Sunday, March 20, 2011

How to be an Effective Educator in Diverse Classrooms?

Posted BY: Karla Diaz

Classrooms today are more diverse than ever (whether its race, ethnicity, or gender diversity), and as educators we should be prepared to work effectively with the broad range of learners within our classrooms. I usually teach Latinos because it is the population I feel the most comfortable with, but recently my students have been more diverse. This has made me think more about my effectiveness in delivering knowledge and information to diverse groups. I seek to improve my skills on a daily bases and recently I found a book that was very helpful in helping me analyze who I am in the classroom and what I should be doing to help all learners feel welcomed and validated (ideally).
The book is called Tools of Teaching by Gross Davis.
This book provides strategies to help educators become better teachers in diverse classrooms. The strategies are the following:
• Recognize any biases or stereotypes you may have absorbed.

• Treat each student as an individual, and respect each student for whom he or she is.

• Rectify any language patterns or case examples that exclude or demean any groups.

• Do your best to be sensitive to terminology (stay updated on terminology).

• Get a sense of how students feel about the cultural climate in your classroom.

• Introduce discussions of diversity at department meetings.
The book also provides a list of things educators should do to improve the effectiveness of lessons in diverse classrooms. The list that was most beneficial to my professional growth was the “classroom discussion list” which provides guidelines to improve classroom discussions in diverse classrooms. The guidelines are:
• Emphasize the importance of considering different approaches and viewpoints.

• Make it clear that you value all comments.

• Encourage all students to participate in class discussion.

• Monitor your own behavior in responding to students.

• Reevaluate your pedagogical methods for teaching in a diverse setting.

• Speak up promptly if a student makes a distasteful remark even jokingly.

• Avoid singling out students as spokespersons (it is unfair to have a person talk about his or her entire race, culture, or nationality).
These strategies and guidelines were helpful in helping me to conduct myself better in the classroom. Some things that I try to do when I am in a diverse classroom are:
- Gather information about how diverse the classroom is and do some research about them before beginning the class.

- Be attentive to what students needs during the lesson.

- Provide resources that are in the person’s language or tailored to the person culture.

- Offer extra help to students who have doubts about material

And in the classroom:

- Give everyone an equal opportunity to participate while acknowledging the people who raise their hand.

- Listen to the students and use their examples to explain concepts or ideas.

- Use the students name or nickname if this is proffered by the student.

- Encourage the students to critically analyze the lesson material.

- Give the students sufficient time to process information and ask questions.

- Giving feedback that goes along with the discussion.
I would like to know what other educators do to be effective educators in diverse classrooms. Please share your experiences or your thoughts.
Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for Teaching. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Post by: Karla Diaz


  1. Karla,
    This is an excellent post! I think your source has a lot of great suggestions for dealing with diverse populations.
    While I haven't had the opportunity to teach to many diverse populations, my place of employment has recently founded a Diversity Committee, of which I am a part of. Some of the suggestions we had for increasing diversity in our workplace was to hold diversity workshops, change the furniture/artwork to reflect different ethnicities, promote the institute in areas with more diverse populations and finally figure out a way to make the programs at the institute more affordable and accessible so people of all socioeconomic backgrounds can become a part of it.
    Also, simple things such as changing the wording on our intake disposition sheets and databases to use the word 'Latino' as opposed to 'Hispanic' would be more encompassing (Source:Becca). This is similar to your source's suggestion of 'providing resources to tailor to other peoples culture'.
    All in all, I think your source has a bunch of great ideas!

  2. I am interested in diversity. This topic is especially appropriate for me as it looks like my practicum this summer will be in Bridgeport, Connecticut where I will be working with 10-12 year olds boys and girls who will be, according to population statistics, both African Americans and Latinos. For me it will be the second time around that I will be working with a diverse population. My initial experience was in my first year of teaching when I procured a job in Stamford, Connecticut, another extremely diverse neighborhood. I am white, and as I said in class, I am probably whiter than Don. I am sure they did not think much of me initially as most of the teachers at Stamford High School were white, but I became “a favorite teacher.” I owned up to knowing nothing - and I really did know nothing! I asked for help. I asked what they meant when they were using their language and their slang, and I asked for respect. I still have kids who email me on a regular basis to update me on their lives. One of my students I see every now and then as she is working at Forever 21 in Stamford while she puts herself through school.

