Inclusion Class
The Inclusion Classroom
Your Name
Department of Education and Liberal Arts, University of Arizona Global Campus
EDU 304: Introduction to Education
Instructor’s Name
Hint: In this template, you will find purple and orange “hint” boxes designed to help you with the assignment. Please delete all hints before finalizing your project. To do this, click on the hint box and then hit the “delete” key on your keyboard.
The Inclusion Classroom
Include a brief introductory paragraph that includes a thesis statement that will be the main point you support throughout your paper.
Hint: To use this template, replace the text in each section with your own content.
Hint: For help with the introduction, see this resource.
Hint: Do not use a quote for the definition. Instead, paraphrase from the source you use and provide an in-text citation.
The Face of Inclusion
In this section, define inclusion using your own words. Then, describe at least three advantages and three disadvantages of inclusion as an educational approach. Be sure to examine both sides, provide your own analysis, and include evidence.
Hint: Review this Fact Sheet to learn about how this population is impacted. Cite this resource in your discussion.
Improved Performance
In this section, summarize the requirement for improved performance of students with disabilities under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Discuss how ESSA supports special needs learners.
Hint: Use and cite at least one of the following: The Promise and the Peril for Students with Disabilities or Six Principles for Principals to Consider
The Common Core State Standards
In this section, discuss how Common Core State Standards are impacting the learning of students with special needs. Then, discuss some strategies that are being used to help students achieve these standards.
Include a brief conclusion to your paper. Do not simply restate the introductory paragraph.
Hint: For help with the conclusion, see this resource.
Use APA style to reference your course text and one additional scholarly source. Remember, you MUST include in-text citations throughout your paper to show your reader what information you used from outside sources. For help with the reference page, please see this resource.
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A Closer Look at Today’s Students
Photo of a Navajo boy using a pointer to count out the days of the month.
Associated Press/Rebecca Craig
Learning Objectives
After reading this chapter, you should be able to
List the major categories of student diversity and implications for teachers.
Discuss the importance of focusing on both exceptional and non-exceptional learners while not forgetting students in the middle.
Describe familial and societal challenges that adversely affect young people and the implications of these challenges for teachers.
Describe multicultural education and its importance to American teaching.
Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.
—Neil Postman
So far in this text, students have been described based on their cognitive attributes and in regard to theories of learning. However, there are other attributes and influences that contribute to children’s ability to engage successfully in school. Thus, it is important for us to take a look at the population you will be serving. Today’s students come from increasingly diverse backgrounds. Rarely are students a homogeneous group, nor are their families, as they might well have been in the past. There is a greater range of cultural backgrounds, ethnic origins, languages spoken, economic differences, parental employment patterns, and family configurations. Such a wide range of differences in the population makes relating to students more complex and challenging, but also more interesting and rewarding.
In any age or culture, students must face whatever problems currently beset their society. And their teachers must be prepared to provide acceptance and support, for it is naïve to believe that the problems children face at home have little to no effect in the school setting. Thus, in this chapter we also examine some of the familial and societal influences that hinder or help students academically and also affect their psychological and social well-being.
Differences among students make teaching interesting. Student differences should not present a problem; rather, it is how differences are perceived that counts. To those who see differences in a positive light, the notion of diversity is exciting and educational.
4.1 Diversity in Schools
Classrooms are filled with a range of differences. At the surface level, the differences are obvious. There will be boys and girls and students who are tall or short and some who wear glasses and others who don’t. On another level, the differences are more complex. When we speak of “diversity,” we tend to think of ethnicity or race. Although these are factors of diversity, it is a rather limited view of the range of difference found in today’s schools and communities. In actuality, teachers must be prepared and willing to work with a myriad of differences in terms of language, learning style preferences, gender, sexual orientation, social class, cognitive giftedness or challenges, and disability.
The remainder of this section describes the various types of students you might encounter in the classroom and the resulting implications for teaching. As you read, take time to reflect on where you fit into what is being discussed and on how you will respond to the described populations within your own classroom.
Ethnicity and Race
It is now known that race is a social construct, a culturally determined label; “[t]hus, biological variation has no meaning except what we give to it” (Better, 2002, p. 3). In today’s society, race is generally defined by skin color, but this has not always been the case. In the United States, racial definitions have changed over time. For example, Jews, the Irish, and darker-skinned people from Mediterranean countries were not considered white until more than a generation of immigration had passed. The ethnicity of a group of people refers to common cultural heritage, customs, characteristics (possibly including skin tone), language, common history, and national origin, or some combination of these attributes.
It is probable that, as a teacher in the United States, you will encounter a wide sampling of different races and ethnicities. The views you hold of groups that are like and unlike your own will matter. This is because the norms and attitudes of teachers and peers (as well as family) can influence what students think about themselves and their attitudes toward other cultures, ethnicities, and races. Developmentally, these influences first create simple awareness in preschool-age children that is then followed by more complex identification and attitudinal changes. Kindergarten teachers can expect to observe that their children are able to identify and recognize members of distinct racial groups. Throughout elementary school, this ability is expanded, and complex racial attitudes are added to it. By the end of elementary school, attitude crystallization/solidification has occurred. In other words, attitudes have become definite and hard to change. Thus, what happens in school can have important implications for children’s development (Katz, 1976; Krogh & Morehouse, 2013).
