Diversity in the Classroom

Question 1

How would you go about handling a classroom that has seven Individual Education Plans (IEPs) out of twenty-two students? This is a public school setting that is a culturally diverse environment. As a teacher, how do you go about looking out for the care of those who are IEP students? How will you know when to go on or to keep the same pace for the core of the group and letting the “smarter” students linger?

Sarah Wessling, honored as a 2010 teacher of the year, states,

“Improving the quality of teaching really means improving the degree of individualization in the classroom. What parents hope for and what students know is that a teacher who cares is a teacher who is invested in the people who participate in the culture of learning … That teacher knows students’ personal learning stories. That teacher recognizes that learning is personal, recursive, and not easily compartmentalized” (Bushaw 16).

Each day’s teaching lessons originate in a unit plan, which has a place in a yearly plan. These plans reflect the school’s vision. When planning curriculum, a teacher has to differentiate the core concepts of the unit of study. These are the most important ideas that all the students must know by the time the unit is complete. Next, a teacher needs to decide on the concepts that the student should know upon completion of the unit; finally, the teacher should define those concepts that will enhance the student’s learning.

Another way of looking at planning is listing the “essential questions” about the topic of study and the “enduring understandings” that students should know by the time the unit is completed. These need not be extensive. Both the formative and summative assessment must include concrete ways in which the students can demonstrate that they have met the learning targets.

The learning strategies and activities will provide many ways in which the students will focus on the topic, and repeatedly coming back to the “must-know” concepts will help all students, including those with IEPs, to learn the essentials. Because of the number and variety of learning activities that also vary in difficulty, all students have opportunity to learn. Obviously not all students will be doing the same activities at the same time, nor will all students have to complete all the activities. The teacher “talk time” to the whole class will be limited and will focus on introducing and reviewing the “enduring understandings.” Using this means of curriculum planning will help all students in their learning. For more information on curriculum planning check out the Teaching for Transformation (tftshare.ca) tab at www.paocs.ca or Google “Curriculum by Design.”

Question 2

What would be the best approach for a general education teacher who lacks experience in teaching students whose native language is not English, without ignoring their educational needs? There are three English language learners in the class of twenty-nine students. They sit in the same pod, and although they are improving in their English, they struggle with content areas such as math and science because of the complex academic language that is used. Because of this, they are far behind in their math class and do not perform well on their tests.

The situation you are describing is a difficult situation for any teacher. I believe that if the school board accepts students whose native language is not English, resources must also be put in place to accommodate these students. I know of situations where the numbers warranted hiring a teacher whose focus was English as a Second Language (ESL). Students were first given a grounding in English language and then integrated into the regular class.

Many years ago, I had a student who came from the Netherlands. I could not speak or understand Dutch but thankfully the secretary and others in the school could. Initially they were called on often to interpret for us. A few years later, this student was partnered with another student who had just arrived from the Netherlands. Efforts must be made to find interpreters, either within the school community or outside the community, who are willing to assist the students. If volunteers cannot be found, paid help may be required. Within the local community, volunteers who work with immigrants often offer this type of assistance.

Undoubtedly, students will eventually learn the language, but their integration could be made so much easier and their success rate would be so much greater if proper services were provided. Through the process, how many capable individuals are unnecessarily demoralized by receiving a failing grade?

Whether schools are Christian or public, most state that the individual needs of the students will be met. In Christian schools, we add that we will do this because children are created in God’s image with their various gifts and talents. If we truly believe this, we must provide the resources necessary for every child to fulfill their God-given calling. This has implication for teacher education programs, teacher professional development, and teachers’ attitudes toward the minorities in their classrooms. Arthur Levine states,

“America’s also changing color, becoming more transient, and coming increasingly from abroad. Middle-class whites continue to flee to the suburbs, creating an isolated urban underclass. The nation’s fastest growing populations are those with which our schools have been the least successful. Growing numbers of students arrive at school speaking languages other than English. Accelerating numbers of students have learning disabilities. The result is that both the students sitting in our classrooms and the teachers who educate them are different from their predecessors” (Levine 20).

To fulfill the mandate of educating all students, school boards will have to fund programs, including professional development, to meet the needs of the weakest among us and teachers will have to do all in their power to accommodate their teaching to meet these needs and to advocate for students who require special services.

Question 3

In my class observations, I am dealing with a student whose father is high up in the police force in the city where the school is located. One day I told him to keep his eyes on his own paper when the class was taking a test. This particular student let me know that he was going to tell his father on me. What can I do with a student like this?

This scenario could be similar to the student’s parent being a lawyer, pastor, school board member, or a fellow teacher. I recognize that you are a teacher in training and therefore any action you take must be in cooperation with the teacher whose classroom you are working in.

If, however, you were the teacher of this student, this is the action I would recommend: Try to remember exactly what the student said and write it down. You may ask the student to verify what was said. In so doing, you may create an opportunity for dialogue, and through that you may come to a greater understanding of this student and the reason for the response given when the student was reprimanded. What pressure is the student under? What is home life like?

If the first step did not result in dealing with the issue, you may challenge the student that you would like to be there at the time the father is told. You then set up a meeting with the student, father (or parents), and teacher. Most parents want their children to succeed and to do so honestly. The best that can be done is to confront the issue. Whether this is a public or non-public school, the principles of honesty, integrity, and obeying authority are part of our society. Your school policy may indicate that you must inform the principal of the action you are taking in dealing with the issue. As Christian teachers, we have a responsibility to guide our students in ways of righteousness (Ps. 1, Prov. 2).

Works Cited 

  • Bushaw, William and Shane Lopez. “A Time for Change.” Phi Delta Kappan 92.1 (September 2010): 9–26.
  • Levine, Arthur. “Teacher Education Must Respond to Changes in America.” Phi Delta Kappan 92.2 (October 2010): 19–24.

One thought on “Diversity in the Classroom

  1. This is a great article. I found it very helpful! Has clear answers about what to do in the situations presented! Great job! It was super easy to find and is very easy to understand 🙂

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