Chapter 8 of Stephen Brookfield’s The Skillful Teacher discusses the challenges and opportunities instructors face when teaching in diverse classrooms.
In one of the courses I taught this fall at BCIT I had 32 students; 13 of them identified as English as a second (third, or fourth) language learners. The class was made up of a diverse, multi-cultural group of students from places all around the world including: Canada, Germany, China, Philippines, South Asia, and many from Brazil.
In addition to the cultural differences between students, I had several students in the class with various learning and physical disabilities. I view diversity as a surmountable challenge in the classroom, but not as a barrier to learning.
While I cannot see myself using a formal questionnaire to gauge student diversity, I do use several pre-assessment techniques to get an idea of the knowledge level on the topic-at-hand prior to beginning each lesson. I then tailor the lesson accordingly to meet the needs of the majority of students in the class.
For quick reference, I’ve noted Brookfield’s list of strategies for teaching in a diverse classroom here:
- Team teach
- Mix student groups
- Mix modalities
- Incorporate visual with oral communication
- Balance silent time with speaking time
By reading this chapter, I learned that despite our best intentions and planning for diversity we will always fall short. The reason for this is that by engaging one type of learner, you may lose another.
Brookfield summarizes this nicely when he concludes that “doing all these things doesn’t remove my fundamental awareness that addressing diversity will always only be partially successful” (Brookfield, p. 109).
Brookfield, S. (2015). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (Third ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.