What happens in school can also be important given the influence of what has been called stereotype threat (Aronson, 2002; Steele & Aronson, 1995; Tyler & Tyler, 2009). When students are in a situation for which there is a negative stereotype, they might well respond to their awareness of the stereotype by performing badly. This can be true even if they are actually talented and highly capable. For example, mathematically gifted girls might do badly on a math test if their teacher communicates a belief that females are poor math students. Research investigating stereotype threat has found that this is frequently the case with a variety of groups, although the largest number of studies has focused on African Americans.
One way teachers can combat stereotype threat is by explaining to the class that an upcoming test is an evaluation of how well they did in their teaching efforts, rather than defining the test as an evaluation of the students’ abilities or memory. A second approach is to communicate to students that abilities, skills, and intelligence aren’t static or set in stone. Instead, students need to understand that they can grow and improve. A third approach, one that has proved successful in research projects, is to provide critical feedback that makes a point of including favorable comments along with needed corrections or criticisms. “I can see that you worked hard on this,” “Based on what I’ve read, I know that you are capable of achieving a high score,” or “Overall, nice work” can help students feel confident enough to overcome any threats that come from stereotyping (Tyler & Tyler, 2009).
Well known for her work with students in diverse classrooms as well as with their novice teachers is Gloria Ladson-Billings (1994, 2001). According to Ladson-Billings, “No matter what else the schools find themselves doing, promoting students’ academic achievement is among their primary functions” (p. 56). She gives several alternate hypotheses about why “some students of color continue to reject school-based academic achievement” (p. 59). One hypothesis is that this rejection simply reflects the U.S. cultural viewpoint that being well rounded is more important than being highly intelligent and academic. A second is that these students don’t see the value in academic achievement when, for them, it may well not lead to a job worth pursuing. And a third hypothesis is that other minorities have managed, in the U.S. consumer-driven culture, to acquire fast cars, expensive clothing, and shiny jewelry.
Ladson-Billings describes what successful academic achievement should look like in a classroom, and her research and writing back up the claim that the following are all possible to attain, even for novice teachers (2001, pp. 74–75):
The teacher presumes that all students are capable of being educated. When students are struggling, the teacher asks questions about what adjustments she needs to make to ensure success.
The teacher clearly delineates what achievement means in the context of his or her classroom. In the classroom of a culturally relevant teacher, the students know exactly what success entails.
The teacher knows the content, the learner, and how to teach content to the learner. Culturally relevant teachers adjust their teaching to meet the demands of both the learners and the subject matter disciplines.
The teacher supports a critical consciousness toward the curriculum. Helping students raise critical questions and search for multiple perspectives is an important aspect of academic achievement.
The teacher encourages academic achievement as a complex conception not amenable to a single, static measurement. Students have an opportunity to demonstrate what they know and are able to do through samples of their work, performances, and exhibitions. No one-time assessment seals the academic fate of students.
Census data in recent years indicate that the United States is an increasingly diverse society and is expected to continue to be even more so. For example, the Hispanic population is projected to double its share of the population from 15% to 30% by 2050. The African-American population is expected to increase slightly from 14% of the population to 15% and Asian Americans from 5.1% to 9.2%. Whites, according to projections, will comprise 46% of the population by 2050, rather than the 66% of the mid-2000s (Nieto & Bode, 2008).
The increase in the Hispanic population is due to both immigration and birth rates. Thus, the increase in non-native speakers of English will continue. However, Spanish is most definitely not the only language immigrants bring with them. The most recent estimate of the United States Census Bureau is that at least 300 languages other than English are spoken at home (Ryan, 2013). An increasingly diverse society means that classrooms will see an ever-increasing range of students whose native language is not English. These students, regardless of their English proficiency level or the number of languages they already speak, are called English language learners (ELL). (From Chapter 2 you will recall that the educational term is Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages [TESOL], or more traditionally, English as a Second Language [ESL]).
ELL students face certain obstacles that may impede their success in school. For example, students who are ELL are more likely to come from poor or low-income households (Garcia, Jensen, & Scribner, 2009). Oftentimes, students do not have fluent English-speaking role models at home to support their English language development. In multilingual schools, teachers are generally unlikely to be able to speak the native languages of all of their students. There is some debate as to the best way to teach English. There are, however, several models to choose from, typically known by the umbrella term sheltered instruction. For example, in a school with a large influx of immigrants, there might be classrooms specifically for beginning English language learners who are mainstreamed into regular classes as they are ready.
