Incorporating cultural diversity in the classroom can be helpful for students in a number of ways. Learning about cultural diversity can help them later, when they enter into a diverse workforce. It can also help to create a more inclusive learning environment where all children can feel that their backgrounds and differences are appreciated. Teachers are in a unique position to guide children as they begin forming their attitudes toward race and culture. By increasing cultural awareness, teachers can help educate children about other cultures, and prevent them from developing prejudices. There are many different ways to incorporate cultural diversity in the classroom.
Take an inventory of the cultural diversity of your classroom. Do the materials you use promote stereotypes or do the posters, books, toys, and videos portray the diversity of the students in your classroom? Remove toys and materials that reflect stereotypes and add materials that reflect diversity. Students will feel validated and affirmed in their differences when they're able to see themselves reflected in the classroom environment. If your students are not a diverse group, integrate toys and materials that mirror diversity in their local communities or even in the U.S. You can expand and include cultures throughout the world as well.
Integrate activities that emphasize cultural awareness. For instance, certain interactive activities can be a fun way for students to notice and celebrate differences. An activity for preschool children may revolve around different hairstyles. You can ask parents for a small clipping of a child's hair or use photographs to look at the different textures, colors and styles of hair in the classroom. Elementary school-age children might benefit from activities that are centered on talking and sharing. For instance, you can ask children to share their family's sayings and traditions, particularly around holidays. In these ways, children can learn about each other and discover new cultures.
Facilitate learning outside the classroom. Field trips and guest speakers are excellent ways to increase cultural awareness in the classroom. Bring your class on trips that explore local cultures. This may include trips to museums or local communities where there are strong immigrant influences. You can also ask students and parents to bring in music they listen to at home. This is one way to appreciate the individual cultures that are represented in your classroom.
If you're a language teacher and your school has the resources, it's ideal take trips to other countries and learn firsthand about different cultures. For most teachers, this is not a feasible option, but much can be learned using local resources.
When discussing cultural differences, teachers can confront prejudices and stereotypes students may already have. Rather than getting angry or confrontational, use these opportunities to discuss the dangers of stereotyping.
Become aware of your own cultural beliefs and stereotypes. Increasing your awareness will help you to speak more openly to your students about differences.
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images