Having a ‘diverse classroom’ can be applied to many different settings. Students are different just like all people are also different and unique in their own way. We have different backgrounds, race, ethnicity, gender, beliefs, abilities, age, cultural contexts and so on, and as teachers, we should value this diversity and model this attitude and respect to our students.
If you are reading this, you probably are past the discussion of the importance of embracing the differences. So, which practices can be applied in a more practical way in our daily classes?
Get to (really) know the students
This may seem a bit obvious, but sometimes we mix things up and just get to know them just as learners, not as individuals. We know who struggles with grammar and who got the best grade on the last test, but we know almost nothing about their life journey. The more you know your students, the more you will understand their strengths and weaknesses. This way, you’ll be better equipped to promote diversity.
Practical Tip: Asking students to present lighting talks in formats such as Pecha Kucha and Ignite can be more time-efficient and give you an overall view in the beginning of the course. For very big groups, you may divide students in smaller groups and have more than one student present at the same time. Remember to walk around the room while monitoring so you can get the most from their presentations.
Examine and adapt your teaching material
Coursebooks are usually pretty standard and do not present different voices. They usually show Western, white, male and middle-class narratives. But each classroom is made of a myriad of different narratives, and never forget you are in control of your lesson, so adapt to your heart’s content!
Every now and then, reflect upon your practices and question yourself: “Am I teaching students or am I teaching the book?” The material should fit the students, never the other way round.
Practical Tip: When checking your teaching material, see if it represents a wide range of voices. Substitute or include texts, images and activities that show different voices and perspectives. For reading activities, you can use excerpts of literature from different authors, for audio activities, you can use interviews showing contrasting opinions, and so on.
If you aren’t allowed to make any changes in your course curriculum, use this opportunity to foster students’ critical thinking skills by asking them why different perspectives aren’t included. They can also research different voices on the subject and propose how they would change the material if they could.
Meet different needs
Being ‘fair’ with students does not mean that every student gets the same thing as the others. ‘Fair’ is when every student gets what they need to succeed. It took me a long time to realize and accept the fact that by spending more time and giving more attention to some students I was not being unfair with the others, I was being fair to all of them. In a classroom context, diversity is much more than measurable factors like gender, skin color and socio-economic status. Each student has a different learning style and need, and uniform standards and tests won’t address that.
Practical Tip: There are many tools that can help students with physical and learning disabilities and offer support during the lessons. Examples of these tools include speech-to-text software for students with dyslexia or physical impediments, modified computer accessories and adaptive learning softwares. However, there are many small daily actions that are free and can have a huge impact. Changing the classroom desk layout or seat map to better accommodate students with hearing or visual impediments, using visual aids and realia as much as possible, explaining by modeling and exemplifying, applying different teaching approaches such as project-based learning and blended learning, and so on.
Take one step at a time
Change won’t happen overnight, but it has to start with a first step. Not everybody will be equally eager to embrace change, and school staff and even students might be reluctant at first. Respect their different timing, listen to what they have to say and continuously look for feedback and new ways to improve. Remember that your school is already full of students and staff with different skills and backgrounds, all you have to do is to make the most of these divergences into a convergent objective!
Stock photos sites that are more diverse and inclusive:
- 8 resources for diverse stock photos
- 5 Stock Photo Sites That Will Make Your Content More Inclusive & Diverse
More about project-based learning
Karen is a Brazilian ELT teacher and material writer based in Berlin, Germany. You can contact her at email@example.com and karentiemy.com.
2) Photo by Zackary Drucker as part of Broadly’s Gender Spectrum Collection. Credit: The Gender Spectrum Collection. Made available to media outlets via Creative Commons. No derivatives, no commercial use. See guidelines here: broadlygenderphotos.vice.com/guidelines