When there are only a few ELLs in the school, administrators might choose to place students in the regular classroom and provide them with specially designed academic instruction in English (SDAIE). These instructional programs focus on the essential vocabulary related to a subject, ensuring that the English learners don’t miss out on the subject’s primary material and skills. If done well, the material is not watered down and the students learn both subject matter and the English language. Some schools and districts, often with the encouragement of parent groups, choose to create dual language programs that divide the day between two languages so that all students become bilingual over time. These programs may be observed most often in elementary schools. At the middle and secondary school levels, the ability to read and speak academic English becomes important to students because of their need to pass subject area tests and courses. A popular approach to helping these students is sheltered content instruction. While extra attention is given to teaching academic English vocabulary, students are taught important content in their native language when teachers are available who are able to do so. Otherwise, students are taught the English language through the content.
Whether students are English language learners or members of differing ethnicities or races, it is vitally important that their teachers develop cultural awareness, sensitivity, and a strong commitment to social justice. Sonia Nieto and Patty Bode (2008) remind us that “social justice is not just about ‘being nice’ to students, or about giving them a pat on the back” (p. 11). Teachers should attend to the following four components:
Teachers encourage their students to work for equality and justice both in school and out.
Teachers provide all their students with the resources they need to be successful in school—both material and emotional.
In turn, teachers look to their students for sharing their own resources with others, such as language, culture, and life experiences.
Finally, teachers help prepare students for living in a socially just democracy by creating an environment that fosters critical thinking and the promotion of social change.
Each of these four components can be applied successfully in the classroom, whatever students’ ages. For example, kindergarten children who had democratically elected a class “leader” were concerned when he abused his power by bossing everyone around on the playground. While the students were unaware of such vocabulary as “equality” and “justice,” they understood the concepts and removed the leader from power, electing a fair-minded replacement. In this case, the resource the children needed (component 2) was the teacher’s support and, although she found herself somewhat surprised at such young children’s insistence on justice, she gave them her full support (component 1). Teachers who respect and appreciate their students’ home lives (component 3) invite family members to share with the class important and interesting information about their language, culture, and life experiences. Teachers who value life in a socially just democracy (component 4) do not see themselves as the single voice of authority over a class of students proficient at filling in the blanks on a multiple-choice test. Rather, as proposed by Ladson-Billings (see the subsection Ethnicity and Race on this page), they help their students engage in preparation for life in a democracy by allowing and encouraging critical thinking.
Working successfully with many kinds of students takes practice; mistakes will be made, even with experience. For example, a teacher might mistakenly conclude that those students who respond in short phrases or speak in dialects are less capable than the other students are. Or she may infer that students who avoid eye contact with her are less cooperative and respectful, when it may actually be that they have been trained to understand that this is a sign of respect. All of these mistaken assumptions have the potential to undermine her students’ success. However, if teacher candidates are open to learning about the cultural backgrounds of their students, these kinds of misconceptions are less likely to occur—and the teacher is less likely to pass these misconceptions on to her students. The changing face of the United States means that classrooms of the future will continue to be filled with students of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and languages. Although it is not imperative for a teacher to have extensive knowledge about all religions and cultures, knowing about those that are most prevalent in his or her school district or community will help to ensure that students achieve their fullest potential.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law that seeks to establish any religion. Over the many decades since the creation of the Bill of Rights, just what that means in regard to public education—as well as to other aspects of public life—has been discussed, disputed, and legislated. Current thinking and accepted practice is that public schools can teach about religion just as they teach about other elements of cultural life. Anything that can be interpreted as inducing students to accept the teachings of any particular religion, however, is forbidden.
Photo of students demonstrating in support of prayer in school.
Associated Press/Courtney Sacco
The place of prayer in schools is a perennial issue, and despite many Supreme Court rulings, it remains a topic of intense debate.
This leaves the teaching of religion to students’ families. According to the most recent records (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012a), in a U.S. population of more than 228 million adults, there are approximately 34 million who describe themselves as having no religion. The rest belong to, or at least attend, a wide variety of churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues. Among those with religious affiliations, there are some whose beliefs and customs may be in conflict with school activities and expectations. Because of their religious beliefs and requirements, these students and their families may ask for accommodations based on their religious practices. Teachers are expected to exercise sound and rational judgment when dealing with these requests. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostals, for example, might well find some of the school curriculum in conflict with their religious beliefs, and court decisions have found in their favor. Both Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostals find celebrations such as Halloween, with its roots in paganism, objectionable. When a school has just a few of these children, arrangements are typically made for study at home on October 31. In the case of a large population within a school, it may well be that Halloween is cancelled in favor of a fall harvest festival.
Issues of religion involving schools often divide communities, and part of a teacher’s role is to build respect and bridges between students and their differences. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, there has been a heightened focus on specific minority groups and their religious practices. In particular, “American Muslims face a rising tide of religious discrimination in U.S. communities, workplaces and schools nearly a decade after the September 11 attacks” (Morgan, 2011, para 1).
