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Chapter 3: Teaching Is Adapting to Student Diversity - page 6 / 16





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students, is correlated with the income of the families whose sons and daughters attend the school (Elliott et al., 2000).

The schools attended by economically disadvantaged children are associated not only with limited resources, but also with patterns of teacher-student interaction that are less than optimal for student academic achievement. For example, teachers in schools with economically disadvantaged populations have lower expectations for their students, criticize students more often, and spend less time in instructional interactions with their students than do teachers in schools attended by middle-class children (Santrock, 2008).  In part, this pattern of teacher behavior might be elicited by the developmental and behavioral problems that children from poverty bring with them to school.  It may also reflect low teacher morale engendered by the deplorable conditions of the schools in which these teachers must work day in and day out (Kozol, 1991).  It also may be the case, however, that teachers have “given up” on economically disadvantaged children on the assumption that their poverty has doomed them to academic failure.  In fact, recent research on resilience has convincingly demonstrated that this assumption is not warranted.

Resilience is the term used to characterize individuals who have good outcomes, become competent, and achieve success in the face of trauma or severe, chronic stress (Rutter, 1987; Werner, 1995; Zimmerman & Arunkumar, 1994).  The impetus for research on resilience was the Kauai Longitudinal study (Werner, 1977).  This study, which was conducted in Hawaii, yielded the surprising finding that nearly one-third of the children studied went on to lead productive lives as adults despite growing up under conditions associated with numerous risk factors, including poverty.  Since then, considerable research has been conducted to identify the factors that protect children from risk -- the factors that make them resilient (Zimmerman & Arunkumar, 1994).  Some protective factors are intraindividual (i.e., characteristics of the individual), such as being socially outgoing (Werner, 1995).  Other protective factors can be found in the family (e.g., having a family member who is supportive but holds high expectations for achievement) and in the community (e.g., a neighbor who praises and supports the individual) (Werner, 1995).  Most important for present purposes, some protective factors are to be found in schools (Zimmerman & Arunkumar, 1994).  These school-based protective factors include a school that is highly organized and in which all involved are committed to learning and teachers who serve as role models and sources of support for the at-risk youth. Teachers, then, must view children from poverty in more optimistic (although not unrealistic) terms and work to engineer a system of protective factors that will optimize the chances of success for these students.  Strategies for doing this will be suggested later in this chapter.


Not all students in any class will have the same level of ability in any area of academic or social functioning.  Some students will be better readers than others; some will find math difficult and try to avoid it, whereas others will be skilled at math and find it challenging and exciting; and some students will get along well with others and follow the rules of the classroom, whereas others may be less popular among peers and may find rules a bit of an annoyance. Variations such as these are always challenging for teachers because they mean that one instructional approach, one curriculum, one sequence and timing of lessons will not be optimal for everyone in the class.  But teachers often are faced with more extreme variation -- for example, students with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD (Elliott et al., 2000), or students who have problem aggression and are rejected by their peers (Santrock, 2008).  These students can be said to exceptional (Elliott et al., 2000).  Students who are exceptional are at the “extremes” on dimensions such as intelligence or sociability.  These students pose the greatest challenges for teachers.  Such students require unusual adaptations on the part of teachers, adaptations that teachers are often unable to make either because of a lack of resources or a lack of training.

In the remainder of this section, we consider children who have exceptional educational needs and thus pose unusual challenges for teachers.  We have not attempted an exhaustive description of the various “categories” of exceptional students that might be encountered in a classroom.  So, for example, we have little to say about ADHD, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, sensory impairments, or speech and language disorders.  If you are interested in these or other categories, very readable introductions are to be found in Elliott et al. (2000).   Instead, we focus here on children who represent the extremes of ability; namely, students who are considered gifted (or talented) and students who have cognitive disabilities (or developmental disabilities).  A consideration of these two groups of students will allow us to derive some

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