How Diversity Impacts Reading Instruction

Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

This lesson provides an overview of ways in which physical, cultural, and developmental diversity can impact reading instruction, which can present both challenges and opportunities in supporting student growth.

Diversity in the Reading/English Classroom

If you are a teacher of a class that has more than one student, you are likely to experience some type of and some degree of diversity among your students. Diversity can refer to racial demographics, but also to any amount of variance among your students, whether they are physical, cultural, or developmental.

Diversity among students can present challenges for reading instruction, simply because you are one teacher with your own perspective and you must challenge yourself to reach students coming from very different places. Taking on this challenge though can also make your reading instruction much richer, stronger, and reach more students. Let's take a look at some techniques.

Physical Diversity

Physical diversity refers to the visible differences that are present among students in your classroom. This can include gender, age, size, and other factors. It is important to create a classroom where physical differences among students are treated as valuable rather than shameful and it is equally important that reader teachers choose texts that represent the physical diversity of their students as well.

Students may ''check out'', or not connect with texts in which they do not see themselves or people like themselves in them. Conversely, struggling readers may be more engaged and likely to read texts where they do recognize aspects of their physical existence. Either way, reading books that represent the physically diverse makeup of your classroom, and even diversity that is not present in your classroom, is a positive way to celebrate and learn about difference through reading instruction.

Cultural Diversity

Cultural diversity refers to the various backgrounds your students are coming from and the variety of assets or obstacles they might be bringing when it comes to reading. Culture can include race, religion, economic status, gender, and family values, and all of these things combine in different ways that can help or hinder a student's reading progress.

Cultural diversity in terms of reading instruction can be a challenge because students' families may have varying attitudes about education and reading. This can be influenced by past experiences of parents, religious beliefs, lack of reading with family at home because of economic challenges, and a variety of other factors. Diverse backgrounds among students may also mean that not all students will have the same frame of reference and background knowledge that may be required to comprehend some texts.

To overcome these challenges, the single most important thing you can do is get to know your students as well as you can as early as possible. Choose texts that you think your students either will have a frame of reference for, or that is so foreign that none of them will so that they are on similar footing. Before you start a text, preview the topics and vocabulary involved to see whether some students may need to be filled in on background knowledge before you begin.

Cultural diversity is an asset in a reading classroom and should be treated as such. Frame the idea of diversity as a positive quality rather than pointing out that some students have skills and knowledge and some are lacking them because of their backgrounds.

Where some students might be lacking background knowledge, resources, or family support, they make up for it in other kinds of knowledge that they can contribute to the culture of your classroom. Allow all students an opportunity to teach each other about where they come from and to bring in texts that reflect their personal lives. This will be a learning experience for all students and allow struggling students an opportunity to teach.

If you have ''unconditional positive regard,'' or a respectful and positive relationship with the student no matter what their struggles are, they may be more willing to take risks and show their vulnerabilities as you guide them through reading instruction and other academic challenges.

Developmental Diversity

Developmental diversity refers to the varying levels of cognitive development and reading readiness that students may possess when they enter your classroom. Even if you do not have a physically or culturally diverse class, you will surely have a range of cognitive development and reading abilities among your students.

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