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Teaching In Racially Diverse College Classrooms

Teaching In Racially Diverse College Classrooms

12 May, 2016

When teaching in a multicultural context, it is suggested that teachers prepare themselves in many ways:

(1) Plan the course with the multicultural classroom in mind by taking syllabi, course assignments, examples, stories, and potential classroom dynamics into account.

(2) Look for ways to make the actual classroom open and safe for all students, and to make the material available to all students.

(3) Learn how to intervene tactfully and effectively in racially charged classroom situations and to manage hot moments or hot topics.

(4) Assess conscious and unconscious biases about people of cultures other than your own.

Guiding Suggestions:

  1. Educate yourself — become as sensitive as you can to racial, ethnic, and cultural groups other than your own.

At the same time:

  1. Never assume something about an individual based on the racial, ethnic, or cultural groups to which he or she seems to belong. Treat each student first and foremost as an individual. Get to know each student individually.

 Tips For Teaching In Racially Diverse College Classrooms:

What a teacher can do in preparation for class:

  1. Develop a syllabus that explores multiple perspectives on the topic.

Integrate multicultural examples, materials, and visual aids as much as possible in lectures.

Ensure that the expectations for the pedagogical process and learning outcomes are stated clearly on the syllabus.

Arrange project groups, panels, laboratory teams, and the like so that membership and leadership roles are balanced across ethnic and gender groups.

Develop paper topics that motivate students to explore different racial and cultural perspectives.

Assign work of scholars from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds relevant to the topic being studied.

  1. Design classroom instruction and materials with a diverse group of students inmind.

Make ground rules or norms that will assist students on how they are expected to interact with each other in the classroom.

Design classes with a clear structure (there is a method and meaning to how teaching and learning is to occur) and flexibility (not so rigid that adjustments cannot be made).

Consider how all students would experience the syllabus.

Check whether students of all cultures are likely to have a background in the material.

Determine whether different approaches to learning are accounted for.

Expect sensitive areas in the subject matter being taught.

Think in advance about how one might handle sensitive topics or explosive moments.

What a teacher can do to be sure the classroom itself is open to all students:

  1. Create opportunities to get to know your students on an individual/personal basis.

Be acquainted with each student. Learn their names and how to pronounce them correctly.

Have eye contact with all students; be open and friendly outside of class.

Be available and motivate students to meet with you during office hours.

Interact with your students in respectful, challenging, and collaborative ways.

  1. Design opportunities for students to interact with each other in respectful and meaningful ways.

Divide the class into smaller groups, and when appropriate, assign one person with the duty of reporting on the small group’s work.

Encourage students to form study groups.

Give chances to students to present their work to each other and the whole class.

  1. Activate student voices.

Create opportunities for mutual teacher-student participation so that everyone feels a responsibility and openness to contribute.

If possible, motivate students to share their thoughts about the subject, acknowledging their statements as they are made.

When appropriate, give students chances to personalize course content with examples from their own history so that they can make connections between ideas learned in the classroom and those learned through life experiences.

Let students be aware from the very beginning that their thoughts are valued in the classroom, that we all have unique perspectives, and that these different perspectives are an important component of the learning process.

Make it safe for everyone to express their views by accepting all views as worthy of consideration. Don’t allow scapegoating of any student or any view. Don’t leave students alone out on a limb.

Avoid making situations where students are placed in the position of being representatives of their race.

  1. Generate a challenging but vibrant learning process that encourages students to develop their creative, critical, and analytical thinking skills.

Make the classroom norms explicit.

Keep expectations high and provide the support needed to meet these expectations.

Have students locate cultural or even discriminatory content in textbooks or other materials.

Ask students to research the position they are least comfortable with and to come prepared to articulate a defense of that posture.

Present all sides of an issue. Play the devil’s advocate for the least popular view

Ensure that students get the chance to link theory with practice — that is, encourage them to apply what they are learning with what’s going on in the world.

Use multiples modes of instruction to account for the range of learning styles that may be present in a diverse group of students.

Give direct and clear feedback in an effort to demonstrate your commitment to your students’ learning.

 What a teacher can do to intervene in racially charged situations and handle hot moments:

  1. Devise personal strategies in advance for managing yourself and the class in such moments.

Be aware of your own hot buttons/biases and what will make your mind stop working.

Try to foresee what topics may be explosive and design pedagogical strategies (e.g. small groups, free writes, and reflection responses) that may assist in managing sensitive topics.

Establish clear classroom norms at the beginning of the class.

  1. Interrupt blatantly racist and discriminatory behaviors when they emerge in class.

Trust your instincts. If you think someone is involved in discriminatory behavior then you might be right. Don’t let potentially destructive behavior go unaddressed — your students may take your silence as an unofficial endorsement.

Don’t allow students attack other students in personal terms; get them off the personal and onto the issue at stake.

Try not to let yourself be distressed by the event; or at least, try not to let it look as if you are rattled. If you as the teacher can hold yourself steady, you will make a holding environment in which people can work out the issues that have arisen.

Don’t let yourself get caught up in a personal reaction to the individual who has made some unpleasant remark.

Protect the lone outlier (the attacked or attacker), regardless of his or her position.

  1. Defuse potentially harmful moments by having students step back and reflect on the situation.

Stop the class and have students write a reflection response on the incident. This lets students to think about and come to some kind of terms with the issue and can enable further discussion of it.

Defer. Tell students that this is a vital issue and that you will take it up later in this class or next time. Use the time to think and plan a strategy. Make sure you return to the issue later as promised.

Go around the room and ask each student who has spoken (and others if they wish) to express his or her view and explain the view behind it. Do not allow interruptions and acknowledge each student’s comments, regardless of how you feel about it personally.

If a student breaks down as a result of the original outburst, acknowledge it and ask the student if he/she would like to remain in the classroom or take a break to pull him- or herself together.

  1. Turn potentially hot moments into powerful learning experiences.

Utilize the disruption as a chance to analyze the issue under discussion or the initial event.

Find the part in the hot moment that can be utilized for further discussion.

Ask students to step back and see how they might make something positive of this exchange, what they can learn from it.

Ask students to think about how their reactions reflect the subject at hand, and what they might learn about the subject from their own behavior or experience.

Use the passion as a vehicle to talk about differences in kinds and levels of discourse.

Utilize the passion and arguments to look at how group dynamics work — who speaks and who does not, who allies him or herself with whom, who plays what role — and to think about how the group wants to work.

Teachers will have to choose whether to stop the emotional charge and go on, or to use it to explore the topic at hand. Frequently, when things get hot, people are most capable of learning at a very deep level, if the exchange among students is properly handled. To make this possible, however, needs comfort with feelings and with conflict, and enormous skill on the part of the teacher.