Today's learners are more diverse than ever before. Where once students in a given school came from similar backgrounds with similar goals and aspirations, nothing could be farther from the truth today. Today's teachers need to be more aware of different school populations than ever before in order to meet the needs of all learners.
Diversity in the Past
Where teachers once looked at education as a one size fits all prospect, they now realize that educational success depends on many factors. Originally, classroom diversity referred only to gender, race, nationality and culture. In an attempt to better reach all of these groups, textbooks began to include works that highlighted these populations and tried to remove all cases of gender, racial and cultural bias. Various studies highlighted the different learning styles and interests of these groups in order to better prepare them for the future. While these groups are still part of today's diverse classroom, many others must also be considered.
Today's classroom typically includes students from diverse economic backgrounds. This means that while some students come from families that can afford the latest electronic gadgets, take vacations to exotic places, and visit art museums and similar destinations, other students come from families that can afford no frills. They may not have a computer or Internet access or wear the latest styles, and their address may be a homeless shelter. These experiences can definitely affect their ability to learn.
Today's students are also likely to come from different religious backgrounds, which can mean a difference in holiday celebrations and activity scheduling in K-12 classrooms. For example, most schools no longer have Christmas programs; they are more likely to hold winter concerts with secular songs. Families of Wiccan students may not look favorably on traditional Halloween parties and activities while students who are Jehovah’s Witnesses may feel ostracized for not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or taking part in holiday and birthday celebrations. In addition, students of Orthodox Jewish background may not be able to take part in school activities on Saturdays.
Where once students usually attended the same school district from kindergarten to twelfth grade, today's mobile society and blended families may mean that students change schools many times. Because of this, some students may have missed early lessons covering reading and other core concepts. In addition, separated and divorced parents may enforce different educational standards. Other non-traditional families may include grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, relatives raising nieces and nephews and parents of other students who can no longer live with their family members. Students who are in foster care may move several times during the course of a year, often repeating some units while missing others.
Many classrooms also have differently-abled and gifted students in addition to "regular" students; some of these students will need additional support in the form of modified lessons or paraprofessionals in the classroom. Those with hearing, speech and sight impairments may need extra classroom help as well while students with ADHD may require medication. Students with health issues, such as Crohn's, may miss numerous days of school. Non-native speakers may not hear any English spoken outside of the school day. Each of these populations presents different challenges for the teacher who must see that all students obtain a specific level of learning by the end of the school year.
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