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Strategies for Teaching in a Diverse Classroom

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

The classroom is getting more diverse every day. Learn how to teach effectively in a diverse classroom, and give every student a chance to succeed. See how effective this lesson was by taking a quiz.

Modern Diverse Classrooms

The United States is an extremely diverse country. As of 2010, slightly less than 64% of the population was non-Hispanic white, with about 12% African-American and approximately 16% Hispanic or Latino. This diversity impacts both society and the classroom. Teachers might find themselves facing dozens of different races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds. And this of course has an impact on teaching.

Diversity in the USA
Diversity in the USA

The United States continues to face a racial achievement gap. Black and Latino students do not achieve as highly on average as white students. Though this achievement gap has been extensively researched, there is no satisfactory explanation, except that the reasons are complex and multifaceted. One disturbing finding shows that teachers subconsciously or consciously do not expect black and Latino students to perform as well. Teachers also tend to teach in ways that cater to the cultural norms and values of the dominant group: white students.

Expectation is a big deal. The classic 1964 classroom experiment by Robert Rosenthal showed that if you tell students they are no good and are inherently unable to succeed, the students will behave in ways that match this expectation. If you have low expectations, students will meet those low expectations. If you have high expectations, students are likely to do better. This is called the Pygmalion effect, after the Greek myth of a sculptor who fell in love with one of his statues. This can be blatant, as in the Rosenthal experiment, or it can be subtle. It's amazing how students can pick up on even small cues. So the next question is: what can we do about it? How should we approach teaching in a diverse classroom?

Culturally Responsive Teaching

There are many ideas for how we can teach successfully in a diverse classroom. Collectively these practices are often called culturally responsive teaching. The main elements of this kind of teaching are acknowledging the validity of cultural heritages, connecting the home and school environments, using students' cultures as part of lessons, identifying your students' learning styles or preferred modes of learning, and maintaining high expectations.

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