The student population in American schools today is more culturally diverse than ever. In 2014, white students were no longer the majority of the student population in American schools. The Pew Research Center reports that the number of white students enrolled dipped below 50 percent. The minority races collectively surpassed the 50 percent mark.
Between 2003 and 2013, the number of Hispanic students jumped from 19 percent to 25 percent of the student population. The National Center for Education Statistics projects that Hispanics will make up one-third of the student population by 2025.
These figures represent new challenges for schools and educators. Despite the majority of students not identifying as white, the bulk of educators remains white.
Students look to teachers — especially those belonging to the same race — as role models. Two studies — “Teachers, Race, and Student Achievement in a Randomized Experiment” and “Beyond Test Scores: The Impact of Black Teacher Role Models on Rigorous Math Taking” — show that teachers of color improve learning outcomes, particularly when teaching students of the same race or culture.
A Diverse Classroom Enhances Learning Outcomes
“How Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms Can Benefit All Students” references the congressionally authorized creation of the Coleman Report 50 years ago to show that integrating schools socio-economically may increase achievement in academics more than any other educational tactic.
Teachers College Columbia’s Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox and Diana Cordova-Cobo say that growing evidence confirms the positive impact of diversity on cognitive skills, critical thinking and problem-solving. They say that by the time students become adults, they will be living in a more diverse world. Thus, they need to learn how to interact with people different from themselves.
Most major employers consider it important for employees to be able to work with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. To meet the needs of diverse student populations, the authors recommend teacher education programs that prepare teachers to make a difference by encouraging students with different backgrounds to learn from each other in the context of “equal status, common goals, and mutual respect.”
“There are a few schools of education in which this is becoming a more central theme in their teacher education programs, but this work needs to be more widely spread moving forward,” they write.
How Can Educators Support a Diverse Student Population?
Educators can take steps to adapt their lesson plans to better serve a multicultural classroom. In Harvard Family Research Project, Sherick Hughes, former assistant professor in the College of Education at the University of Toledo, advises teachers to visit their students’ homes to build rapport with their families. However, Hughes knows that this may not always be possible.
Therefore, Hughes offers three alternatives to help teachers connect with students’ caregivers at least once per school year by doing the following:
- Call every student’s family to report something positive.
- Email positive information to every student’s family.
- Use an audio or visual medium to communicate positive information sent to families by mail, student delivery or email.
In “Teaching Diverse Students: How to Embrace Cultural Identity in the Classroom,” Peter Demerath, Ph.D., offers three tips for educators to support diversity in their classrooms:
- Get to know your students.
- Believe in a growth mindset.
- Establish meaningful relationships with your students.
“We Still Need Diverse Books” recommends reading diverse books to students to help battle potential subconscious cultural bias. The article lists examples of diverse book titles. For more book ideas, see the list on We Need Diverse Books.
University of New South Wales’ “Responding to Cross-Cultural Diversity” offers examples on how to communicate expectations and requirements. There, you will find strategies for assessment-related tasks to ensure fairness. These strategies cover everything from “do not schedule exams on major religious holidays” to “avoid writing questions that require local or cultural knowledge.”
Although targeted to university students, “Designing Culturally Inclusive Classrooms” can be modified for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. It offers strategies and advice on how to put a positive spin on diversity, ensure the class is safe for all students, and understand the stresses that come with adjusting to an environment.
For strategies on how to adapt lesson plans and curricula for a multicultural classroom, you may want to look into an online education program for a course that covers the topic. LSU Shreveport offers Introduction to Learning and Culture and Curriculum in the Multicultural Classroom as part of its online ESL-focused Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction program.
The student population will continue to grow more diverse. Many parents choose to enroll their children in schools with a diverse population. Being in such an environment can help students learn how to navigate and celebrate differences. Students can feel included and improve their chances for success when educators adjust their curriculum and educational materials.
Learn more about the LSUS online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction: ESL program.
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