How do you feel that we can teach a diverse group of students with different cultural norms and learning styles?
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One method might be to encourage as much dialogue and discussion, from as many different cultural points of view, as possible. Students are often fascinated by the differences between their own culture and the culture(s) of others, and they will often remember both the differences and the similarities if people have a chance to explain them. I currently have two visiting Chinese students in one of my classes, and I notice that I and my other students are very interested in practically anything they have to tell us about their culture. At the same time, the Chinese visitors seem extremely interested in American customs and ideas. In other words, the multicultural traits of classes these days can often really enhance learning. I always look forward to classes that have "international" students in them.
In Britain we have a very important word which answers your question: differentiation. The idea behind this is that you "teach to each" and take into account the different levels of ability and backgrounds of your students in your planning and teaching. Quite clearly, the reality of what a differentiated class should look like is often not so clear cut, but it does give us something to aim for through differentiating in terms of task, outcome and support.
Teachers need to be reflective in their practices and make conscience choices to vary the types of assessments they give on various units throughout the year. Just stopping to think about who in a class will do better on an open-ended writing prompt and who will do better on an oral presentation is a start. Working with colleagues in order to create a flexible bank of ideas on varying types of assessments can help. Perhaps one teacher writes very solid and valid multiple choice questions and another always comes up with the most interesting writing prompts for essays. These teachers can team up to provide for the variety of learning styles in their classes.
I agree with pohnpei about the challenges of identifying and addressing learning styles. Another factor is the age group of the students. Secondary teachers and elementary school teachers, for example, would probably answer this question differently. I think it is important to determine the learning style of each student and provide the student with that information. I teach high school and I know it is beneficial to share this information with students to provide them with tools they can use in independent study. I think teachers should vary approaches and use many different types of activities with all students regardless of their learning styles. I love differentiated instruction in theory, but I am still struggling with incorporating it into my senior English literature classes.
I think we must be sensitive to cultural issues, but like the previous comments, I believe we must have consistently high standards for all students. Discussing literature gives me a great opportunity to allow for some sharing, and this creates a nice atmosphere in my class. I enjoy having exchange students, immigrants, and students who have grown up in other parts of the country or state share and relate personal experiences to the literature we are studying. I think it is important for teachers to be aware of cultural differences, but to have the same expectations for everyone.
With respect to the issue of cultural norms, I think the best way to deal with them is to discuss them as openly as students are comfortable with. We think of them as a challenge, and it certainly is difficult sometimes to foster an atmosphere that embraces a very diverse range of cultural norms. But when handled openly, diversity in the classroom can be a teaching tool in and of itself. When appropriate, have students discuss specific aspects of their culture that their peers need to be aware of.
There is a massive amount of scholarship that addresses teaching a variety of learning styles. Generally speaking, it entails using a variety of methods to present material and build skills, and often also means providing different materials to different students. I've always favored activites that allowed students to work together on projects that required a number of different skills. Students can choose (or I can choose for them) the activities that best suit their learning styles.
These are such different things that there is no one answer for both. Different learning styles need different kinds of instruction. This is much easier said than done as it is very difficult to determine what each child's learning style is and then to create instructional methods tailored to each child. This is particularly true given that you still have to get your students to pass the tests...
As far as cultural differences, I think that it is possible to change your style a bit for different students, but I do not think that there should be different lessons for students of different cultures. I think that you can try to be sensitive to things like not looking kids in the eye if they're from cultures that don't like that. But I would not like it if someone gave my kids different lessons because they're part non-white.
This becomes one of the critical questions in all of teaching right now. I am fairly confident that there will be different answers and different approaches to this question because it lies at the heart of all teaching and learning. No teacher, administrator, stakeholder, or student can afford to neglect this question. In the end, I don't think that enotes will be able to provide "the answer." It is going to be an issue that requires much in way of reflection.
There seems to be a two pronged approach in my mind to the question. The first would be to employ a great deal of culturally relevant teaching practices. This enables the teacher to reach students who have different cultural valences. It is naive to pretend for a moment that culture is not a reality in student learning and modern instruction. I think that ensuring that students are reached through culturally relevant practices is essential to ensure that all students are involved in the learning process. This might take the form of ensuring that culture representation in the instruction process and content delivery is evident. It will also ensure that teachers reach out to students to bridge the cultural divide. This involves communicating high standards and high expectations to different cultural settings so that all students understand what it means to succeed in the classroom setting.
The other part of this equation would involve differentiated instruction. I think that the essence of intellectual diversity and reaching students from different narratives can be found in the idea of differentiated instruction. In this methodology, learning is not constructed as "Point A to Point B," but rather embracing a framework that stresses the individualized exploration of all of the different points between "A and B." In this, students can empower themselves in the learning and also recognize how different learning can be as there is not a mindless duplication of learning. In this, students are able to imprint their own senses of self and identity in the learning process. In differentiated instruction, cultural relevancy is evident as students are able to insert their own understanding and narratives into the learning process. In creating products through processes that enable students to bring forth their own cultural experience and learning styles, there is a greater meaning to the learning process.
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