Diversity in the Classroom Essay
Diversity in the Classroom
Teachers are faced with the challenge of students bringing with them, vastly different experiences, cultures, interests and abilities. These characteristics can have a great impact on how students learn. Teaching to such a diverse group requires teachers to be more flexible and place a greater emphasis on the individual. Through the aid of variety and choice, teachers can differentiate presentation to motivate interest in the individual, and hence aid the student to become an independent learner. (Tomlinson, C. A., Brighton, C., Hertberg, H., Callahan, C. M., Moon, T. R., Brimijoin, K., Conover, L. A. and Reynolds, T. 2003)
While it is unfair to expect teachers to fully grasp the psychological & cognitive complexities that comprise learning, they should have a solid understanding that individual students have different preferences in the way they prefer to receive, perceive, interact and respond to information; known as their preferred “Learning style”.
A widely used model of learning styles is based on Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory, which suggests learners fall into seven distinct categories of learning intelligence. “Visual/Spatial” learners prefer pictures and images; “Aural” learners prefer sound and music; “Verbal/Linguistic” learners prefer words in writing and speech; “Physical/Kinesthetic” learners prefer the use of touch, movement & action, and “Logical” learners prefer reasoning and sequence. Aligned with these learning styles is also a preference by students toward “Social/Interpersonal” learning, in groups or “Solitary/Intrapersonal” learning where the student prefers to learn alone. (Howard Gardner, multiple intelligences and education. 2007)
Most students have a preferred learning style, but are not solely dependent on one style. They can adapt to other styles and use them in combination with their preferred style.
APPROACHES IN THE CLASSROOM
Diversity in the classroom inevitably creates complexities for teachers in formulating learning and teaching models that suit their specific context, situation, and the students varying needs. (Rayner, S. 2007)
Some researchers, agreeing that learning styles are important, suggest that teachers should match instruction to the content being taught rather than the preferred learning style of the student (Glenn, D. 2009). This seems plausible in light of research into brain plasticity, which suggests that the brain has the ability to transform, adapt and “increase its capacity to learn” (Walker, S. 2010).
Other’s place greatest emphasis on “matching” instruction with the learning styles of the individual student, which the overwhelming literature suggests is the ideal approach for the benefit of the student. However, in practice, theory and expectation can often fall short of reality.
With class sizes often ranging from 20 to 25 students, trying to cater to every student’s individual learning preference can be very resource intensive. Very few teachers will have the knowledge and understanding of every form of diversity within their classroom. Teaching students with special needs is a prime example, often requiring assistance from specialist aids. This is all good and well in principle, however, additional assistance usually comes at a financial cost, where often schools are restricted by budgetary constraints.
High stakes testing such as NAPLAN can also create conflicts between what is best for the students and what is best for the school. This may exacerbate the unwillingness of school hierarchy to deviate from traditional core curriculum/structures, as overall results can often be linked with a school’s reputation as well as government funding. (Tomlinson et al. 2003)
LESSONS FROM JESUS
Jesus was the epitome of what a teacher with a diverse student body needs to do. He taught in parables imbued with illustrations familiar to the daily lives of all the people in his audience, who had a diversity of experiences. By teaching through stories, of shepherds, fishermen, seasons of growth and harvest, rich men, servants, kings and slaves, he was able to impart the same message, to a diverse audience, so that all could relate to, and understand according to their own experiences.
Teaching methods of old sought to adapt the student to the material being presented. Jesus’ methods aptly illustrate that today’s teachers need to be able to adapt to the learning capacity of the students.
Jesus also differed in many ways to those around him but transformed the lives of others by the way he lived. By his example, he helped mold many into his own image (The Role of the Christian Teacher 2013).
As teachers who are Christian, our aim should not be to directly preach about Christianity. This can be left to the local church priest or pastor, and the willingness of the individual to accept such a direct approach. In a diverse classroom there will be students with vastly different beliefs and experiences that contrast our own, and that impact on their learning capabilities. The goal would then be, like Jesus, to subtly portray our Christian understanding by our own actions, therefore becoming a role model to students. Jesus taught:
“…everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” Luke 6:41 As role models, we should be aware that students may imitate and model their behaviour according to the way we as teachers act, speak and behave. Therefore, unless our behaviour is aligned with fundamental Christian
principles, it can do more harm than good. It would be wise to follow the encouragement given by the apostle Paul: “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” 1 Corinthians 11:1
…by living out our faith, we show our students the essence of God through our own words and deeds.
