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Chapter 3: Teaching Is Adapting to Student Diversity - page 12 / 16

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Mr. Singh’s concern with equity in his classroom extends far beyond this one incident.  He had noticed from his many years of teaching that his male and female students often participated in science classes in different ways.  In an open discussion, for example, the male students tended to dominate the discussion especially after the first few minutes.  In addition, he had noticed that at least some female students seemed reluctant to try out experimental procedures and, instead, were satisfied to watch others -- usually the male students -- demonstrate the procedures.  These observations have led Mr. Singh to require that all students participate in discussion.  In keeping with this requirement, all students are graded for their participation and Mr. Singh is careful to call on those who do not participate spontaneously.  He also carefully keeps track of who has demonstrated experimental procedures to the class and makes sure that everyone -- males and females -- take a turn at conducting the demonstrations.  (Actually, Mr. Singh’s observations about male and female students have been borne out by considerable research; see American Association of University Women, 1989). And finally, Mr. Singh carefully monitors his own behavior to be sure that he is giving all students equal attention and assistance.  He does this by keeping a diary in which he makes daily entries.  The entry includes interesting insights from the students, new ideas for topics for subsequent weeks, and a reconstruction of his interactions with students.  In these reconstructions, he pays special attention to the questions he had asked each student and the feedback he had provided each.  These reconstructions are his way of asking himself three questions: Did I attend to all my students?  Did I give each student good information? and Did I encourage each student to think more about and participate more in science?  If he is dissatisfied with any interaction, he is careful to remedy the problem as soon as possible, usually the very next day.

Before leaving Mr. Singh’s classroom, it is worth noting that many of his students in years past had gone on to careers in science, an achievement of which Mr. Singh is quite proud.  This has led him to be especially attentive to signs of exceptional scientific ability in his students.  This year he has identified one African-American student, Gwen, who seemed particularly gifted in science.  After meeting with Gwen’s family to discuss her interest in science and gain their support, he has worked to provide Gwen with additional opportunities to learn about science.  For example, he meets monthly with her parents to suggest activities that Gwen can do outside of school, such as field trips, talks about science at local libraries, and books of interest.  He also has compiled information about summer programs for Gwen, including an internship in a university physics lab.  He also arranged for Gwen to take a class in chemistry at the local high school two afternoons a week during the next school year.  Throughout this process, however, Mr. Singh has been careful to discuss all the options with Gwen to make sure that he was offering her family choices that were acceptable to Gwen.

Ms. Goldstein’s High School English Class

Ms. Goldstein teaches creative writing and literature classes at a high school serving largely low-income families.  The building in which she teaches is run down and poorly equipped.  The computer lab for the school, for example, has only three working computers (and a half-dozen non-working computers).  Available books are falling apart and are, for the most part, out-of-date.  Water runs down the walls of Ms. Goldstein’s classroom whenever it rains, and on cold, winter days, students keep their coats on to protect themselves from the wind that whips through the poorly insulated window frames.  More depressing still is the fact that many of the students live in conditions far worse than those in the school.  They deal with rats, roaches, and violence.  They have seen far more death and misery by the age of 15 or 16 than most people will see in their entire lives.

Despite the horrible physical and social conditions facing these students, Ms. Goldstein is always heartened by the amazing strength and impressive accomplishments of many of her students, and she does her best to offer them encouragement, support, and an education.  One of her students, Tracy, is particularly noteworthy.  Tracy is a junior who lives with her mother and grandmother in the most impoverished and crime-ridden neighborhood in the city.  Nevertheless, Tracy is doing well academically, especially in English.  Her very first essay for Ms. Goldstein was a moving account of her aunt’s death due to AIDS-related pneumonia.  What struck Ms. Goldstein most about the essay was not only that it was well written but that it ended on a note of defiant optimism.  From that very first essay, Ms. Goldstein has become a mentor and confidant for Tracy.  Here are but a few examples of the nature of their relationship.

1.  Ms. Goldstein has encouraged Tracy to keep a journal and to write at least a page each and every day.  She has even shared with Tracy some of her own writing, including some from her own

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