Educators have been lamenting about the problem for decades: What more can they do to help every student succeed? And more to the point: What can be done to close the achievement gap for minority students? Ten years ago, it was estimated that more than 1.2 million students – most of them minorities – wouldn’t graduate from high school after four years (EPE Research Center). Now diversity has grown at such a rapid pace, requiring a serious reexamination of teaching strategies in order to meet the very different needs of their students.
Understand and Embrace Diversity
Trends in immigration and birth rates indicate that soon there will be no majority racial or ethnical group. As reported in recent years, nearly one in ten U.S. counties has a population that is more than 50 percent minority (The Center for Public Education). Preparing for the next generation of students means doing more to foster equity and inclusiveness in education. It goes beyond racial diversity, when teachers have to look at a student in their family context, considering cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic factors. Students with different backgrounds, naturally, will have distinctly different learning styles and pacing; teachers are facing the challenge of how to provide meaningful support to help all students succeed.
Overcome the Achievement Gap
In a typical class with 24 students, nearly half are living in poverty, have a disability or learning issue, are English language learners, are gifted and talented, or experience challenges at home that result in trauma, according to a 2016 report from Digital Promise Global. Take ESL students as an example. Consider that there are millions of young students ages five to 17 who speak a language other than English at home – and within that group, there are a significant number of students left behind in the classroom due to the language barrier (EPE Research Center). How can teachers make sure they’re not left behind, without isolating them? In the past, K-12 schools have mistakingly discriminated against diverse students through assessments that fail to make use of their language or cultural strengths. The facts show that students learn more when their teachers demonstrate that everyone can learn and succeed regardless of where they come from. By maintaining high expectations and encouraging them to collaborate and use analytical skills, teachers can better support them.
The Need for Personalized Learning
New technologies are helping teachers individualize their practices to cater to a diverse class. For colleges, diversity often makes it difficult to retain students, as it is difficult to satisfy every student’s needs within a large incoming class. Adaptive learning tools have opened up new ways for teachers to track students progress in fundamental skills, including literacy and math, so they can pinpoint individual needs. Ultimately, there is a greater call for personalized learning models that can cater to a variety of learning pathways in the 21st century multicultural classroom
Digital Promise Global, Making Learning Personal for All – The Growing Diversity in Today’s Classroom, Sept 2016. Report link
EPE Research Center, Diplomas Count: An Essential Guide to Graduation Policy and Rates, 2006. Web link
The Center for Public Education, “The Changing Demographics of the United States and Their Schools.” Web link