The culturally diverse environment of many contemporary classrooms presents an excellent opportunity for students to learn about cultural diversity and difference. At the same time, recognising cultural diversity also presents a risk of stereotyping particular groups within the classroom. Stereotyping is a type of prejudice we often may not be consciously aware of. A teacher may assume a student needs extra help simply because of his ethnic or socio-economic background or gender. The result is that a student is singled out unfairly, albeit with good intentions. However, recognising diverse groups within the classroom can be an invaluable part of the educational process when it is done in a constructive and intelligent way.
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Evaluate your cultural assumptions and biases before identifying diversity in the classroom. Identifying diversity in the classroom has to walk a fine line between categorising groups in terms of stereotypes and recognising legitimate differences. One of the complicating factors is that stereotypes tend have elements of truth, in some cases, but the problem is that stereotypes generalise and fail to recognise individual differences. Speaking of cultural diversity in general terms allows prejudice and unchallenged assumptions to influence the classroom environment. Examples of cultural bias or prejudice include treating students with double standards; interacting with students differently because of ethnicity, gender or religious background; and making assumptions about a student's background and learning style.
Designate a cultural diversity week at your school. Encourage students to identify themselves by telling their own personal narratives. Stereotypes define individuals rather than allowing individuals to define their own identity. A cultural diversity week acknowledges and celebrates individual characteristics and differences in the classroom. It provides the opportunity for students to share their cultural identities and background with fellow students, and also gives students to opportunity to learn about one another.
Schedule a list of activities for the cultural diversity week focused on ethnicity, religion and gender. This provides a forum to learn about cultural differences in a constructive and interesting way. For example, a day devoted to ethnic diversity may include activities such as having students share stories about themselves and their background, sharing songs and music and art, sharing photos and videos and sharing particular types of ethnic food particular to the culture.
Strive to make the classroom a constructive and creative environment. Promote age-appropriate discussion and dialogue among the students about the themes and topics discussed during the week. Encourage students to share thoughts about what they learnt or about mistaken assumptions they may have held prior to the presentations.
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