    Eggen and Kauchak (2006) recommended direct instruction as especially effective for students with diverse backgrounds. Their rationale is that direct instruction provides culturally and linguistically diverse students with additional structure which facilitates learning. They reported that the organization of ideas and procedures facilitated understanding especially where language is a concern. A direct instruction model provides opportunities for feedback between students and teacher where concepts can be clarified and culturally relevant examples can be elicited from the students.

    I believe I will be receiving lots of culturally relevant examples from the 10 - 12 -year olds I will be teaching this summer. The coordinator was estactic about having a volunteer in to teach a subject that might actually be of interest to these kids. I imagine I will have a very interesting summer immersing myself in the culture, the diversity, and the sexuality of African American and Latino youths.

    Eggen, P. D., & Kauchak, D. P. (2006). Strategies and models for teachers: Teaching content
    and thinking skills. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

  3. yesterday i walked into a 6th grade classroom to talk about sexual harassment. half the kids in that class were refugees from probably 10 different countries and don't speak a lick of english. it doesn't get more culturally diverse than that! The teacher pulled me aside before the class began and asked me not to call on kids that don't volunteer themselves to participate so that i don't single them out and embarrass them. I feel that in this situation it was the right thing to do, and that sometimes being 'inclusive' of everyone also means recognizing the differences, whether it is a language or cultural barrier or a learning disability. it is kind of borderline ignoring students, but i think it would be a lot worse to embarrass them in front of their classmates. i wish i had a better way of attending to these differences, but what do you do when you are given no information ahead of time of what kind of class you are walking into?? often times, i may walk into a remedial class where many of the kids have learning difficulties and can't read? so i guess my question is, what can an educator do (if anything) if there is no time to prepare ahead of time for cultural or learning differences?

  4. To answer Ettie's question as best as I can, I'm going to call upon a great point in Vicki's post - asking for help from the audience.
    Vicki, I really liked your example because I think that it is often the best strategy for building a rapport in just about any social situation (even though you were referring to the classroom experience).
    Admitting your own ignorance and asking for help is probably the best way that a teacher can begin a dialogue with diverse populations of students. I don't have anyone in particular to cite here because this is such a common element of teaching... that teachers also learn quite a bit from their students. (I'd hope that this is common knowledge, right?)
    That being said - it can be very intimidating to work with groups of people who are unfamiliar to the teacher. I would imagine that it's best to break some ice somehow... and asking questions (sensitively, of course) is a great way to get started.
    I can recall a time when I was much younger and met one of my best friends for the very first time. She was a white girl from South Africa and I knew nothing about South Africa at the time. I asked her tons of questions and also invited her to ask questions to me. We figured out that both of us were quite ignorant about each others' experiences and were able to not only learn from one another, but laugh at our preconceived notions of cultures that differed from our own.
    This is an example of a social situation, of course, but I can see how it would also work in a classroom setting.
    Thanks for the input, Vicki. And thank you to Karla for bringing up a very important topic.

  5. I agree with many of these guidelines but there are a couple that stick out. The most important ones, I think, are to gather information about the classroom diversity beforehand and prepare yourself and identify any biases or stereotypes that you have absorbed. I find it very helpful to step back and reflect before I prepare anything. Even as far as to try and put myself in the other person's shoes so that I can identify all the important factors that relate to the educational goals I have (as learned in 625/626) like developmental stage, culture, and the educational theory I might be using. Sometimes identifying these 3 simple things can help me start to research and familiarize myself with the classroom I am entering and dissolve any underlying biases I may have. Then, I would agree with Vicki and Jamie, that I am going to identify the elephant in the classroom (depending on the audience). Dr. Dyson has also said it...if I'm a white woman in a classroom full of black men, I feel obligated to break the ice and point out the obvious. I feel like I would probably ask colleagues that have more experience with diverse classrooms too...they would know what direction to point me to help educate myself about the experience. In the end, I go in understanding that I may have prepared myself too much and it turns out I don't need the knowledge, etc. but I'd rather be safe than sorry. I'd rather go in knowing that I am overprepared than not prepared at all, especially when it comes to diversity.

