How to Teach to a Diverse Classroom of Students
By Tina O'Block
Each year teachers are faced with the daunting task of teaching
to a classroom of 20-30 individual students, each with their own
learning styles, interests, and abilities. Providing optimal
learning for such a diverse group can seem overwhelming. But,
there is a simple approach that can be used which will enable
all students to succeed, and that approach is simply using
variety and choice. Not only does this approach address the
multiple learning styles of students, but it also aides in making
them independent learners.
While the classroom still needs to have structure (routines,
rules, procedures), providing variety within that structured
environment can aide in providing optimal learning for all
students. Using a variety of instructional approaches such as
lectures, PowerPoint presentations, inquiry-based instruction,
hands-on experiments, project/problem-based learning, or
computer aided instruction, not only addresses the various
learning styles of the students in the classroom, but it can help
learners become more flexible in their learning. Most learners
do have a preferred learning style, however this does not mean
they are strictly dependent on that style to learn. They are
also comfortable with and able to learn from several other styles
as well. Exposing students to a wide variety of learning styles
will enable them to become more flexible learners.
It is also beneficial to vary the input devices used and the
resources made available in the classroom. Children have a wide
variety of preferred learning devices, therefore making as many
available as possible provides for this diversity. For example,
when presenting information use audio (songs, speeches,
interviews, etc.), video, books, posters, hands-on
manipulatives, food, and smells. Technology has made available
a wide range of resources, such as PowerPoint presentations,
live video feeds, chats, and communication. PowerPoint
presentations are a great way to present information using a
mixture of audio, video, animations (movement), and text. These
presentations can also be made available to the students via the
computer for them to review at their own pace. The internet/
computers also offer interactive learning activities that combine
movement, visuals, and sounds, such as virtual science
experiments. These allow students to conduct experiments
never before thought possible due to danger or lack of equipment.
Virtual experiments can be found at http://www.explorelearning.com .
Pre-exposure to material also aides in learning. The more
familiar students are with a subject the easier it is for new
learning to occur. Therefore, providing students with a
variety of pre-exposure materials can better prepare them for
new learning units. For example, monthly calendars that list
the upcoming themes, a classroom website with links to various
websites related to upcoming themes, books, magazines, maps,
posters, computer software, and manipulatives can be provided
for students to browse at their leisure. Providing a variety of
materials takes into consideration the learning preferences of
Novelty can be used to gain and keep students' attention.
People usually only pay attention to things that are of value or
things that are personally meaningful. Therefore, relating
learning to your students' real life experiences or interests
can catch and keep their attention. “Shock” them with an unusual
noise, experiment, video, song, etc. You can also present them
with a problem or project that relates to their real world in
order to gain their attention and interest at the beginning of
a unit. Issues such as environmental problems, problems with
long lines in the cafeteria, designing the perfect playground,
planning a field trip within the budget, local traffic issues,
etc. can all be considered. Making learning meaningful,
relevant, and interesting to your students not only gains their
initial attention, but keeps it throughout the lesson.
When planning your lessons it is beneficial to try to include as
many of the senses and/or Gardner's multiple intelligences
(verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, kinesthetic, visual-
spatial, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist)
as possible. You can do this by using a variety of activities
in your plans such as songs, games, experiments, field trips,
real world experiences, interviews, guest speakers, physical
movement/exercise, small group activities, individual activities,
partner activities, cooking/food/snacks, hands-on experiences,
etc. Providing a variety of activities will enable students of
all ability levels to succeed.
Not only do students have diverse learning styles but varying
bio-cognitive cycles as well. Some students learn best in the
morning, some in the afternoon. Therefore, having a flexible
classroom schedule can provide for these differences. Also,
varying the times and types of assessments can give all students
a fair chance of showing their true abilities.
When applicable, it is beneficial to give students choice in
activities and assessments. This provides students
opportunities to showcase their individual talents and can aide
in classroom management as well. If students are constantly
dictated to and not given a voice or choice they can grow
resentful and “act out”. Provide a variety of classroom
activities for students to choose from during structured and
unstructured times, give them several projects such as posters,
PowerPoint presentations, reports, interviews, videos, brochures,
etc. to choose from when assessing their knowledge. Giving
students choice provides them with a sense of empowerment over
their learning and can aide them in deciding what learning styles
and assessments work best for them, thus helping them become
more responsible for their own learning.
It would be a pretty boring world if all learners were the same.
Diversity makes the classroom more interesting and exciting.
Teachers should honor and respect the uniqueness of each
student by offering variety and choice in their classrooms. Not
only will this address the diverse needs of the students, but it
will also help them to become independent learners as well.
After all, is that not the goal of education?
About the Author
Tina O'Block holds a Master's degree in Curriculum and
Instruction and a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education.
She has been teaching for 13 years.
She is the author of Now I Know My ABCs and a Whole Lot More:
Alphabet Activities for Preschoolers and Kindergarteners which
is available at http://www.oblockbooks.com and the article, How
to Help Your Child be Successful in Kindergarten (http://www.oblockbooks.com/article.htm ).
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