It is true, class composition in colleges and universities are becoming increasingly varied in backgrounds and experiences, reflecting the diverse society we live in. Diversity includes any element that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another. It requires a respect for, and acceptance of, differences for such things as age, ethnic origin, gender, religion, physical abilities, economics status, or sexual orientation. Beyond that, diversity recognizes and respects that each person contributes a variety of experiences, perspectives, skills, and lifestyle that must be valued and viewed as equal in order for us to work, learn, and grow with, and from, one another.
In Chapter 8: Teaching in Diverse Classrooms in his book The Skillful Teacher, Brookfield (2015) suggests that in order to effectively work in the diverse classroom you need to take the time to determine what the class composition is. This can be achieved using Classroom Assessment Techniques such as creating learning profiles, background probes, or initiating group activities/games that encourage individuals to ‘share’ who they are. He recommends staying in touch with your students regarding how diversity is playing out in the classroom, in addition to understanding your success rate in addressing it, can be achieved through the regular use of the Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ). I like this idea as I think the ongoing nature of using the CIQ sends a clear message to students that you care, value their feedback and are responding to their comments by constantly varying teaching strategies based on their needs.
Brookfield recommends the following broad strategies to cope with diversity in the classroom:
- Team teaching
- Mixing student groups
- Mixing modalities
- Visual or oral communication
- Silent or speech filled classrooms
I particularly like the team teaching approach as I can see there would be a greater ability to connect with a larger group of students as the additional variety of skills would cater to more students. Better connections would be made on an individual level which promotes a positive learning environment and therefore, better learning outcomes. It may not always be possible, due to financial or staffing reasons, but this is an approach I will consider when faced with a complex variety of student elements in my classroom.
Diversity in the classroom is a reality and it can feel overwhelming trying to grasp how one can possibly meet and accommodate all the needs within any given course. Rather than get overwhelmed, maybe I will start with common sense and let it be my guide followed by a few of the techniques identified above.
“There are no universal solutions or specific rules for responding to ethnic, gender, and cultural diversity in the classroom. Perhaps the overriding principle is to be thoughtful and sensitive….” (Davis, 1993).
Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom (3rd ed.). San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass.
Davis, B.G. (1993). Tools for Teaching. San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass.