Planning boosts gifts of diversity
How best can we
educate an ever more diverse set of kids in the classroom?
We actually do have many good answers based on serious research from a whole
variety of fields including anthropology, sociology, social history, psychology,
applied linguistics and pedagogy (education).
We know that a student often begins at a disadvantage when there is a difference
between that youngster's home language and culture and the school's language of
instruction and culture.
However, this beginning disadvantage for a culturally distinct youngster can be
turned into plus for everyone.
This is because a culturally different student brings a cultural and language
resource that, over time and with enlightened instruction, should enhance the
learning experience for both students and teachers alike.
How can this happen?
When we focus on what others bring to the table instead of what they lack, we
find more "assets" - an increased knowledge of our human family - to engage
everyone in the learning experience.
To begin, a culturally literate teacher plays a pivotal role in creating a
classroom that celebrates diversity and endorses the self-worth of every student
- especially those youngsters who have been traditionally marginalized.
Unfortunately, there are still some schools and communities who continue to hold
conscious and unconscious negative assumptions and stereotypes about those who
are culturally or ethnically different.
How big of a challenge are we facing? About 45 percent of all children in the
United States younger than 5 are ethnic or linguistic minorities. These children
are coming to our classrooms soon; will we be ready?
To be prepared, teachers, parents and the community should support a caring and
inclusive classroom. To do this, teachers need to make their standards-based
curricula "look like" the students they are teaching.
To begin, posters and/or thought-provoking quotations can be placed on the
classroom walls of famous figures from all cultural segments of the student
A classroom where cultural sharing occurs sets a safe yet challenging atmosphere
that will build both the academic and social skills every child will need as an
In a sense, we are setting a school environment where every student, teacher and
parent (remember, we are all learners) can choose to become inspired, motivated
and ultimately empowered to learn about each other and the world in which we
Surprise resident Mark Ryan has taught at all levels, from elementary classes
to university seminars. Contact him at his blog:
com with your questions. Visit
www.drmarkryan.com for Ryan's book Ask the Teacher.