A case study of students who are members of minority religions demonstrated the important role that teachers play in making school a safe place for them (Nieto & Bode, 2008). One of the students, Nadia, was a 14-year-old from Syria and a Muslim. She talked about how difficult she and her family found life in the United States after 9/11, when people looked at them with distrust or, as Nadia put it, “[T]hey all give us weird looks like it’s scary” (p. 346). At school, Nadia appreciated that after 9/11, “[M]y friends stuck with me through and through. They know who I am and they know my family and they’ve known I’m Arabic and they haven’t changed at all.” Teachers’ attitudes were important to Nadia, and here she had mixed reviews: “My teachers don’t care at all. It’s just every now and then you’ll get a weird look or you’ll get a weird feeling . . . kind of feel singled out sometimes,” although she claimed that “it’s nothing too big at all” (p. 347). In addition, Nadia generally found being both American and Syrian during the teen years difficult. Her parents were stricter than others regarding hours out and talking to boys, but at the same time she appreciated aspects of her religion and culture such as praying and fasting during Ramadan.
Nadia’s experiences and feelings make it clear that, for minority students, just being different in some way is an extra burden to bear, particularly during the teen years. Thus, a teacher’s attitude and even “weird looks” have an impact. In pointing out that “young people’s activities in their religious communities may be significant factors in their identity development,” Nieto and Bode also argue that such activities can actually support student learning. “Rather than detracting from students’ academic success by taking time away from homework or other school-related activities, such involvement helps young people by channeling their creative and physical energy” (pp. 334–335).
Nieto and Bode suggest a 2-week experiment as a way of better understanding “students whose lives may not be easily integrated into mainstream cultures” (2008, p. 339). In the first week, consider and write down the habitual routines of your daily life: your route to and from work, customary grocery store, favorite coffee shop, usual exercise class, and so on. Note what language you speak in all these. In the second week, change everything. Take a new route to work, shop somewhere you’ve never shopped before, stop in a new neighborhood for coffee, and learn a few sentences in a language you’ve never spoken. “This exercise,” they say, “will help you imagine how students may feel when their perspectives and identities are negated or ignored” (p. 339). You may also realize how far a friendly smile or an extra bit of patience in an explanation can go toward making your day a more comfortable one.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identification
The term sexual orientation is used to define the direction of a person’s sexual interest in others, whether it be toward the opposite sex, the same sex, or both. Terms often used in describing one’s sexual orientation are “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” “straight,” “homosexual,” and “heterosexual,” to name a few. Gender identification refers to one’s internal sense of gender, which may be incongruent with the gender one was assigned at birth. Associated terms include “transgender,” “transvestite,” and “transsexual.” An umbrella term for identities that do not fit the “traditional” norm is LGBT, an abbreviation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. Another is GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer, and questioning). Researchers believe that about 10% of the population fits into these categories and that “this portion represents every race, creed, social class, and degree of disability” (Manning & Baruth, 2004, p. 44).
It is important to note that peer pressure in schools is very high, and when someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity does not conform to that of the majority of students, he or she may be a target for discrimination or bullying. Issues around sexuality can be complicated and have the added complexity of usually emerging during the years when students are already struggling with issues of self-image and independence. A school climate survey found that 86.2% of LGBT students had experienced harassment at school in the past year; 60.8% felt unsafe at school due to their sexual orientation, which led to 32.7% skipping at least a day of school in the past month (Blackburn, Clark, Kenney, & Smith, 2010). Teachers need to be aware that dealing with these issues is a politically sensitive undertaking and requires patience, tolerance, and willingness to seek out help and support from other school staff, such as counselors and administrators.
Photo of young woman activist.
Associated Press/Mathew Sumner
Creating inclusive classrooms that welcome all types of diversity is an essential skill for teachers at every level.
Pointing out that teacher sensitivity regarding students’ cultures should extend to LGBT students as well, Nieto and Bode (2008) write that “in some cases, LGBT students may decide that dropping out of school is the only recourse they have. . . . The problem is likely not their lack of intelligence or a cultural mismatch with the school, but rather the rejection they experience in school as a result of the school’s unwelcoming climate” (p. 183). Nevertheless, they suggest that being a member of the LGBT community is not as difficult today as it has been in the past, and this is true for both teachers and students. There are more resources available, including clubs to belong to, and legal recourse to fight discrimination.
Because bullying and harassment are still common, however, teachers continue to have a responsibility to provide a safe haven for all their students. The positive results of doing so were demonstrated in a study of almost 14,000 high school students that included those who defined themselves as heterosexual, those who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB), and those who were questioning their sexual orientation (Espalage, Aragon, Birkett, & Koenig, 2008). Interestingly, students who were questioning their identity reported more homophobic teasing and bullying as well as greater drug use and feelings of depression and suicide than did students who self-identified as LGB. This was possibly because the LGB students had support groups to turn to. Important to the study was the finding that a positive school climate, as well as parental support, made a positive difference in depression and drug use among the LGB and questioning students. Ways to create a positive school climate can include the following:
Build strong connections and keep the lines of communication open so that students do not feel rejected.
Establish a safe environment at school, ensuring no one is treated differently. School policies can include protections.
