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Chapter 3: Teaching Is Adapting to Student Diversity - page 11 / 16





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make in the classroom so that their sons and daughters feel welcome and are as successful as possible in third grade.

7.  Ms. Comrey shares information about the school’s parent-teacher organization.  Interested parents sign up and arrange car pooling so that all interested parents can attend the Tuesday night meetings.  Parents even arrange a child-care sharing system so that parents take turns “babysitting” for each other so that everyone has an opportunity to participate in the meetings.

8.  And finally, Ms. Comrey arranges two parent potluck dinners, one before Christmas and one in the spring.  The dinners are to be held in the school gym and both parents and children are invited.  The parents form a committee to ensure that the food is prepared, the premises are cleaned up, and everyone has transportation.

Importantly, Ms. Comrey’s interactions with parents continued throughout the school year.  During African-American history month, for example, she invited parents, both African Americans and Whites, to do or attend presentations about notable people and events.  One parent, an African American woman, even arranged for several African American community leaders to visit class and talk about a variety of topics, including their professional lives, accomplishments, and race relations.  Another parent arranged for a field trip to African restaurant.

Mr. Singh’s Seventh-Grade Classroom

Mr. Singh’s seventh-grade classes are legendary in the school for generating excitement and interest in science.  Mr. Singh’s room is chock full of test tubes, chemicals, balance scales, exotic-looking plants, posters of the human chromosomes, photographs of famous scientists, a home-made robot, a collection of donated computers of various sizes, and even a few animals that no one besides Mr. Singh and his students can identify.

Each week, Mr. Singh and his students negotiate a new topic or theme for the week in science.  In science, the theme for the week is important discoveries by women.  (In Mr. Singh’s class, the themes are sometimes focused on particular classes of problems, and other times on historical events or people of historical importance.)

In implementing the science theme, Mr. Singh has organized the students into groups of four, each of which is assigned a specific scientist.  Each group includes at least one male and one female.  The assignment for each group is to spend the week doing library research on their scientist.  The culmination of the week is to be an in-class presentation that includes information about the scientist’s personal history (e.g., family life), professional development (e.g., education), the historical period in which she lived, the nature of her discovery, and a summary of the relation between the discovery, the scientist’s personal life, her professional experience, and the historical period during which she lived.  The best presentation will receive an award from Mr. Singh, which is usually a gift certificate at a pizza restaurant, some in-class privilege, or books.

Importantly, each group has to spend the first day of the week doing some preliminary fact finding and team organization (i.e., assignment of responsibilities).  Each group submits a written preliminary plan describing this preliminary work to Mr. Singh, who provides immediate feedback in terms of both the substance and the team organization.  The latter feedback is designed to ensure equitable assignment of workload and responsibility.  In reviewing the plans submitted this week, Mr. Singh notices that an inordinate number of female students have been assigned to work on the personal lives of the scientists, whereas in all cases the nature of the scientists’ discoveries has been left to the male students.  He points this out to the class and suggests that this might be coincidental or that it might involve a stereotyped view of male and female roles in science.  This leads to a rather heated discussion that ends with a number of more gender-equitable reassignments of responsibility within the teams.  Nevertheless, the discussion causes Mr. Singh some concern and he decides to address the issue of gender in science again.  He does so by inviting several graduate students in physics and chemistry from the University to visit the class the following week. The graduate students are to talk about what they study and how they had first become interested in science.  Mr. Singh is careful to invite both female and male graduate students.  Moreover, he asks the female students to talk about any roadblocks they had experienced in their careers because of their sex.

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