Not every American believes that embracing diversity is in the countries best interest; however our countries foundation was established on the principle that all men were created equal. This also includes in the area of education. People who enter our country legally should expect to enjoy this right. With the understanding that funding in schools remains a major factor, we as educators, must do everything in our power to ensure this right.
I am sure that our Founding Fathers had no idea as to the magnitude this issue of diversity would become. However what they did understand is that for this country to be successful, we must all embrace diversity. They understood that it is through this diversity that our country would become strong.
Diversity can be found in many forms and is not only diversity through language. Diversity can be in the form of believes, religion, or even body structure. The classroom can be one of the most diverse as it mixes cultures, religions, and other differences haphazardly into a single dynamic. The teacher does not have the same luxury as a coach; they cannot cut students or place them at a different position. The teacher must instead, work with their student’s diversities and mold them into a cohesive team. Let no one question a teachers desire to put together an effective learning environment for all their students. However we must take a closer look at some of our priorities. Programs that address student diversities, through no fault of the educators, are often the first to be constrained by a budget.
To illustrate this dilemma we can examine, perhaps the largest diversity issue that faces our schools; that is the issue of language. Bring up English as a second language in a social setting, and you are sure to enflame a heated debate. On one side you have the “pro” ESL programs and of course you have the “con” side. However, no one will argue that funding limits the development of the programs that our ESL students often require. For example in 2009, the New York Legislator passed a bill providing for enhanced literacy development skills, leading to improved academic performance of ESL’s. These programs intended for ESL’s must be aligned with New York State’s Learning Standards. The core areas must be implemented in a bilingual modality. While this seems like a step in the right direction, only $25,000 was allocated to each school district for this program, not even enough to hire a teacher for this program. (NYSed.gov)
The question of how to better handle the education of English Learners is an issue that we will all face. The complexity of this issue is brought to light by a teacher in Rhode Island. Candice McLean faces a different sort of issue, while it involves language; it is concerned with the proper use of English. The question asks “a lot of kids speak English as a second language and a lot of kids don’t speak proper English even though it is their first language. Should I try to change the way they speak in class?” (Marlow et al, 2007, pg. 147)
This question cuts to the core of the diversity issue. This teacher could have very easily been any teacher in any school. We have become a nation that speaks in short, incomplete sentences thanks to the world of text messaging. The question is should we as educators embrace this form of grammar or should we teach the students proper English. While the question seems simple on the surface, to the core, it is very difficult. In case studies written by the University of Alabama concerning the effects of technology on our education, the effects of text messaging is having on our teenager’s grammar is discussed. “Some educators suggest that this new age form of messaging may be hindering today’s teens’ abilities to apply grammar correctly in their writing and social skills. Others, however, take pride in the notion that teenagers are essentially creating their own twenty-first century language and see no effect on their students’ writing skills” (The University of Alabama Computers and Applied Technology Program, 2009)
While the effects that text messaging is having on our children’s grammar is an issue that must be dealt with what does this have to do with diversity? Issues such as diversity are not always as simple; it seems this is the case here. The diversity occurs between the educators themselves and the students. Many of the current educators grew up in an earlier age when conversations were carried out in person or over the telephone. These educators feel as though teaching proper grammar is essential. Yet the younger generations, who communicate through social media, on the web, or on their smart phones, feel as though proper English has gone the way of the type writer. In fact 64% of all students have reported that their text message lingo has carried over into their English Assignments. (The University of Alabama Computers and Applied Technology Program, 2009)
In Alabama educators are developing lessons to educate the students on the proper use of formal and informal English. Educators hope that teaching both forms of languages, the proper form and the improper form, students will be motivated to learn each equally. Keeping students motivated is a key factor in a well-balanced education and will encourage students to learn more willingly and openly.
Counter point to the University of Alabama’s view, in 2006 the University of Toronto conducted a study to see what effects text message was having on our youth. The study found that the standardized grammar scores of children in the last 30 years have basically remained the same. Regardless of the study’s results, this issue of diversity must be addressed. To answer Candice McLean’s question; yes, in my opinion we must change the way our students speak in the classroom. It does not matter if that person speaks broken English or speaks the language of text messaging, we as educators owe it to our students to ensure they receive a proper education. The State of Alabama has created programs that others should model. Teaching our students when it is proper to use correct grammar and when it is OK to use broken English is a good solution but must be monitored to ensure our lesson do not sway too far to the left.
