Helping all students learn in a diverse classroom

We’ve probably never had an instructor say,  “I feel totally comfortable teaching in a diverse classroom.” 

Image: University of the Fraser Valley,

Teachers can feel worried about saying something that could be construed as biased, about underrepresented students not feeling comfortable speaking, about inadvertently doing something that might make some students lose confidence and any range of other concerns.

Even teachers with years of experience teaching in diverse environments tell us they have many moments of uncertainty.

There are no magic formulas, but the advice seasoned teachers give is to get to know your students, to let each of them know you are interested in them as people, to set ground rules but encourage open discussion, and to be willing to take risks but also to help students recover from difficult encounters.  A good first step is to try to create an inclusive classroom, which essentially means that you are striving to set up an environment that does not work against any students’ ability to learn.  Following the principles of universal design in developing courses helps ensure this sort of inclusivity.

All teachers should also be aware of stereotype threat and how it is triggered.  In a situation of stereotype threat, performance is hampered performance caused by worry that one might confirm a negative stereotype about one’s group.  The theory has been tested in a wide range of circumstances, and the effect appears to hold for any group (even majority groups), when there is a risk of that group being perceived as less capable at some particular task – for instance, women taking math tests, men taking a social sensitivity “test,” African American students taking standardized tests, and older adults doing memory tasks.  Sending the message to all students that you, as the instructor, believe they can succeed can dampen the effects of stereotype threat.

Image: University of the Fraser Valley,
Marina Micari is an associate director at the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching. She is co-author of Making Scientists: Six Principles for Effective College Teaching (Harvard University Press, 2013).

What is the hardest thing for you about teaching in a diverse setting?  What is most rewarding?  What strategies have helped you teach more inclusively?

About Searle Center for Advancing Learning & Teaching

This is the official blog for the Searle Center for Advancing Learning & Teaching at Northwestern University.
Image | This entry was posted in Diversity, inclusive classroom, Learning, stereotype threat, universal design and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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