In today’s society, diversity in education is extremely important. America is no longer the melting pot it used to be. It has gradually transformed into a salad bowl filled with people from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. As educators, we have to transform and adapt our teaching styles to fit all walks of life. Differentiation is the passport to diversity. In order to be successful in a diverse classroom, facilitators must be able to balance student awareness and community acceptance. Instructional plans must be flexible and diversified in order to meet the needs of all students.
Being employed in a school that is roughly 95% African American it is important that my curriculum is geared towards black culture, in order for my students to be focused and engaged. Utilizing the county pacing as the roadmap, I try to incorporate material that my students can relate to as well as gain background knowledge from. I think it is important to provide students with real-world experiences through literature. Many of our students have limited resources and have not traveled outside of Highland Springs.
Using diversified materials allows them to travel around the entire world for free through print. When it comes to instruction things need to be 50/50. Students have to be exposed to material outside of their culture in order to better understand the backgrounds and cultures of people that don’t look like them. My main goal when creating curriculums is to balance the material by giving my students text that they can understand, as well as text from other cultures. For example, this year as a class we read Maniac Magee and Bud, Not Buddy.
Both stories are centered around pre-teen orphans that are on the run. Though Maniac wasn’t African American he experienced racism similarly to my students. My students were able to learn about the culture of a white boy, struggling in the world alone. They were also able to relate to the one white student in our class who was also a foster child living with an all-black family, just like the main character in Maniac Magee. Through this unit, each and every one of my students was able to relate to parts of both novels while gaining knowledge.
Currently, there is a huge barrier to language acquisition and literacy development due to our students not being exposed to a wide range of vocabulary. Many students have a limited vocabulary because of their environment. One’s socio-economic status plays a major factor in their vocabulary development. Many students are only accustomed to their social dialect or African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) also known as “Black English” which places limitations on their vocabulary development and causes difficulty when trying to learn and speak Standard English.
In order to speak any language correctly, one must immerse themselves in the language. If a student comes from an environment where only Ebonics is spoken it is difficult for them to relate to Standard English, which makes it difficult for them to write and speak correctly even if they read it on a daily basis. Being comfortable in one’s own skin and being able to embrace your own culture is important when teaching students from diverse backgrounds. Working in the inner city I think the key to a diversified learning environment is to understand the whole child.
Though I “look like” most of my students, I still have to find ways to relate to their city lifestyles. As educators, we have to find ways to relate to students of different backgrounds, races, and genders. One shouldn’t assume that they can relate to a student just because they are the same race. According to my colleague Leah Weidenhoft, as a white woman, she needs to be aware of what the students relate to. She must also be able to expose students from her culture so that they can see there isn’t a huge difference between her and them. A key factor is to understand the whole child and being able to embrace their differences.
From my point of view, in order for educators to value the contributions of diverse people is to immerse themselves in other cultures and make themselves of what’s going on in the world around them. Being able to be tolerant and realize that everyone is not like you allows one to have an open mind and embrace the traditions and customs of other cultures without forgetting who you are. I think it is important to value your experiences with other cultures in order to aid students in their literacy development. It’s as simple as attending a “white church” and understanding that “white church” is not as rambunctious as “black church”.
It’s building background knowledge in order to show students the differences in religious customs which can aid when reading a text from the Renaissance or Romanticism era. One of the main conflicts with diversity in literacy is that standardized tests are not created for a diverse group of students. According to Leah Weidenhoft, standardized test isn’t written for people that aren’t white or wealthy. Due to racially bias assessments, teachers are forced to teach students the “white” way to read and write. Educational practices in Virginia are not geared towards diversified instruction.
Students are grouped by age and not by ability and they are all forced to learn the same material across the state in order to be considered successful in the eyes of white lawmakers. In order for instruction to be diversified, the assessments must be diversified. It is unfair to students from other cultures to be taught Standard English without being other forms of English such as AAVE. If diversifying assessments is not an option more media driven cross-curricular lessons should be created to teach students about all cultures and backgrounds.
In conclusion, after discussing diversity in education with my colleague I’ve learned that we have a similar thought process when it comes to injustice in education. Everyone should be given a fair and equal education and it is important to expose all students to different cultures. Success comes from exposure. Students must be exposed to different backgrounds in order for them to gain the background knowledge and be able to relate to and respect other cultures. Unfortunately, the world is not perfect and all students are not allotted the same experiences.