While the language of texting is not always thought of as a foreign language, it does show just how many different types of diversification there are. Not every diversity issue relates to language. Another question posed by Michael Parrillo, addresses such an issue. Mr. Parrillo is faced with the challenge of integrating special needs children into his regular classroom. Michael’s classroom size is much larger than anticipated. The issue Mr. Parrillo faces is called inclusion and is defined as a term which expresses commitment to educate each child, to the maximum extent appropriate, in the school and classroom he or she would otherwise attend.
As a new teacher Mr. Parrillo faces three major issues. An oversized classroom is the first issue he faces. The second is how to include his challenged students into his regular classroom. The final issue is the lack of support from the parents. It seems, from day one, Mr. Parrillo faced a huge challenge.
Dealing with special needs children is governed by two forms of legislation. The first is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which requires that children with disabilities be educated in the "least restrictive environment appropriate” to meet their “unique needs”. The second is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The section states that a recipient of federal funds provide for the education of each qualified handicapped person in its jurisdiction with persons who are not handicapped to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the handicapped person. (www.weac.org) while neither bit of legislation helps Mr. Parrillo’s plight it does set precedence for his issue.
According to the article Special Education Inclusion there is no research directly related to the long terms effects of inclusion, but there are however studies of high school graduates that suggests that inclusion in general education classes, especially in vocational education courses, is associated with improved post-school outcomes. There are of course two sides of this issue. Not only will inclusion affect the special needs students it also can affect the general school student. Integrating the students must be done so with an organized and well planned agenda and must include the support and acknowledgement of the parents. Mr. Parrillo, it seems, was the victim of a poor plan by his administrators.
The benefits of inclusion must be stressed to parents so they fully understand what is to occur. They should understand that because lessons are conducted slower and often repeated, children have a better understanding of what they are learning. Additionally children in these mixed classes overcome their misconceptions about kids who have disabilities. Also the students with the disabilities feel more a part of society and more able to fit in. (www.educationworld.com) All these benefits must be stressed so that the parents can see that inclusion is not such a bad thing.
While it may be too late for Michael, preparation is a key factor to the success of inclusion. Making a positive environment for learning can be accomplished by what is often called brain based learning methods. These methods incorporate many aspects of body and mind in corporation to better retain the knowledge that is being taught. This can be done by singing songs and incorporating movement into the lessons. All which assist challenged learners with gaining the knowledge required to progress. Another key component to brain based learning is that the lessons are made more relevant to the children’s lives. This relevance, because it is based upon live experiences, better enables the children to tie these experiences into their learning.
While it is apparent that Michael was more a victim of poor preparation, he does have the ability to overcome the issues. His first step must be to unite the parents. Then he must work on the curriculum. He could incorporate the brain based learning technics and relay on the experience of others who have had success. Michael can and will become a success story.
It is my opinion that the inclusion of these challenged students into regular classrooms is of the best interest to both the challenged and the regular students. Their diversity is not by choice and we must do everything in our power to ensure they are given the best chance of becoming a productive member of society. By segregating or pushing these children aside we are basically saying they are not good enough. By include them into regular classes they can build the confidence it takes to become a productive member of society.
The third question posed deals with diversity in learning styles. Sarah Johnson is faced with the dilemma of dealing with a student that has poor reading and writing skills yet excels in mechanical areas. This question seems to deal more with learning abilities then diversity, it does illustrate that not every student learns the same or at the same pace. So what is Ms. Johnson to do with her student? The first challenge she will face is finding the time to assist her student. Deal with this student will take long hours, which most likely will need to occur after school or between classes. In order to arrange for this time Ms. Johnson must first arrange a conference with the parents.
When meeting with the parents Ms. Johnson must determine if the parents are aware of any types of learning disorders that this student may have. She must also get a feeling for the support the student has at home. Are the parents willing to assist whenever needed and do they have the time to support him. This initial interview with the parents is crucial and a basic requirement to assist Ms. Johnson in determining the correct path to take with her student. This assessment will also allow Ms. Johnson to determine if there are any learning disorders she will need to deal with.
For the purpose of this discussion I am going to assume that there are no diagnosed learning disorders such as ADHD. It could be that this student simply learns differently than Ms. Johnson’s other students. If this in fact is the case, Ms. Johnson must come up with alternative lesson plans that are more physically involved and use the student’s life experiences to relate the material the student is learning to that of which he already knows. For example if the lesson is on fractions, she could tell the student to figure out the ratio of unleaded gas to fuel additive to get a certain grade of fuel. Or if the lesson is to write a paragraph, have the student write a sequential report on how to change breaks.
