In today's classroom, teachers encounter a diverse student body. Some of this diversity is obvious: More than ever, students come from different racial, ethnic, religious and linguistic backgrounds. However, some diversity is not so visible. Students have different learning styles, different levels of motivation and different opinions about the world around them. The responsive teacher should work to recognize and accommodate these different brands of humanity.
America is a nation of many cultures. Students in your classroom, especially in a diverse urban area, are likely to be from many different racial and ethnic backgrounds. You may also encounter students who wear visible symbols of their faith, including young Muslim women who wear the hijab, the head scarf; or young Jewish men who wear the kippah, or skullcap. Some of your students may speak English as a second language.
You will also discover that your students span the spectrum of cognitive abilities. In today's inclusive classroom, you may have a high achiever seated next to a student with a cognitive disability who has a one-to-one aide to help him understand basic concepts. This presents a challenge even for experienced teachers. Differentiated instruction, which used to be accomplished by grouping students into different classes based on their achievement levels, is often now accomplished by giving individualized work to the highest and lowest achievers in a mixed group. While advocates for the slow students applaud the inclusive classroom, advocates for gifted students argue that this arrangement hinders the development of the best and brightest by expecting them to learn on their own while the rest of the class participates in teacher-led instruction.
Level of Motivation
You will also notice that your students have varying levels of motivation. Many factors influence student motivation, including a student's home life, cognitive aptitude and overall attitude. Students with problems at home may have more pressing matters on their mind than schoolwork; on the surface, this manifests as a motivational problem. Likewise, a student who is significantly slower than the rest of the class may give up and refuse to work rather than reveal how frustrated he is. In the same vein, a student significantly faster than the rest of the class may get bored easily with the work and rebel against doing the assignments. Finally, a defiant student with the attitude of "I won't do it and you can't make me" may choose to fail simply to prove to himself or others that he is in charge of his life.
Diversity of Opinion
Teachers should also recognize diversity of opinion. Although this is not a significant issue in the lower grades, students in high school have begun to form their own opinions about politics, religion and many other controversial topics. If the teacher attempts to impose his own view on the students, or a student attempts to impose his view on the class, a conflict may occur. Some students may even keep silent or parrot the teacher's opinion rather than risk a bad grade. To combat this problem, organizations exist that have a mission to defend individual rights on campus, including the rights to freedom of speech and conscience.
- The Inclusive Classroom: Strategies for Effective Instruction; Margo A. Mastropieri, et al.; 2006
- C-Mites News; Ability Grouping: Answers to Common Questions: Mary Ann Swiatek, Ph.D.; Spring 2001
- American Civil Liberties Union: Hate Speech on Campus
- Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: Mission
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