Create gay-straight alliances to help foster a safer school environment.
Protect privacy by not disclosing or discussing issues around sexual orientation with parents or anyone else.
For more information on bullying as related to sexual orientation, see
Learning Ability
Just as every classroom’s students will have a wide range of intelligences and learning styles, every classroom’s students will have a wide range of skills and abilities. Some of these students will be considered exceptional, meaning they are either above or below the norm—they either master new knowledge quickly or struggle to maintain new knowledge and skills.
Gifted and Talented Students
While there is no universal definition, those students who are identified as gifted and talented are considered to have the potential to achieve beyond what is expected of their peers. Students who are identified as needing gifted and talented education (GATE) are not necessarily the highest-performing students; rather, they are those who have the potential to achieve beyond other students. Traditionally, students were identified for GATE by IQ scores alone. However, the evolution of theories such as multiple intelligences and constructivism led to deeper thinking about what might constitute a gifted student. One view came from Ellen Winner (1996), who identified three characteristics of gifted children, particularly when taking into consideration the broader views of intelligence:
Precocity: Children take steps toward mastery of tasks and ideas at earlier ages than their peers do.
Marching to their own drummers: Students need minimal help in learning new material and often refuse it; they would rather devise their own, often novel, ways to solve problems.
Rage to master: Students are intensely motivated to learn, often becoming obsessive.
Arguing for the identification of gifted students as early as possible, the National Association for the Gifted Child (2006) says that teachers of younger learners should look for
the use of advanced vocabulary and/or the development of early reading skills, keen observation and curiosity, an unusual retention of information, periods of intense concentration, an early demonstration of talent in the arts, task commitment beyond same-age peers, and an ability to understand complex concepts, perceive relationships, and think abstractly. (p. 3)
Students can be gifted in one subject area alone or in multiple disciplines. Thus, school programs may provide special programs in specific subjects or might choose instead to follow the traditional route of IQ testing for a more general identification and program.
The emphasis on high-stakes testing, which requires improved levels of proficiency in core subject areas, has increased the pressure on teachers to spend the majority of their efforts helping those students who are struggling. The lowest-performing students are making gains under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, while “academically talented students [GATE students] are languishing in a system that has somehow settled on a strategy of inattention” (Thomas B. Fordham Institute, 2008, p. 56). (Recall from Chapter 2 that NCLB, which was signed into law in 2002, aims at improving student achievement in public schools across the United States by increasing the standards for accountability and setting high standards for student achievement.) Because GATE students are seen as “bright” or “gifted,” they are often given less attention in the classroom. However, GATE students are at risk and need attention just as other students do (Thomas B. Fordham Institute, 2008). Time Magazine reported that “surprisingly, gifted students drop out at the same rates as non-gifted kids” (Cloud, 2007, para 3).
One way to keep GATE students engaged in learning is, perhaps surprisingly, the same as that described previously for achieving engagement and harmony among races: group learning. When individuals within a group are provided with assignments that suit their capabilities and interests, they are most likely to participate with enthusiasm, work well with others, and rise to their ability levels (Krogh & Groark, 2013). In addition, providing students with opportunities to achieve collaboratively, as well as on their own, can often help in identifying gifted students who might have otherwise been overlooked.
A different approach to grouping GATE students is to place those of similar abilities together. This can be done through pull-out programs as well as by occasionally doing the same within the classroom. Other approaches include acceleration, which might be accomplished through grade skipping, early admission to kindergarten or college, or registration in Advanced Placement (AP) courses; curriculum compacting, which condenses or modifies the regular curriculum to reduce repetition, drill, and review; providing opportunities to work and research independently; exposure to content in a higher grade level; and, in general, providing GATE students with rigorous challenge. All of these approaches are examples of student-centered teaching as discussed in Chapter 3.
Students With Disabilities
Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about students in special education is that they are not capable of high levels of achievement. This could not be further from the truth. Some students who are in special education receive only speech services or occupational therapy or simply need a different environment in order to perform to their potential. Recall from Chapter 2 that one requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is that students who are in special education have an individualized education plan (IEP) that explicitly lists the student’s goals and support mechanisms. Typically, the team that determines a student’s IEP is made up of the classroom teacher, a special education teacher, any individuals with expertise in the student’s field of need if not provided by the first two teachers, and the student’s parents. As appropriate, the student may attend as well as an administrator.
The IEP is a legal document that identifies the specific disability that qualifies a child for special education services. It also lists the student’s goals and objectives and any accommodations that must be made to assist in the child’s learning. Every 3 years, students are reassessed to determine if they continue to qualify for special education services. Because children with special needs often experience more frustration and academic failure than their peers do, they require the teacher to have a keen understanding of each child’s needs and to work in concert with other professionals at the site to ensure success. Federal law requires that students with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE), that is, the environment that is as close to being with normally developing students as they are capable of. Thus, you can expect to have in your classroom students of many different levels of capability.
Photo of a young girl with Down syndrome.
The range and abilities of students in special education is extraordinarily wide, with each student having his or her own unique needs and gifts.