While researching this area I found an article titled Through the Eyes of a Mechanic which stated learning should be viewed through the eyes of mechanic and we should desire how things work beyond the nuts and the bolts. Learning, as an automobile, is a system of moving parts and when of those moving parts fails, nothing else works correctly. There are many ways to put the car engine back together, so mechanics do the ignition first, some do the valves and some do the wiring, but whatever the order is the goal remains to have an efficient working motor. In the case of Ms. Johnson, the method or order she teachers this student may be different than the rest, but eventually she will have a well running pupil. (thelearningpathway.org)
In my opinion, this perhaps, may be one area where all teachers can use improvement. All too often we give up on students and simply pass them off as slow or illiterate. While there are many cases of star athletes being passed through classes so they can complete in their sport, there are just as many cases of teachers giving up on students who just need some assistance. It is easier for us to fail a student and pass them off to someone else than to help them. I would like to think I would be up to the challenge, but that is yet to be determined. I do know that it will require a lot of help.
The fourth and final diversity addressed is one that deals with teachers. Teachers all have different methods of teaching, yet we are all expected to have our students learn the same way. Administrators want the students to do math problems in the same order yet they want teachers to be diversified in the way they teach these math problems. How is this possible? If a teacher finds a better way to arrive at the correct solution, don’t they owe it to their students to teach them this? Or should the school administrators restrict the teachers to a single method of teaching?
These are some very valid questions. I feel as though learning should be tailored toward the individual and allow the students some freedom of choice. They should be able to choose the method used to arrive at the solution. While researching this area, I found what is referred to as self-paced learning. “In self-paced learning, the content, learning sequence, pace of learning are determined by the individual” (jhu.edu). This type of learning uses many types of media and allows the student to choose their course. The student can select to learn the material from sources on the internet or if they prefer through books or manuals. This approach is referred to as the “just-in-time” approach and allows students to learn the information when they need it.
The challenge with this style of learning comes in the monitoring and assessing. Teachers must provide strict monitoring and conduct periodic wellness checks to ensure the student is not wasting time. They must also ensure that the students are completing the required assessment and that the students are in fact grasping the information. Without strict controls and monitoring, self-paced learning can become a nightmare.
While self-paced learning seems like a shift to the far right of education, it does illustrate that there are different methods that may be used to educate our students. Embracing the fact that teachers are diversified; they each have their strong and weak points. Tailoring our educational plan to compensate for these differences will benefit the students in the long run. While using a single method to solve a math problem may translate into better scores on a schools standardized test, it is not necessarily the best way to prepare our students for the next level of education. In college and in life our students will be given a problem and asked to solve it; if we have not given them the tools to solve these problems on their own, we have failed them.
As I have shown, diversity is not as simple as different languages or beliefs; it is also learning patterns, handicaps and other issues. As teachers we must overcome these issues of diversity. In the middle ages they did not allow people who were different to participate in education. This “right” was reserved for the rich and the royalty. If we are not careful we will revert back to this mentality. Dealing with diversity should not lead to adversity. We cannot simply sweep our differences under the carpet.
Educating our teachers on how to deal with diversity is the first step. Is it projected that by 2020 nearly half of all school students will be either non-English speakers or diverse culturally. This statistic alone is a major reason that our teachers must be better prepared to deal diversity. If we do not properly deal with children that have diversities, we may never know the full potential of our country.
As I have stated, not every American believes that embracing diversity is in the countries best interest. We must get back to the way our founding fathers intended; all men are created equal. Until we understand that dealing with diversity is a major factor in education, we will never be capable of creating a perfect learning environment for our children.
2009-10 Bilingual/ESL Supplementary Intervention Program, retrieved from www.p12.nysed.gov
Alternative Learning Methods: Self-Pace Learning (2001), retrieved from www.reproline.jhu.edu
Milkova, Stiliana, (nd), Strategies for Effective Lesson Planning, retrieved from www.crlt.umich.edu
Pol, Milan, et al (2006), Dealing Diversity, retrieved from www.eric.ed.gov
Special Education Inclusion (nd), retrieved from www.weac.org
Special Education Inclusion, Making it Work (nd), retrieved from www.educationworld.com2
Thelearningpathway.org (2010), Through the Eyes of a Mechanic, retrieved from www.thelearningpathway.org
The University of Alabama Computers and Applied Technology Program (2009).
Technology Education: A series of Case Studies retrieved from http://www.ua.edu/edtechcases