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The Diverse Classroom

undefined-544665-edited.jpgWhat is it like to teach in today's secondary and post-secondary classrooms in our increasingly globalised and international world where students come from all over the place, and the continuity of education from early grades to higher education is no longer a given? What strategies can we as educators employ? I've been thinking long and hard about issues of diversity, equity, and multiculturalism for many years as both a scholar and an educator, and equity is something I don't take lightly. Here are some of my thoughts about how to integrate a commitment to equity and diversity into meaningful teaching practice...

Before getting into the world of EduTech, I was a more straightforward English educator. I taught high school English and then went on to become a literature professor. My approach to literary study, however, has always foregrounded empowerment and equity. While researching and writing about postcolonialism and identity politics in contemporary literature, I gave myself a sound theoretical and scholarly foundation in these ideas, but it was when I stood in front of classes of real live students that the theory was put into practice.

It's one thing to write about marginalization, it is another thing to stand in front of a room of bright-eyed, keen, and amazing students and know that they're not all starting from an equal start line.

  • There are those who are international students, the best of the best in their home countries, now trying to find their way in an educational system that may have different rules and conventions.
  • There are those whose first language is something other than English. The strength of their minds dance best in another language, and English is a kind of awkward two-step rather than the soaring ballet of their mother tongue.
  • There are students whose parents and grandparents went to university; some of their parents might even work in universities. Those students understand all the un-written rules of university context in a different way from those who are first-generation attendees.
  • There are those juggling full- or part-time work with full- or part-time school, or who have care-giving responsibilities for family members, from siblings with special needs to aging and ill parents to their own young children.

My Team EssayJack colleague, Dr. Anthony Cantor wrote a blog post about accessiblity and equality, addressing some of these ideas (and I recommend you check it out), and I have a few more things that I want to add here to this conversation about diversity in the classroom from my own experience.

The needs of students in today's diverse classes is different than the needs of students a generation ago. And since we are teaching today, not a generation ago, it behooves us to teach to today's diverse classes.

Okay, great, that all sounds good, but what does that actually mean? It means many different things in many different classes, but here are some strategies that you can employ:

  1. Check Assumptions at the Door: There are a whole host of harmful assumptions we might have, and one way to get around some of these is that instead of thinking that students know anything about your field, just assume that they know nothing and start from there. Obviously, they know a heck of a lot more than nothing, but it can be helpful to begin at the beginning. Something as simple as stating why or how you teach what you do. For me, this can take the form of identifying why I think it's important to study literature, and what the study of literature is all about to me (which might be a blog post for another day!).
  2. Find Teaching Technologies as Supports: EduTech can be really helpful for students, because there's a degree of "privacy" associated with using digital resources as a support on their own time. If students are writing essays at 3am, then it doesn't matter how good your institution's Writing Service Tutors may be, because they won't be available at 3am, but digital technologies are, and students report that they want the help of various digital technologies, so it's in our best interest to curate the right ones for our classes and students.
  3. Think Seriously about Cutural Sensitivity: There is facile, token-ish cultural sensitivity, and then there's the kind that takes the diverse experiences of students and educators seriously. I prefer the kind of cultural sensitivity that can get rid of the modifier "cultural" and just be "sensitive." Be sensitive to student needs and backgrounds. Sensitivity doesn't equal giving anyone a free ride or allowing sensitivity to become an excuse not to hold students accountable, but it does mean being flexibile enough to know that to treat different students fairly may mean that students aren't always treated 100% exactly the same.

I left the full-time English classroom and devoted my time to creating EssayJack, not because I had lost my love of teaching, but rather because I love teaching. I love teaching students and seeing them reach their potential and exceed what they thought possible. I love challenging them and seeing them rise to the challenge. 

But in a diverse class and diverse world, students who are already disadvantaged can find it hard in a 12-week semester to overcome their deficits to achieve their fullest potential. EssayJack is my attempt - and its only one of many great tools out there - hoping to get as many students in all kinds of diverse classrooms to the same starting point.

Because, after all, a diverse learning environment is a better one for everyone, and research suggests that "racial and ethnic diversity matter for learning, the core purpose of a university," and increasing diversity is a way "to promote sharper thinking for everyone."

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 #ESL #ELL #EFL #ELT #education #edutech #writing #essays #diversity #equity

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