In addition to IEPs, which are required by law, teachers will find useful a model known as Response to Intervention (RTI). Although there are several versions of RTI, they are typically created in three tiers (RTI Network, 2014):
High-quality classroom instruction, screening, and group interventions. All students in a classroom are provided with high-quality teaching, accompanied by screening to identify struggling learners. Those labeled as such are provided with up to 8 weeks of supplemental instruction.
Targeted interventions. Students who do not make adequate progress during the weeks of supplemental instruction are given intensive instruction based on their individual needs. Length of time can vary but is typically over one grading period.
Intensive interventions and comprehensive evaluation. It is at this level that the IEP may come into play, with assignment to special education services provided. However, parents have the legal right to request advanced testing and an IEP at any point of the RTI program.
It may be a surprise to learn that group work is beneficial for this population of students as well. While an IEP may indicate much one-on-one interaction with a teacher or specialist, the student with special needs may also be served by opportunities to engage with others. This approach, known as inclusion, is based on the philosophy that removing children with special needs from the general population is not as effective as including them as much as possible. (Recall from Chapter 2 that federal legislation requires that disabled students be placed in the least restrictive environment.) Individually appropriate assignments can be designed that give the student the self-esteem that comes with belonging and contributing while not being made to feel inferior. Here is one example: A fifth-grade class was completing social studies projects about other countries. The class had been divided into groups, each with a final assignment to create a book containing the information they had learned. The teacher informed the class that a table of contents would be needed and that only one of their classmates knew how to do this. When each group was ready to do the table of contents, it was to send a representative to this student. Prior to this time, the teacher had instructed the student, a cognitively challenged boy with an IEP, on how to create the table of contents (a very straightforward and manageable challenge). Now, for one part of one day, he became the most important person in the room, even the most knowledgeable.
Students in the Middle
Perhaps this section title should identify these students as the “forgotten students in the middle.” Teachers, no doubt due to administrative requirements as well as their own concerns, concentrate their energies on serving the needs of students at the extremes, particularly the needs of students who are struggling. The average students may go about the business of attaining sufficient scores simply and quietly to keep them moving forward at a middling level of attainment. Yet, they too deserve to be given attention and support. Suggestions can come from the two groups of students just discussed.
First, from the theory of multiple intelligences or learning styles, it may be possible to identify approaches to learning that provide the average student with an opportunity to excel or to find and explore an interest previously unrealized. Second, RTI can be useful for average students as well as for those who are struggling. Sometimes, the average student has just one or two areas that are hindering his or her advancement. Through the introduction of RTI Tier 2 activities, the problems might be quickly dealt with and the average student might well begin to excel. Third, as is the case with the other two classifications of students, group work provides an opportunity to engage in appropriately designed activities while collaborating with others at all levels.
Finally, there is a program currently found in most states and U.S. territories that addresses the needs of students academically in the middle. Called AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), its goal is to prepare all students from elementary school onward for success in college and career education. An important focus of the program is on effort, and students sign a contract outlining their willingness to work hard and setting their learning goals. AVID’s philosophy is that, when students are held accountable to the highest standards and are then provided with the academic and social support they need, they will rise to the challenge. An entire school is typically committed to the AVID program, and its teachers are provided with specialized training.
Assess Yourself
Take a moment to reflect on your own experience with diversity in schools.
What groups were you a member of in junior high and high school? Were you stigmatized because of your associations with particular cultural groups? Or were you affiliated with groups that were more socially accepted by your peers and teachers?
Do you think teachers differentiated their actions toward you based on your gender, culture, sexual orientation, and so on? In what ways?
How will your cultural heritage, ethnicity, or race affect how you will relate to students? What other aspects of your background will affect your relationships with students?
Have your intercultural experiences been minimal or broad? That is, have most of your interactions been with people like you, or have you had a variety of experiences?
Have you had the opportunity to travel extensively or perhaps live in various places? If so, did this affect your understanding and attitudes about different kinds of people in any way? If not, have you found other ways to learn about the rest of the world?
What attitudes will you need to cultivate to effectively meet the needs of a wide range of culturally and racially diverse students?
What can you do now to broaden your worldview? What specifically do you plan to do now that will better prepare you for diversity among your students?
4.2 Social Challenges and Their Effects on Students
In so many ways, a student’s school performance is affected by much more than the child’s inherent abilities, and too often the influences are negative. For example, poverty and homelessness are two problems that often leave students unprepared mentally or physically for the challenges they must face. In addition, some students face family problems at home as well as a range of other societal problems. It is disheartening to discover how many students are saddled with problems that children should not have to bear.
Students whose life circumstances place them at jeopardy for failure are often referred to as at-risk students. These students are at risk for failure in life academically, vocationally, and personally. Any number of negative influences might put a student at risk: problems associated with poverty, difficult family situations, unfortunate responses to peer pressure, or poor life choices that have long-term consequences (early pregnancy and violent behavior are two examples). The following sections will deal with each one of these.