    As I'm reading through the list, I also noticed "do your best to be sensitive to terminology"...which I completely agree with and try to do a lot. But just staying up to date with diversity is important to talk about. Attend diversity trainings and educational opportunities whenever you can. I don't think I would've made it where I am without the extensive diversity training that I had during my undergrad and I actually miss it somedays. It just kept me up-to-date and on my toes about everything from language, current events, challenges/successes. I think this helps me expand my personal investment in diversity but also my professional effectiveness working in a diverse environment.

  6. Karla – great ideas for creating a culturally inclusive classroom! I appreciate this topic and certainly the tips outlined as I too struggle with my role as a White, female educator who instructs in predominantly African American communities and mostly with audiences of young men. The tips above are great for reflection on my own teaching and I would like to add the importance of getting to know the audience before the actual instruction begins. For my work, I often go into CBOs and other facilities on a moment’s notice and do not have time to conduct a formal needs assessment beforehand. I try to get as much information from the host as possible on the age range and diversity of the group which allows me to create a culturally sensitive workshop. I have, however, gone into groups where I was unprepared for the cultural diversity of the audience and had to quickly reevaluate my lesson. One way I try to be culturally sensitive and establish rapport with a group (especially when I am obviously the outsider) is to allow participants to introduce themselves and give some unique aspect of their lives. From there I try to make connections and ask questions about their experiences. I find that my interest in their lives helps drastically with establishing rapport and also gives me a bit more insight into their experiences. Making connections between the subject matter being presented and those experiences they shared at the onset also makes the information more relevant and personal to participants. As you can see, I definitely utilize the tips you mentioned above and have found them to be quite helpful. Thanks again!

  7. I really liked this post, Karla!

    There is much emphasis in our program on the importance of recognizing and catering to the diverse backgrounds of the audiences we are teaching. These are one of those things that I think are easier than done, as the diversity and makeup of every audience is going to be different, and an audience can be diverse on a multitude of levels - some that are apparent and some that are not. While it is important to be aware of this as much as possible, it is unlikely that you will be able to consider ALL aspects of an audience's diversity ALL the time. I say this specifically thinking about what characteristics of our students we immediately think about when we consider "diversity". I think most of us can agree that characteristics we tend to think of first include race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. We hopefully even think about SES, language, physical ability, religion, nationality.... but what about lesser-realized traits? Family size? Relationship status? These are things that can impact how we teach...but we may not always consider them right away.

    This is why I think it is OBVIOUSLY important to take diversity into account when educating, and the suggestions above are really great ways to start. But I also think it is equally as important as an educator to be yourself. Recognize (either internally or even outwardly with your audience) that you can't possibly empathize 100% with every member of your audience at all times. That doesn't necessarily make you a bad educator, it just makes you human.

  8. Hi Karla, great topic! It was refreshing to see a conversation that explores strategies beyond changing names on a worksheet/role play scenario to reflect the diversity of your audience. I really appreciate Colby’s point, so often we think of the obvious kinds of diversity that we can see, but people can be diverse in many ways.

    Several people mentioned this point, and I concur, I believe the best way to manage and more effectively reach any group is to find out more about them. Even if you do not have the time to prepare with research before meeting a new group you can ask them on the spot about themselves so you can gear your teaching more specifically towards the group. Icebreakers are a great opportunity to do this – start out with a getting to know you activity where everyone shares a little bit of personal information. You can tailor the information you ask for to relate to the lesson you are teaching so you have examples and experiences from the participants that you can refer back to throughout the lesson.

    The important point for me is to be cognizant that diversity is always present and has the ability to impact my message. In order to be the most effective educator I can be I need to ASK to find out what information people need and explore how their experiences and background can work to my advantage to enhance my lesson and help me better reach the students. And as Colby said, we are human. We won’t get it right every time, but I think if we maintain our awareness we can at least learn something new about diversity with every teaching experience.