7 Chapter 7: Teaching All Students

Guiding Questions for Chapter 7:

  1. In what ways are students alike and in what ways are they are unique?
  2. How do teachers effectively meet the needs of diverse learners in their classroom?

Differences That Make a Difference

You’re standing at the front of your first-ever classroom. Twenty-eight students are sitting in front of you, squirming, looking at their neighbors, giggling, jabbering about their summer. You begin taking roll, and you scan across the classroom. The boys seem to have the same hairstyle, and the girls seem to be wearing similar fashions. Your quick scan triggers the response, “They’re all the same.” You lump them together and begin class. Just as we’re likely to generalize about any group of individuals, we also often generalize about our students…until we get to know them and recognize them as individuals.

It’ll happen to you in the classroom. In a few days, you’re already seeing the differences. Some are talkative—eager to get to know you; others quietly sit at their desk and avoid eye contact. Some cluster together as best friends; others slip into their desks in solitary fashion. You are making the first step in noticing your students’ differences. The next step is making them more comfortable as individuals by helping them realize differences are a good thing.

And, finally, you will make the major step of determining how to effectively use those differences to help each student get the most out of his or her learning experience in your classroom.

The teacher’s role in promoting a positive classroom environment is critical to effective teaching A student must feel safe and comfortable upon entering a classroom. The components in this domain address the “positive” atmosphere that challenges students to take responsibility for learning and behavior.

If you recall a favorite teacher of yours, at any level of learning, what do you remember most about this teacher? More than likely, you will remember the way the teacher treated you and your classmates with respect. As Danielson states, “all relationships between teacher and students, and among students, should be grounded in mutual respect and trust.”

Teachers who are “distinguished” in this domain have a classroom learning environment in which students are “responsible citizens” who take risks with learning, collaborate with others for meeting the goals of the lesson, and manage their individual behavior with ease. Respectful relationships are practiced the entire school day. In order for a child to be ready to learn, the teacher must recognize and know as much as possible about each learner.

Teachers spend the first couple of weeks providing students with interest inventories, assessing levels of performance with core subjects, reviewing prior school records, and working closely with those teachers who are serving students with IEP plans. Anecdotal records are critical to the teacher’s success with every learner.

Why is age-appropriate instruction important to student achievement? Children come to a classroom with a wide variety of skills and attitudes. It is the teacher with the acumen to successfully navigate the students’ motivation to learn (intrinsic/extrinsic). How will you create a responsive classroom? How will you find out more about your students?

How will you match your instruction to the developmental, emotional, social, and intellectual needs of your students?

So, let’s begin…at the beginning.

  • How are students alike?
    • All students are human beings and, therefore, have feelings, needs, desires, dreams, and gifts.
  • How do students differ?
    • Gender
    • Language
    • Culture
    • Exceptionalities
    • Socio-Economic Status
    • Military Connection
    • Cognitive (Multiple Intelligences, Struggling Learners)
    • Affective (Attitudes and Emotions)
    • Sexual Orientation
    • Physical (Psychomotor)
    • Learning Styles
    • At Risk
    • Others?

Watch for these in your field experiences.

Read: Doubet, Kristina J., Jessica A. Hockett, and Catherine M. Brighton. “A Teaching Makeover Improves Learning for Diverse Learners.” Phi Delta Kappan 97, no. 5 (February 2016): 64–69.

As teachers, we MUST relate to ALL students and help ALL students learn.

We need to develop a new sense of perspective, one that is not limited to our own background and values and one that can shift to match each student’s life. We need to see that each student sees his or her life as “normal,” without making judgments. We need to find the “good” inside every students and build upon those gifts.

Culturally Responsive Teaching

Based on an extensive review of the research literature, Kenneth Zeichner (1992) has identified 12 key elements for effective teaching for ethnic- and language-minority students.

  • Teachers have a clear sense of their own ethnic and cultural identities.
  • Teachers communicate high expectations for the success of all students and a belief that all students can succeed.
  • Teachers are personally committed to achieving equity for all students and believe that they are capable of making a difference in their students’ learning.
  • Teachers have developed a bond with their students and cease seeing their students as “the other.”
  • Schools provide an academically challenging curriculum that includes attention to the development of higher-level cognitive skills.
  • Instruction focuses on students’ creation of meaning about content in an interactive and collaborative learning environment.
  • Teachers help students see learning tasks as meaningful.
  • Curricula include the contributions and perspectives of the different ethnocultural groups that comprise the society.
  • Teachers provide a “scaffolding” that links the academically challenging curriculum to the cultural resources that students bring to school.
  • Teachers explicitly teach students the culture of the school and seek to maintain students’ sense of ethnocultural pride and identity.
  • Community members and parents or guardians are encouraged to become involved in students’ education and are given a significant voice in making important school decisions related to programs (such as resources and staffing).
  • Teachers are involved in political struggles outside the classroom that are aimed at achieving a more just and humane society.

Marietta Saravia-Shore (2008) has developed an extensive list of general strategies for teaching culturally and ethnically diverse students. Major principles are provided below; to dig in deeper go to “Diverse Teaching Strategies for Diverse Learners.”

Strategies for Teaching Culturally and Ethnically Diverse Students

  • Maintain high standards and demonstrate high expectations for all ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse students.
  • Show students you care by getting to know their individual needs and strengths and sharing their concerns, hopes, and dreams.
  • Understand students’ home cultures to better comprehend their behavior in and out of the classroom.
  • Encourage active participation of parents or guardians.
  • Tap into students’ backgrounds to enhance learning.
  • Choose culturally relevant curriculum and instructional materials that recognize, incorporate, and reflect students’ heritage and the contributions of various ethnic groups.
  • Identify and dispel stereotypes.
  • Create culturally compatible learning environments.
  • Use cooperative learning strategies.
  • Capitalize on students’ cultures, languages, and experiences.
  • Integrate the arts intothe curriculum.
  • Promote students’ health.
  • Develop community ties and build community schools.
  • Incorporate multiple forms of assessment.
  • Establish truly bilingual classrooms.
  • Embrace dual-language strategies.
  • Use integrated, holistic approaches to language experiences for second-language learners instead of rote drill and practice.
  • Teach language through subject matter rather than specific linguistic skill exercises.
  • Adopt sheltered English strategies.
  • Practice English in flexible, heterogeneous cooperative learning groups.
  • Use cross-age and peer tutoring.
  • Respect community language norms.
  • Organize teaching around thematic, interdisciplinary units.

In addition to these specific principles, being a culturally responsive teacher requires that you truly care about each of your students.

Read: PEREZ, SAMUEL A. 2000. “An Ethic of Caring in Teaching Culturally Diverse Students.” Education 121 (1): 102.

Finally, check out a teacher’s perspective on culturally responsive teaching.

A Note on Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

Race, ethnicity, and culture are three similar but distinct concepts.

Race is a term that used to describe the physical and transmitted features of a particular people. Most people define race, therefore, as a biological concept. Scientifically, the term has lost much of its power as human beings are genetically similar and scientists have discovered better ways of differentiating human beings (e.g., DNA). Socially and politically, however, racial classifications continue to influence people’s perceptions and behavior.

Ethnicity is a term used to describe the characteristics of a group. Most people define ethnicity as a sociological concept. Things like nationality, culture, language, and ancestry help people determine their ethnicity.

Culture refers to the shared and learned beliefs of people.

So, for teachers, it is important to get to know all students as individuals and not assume certain cultural characteristics based on race; our “race”does not determine our culture. And, as teachers we should also mine our curricula for opportunities to expose racial and other forms of injustice as examples of uninformed, old, and damaging thinking and behavior.


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