It is important to recognize that, although life can present many challenges to children that are sadly unfair, there is much that teachers can do to alleviate the problems. It is also important to recognize that teachers are not to blame for the circumstances of their students; most of the time teachers are relatively powerless to change their students’ situations outside of school. However, teachers are responsible for what happens to children while at school under their care. Teachers can make the classroom a refuge for students, in addition to making it a place where students can feel worthy and important. Ensuring that your students experience personal and academic success in the classroom will help equip them with the self-worth and confidence they need to cope with situations outside of school. We shall begin by discussing problems students face associated with living in poverty.
The Challenges of Poverty
Chances are high that there will be students in your classroom who are living in economic poverty. In fact, the 2010 census report found that the poverty rate in the United States was at its highest level since poverty estimates began being published in the late 1950s. Currently, there are 46.2 million Americans who do not have the resources to meet their basic needs. Perhaps most alarming of all is that the poverty rate for children under age 18 has increased to 22%, which means almost a quarter of all children under 18 in the United States are now living in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012b). Projections are that, by 2020, the figure will climb to 27% (Banks, 2007). The United States’ poverty rate is higher than that of any other industrialized nation.
Photo of a mother and a child on a playground in a housing project.
©Ralf-Finn Hestoft/Corbis
Poverty is a serious obstacle to education, affecting access, learning environment, and learning capabilities due to poor nutrition.
Poor children live in substandard housing, lack nutritious diets, lack adequate health care, and may have physical and dental problems. Some may even not have homes to return to at the end of the day. As you might surmise, many homeless children experience feelings of depression, alienation, and defeat. The problem of homelessness in the United States has become widespread since the 1980s, leading to a situation in which families count shelters as their permanent homes. Even more concerning: Some children spend their entire growing-up years in shelters and then carry on the tradition to the next generation. Such children find themselves held back in school and placed—often wrongfully—in remedial programs (da Costa Nunez, 2004). In recent years, some cities are, among other interventions, focusing on improving educational opportunities for shelter-based children. In New York City, an after-school program led to children making significant academic gains in as little as 6 months, particularly in reading and math. In addition, the children’s self-confidence and behavior improved, 83% had become more cooperative, and 92% had a high rate of daily school attendance (da Costa Nunez, 2004).
What does this information mean for teachers? Research consistently finds a link between poverty and children’s health, achievement, and behavior, placing children at risk mentally, intellectually, and physically. Students whose families are socioeconomically disadvantaged face significant obstacles to achieving success in school. One obstacle is that they are often more mobile than other students. For example, if they are homeless, they may move from one shelter to another, then to a friend’s or relative’s home, and so on. Or, if the parents are migrant workers, the family may move from one part of the country to another based on seasonal agricultural needs. One elementary school principal in the northwest bemoaned the fact that his students moved south to Mexico during the winter, returning just in time for the state-mandated standardized tests, an unfair situation both for the children and for the school and its teachers. As it turned out, the same problem played itself out in reverse when the children moved to Mexico.
Teachers can help students who live in poverty not only by being sensitive to their situations, but also by helping as needed and appropriate. For example, some teachers might take an active role in helping certain students access resources such as food banks, medical clinics, and so on. In any case, students who live in poverty need a safe and supportive environment; schools can offer stability and hope. It may be observed that, at the end of the school year, some disadvantaged children are not eager for summer vacation but would prefer to keep coming to the safe haven that school provides. If the teacher can relay her concerns to the proper officials, such as the school’s social worker, school counselor, or principal, the student and family might be able to get the assistance they need. Sensitive teachers also make a point of finding out the living arrangements of their students so as not to create embarrassing situations for them. Imagine a fourth-grade teacher who is unaware that one of her students is living in a homeless shelter and decides to have her students draw a picture of their house or bedroom. This type of assignment could easily create emotional pain for that student.
Teachers also must be aware of biases or preconceived notions about poverty. First, caring teachers are careful not to show shock, pity, or disgust for a child’s poverty. Second, many students may not be obviously living below the poverty line but may tell you that they are hungry and didn’t eat breakfast that morning or dinner the night before. As any teacher will observe, a student’s hunger will be distracting enough to ensure lack of concentration on academics. Fortunately, there are government-supported programs that provide breakfast and lunch at a reduced cost, or even free. The teacher’s task, in this case, then, becomes one of ensuring that the student is cared for by the program or by the school. Such action is essential, for if this continues over time, the hungry, impoverished student may well fail and drop out.
Family Challenges
Some basic statistics covering the last third of a century tell an informative story about family structures in the United States. In 2012, 64% of children under 18 lived with two married parents, as compared to 77% in 1980. Of the remaining 36% in 2012, 24% lived with just their mothers, 4% with just their fathers, and 4% with neither parent. The final 4% lived with two unmarried parents in 2012 (, 2013).
