Differentiating Instruction

P2: Practice differentiated instruction. A teacher who differentiates instruction understands that homogeneity does not exist within any classroom and thus he or she provides instruction that addresses the diverse needs of students “when planning and delivering rigorous and relevant, yet flexible and response instruction” (Broderick, Mehta-Parekh & Reid, 2005, p. 196). One way I tried to differentiate instruction during my internship was to integrate a variety of learning styles, giving students choices, mixing up the structure of my lessons, and creating opportunities for students to learn and respond to material in different ways. Practicing these aspects of differentiated instruction kept me from favoring a dominant culture or learning styles, engaging my students and motivating them to excel in areas of strength and familiarity while challenging them in areas of weakness or uncertainty. When designing and teaching a unit on the Shakespearean tragedy Othello, I did my best to honor personal development through learner-centered approaches, recognizing that students do not learn the same material in the same ways.

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As we studied the play, I tried to incorporate activities that catered to a variety of learning styles: we listened to audio recording and followed along in the text, students read the text aloud, we watched scenes from a film version of the tragedy, students read and acted out scenes, then some students read while different students acted, we analyzed soliloquys for rhetorical effectiveness and we practiced interpreting and summarizing difficult passages. Throughout the unit, I performed a variety of informal assessments to evaluate the effectiveness of the different learning activities and at times would allow students to choose how we would study the text for a particular scene. Moving forward, I will continue to plan lessons and curriculum that honors the diverse ways in which students learn by differentiating instruction. It was really interesting to see what learning styles were most successful in each class and to make adjustments based on the student feedback I received regarding how students felt they learned best. They were good sports as we experimented with different learning styles and activities. Many students enjoyed the variety of learning approaches as well as the opportunity to provide input based on their own needs and as a result it was not only a valuable learning experience for the students, but also for me as well.

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Bias in the Classroom

As a professional educator, addressing possible bias in future courses I teach will begin with my personal humility. My hope is to create a classroom culture where all students feel free to express who they are in a respectful way without fear. This requires reciprocal respect, honesty, and openness from both students and teachers. To promote this type of environment and address my own possible biases, I will need to be reflective, humble, open to criticism, and able to admit shortcomings, oversights and mistakes I make while teaching or interacting with students. As Professor Sink suggested, not only does this make me more accessible and relatable as a human being, but also creates a safe space where my students are able to make mistakes as well as take responsibility for them. This type of attitude is so important in helping students develop cultural competency and respect for all people.

Stuart Biegel’s article, “The Right to Be Out: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in America’s Public Schools” was really valuable in providing strategies for improving the sense of community within the school and classroom. Reflecting on the influence of an educator’s attitude on students, Biegel quotes Rick Lipkin:  “Given our socially reactive brains, we must ‘be wise,’ and be aware of the ways that our moods influence the biology of each life we touch” (Biegel, 2010, p. 104). With that quote in mind, bias may mean favoring or disfavoring particular students, which is unacceptable. As Martha Bigelow states in her article, “Somali Adolescents’ Negotiation of Religious and Racial Bias In and Out of School,” “schools are often places that reproduce larger societal systems of discrimination” but I would abhor this to be the case in my future classroom (Bigelow, p. 33). Our implicit and explicit attitudes and behaviors and the content we teach has the potential to be profoundly positive or debilitating to individuals, especially to students who are already vulnerable or marginalized.

As educators, we must set the tone by not only addressing the needs of all of our students, but also by displaying “open and explicit respect” for every individual in our classrooms (Biegel, p. 104). Every student is unique and will bring with them a host of biases, thoughts and attitudes about any given aspect of another student’s cultural identity, religious identity, or gender identity; but without respect, collaborative, constructive, discussion-based learning will not take place and even more so, individuals or groups of students may feel further isolated and unheard. Without an unbiased classroom culture centered on respect, students will miss out on opportunities to teach and learn from one another and what a shame that would be.