In light of existing research and Christian philosophy, a meshing of theories is necessary which tends toward a balanced approach. Making sure all learning style preferences are addressed in some way; as students will need to garner at least some of the attributes of all learning styles, for future success. Also using experience and expertise in our own learning preferences, to bridge the divide between teacher and student and become that positive role model that developing student’s need.
Employing a balanced approach is no easy task, but can be aided in a number of ways:
Firstly, inclusive teaching, were students are not segregated or made to feel inferior due to differences in preferred learning styles or abilities. Aligned to this is the idea of flexible grouping where research shows that when students are put in small groups comprising varying learning preferences and abilities, weaker students attain better learning outcomes, without detriment to stronger students. (Tomlinson et al. 2003)
Secondly, Scaffolding where teachers, peers or teaching aids; support, assist and guide the student, particularly those who have difficulty. This is a more personalized approach to the flexible grouping.
Thirdly, Engagement with parents/carers and students enables the teacher to attain valuable information about the student, and engagement with colleagues can assist in gaining additional knowledge or formulating shared strategies.
Finally, Methods of presentation is at the heart of catering to diverse array of learners. Using technology enables a teacher to present material in multiple styles at the same time.
(Guidelines for responding to learner diversity in the classroom through curriculum and assessment policy statements 2011)
Ultimately, we as teachers need to nurture students, and expose them to a variety of learning styles, despite our own preferences, enabling them to become independent learners. Children are less flexible and cannot easily adapt to unfamiliar learning styles, so it is incumbent upon the teacher, to adapt and modify teaching methods, activities and environments in order to create interest, thereby stimulate and motivate a student’s desire to learn.
Cook, P. F. (1998). Teacher Reflection in learner-centred education. Journal for Education Reform in Namibia, v.8, 8p. Discover your Learning Styles – Graphically! (2013.) (n.p.) Available Internet http://learning-styles-online.com/ Glenn, D. (2009) (n.p.), Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students, The Chronical of Higher education, Available Internet http://chronicle.com/article/Matching-Teaching-Style-to-/49497/ Guidelines for responding to learner diversity in the classroom through curriculum and assessment policy statements (2011), Directorate Inclusive Education, Department of Basic Education, preoria South Africa. 52p.
Howard Gardner, multiple intelligences and education (2007) Regis University Available Internet http:// academic.regis.edu/ed205/gardner.pdf
Humphrey, N., Bartolo, P., Ale, P., Calleja, C., Hofsaess, T., Janikova, Vera., Mol Lous, A., Vilkiene, V., and Westo, G. M. (2006). Enderstanding and responding to diversity in the primary classroom: an international sudy. European Journal of Teachr Education, 29(3), 305-318.
Rayner, S (2007). A Teaching elixir, learning chimera or just fool’s gold? Do learning styles matter? Support for Learning, 22(1), 24-30. Teachers and their influence (2010) (n.p.) Covenant Christian School Sydney Available Internet http://www.whychristianschools.com.au/wcs/teachers-influence.html The Role of the Christian Teacher (2013) (n.p.) Transforming Lives. Available Internet http://m.transforminglives.org.uk/thinking-of-teaching/role-of-the-christian-teacher Tomlinson, C. A., Brighton, C., Hertberg, H., Callahan, C. M., Moon, T. R., Brimijoin, K., Conover, L. A. and Reynolds, T. (2003). Differentiating Instruction in Response to Student
Readiness, Interest and Learning Profile in Academically Diverse Classroom: A review of Liteature. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 27(2/3), 119-145. Walker, S. (2010) (n.p.), Lifelong Learning and the Plastic Brain, Scientific Learning Internet http://www.scilearn.com/blog/lifelong-learning-brain-plasticity.php
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 16 May 2017
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