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Tactics for Teaching Diverse Classrooms

"By 2055, the U.S. will not have a single racial or ethnic majority," according to the Pew Research Center, and America's classrooms will mirror the rise in racial and ethnic diversity.

This trending change in cultural and ethnic diversity presents opportunities and challenges in the public school experience. Teachers and school leaders must work together to promote positive learning environments for all children by understanding diversity and inclusion. This means teaching mutual respect for others so that each student can feel included, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, culture, perspective or experience.

Tips for Teaching Diverse Learners

Educator, artist and activist Geneviève DeBose published a list on Teaching Channel of 10 Tips for Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners in which she shared the following practical tactics she uses to meet the needs of diverse learners.

  1. Teachers should meet as a team, by grade-level, to review each student's individual goals and discuss strategies that have proven successful.
  2. Create a "cheat sheet" to help your students with special needs and students who are English language learners in your grade. Across the top, list all the modifications and strategies available to use. Down the side, list the classes these students are in, then fill in students' names in the boxes that correspond to the class each student is in and the modifications that suit that individual best. This is helpful when planning lessons, assessments and groupings.
  3. Create a spreadsheet of students' reading levels. This can include the score/level from state tests or whichever resource your school uses to determine reading level. Doing so helps with differentiating texts and modifying lessons.
  4. Train aides, volunteers and classroom helpers on how to work individually with students.
  5. Share lesson plans and goals with all adult helpers ahead of time.
  6. Whenever possible, split the class into smaller groups, each facilitated by an adult in the room.
  7. Assign a small group of students to each adult helper to monitor and support.
  8. Modify assignments to make them more accessible to every student. Identify resources that can help with these modifications.
  9. Incorporate student feedback about their interests into your curriculum planning.
  10. Create songs and chants to help students learn and remember new skills and content.

Effective Instruction Practices

Dr. Crystal LaVoulle, a former middle school administrator and current director of an international education consulting company points out that in order to effectively work with diverse learners, one must teach the students and not just the material. She says, "Utilizing knowledge of students' social, cultural and language backgrounds, teachers can incorporate students' cultural capital into lessons and scaffold lessons by utilizing student strengths."

In order to effectively teach the material, Dr. LaVoulle points out that it is important to change the way the material is presented. She gives some examples of how to work with students who are academically, linguistically and culturally diverse:

Academically Diverse

Understanding what the goal is for each activity or lesson, and what students must know, understand, and do is the first step. Teachers can then construct the instructional activities needed to accomplish each goal and determine how each student can show mastery.

Linguistically Diverse

One way to work with linguistically diverse students is to use popular culture sources to engage them. Capitalizing on age-appropriate resources, teachers can draw on current events, news, movies, TV shows, music, social media trends and more to create engaging and interactive lessons that diverse learners can understand.

Culturally Diverse

An example of teaching math to students from diverse cultures would be to illustrate the differences between using the metric system and using the imperial system. Another example Dr. LaVoulle shared came from a math teacher who used a recording of a Verizon wireless customer discussing his billing rate for international calls. The recording illustrated a math error the customer support rep made based on a misunderstanding of dollars and percentages.

Expanding STEM Education to Diverse Learners

Dr. Jaunine Fouché, winner of the 2016 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, shares strategies for making science, technology, engineering, arts and math studies more accessible. She recommends starting in kindergarten and providing students with problem-based learning opportunities. Taking advantage of their curiosity, she invites her students to explore topics of their own interest so they learn to reach their own conclusions and not just prove that the teacher is right.

By fourth grade, her students are encouraged to explore career and technical education. By ninth grade, they begin to narrow their focus and go deep. In high school, Dr. Fouché's school arranges for internships off campus.

The basis of personalized learning, she believes, is assessment. Instead of providing students with a single score, she breaks it down so students know exactly which content they have mastered and which they haven't. In this way, students know where they need help and she knows how best to help them.

Advanced Education for Teachers of Diverse Learners

At the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), the online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction program includes courses specifically designed to help teachers work with diverse learners. These courses teach culturally responsive practices and in-depth analyses of how students learn and how to appropriately differentiate instruction. They include the advanced study of curriculum models with an understanding of cognitive development, pedagogical content knowledge, and learning progressions.

Learn more about UTA's online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction -- Mathematics Education program.


Pew Research Center: 10 Demographic Trends That Are Shaping the U.S. and the World How Important Is Cultural Diversity at Your School

Teaching Channel: 10 Tips for Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners

Edutopia: Expanding the STEM (or STEAM) Pipeline to Diverse Learners

AMLE: Effective Instructional Practices for Diverse Learners

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