Providing students with access to multiple perspectives within the curriculum is an important part of avoiding bias in the classroom. I reviewed an English text, England in Literature and found it to be a valuable text for use in my future British Literature sections of an English curriculum. In accordance with the title, this resource provides literature from Medieval Age to the twentieth century. As most would expect, the majority of authors and perspectives represented are male, although there are images of both men and women throughout the textbook. And while women are underrepresented for many reasons, different depending on time period and context, studying the roles of men and women as they relate to different texts would be as important part of their understanding. While many of the classics provided in this text are written by men, it may prove valuable to analyze lesser known works written by females and to discuss why they may be less famous. Also in hopes of eliminating bias, it would be useful to provide opportunities for students to analyze how a work is a commentary or criticism of social norms and gender roles.

Other than a small section on Celtic literature from Ireland and Whales, as the title suggests, most of the authors represented are English—white, Anglo-Saxon, Catholic-Christian Englishmen. So unless I was teaching a course solely focused on British Literature, other materials would be necessary to provide students with works written by authors of other countries, cultures, and religions. However, this resource does provide valuable variety in literary genres from epics to poetry, and short stories to plays. So while this text is hardly a multicultural masterpiece, it serves as a valuable collection of British texts from which to teach a section on British literature or as supplement to a more comprehensive curriculum.

Resources:

Biegel, S. (2010). The right to be out: Sexual orientation and gender identity in america’s public schools. Chicago, IL: University of Minnesota Press.

Bigelow, M. (2008). Somali adolescents’ negotiation of religious and racial bias in and out of school. Theory Into Practice, 47, 27. 33.

Pfordresher, J., Veidemanis, G., McDonnell, H. (1989) England in Literature. Scott, Foresman (Ed.) Glenview, IL.

On the Road to a Multicultural America

In his essay, “Whites in Multicultural Education: Rethinking our Role,” Gary Howard discusses ways for us to go about participating “in the dance of diversity, a dance in which everyone shares the lead” (Banks, 1996, p. 333). As a White American, a member of the dominant group, Howard discusses how acknowledgement of past oppressions often leads those of “European background to feel a collective sense of complicity, shame, or guilt” (p. 328). While on an emotional level, these feelings are very real, in efforts to break the cycle of guilt, hurt and blame, we must take on new roles and such feelings must be overcome. Facing the reality of privilege should not stop at awareness or even discussion, but should be a catalyst for change, for movement, for action.

Howard suggests ways for White Americans to go about doing this, such as supporting “new historical research aimed at providing a more inclusive and multidimensional view of our nation’s past” (p. 329). This particularly applies to us, as educators. Already, “scholars and educators are searching for the literature, the experiences, the contributions, and the historical perspectives that have been ignored in our Eurocentric schooling” (p. 329). Incorporating these sources and perspectives into the classroom is not only an important part of dismantling cycles of marginalization, but also is key in developing culturally competent individuals who will be active participants in creating a better, more equal America.

An aspect I appreciated about Howard’s writing, was an emphasis on co-responsibility, on balance. White Americans must acknowledge and take responsibility for privilege but at the same time, “our role is not to fall into a kind of morose confessionalism about the sins of our ancestors” (p. 330). In helping students to not be ignorant of their own privilege, we must be clear that while they may not be responsible for the past, they are deeply responsible for the future. And with the future in mind, we as educators must highlight and model both empathy and respect or respeto, which in Spanish means to “acknowledge the full humanness of other people, their right to be who they are, their right to be treated in a good way” (p. 330). These traits must be foundational within our classrooms.

And while facing these realties may feel overwhelming, students should be reminded of this quote from Howard: “racism is not a Black problem or an Indian problem or an Asian problem or a Hispanic problem—or even a White problem. The issue of racism and cultural diversity in the United States is a human problem, a struggle we are all in together. It cannot be solved by any one group” (p. 330). Together, with combined effort and resources we can all work toward the building of a multicultural America.

Banks, J. A. (1996). J.A. Banks (Ed.). Multicultural education, transformative knowledge and action: Historical and contemporary perspectives. New York: Teachers College Press.

