Preparing for Diversity
Diversity in a classroom comes from a wide array of sources, and an educator needs to be prepared for that. Some are more obvious such as race, age, and ethnicity. Others might be less apparent such as expectations, socio-economic level, and educational background (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011). In this week’s reflection, an adult educator shares his insights into preparing for a diverse class. The interviewee’s name has been changed for confidentiality.
Setting and Context
John started his career in 2004. For two years, he worked in a college teaching remedial writing in a traditional classroom. After recovering from a 2006 injury, he returned to teaching, but he applied to teach online courses at three universities. He teaches writing skills as part of a general education requirement (J. Henry, personal communication, March 13, 2014).
Description of Learners
Diversity has been present in all the adult education jobs that John has had. In his first job from 2004 – 2006, the diversity of his students related to their age. He had students that ranged from just out of high school to retirement age (J. Henry, personal communication, March 13, 2014).
When he transitioned to an online arrangement, the class was still diverse but for other reasons. He now notices that most of the diversity occurs across racial lines. With that, he sees a difference in educational background. Most of his minority students come to the class with poorly developed writing skills. He attributes this to a failure in the public school system in low socio-economic areas. There is still a difference in ages, but the range is now only about 10 – 15 years. In his online classes, John has also had students self-identify as homosexual, which did not happen with his face-to-face class. When scoring papers, John focuses on the assignment and becomes oblivious to the race and sexual preferences of his students (J. Henry, personal communication, March 13, 2014).
Disability status is the one source of diversity to which he pays closer attention. Some of these students have accommodations such as extended time, so he is careful to make sure these students get the accommodations they need (J. Henry, personal communication, March 13, 2014).
Educating Diverse People
John expects the same level of work from all students, regardless of the characteristics that make the class more diverse. Disability accommodations are used as needed, but the quality of work is still expected at the same high level. He scores papers by skipping past all identifying information to avoid any unintentional biases. Grading all the papers of a given assignment at the same time helps him be more consistent. Rubrics also prevent inconsistency (J. Henry, personal communication, March 13, 2014).
In John’s classes, he shows respect for all students by holding them to a high expectation and helping them improve the writing skills they will need in their careers as students and professionals. He regards the class diversity as a definite advantage rather than a burden (J. Henry, personal communication, March 13, 2014).
John’s more recent online teaching experiences have shown greater diversity among his students than his initial face-to-face classes (J. Henry, personal communication, March 13, 2014). To deal with this, he has structures in place to avoid deleterious practices such as giving some students preferential treatment (Davis, 2009).
Maintaining a safe environment can be difficult because everyone comes with personal biases (Davis, 2009). Offenses can happen by accident, and these microaggressions have a negative impact on the feelings of security in the classrooms (Murphy-Shigematsu, 2010). Barkley (2010) reports that feeling unsafe can interfere with learning.
None of John’s suggestions for teaching a diverse class dealt with the actual assignments themselves. He focuses on making certain there are no biases in the way he grades or in the expectations he holds for his students (J. Henry, personal communication, March 13, 2014). If he has control over his assignments, other strategies might include allowing a menu of different writing topics, ensuring all topics are neutral, or providing assignments throughout the course that reflect the diversity of his class (Davis, 2009).
Even the most conscientious educator cannot deal with all issues of diversity (Brookfield, 2006), but a sincere effort to create an inclusive class will ensure a useful learning environment.
In the past, college students had to have flexible enough schedules to attend classes at specific times. This kept many people away from higher education. With the expansion of online colleges and programs, the asynchronous format allows an increasing number of students to attend. Geography, race, economic background, socio-economic status, age, and a host of other factors make the classes diverse (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011). As John said, this diversity should be seen as an advantage, rather than a problem (J. Henry, personal communication, March 13, 2014). With some care toward personal practices and attitudes, adult educators can ensure that the learning environment is safe and effective for all.
Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Brookfield, S. D. (2006). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Working with Diverse Groups [Video webcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_4775510_1&content_id=_17224425_1#_17249643_1&courseTocLabel=Access%20Resources
Murphy-Shigematsu, S. (2010). Microaggressions by supervisors of color. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 4(1), 16–18.