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How to Teach to a Diverse Classroom of Students

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

all students.

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?

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