EDU 6133-Diversity and Me

I took a poetry class during my last year of undergraduate school and as part of our weekly assignments, we examined different stylistic aspects of speeches, articles and poems and then wrote original pieces employing those same stylistic devices. As an introduction to my reflection, I thought I would share my piece modeled after Barack Obama’s Keynote Address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention:

–I am the daughter of a white real estate agent from Massachusetts and a white stay-at-home mom from Washington State. I grew up with the love of a white grandfather who flew bombers in the US Airforce to ensure my freedom and a white grandmother who raised my father and uncle while papa was overseas. I attended both private elementary school and private university and lived in an affluent suburb. I was offered multiples jobs after graduation despite a lack of experience—a supposed testament to my commitment to hard work.

I have a brother, sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins of Caucasian race and upper-middle class, scattered across the country, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that ours is not the only Country in which my skin color has significantly aided in making my story possible–

I belong to a homogenously white, traditional, middle-class American family.  I have a pretty large extended family as well, and for most of my life, all of us: aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and great grandparents have lived within 10ish minutes of each other. I do not celebrate much of my cultural heritage other than making lefse (Norwegian potato bread) with my family every Christmas. I am predominantly Norwegian and Swedish with a milky mixture of English, German, Scottish and Irish… so it takes me quite awhile to build a base tan. One of my best friends from college is Jamaican and I distinctly remember the first time I realized she didn’t have to buy sunscreen because her skin just never burned. And as an aside, I will say that I envied her skin; during the summertime, the goal of me and many of my friends was to add color to our pale skin. As a senior at SPU, one of my dearest friends was Vietnamese and she hated having a tan; she felt lighter skin was more beautiful. Personal and cultural definitions of beauty are a fascinating aspect of diversity.

I attended a predominantly Caucasian private elementary school and probably was unaware that I belonged to the majority until I transferred to public junior high and high school and was lost in a sea of faces that no longer looked like mine. It was a beautifully uncomfortable new reality. Then as a freshman at SPU, I was one of four tutors hired for a new program Professor Greg Fritzberg was putting together. I tutored for three years in two different low-income middle schools where as a white female, I was in the minority. More than 80 countries represented in what they called their “global village.” I had never been in a school with such a diverse body of students. I fell in love with the atmosphere and really enjoyed my mentoring role as a tutor.

I became particularly close with one student in particular. As a sixth grader, she had been in a gang for years, and she felt trapped. Her mother worked all the time to support her and her sister and the grandfather who was supposed to care for them in the meantime abused them. She had experience with drugs and carried worries and fears not meant for a child’s shoulders. I came face to face with my own privilege and although she really valued our time together, I struggled to help her understand the value of her schooling. The latest math concept didn’t seem important when she didn’t feel safe at home and her basic needs were far from met.

As a future educator, this experience was invaluable in opening my eyes to the ways in which diverse experiences shape our perspective on education. I know it is hardly a revolutionary thought, but growing up, I never encountered someone with such a contrasted childhood. It was overwhelming to decipher what my role was and how to navigate the issues this young girl was facing with sensitivity. As an upper-middle class white woman of privilege, I worry about being relevant and attentive to the needs of my future students. I want to be intuitive to the personal needs of my students without being presumptuous.  My hope is to create a classroom of reciprocal respect, where my students feel like they are part of a larger family, comfortable enough to be unabashedly themselves. I know the struggles of my students will way heavily on my heart whether those are issues in the classroom or at home and I worry I will not be able to be enough for them.

My initial understanding of “Diversity,” “Multiculturalism,” and “Cultural Competence”

My understanding of the definitions of these words:

Diversity: mixture, variety, implies the existence of multiple elements (e.g. experiences, perspectives, races, etc.), the recognition of individual differences, the absence of uniformity

Multiculturalism: the presence, inclusion, preservation of more than one culture in a community or society, includes ideas and discussion about proper ways in which to respond to such diversity

Cultural Competence: having the capability to properly and effectively respond, communicate, and interact with people of different cultures. Relates to sensitivity and awareness of one’s own cultural identity (perspectives, attitudes, behaviors)