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Chapter 3: Teaching Is Adapting to Student Diversity - page 2 / 16





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frustrated.  Billy is interested in the academic activities of the classroom and works hard on the same projects as do the other children.  However, his progress in mastering basic arithmetic operations and literacy skills lags well beyond that of most of the other children.

In this chapter, we address the question: How can teachers successfully accommodate to diversity in their students? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question.  Moreover, accommodation is made more difficult by the increasing class sizes and dwindling resources that are thrust upon today’s teachers.  Nevertheless, there are strategies that teachers can use to ensure that they treat all students equitably and help to maximize each student’s chances of academic success.  These strategies derive from an understanding of the sources of diversity among students and of the types of reactions this diversity can elicit from peers and teachers.  In the preceding descriptions of first-grade students, we saw some of the sources of diversity in the classroom; namely, the gender, cultural heritage, economic background, and ability level of the students.  We begin by considering these sources of diversity.


By the time most children begin preschool, they have begun to form ideas about what it means to be male or female and they behave in accordance with those ideas (Berndt, 1997; Dacey & Travers, 2009; Elliott et al., 2000; Irwin & Simmons, 1994; Santrock, 2008).  They hold gender stereotypes about the behaviors and characteristics that males and females have or should have (Bigler, Liben & Yekel, 1992).  These ideas are stereotypes because they describe a prototypical male or female, they ignore individual differences within the categories of male and female, and they portray males and females as different in an absolute sense (i.e., with no overlap between them in terms of behavior, characteristics, etc.).  So, for example, preschoolers see objects such as hammers as “belonging” to daddies and objects such as brooms as “belonging” to mommies, and they associate fierceness and angriness with males but gentleness and nurturing with females (Fagot, Leinbach & O’Boyle, 1992).  They also attribute different occupations to males and females (Lott, 1987). Their behavior reflects their ideas about males and females in that it is gender-typed behavior (i.e., consistent with stereotyped views of gender).  Toddler boys and girls prefer different sorts of toys and activities, for example -- vehicles and construction materials in the case of boys, dolls and stuffed animals in the case of girls (O’Brien & Huston, 1985).  And preschoolers will even discourage their peers from engaging in so-called opposite-gender play, such as boys playing with dolls (Langlois & Downs, 1980).  Even during the preschool years, then, teachers will need to encourage students to adopt more flexible, less stereotyped conceptions of what it means to be male and to be female in today’s society.

Teachers may need to be even more vigilant in combating gender stereotypes and gender-typed behavior during the school years.  Although children’s gender stereotypes become more flexible and less exaggerated during middle childhood (Bigler et al., 1992), their behavior becomes more differentiated according to gender. Toy and activity preferences of boys and girls diverge even more than during the preschool years (Berndt, 1997).  Same-sex play (i.e., boys playing only with boys, girls playing only with girls) is the rule during the elementary school years (Hayden-Thomson, Rubin & Hymel, 1987), at least up until the fifth grade (Thorne, 1993).  And negative reactions to opposite-gender play and other activities become more intense and punishing during adolescence (Santrock, 2008).  The challenge for elementary school teachers may be to increase interaction between male and female students, whereas high school teachers should focus on acceptance of diverse views about gender.

In addition to being concerned about the attitudes and social behavior of their students, teachers need to pay particular attention to gender-based differences in achievement. Although differences in achievement and ability between males and females have decreased dramatically in recent years (American Association of University Women, 1998), some troubling differences remain.  (For very readable reviews of the differences between males and females in ability and achievement, see Cobb, 2007; Santrock, 2008).  Here are but a few examples:

1.  In the National Assessment of Educational Progress administered to high school students, girls scored higher than boys in reading and writing but lower than boys in math, history, geography and science (American Association of University Women, 1998).

2.  In the administration of the Third International Science Study test by the twelfth grade, boys

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