I am thankful that teachers discuss diversity in classrooms. I believe it has always been present, but diversity was not thought of as diversity just a few decades ago. Diversity takes many forms. We always think of ethnic diversity, which is certainly important when planning our classrooms. However, diversity also takes the forms of cognitive development, gender differences, differences in socioeconomic status for students in a classroom, and even creative differences. Likewise, students in any given classroom will exhibit a wide range of abilities.
I believe three of the most important keys for any teacher dealing with a diverse classroom is, first of all, to celebrate diversity. When we celebrate diversity, we will be able to encourage and respond to all students. This celebration leads to the second key - showing the students that we do care about them and their success. Lastly, I love the suggestion in the text of not only using a curriculum that can relate to all students but also not being afraid to deviate from the textbooks. I think this is so important when dealing with a wide range of diverstiy and abilities in the classroom.
I believe the first key - celebrating diversity - is one that is often ignored. When teachers have students that are "different," whether in terms of abilities or in terms of interests, all too often they label those students "difficult." None of us are the same. God created us each as individuals. And that individuality needs to be celebrated not frowned upon. Just this weekend, I was blessed to be a part of a conference for a book I recently wrote for. One of the group leaders travelled with her fourteen-year old daughter. The daughter has the sweetest disposition, an awesome testimony, and a beautiful singing voice; but she is one that many would look at as "different" because of the way she dresses and because of her creativity. She wore a black shirt that laced up the front, a ruffled black skirt, and black and red striped stockings with black sneakers. As is probably obvious, she is also very creative artistically. But how many people would view her as being "strange" because of how she dresses or how she views things creatively. I have noticed the same issues arise with my six-year old son, Taliesin. Taliesin is truly my artistic thinker. He views things differently. And when he's excited, he loves to talk about what he is excited about - be it an insect he sees, a movie he has watched, a book he has read, or an experience he has had. So many times, I see people pass off what he says with no response. Diversity is something that is definitely not celebrated in the world, even though we like to think that it is. As a society, in general, I believe we need to become more understanding that we are all created to be individuals. We are not all alike. I probably could not count the times that I have been looked at as a little strange because my sons are in dance class. They both love to dance. Taliesin loves dancing because he views it as an art. Nathanael loves music, so dancing naturally flows from music. But even today, people look at dancing as something girls do, not boys. Celebrating diversity is perhaps most important in the classroom, where children are being taught how to function in society. Perhaps with diversity celebrated in the classrooms, there will be hope for tomorrow's society.
I believe celebrating diversity leads to respect for the students. This leads to encouraging students and responding to them. As I said, Taliesin loves to talk about things that he is interested in. I all too often see adults who become frustrated with this and just do not respond to him. When they will not, I will respond to keep him interested in what he cares about. I become so frustrated that, as the book points out, parents and teachers often encourage conformity rather than creativity. Students need to hear responses from parents and teachers that reinforce that we care about them as individuals. This also goes for students of various abilities. No matter the ability of each individual student, teachers need to provide reinforcement and encouragement. I remember when we were attending our local homeschooling co-op a couple of years ago. I was helping in Taliesin's class, and the students were to write their names on a lined chalkboard. Taliesin wrote his "T," but he wrote it perpendicular to the lines rather than on the lines. When he showed it to one of the teachers, she errased it for him to re-write it properly - without a comment. Now, she did not mean anything by this; but that dicouraged Taliesin. He did not want to go back after that. And I did not force him to. I think often teachers mean well, when in fact they are discouraging students and causing them turn away from learning.
On a more academic level, I believe it is very important for teachers to choose curriculum that encourages diversity and to stray from that curriculum when necessary. I totally agree with the textbook when it says curriculum should project various cultural and ethnic groups in a positive, accurate light. I believe the curriculum should also apply to diverse learning styles and interests. All too often, school curriculums are geared toward visual/auditory learning. Those students who are more hands-on learners lose out and are often considered problem students or even ADHD because they cannot follow what the teacher is trying to teach. Understanding the abilities and learning styles of each individual student is so important in a diverse classroom. I also agree with how the textbook promotes individualized study. I can say from experience that individualized study encourages independent learning and can be tailored to meet the needs of most any student. When the student feels that (s)he is learning in a way that (s)he can understand, the results will be so much better than expecting him/her to learn like all of the other students do.
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