The Problems, and some solutions, To Teaching Towards Diversity (Part III)

Student choice and interest should be reexamined for its potential in reaching diverse students, but also because it seems to be misunderstood. Student choice means students determine, in part, the shape of the curriculum. For instance, students can choose when to take assessments, the presentation style they prefer to use for a project, or a style of notes they like to take. Allowing for student interest means students can choose subjects and topics to study. During my use of the National History Day model, students chose historical topics based on their interests. My students developed their interests through weeks of activities that helped them discover their preferences, beliefs, and future desires.

Because of identity building students chose projects that responded to their identities: many female students chose suffrage because of the 100th anniversary, Native American students chose their tribal history, and students who wanted to be nurses and doctors chose medical history. In order for student choice and interest to be successful, students must feel like they have true power and ownership over the curriculum. If the teacher simply says “we are doing this activity this way because that is how this group likes it,” then there is little chance for success.

When working on their National History Day projects, many of my Native American students worked on Indian topics. They chose these topics because that was the cultural perspective they wanted to know about.

Teaching English Language Learners (ELL) is difficult, especially since there are few resources in the school district that can assist the students or teacher. Below are a few ideas that may help.

An example of the choice/interest solution can be hypothesized when thinking about teaching linguistically diverse students. Bilingual, or monolingual students who are learning English, contribute to the variety of diversity in school populations (Faltis, 559). In their chapter Preparing Teachers for Teaching in and Advocating for Linguistically Diverse Classrooms: A Vade Mecum for Teacher Educators, Christian Faltis and Guadalupe Valdès describe the reality of teaching linguistically diverse students.

For example, the authors cited a report from the Center for Public Education which produced several statistics, such as “20% of the nation’s population aged 5 and older speak a language other than English at home” (Faltis, 559). Clearly, linguistically diverse students are a demographic that is worth attention, and yet, they are difficult to teach because of the language barrier.

In order to meet the demand of teaching linguistically diverse learners, Faltis and Valdès describe several solutions; the one I was most interested in was scaffolding (Faltis, 574-576). Scaffolding can be easily combined with student choice and interest. Faltis and Valdès described a 12th-grade government teacher who “brought in cultural referents and community voices” in order to scaffold the lesson (Faltis, 576)

Building community contacts and trust would have taken the teacher an incredible amount of time and most likely was done without the teacher receiving additional compensation. This scaffolding method could be combined with student voice and choice by allowing students to provide members of their community, first family and then possibly more, in order to receive help with connecting classroom materials to their daily lives.

Something all cultures share is the desire to help children grow. Parents, no matter the nationality, race, ethnicity, or language, will help their children succeed. It is up to the teacher to develop those lines of communication and bring parents into the classroom.

Unless preservice teachers see that teaching towards diversity does not mean changing a method to fit each and every identity, they will not take it seriously. There are pedagogies and curriculum that allow for student choice and voice, such as National History Day and Mock Senate projects, and with proper scaffolding, these projects can form inclusive classrooms.

Example of A National History Day Project

Explanation of Mock Senate

Continue to other parts and Resources Cited

To see the other parts of this article series, click on Part I and Part II.

Faltis, Christian, and Guadalupe Valdès (2016). Preparing Teachers for Teaching in and Advocating for Linguistically Diverse Classrooms: A Vade Mecum for Teacher Educators, 549-592. In D. Gitomer and C. Bell Handbook of Research on Teaching, Fifth Edition. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

Carter, Prudence L., and Linda Darling-Hammond (2016). Teaching Diverse Learners, 593-637. In D. Gitomer and C. Bell Handbook of Research on Teaching, Fifth Edition. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

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