Student Diversity

Tips on Teaching in a Diverse Classroom1


  • Our students are diverse in their cultures and ethnicity, their experiences, their learning styles, and many other dimensions. All of these dimensions shape who they are and how they learn. Effective teachers understand this and use a variety of teaching methods to promote student learning. Below are some basic tips on how to teach in a diverse learning environment:
  • Having a “color-blind” classroom is probably neither possible nor a good idea. Trying to do so inevitably privileges a particular perspective (usually that of the teacher) and fails to recognize the experiences and needs of the learners. It is preferable to use strategies that recognize and capitalize on diversity.
  • Appreciating the individuality of each student is important. While generalizations sensitize us to important differences between groups, each individual student has unique values, perspectives, experiences and needs.
  • Articulate early in the course that you are committed to meeting the needs of all students and that you are open to conversations about how to help them learn. As teachers, it is important that we recognize our own learning styles and cultural assumptions, because these styles and assumptions influence how we teach and what we expect from our students. Being aware of them allows us to develop a more inclusive teaching style.
  • As you plan your course, and each class, prepare multiple examples to illustrate your points. Try to have these examples reflect different cultures, experiences, sexual orientations, genders, etc., to include all students in learning.
  • Help students move between abstract, theoretical knowledge and concrete, specific experiences, to expand everyone’s learning.
  • Use different teaching methods (lectures, small groups, discussions, collaborative learning) to meet the variety of learning needs.

For more information about teaching in a diverse classroom, print this PDF article.

NOTE The videos below are there as place holders for potential content that fits with the diversity issues presented in the videos. They were meant to be moved to their own link pages later as the content is developed. And the rest is just bits and pieces of ideas for content development.

Diversity & Learning

Video link description:
Our classrooms are filled with diversity. Each student is culturally unique and brings a core set of values, perspectives, concerns and agendas to the learning environment. Understanding the individuality of each student, apart from stereotypes, is important to effective teaching. As teachers it is important for us to recognize that our own assumptions are affected by both our societal values and our experiences, and that these assumptions often influence how we interact with and what we expect from our students. This workshop will explore how to use inclusive teaching strategies that recognize diversity, promote greater participation, and provide a variety of learning experiences.

Diversity, Teaching & Learning
Diversity, Teaching & Learning Lecture
Alison Dundes Renteln, October 2004

Bell Hooks: Cultural Criticism & Transformation (6:02)

Spin the Bottle: Sex, Lies & Alcohol (2:14)

CNN report about college students with mental illness (1:54)

I Have to Deal with Stereotypes (2:24)

More broadly, competition among students for teacher attention, approval, and grades is a commonly used motivator in U.S. schools. And in some situations, competition may create situations that impede learning. This is especially so if individual competition is at odds with a community ethic of individuals' contributing their strengths to the community (Suina, J. H. & Smolkin, L. B. (1994). From natal culture to school culture to dominant society culture. Supporting transitions for Pueblo Indian students. In P. M. Greenfield & R. R. Cocking, Eds. (eds). Cross-cultural roots of minority child development (pp 115-130). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.)

An emphasis on community is also important when attempting to borrow successful educational practices from other countries. For example, Japanese teachers spend considerable time working with the whole class, and they frequently ask students who have made errors to share their thinking with the rest of the class. This can be very valuable because it leads to discussions that deepen the understanding of everyone in the class. However, this practice works only because Japanese teachers have developed a classroom culture in which students are skilled at learning from one another and respect the fact that an analysis of errors is fruitful for learning (Hatano and Inagaki, 1996). Japanese students value listening, so they learn from large class discussions even if they do not have many chances to participate. The culture of American classrooms is often very different—many emphasize the importance of being right and contributing by talking. Teaching and learning must be viewed from the perspective of the overall culture of the society and its relationship to the norms of the classrooms. To simply attempt to import one or two Japanese teaching techniques into American classrooms may not produce the desired results.

The sense of community in a school also appears to be strongly affected by the adults who work in that environment. As Barth (1988) states:

The relationship among adults who live in a school has more to do with the character and quality of the school and with the accomplishments of the students than any other factor.

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