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Chapter 3: Teaching Is Adapting to Student Diversity - page 14 / 16

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attempt to provide equal educational opportunities to males and females (American Association of University Women, 1998). We saw many examples of this strategy in our hypothetical preschool and seventh-grade classrooms.  Ms. Noonan, for example, intervened in a dispute between two preschoolers about whether men could be nurses.  More importantly, she provided a concrete, real-life example to challenge Ryan’s stereotype rather than simply telling him he was wrong.  She also exposed the children to books that portray men and women in a variety of non-traditional roles and careers as well as arranging a field trip to see real men and women who had crossed the gender barrier in their professional lives.  Mr. Singh also relied on this strategy.  For example, he shared with his seventh-grade class his observation that roles within the presentation teams were being assigned on the basis of gender and he allowed for class discussion of the issues involved.  He also selected a theme (e.g., important women in the history of science) that ensured that stereotypes about gender would be questioned at every step during the learning process through the week.  He also relied on role models (both historical figures and present-day role models) to show his students concrete examples of women who had defied the stereotypes and the odds.  It is important to note that the attention these two teachers gave to the issue of gender equity also made it clear to their students that the teachers thought the issue to be an important one.

3.  Monitor your own behavior to ensure that you are treating male and female students equitably.  There is considerable evidence that many teachers are often not aware of the differential treatment they direct to their male and female students (Sadker & Sadker, 1994).  It is important, therefore, that teachers constantly take stock of their behavior (American Association of University Women, 1998).  The clearest example of this is provided by Mr. Singh, who kept a diary of salient interactions with his students.  Creating the diary was his way of explicitly reflecting on his own behavior and of identifying problems that he might not been aware of at the time.  When reflecting on their own behavior, teachers should evaluate their patterns of praise and criticism, their attributions of academic failure, and the possibility that they have reinforced gender stereotypes or in some way segregated male and female students from each other (American Association of University Women, 1998).

4.  Increase the compatibility between the culture of the classroom and the culture of the home.  Many of the difficulties experienced by ethnic minority students can be traced to discrepancies between their cultural backgrounds and that of the classroom, which is largely a reflection of White middle-class culture (Tharp, 1989).  Students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are also faced with a culture within the classroom that is different from what they have experienced, especially as regards expectations for classroom behavior and preparation for academic tasks, such as reading and writing (Elliott et al., 2000).  In our hypothetical classrooms, we witnessed several approaches for increasing the compatibility between student and classroom cultures, particularly in Ms. Comrey’s third-grade class.  First, Ms. Comrey shared her expectations, rules, and modes of communication with the parents of all students.  This served to make explicit any differences between the culture of her classroom and the cultures embodied in the students’ home environments.  Second, she worked to get the parents involved in the activities of her classroom through meetings, telephone calls, parent volunteering, the parent-teacher organization, etc.  This ensured that parents became intimately familiar with the culture of her classroom.  More importantly, it gave parents the opportunity to influence the culture of her classroom and of the school as a whole.  Such parental involvement is critical to student success, particularly in the case of children from economically disadvantaged homes (Elliott et al., 2000).  Third, because so many of her students were African American, Ms. Comrey worked to incorporate African American culture into her curriculum, relying on parents and community leaders to serve as role models, share information about African-American contributions to society, race relations, and even African cuisine.  Incorporation of such themes and experiences into the culture of the classroom makes students and teachers more knowledgeable about, and accepting of, cultural diversity.  It also conveys the important message to students and parents that ethnic minority cultures are to be valued and respected. (See Chapters 2 and 5 for other examples of this strategy.)

5.  Serve as a source of support, encouragement, and high expectations for at-risk students.  Teachers can help promote resiliency in students at risk for academic and other failures because of poverty and other stresses in their lives (Zimmerman & Arunkumar, 1994).  Doing so requires that teachers become actively involved in the student’s life.  They need to show the student that they care, they must encourage the student, they must help the student devise strategies for dealing with the seemingly insurmountable problems they face, and they must serve as a role model.  However, teachers should not provide emotional

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