning styles are strongly influenced by cultural socialization and prior experiences.

Different societies and cultures develop their own assumptions about the nature of knowledge and various ways of learning. This can become problematic when diverse students are taught by teachers of the dominant culture who may not understand, value, or accommodate their different types of “cultural capital”.
When teaching styles are compatible with students’ learning styles, student achievement increases. Other outcomes such as improved school attendance, fewer disciplinary referrals, feelings of empowerment and greater satisfaction with schooling can also be achieved for both teachers and students.

A first step to make materials more accessible to all students is to start with assessing learning styles early on in the year. You can in turn accommodate different learning styles of diverse students in a way that affirms their prior competencies and makes new material easier to master. To begin, you can employ one of the questionnaires below for assessing learning preferences. 

Such questionnaires will help students to self-assess their preferred learning styles and, as an added benefit, will also usually provide tips for how to best cater to different learning styles. It is also useful for you to assess your own learning preference(s), as these necessarily influence your teaching style. Remember that while tradition and culture often influence learning preference, it is important not to over-generalize, as there will always be variance within diversity. Using a variation of strategies can help to ensure that all students can benefit from your instruction.

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Encouraging students to use one another as resources:

When responding to individual learning strengths and needs of students, teachers may feel confronted with time limitations, especially if all teaching is directed by the teacher. One of the ways in which you can increase individual support time for students is by making use of the students themselves as teaching resources through peer tutoring arrangements.

Teachers can create multiple opportunities for students to see each other as sources of information, instruction, and support. This is of particular interest for teaching diverse student classrooms, where students can direct their own learning, share knowledge and experiences, and turn to each other for help sorting out issues.

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Active teaching & learning:

Another instructional strategy you can employ to be more culturally responsive is to use an active, direct approach to teaching.  This includes elements such as: demonstrating, modeling, giving feedback, reviewing, and emphasizing higher-order skills, while avoiding excessive amounts of rote learning. It is important to recognize that all students need meaningful contexts for learning, but they also need practice in skills that will help them to be successful as learners.  While participation and cooperative learning strategies are very important, so, too is instruction that makes information and expectations clear.

When allowing students to direct their own learning, keep in mind that while the immediate goal is that students learn, they will also need to be taught about what is necessary for advancement in their society, such as standard grammar and norms of academic communication.

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Authentic assessment

One way you can make expectations clear and construct an inclusive learning environment with opportunities for diverse learning styles is through authentic assessment. Authentic assessment attempts to evaluate student learning in an alternative form that moves away from standard assessments like written tests and essays.

Authentic tasks represent knowledge and resemble real-world applications, allowing students to integrate what they have learned. Meaningful performance in real-world contexts provide opportunities for a diverse class to demonstrate their strengths and intelligences. 

In some schools, student learning is assessed through culminating events in which students produce mathematical models, literary critiques, science experiments, artistic performances, debates, and oral presentations, etc. In conjunction with teacher coaching and feedback, such exhibitions motivate them to make real efforts and develop deep levels of understanding.  The opportunity to revise their work in response to feedback allows students to develop competence.

There are different ways to assess such performances, and the criteria used should represent the aspects of proficiency of the task, and be openly expressed to students.  For example, a research report might be evaluated for its use of evidence, accuracy of information, development of a clear argument, and attention to conventions of writing.  Students can in turn develop the capacity to assess their own work using specific standards, revise and modify their work, and take initiative.  Review and revision help all students examine how they learn and how they can perform better, and make expectations for work clear. Also, arranging for students to present their work to others in the school, and parents and families, can help encourage learning as a two-way relationship with the school community. 

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Multicultural content integration and multiple perspectives

Using multiple perspectives in teaching knowledge about different kinds of diversity-and skills for engaging with those diversities-is important in a culturally responsive classroom.  

Expanding curriculum to include a variety of perspectives not only allows teachers to discuss views and ideas that are less common or underrepresented, but also provides students a more holistic understanding of the subject area. Also, positive role models from a variety of different backgrounds and cultural groups can be provided.

You can make an initial effort to integrate multiple perspectives into the classroom by celebrating cultural holidays and highlighting noteworthy individuals from non-dominant groups. Although these activities do draw attention to the fact that society is shaped by multiple perspectives, to be most effective, it is important not to stop at this point of integration.

Ideally, you can integrate multicultural content into school curricula that combine analysis of contributions of diverse populations in your society, with multiple histories, perspectives, experiences and voices.  Some websites with examples of how to do so are listed below.

This will help set the stage for crossing cultural borders, or constructing contexts wherein students can bring their own cultural experiences to the learning conversation. This involves getting to know students culturally, socially, experientially and intellectually – ideas for which have been provided here. This also involves valuing their cultural knowledge and experiences outside school as viable resources for and bridges to classroom learning. Doing so, while making an effort to accommodate different learning styles of diverse students to affirm prior competencies and make new knowledge easier to master, helps to create a truly culturally responsive classroom.

One way example of how you might cross cultural borders to is allow students to use their own languages in certain activities—an important resource for learning and a good way to keep families involved. In a Language Arts class for example, students could tell a folk tale in their own language and then translate it into the host language. Teachers could even post these stories on the web or blogs and then have the students invite their families to comment on them – the families can read in translation if necessary. This encourages first language literacy, an important predictor of achievement, and honours their own language, helping to integrate them and their families to the school.


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