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Diversity in the Classroom

By gtowngal Jan 23, 2006 1269 Words
Culture evolves over time in response to adaptive challenges. One result of this evolutionary process is beliefs and practices that help us adapt to persistent as well as changing circumstances. These beliefs and practices are organized as models or schema about how things work, what is ideal, and which practices are proper and help individuals or groups survive and prosper. Cultural models are so familiar that their functions and effects are often unseen, invisible, unnoticed. The evidence of their workings are often most apparent in everyday routines in communities, homes, work places, play yards, and schools (McIntyre, 2000). What activities are carried out, why they are valued, who should participate, and the rules of interaction are coded into our cultural models. All aspects of education should value the diversity of our students. Through this research I was able to explore the meaning of diversity in the classroom, how important it is to have an awareness of its effects on learner and educators alike, and how as teachers and leaders it is crucial for us to tap into the diversity in out classrooms for the success of the learning process.

First of all, what exactly is meant by diversity? It is important to understand the interpretations and meanings of the term and, like every concept, the understanding of it is closely linked to the context that is found. According to the article Multicultural Education from the Journal of Physical Education, diversity is defined as: the fact or quality of being diverse; differences; variety. As teachers, we need to deal with diversity in a way that encourages active responsiveness in the classroom. One of the primary goals of education is to show students different points of view and encourage them to evaluate their own beliefs. It is the job of a leader and educator to help students begin to appreciate the number of situations that can be understood only by comparing several interpretations, and help them appreciate how one's premises, observations, and interpretations are influenced by social identity and background. It is important for an educator to make it clear that all comments are values. Students need to feel free to voice an opinion and empowered to defend it. All students are able to focus on and enjoy learning more when the school and classroom make them feel safe-comfortable with themselves and with their surroundings. Educators must try not to allow their own difference of opinion prevent communication and debate, and be able to step in if some students seem to be ignoring the viewpoints of others.

Planning and organization plays a significant role in incorporating diversity into the classroom. When an educator enters the classroom, he or she should, or course, know the materials and the learning objectives. Being teachers, we must have a clear vision of the itinerary to keep the discussion on track and make use of extra motivation by preparing the students with a brief review. Ms. Shane stated in our interview that a great activity to begin integrating diversity is called "Human Differences." This activity is an easy three-step process. The students will: 1.Interview the other people in their group. Find out their ethnic and cultural background. Ask them what they feel are important parts of their culture. 2.Use the fact books and other resources to find out information about these areas where their families (ancestors) were from. Include information on location, size, ethnic groups, beliefs, literacy rate, climate, and what else you feel is relevant. 3.Compare (not judge) the various cultures. How are they alike? How are they different? Write a 1-2 paragraph summary of what was learned.

This type of instructional content utilizes student diversity. By doing this activity it provides students with social support, offers all students opportunities to recognize and validate different cultural perspectives, and provides all students information on other cultures and exposure to other languages. There are many other themes that can be taught with certain activities. Such as respect for all people; lessons and activities designed to meet this purpose should help students understand their own biases and view others with respect regardless of race, color, religion, sex, disability, age, national origin, or citizenship status. Educators can also include lessons in this category that teach students about language and behaviors that may be offensive to people of other cultures. Another example understands the management of a cultural conflict. Students need to learn how to recognize and manage situations where conflict is caused by cultural difference. A lesson such as "Parts of Things that Work Together"(see activities) can be used to help students recognize and resolve conflict. One of the largest challenges faced in trying to achieve this in a classroom by both learners and educators, is the fear of diversity faced by the latter. To adequately attend to cultural diversity in the classroom, teachers must look first at their own cultural background and understand how their biases affect their interactions with students. Then, teachers can examine the backgrounds and needs of the student population and understand their students' cultural biases as well (Thompson, 2002). When teachers have knowledge of different cultural qualities, it is easier for them to recognize the creative ways that students express themselves.

Another reason why teachers must recognize the value of being aware and taking advantage of diversity is because diversity and learner motivation are inextricably linked. Being aware and open to the meaning that is created in interaction with another person will help an educator avoid rubricizing and allow a neutral situation (McIntyre, 2000). If no learning situation is culturally neutral, then it falls on the teacher to become very aware of potential barriers and obstacles that each learner may have. Taking this into account Marda Steffey (2001) suggests a four point motivational framework for culturally open teaching: 1.Establishing inclusion—norms, procedures, and structures woven together to form a learning context in which all learners and teachers feel respected by and connected to one another. 2.Developing attitude—norms, procedures and structures that create through relevance and choice a favorable disposition among learners and teachers toward the learning experience or learning goal. 3.Enhancing meaning—norms, procedures, and structures that expand, refine, or increase the complexity of what is learned in a way that matters to learners, includes their values and purposes, and contributes to a critical consciousness. 4.Engendering competence—norms, procedures, and structures that create an understanding for learners of how they are or can be effective in learning something of personal value. The goals of these four points are interrelated and all affect one another. When learners and teachers find themselves immersed in a unique world of the classroom, the interaction of culture is invaluable for the success of the learning process. Educating about diversity has the purpose of empowering students to make changes in society. Every discipline is influenced by the imbalance of power that exists across racial and ethnic groups, between genders, and among other socially constructed categories of difference. Despite advances in race and ethnic relations, gender equality, religious tolerance and so on, significant documented inequality continues to exist in this country and around the world. In order to gain a true liberal arts education, students need to be exposed to all the contributors to the creation of knowledge in the respective disciplines. Educators have a responsibility to assist the people who are privileged enough to be students in becoming aware of the inequalities around them. Therefore, each educator should work to infuse each class with the diverse voices that contributed to the knowledge base of the discipline.

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