A few other available statistics for 2012 delve into the story a little deeper: Of the black population, 33% of children lived with two married parents, as did 59% of Hispanic children, down from 75% in 1980. In 2012, children with at least one foreign-born parent totaled 24%, up from 15% in 1994. The children in this last group (82%) were more likely than children with native-born parents (67%) to live with two parents. Statistics are notably lacking, but it has been estimated that approximately two million American children live with gay or lesbian parents.
None of these statistics by themselves automatically indicates “family problems.” Yet, there is a long-standing mythology of a family structure that includes a racially identical mother, father, and 2.5 biological children. However, because modern households come in various forms, one cannot sketch a “typical” family profile. Your students might come from any kind of family configuration: nuclear, extended, blended, or single parent, or from homes where grandparents or foster parents assume parental responsibilities. Be careful not to stereotype or judge a family based on its arrangement. Children whose families do not fit the model may feel uncomfortable around families that seem to more closely adhere to this norm. In return, it may well be that they are made fun of or bullied because of any differences. It is such discomfort and mistreatment that teachers need to be aware of and deal with.
Photo of a boy looking out of a discolored, rusty window.
Albina Tiplyashina/iStock/Thinkstock
There is no single model for a healthy, functioning family. When differentiating functional homes from dysfunctional ones, many factors need to be considered.
What does a healthy, functioning family look like? Unhealthy family units are not always discernible to the untrained eye; therefore, when differentiating functional homes from dysfunctional ones, many factors must be considered. There is no such entity as a completely functional family; rather, there are degrees of functionality. Each family unit must be assessed individually to determine if the child will need extra support.
One family problem―common to all classes and races―that negatively affects classrooms is the inordinate number of children being raised in homes where expectations are unreasonable: either too much or too little is expected from children. The theoretical foundation for determining what might be too much or too little was laid in the 1960s by Diana Baumrind (1967) and has provided direction for other theorists, educators, and psychologists since that time. Baumrind suggested three levels of parenting styles: permissive, authoritarian, and authoritative. Permissive parents endeavor to involve their children in family decision-making and provide explanations for what may be very few family rules. Parents avoid punishment in favor of reasoning and manipulation. Children from permissive homes are rarely expected to contribute to work that is needed to keep the home running. Authoritarian parents, on the other hand, expect obedience to the rules they have created, and these rules are based on a set standard, often a religiously oriented one. To curb children’s self-will, punishment is favored. Children from authoritarian homes are often expected to contribute a large amount of work as members of the family. Somewhere between the philosophies of permissive and authoritarian parenting is an authoritative approach. Parents who favor authoritative parenting listen to children’s objections and their reasons for them. However, while self-will is accepted, parents also create set standards to live by. Authoritative parents, while recognizing and respecting children’s opinions, also expect respect for their own position as the adults in charge. While the three approaches to parenting have been defined as if just one is favored in an individual home, most parents rely on some mixture.
It is the home that is simply and highly permissive or authoritarian that may cause problems for teachers. As would be expected, children bring to school an understanding of adult behavior based on their home experience. In authoritarian homes where parents expect too much from children, punishment may be frequent, harsh, or arbitrary. In contrast, in permissive homes where parents expect too little from their children, discipline might be lax, inconsistent, or nonexistent. As is the case with most extremes, neither of these two attitudes or approaches is healthy or productive for the development of children. Students whose parents expect too much of them may need help learning how to manage anger and resolve conflicts. Children from permissive homes, on the other hand, may need assistance adhering to classroom rules and procedures.
Some problems stem from the lack of adult supervision. If parents are at work, they are unavailable when their children come home from school in the afternoon. It has been estimated that one-third of children between ages 5 and 13 are alone at home for some part of the week. Between the ages of 12 and 14, the figure rises to half of all children. Returning to an empty house may put children at physical or emotional risk. Depending on their age, most children need adult guidance and supervision. Many “latchkey kids” have to assume adult responsibilities for younger siblings, such as cooking, bathing, and supervising homework. The results can be problematic. For example, eighth graders who are alone 11 or more hours a week have been found to be twice as likely to abuse drugs. They are more likely to become depressed, smoke cigarettes and marijuana, and drink alcohol. Teens who have sex most likely choose to do so at the boy’s house when parents are at work. Finally, latchkey children are more likely to be victims of crime (Alston, 2010).
Conversely, some children find themselves not at the mercy of the latchkey, but rather supervised by “helicopter parents” who hover over them. Problems that may emerge from this situation include children with no opportunity to learn from their mistakes, become independent, or make decisions on their own. A lack of such opportunities has been found to lead to children and young adults who are less open to new ideas and actions and more vulnerable, anxious, self-conscious, dependent, and impulsive (Rettner, 2010).
Perhaps the most difficult situation that children bring to school from home is the problem of abuse or maltreatment. Such treatment includes physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, as well as medical and educational neglect. Definitions of each are made by the individual states (Bethea, 2003). Factors that contribute to abuse are the subject of debate but typically include the following: a high level of domestic violence in the United States; poverty; lack of parenting skills, including unrealistic expectations about a child’s capabilities; lack of behavior management abilities; emotional immaturity of the parents, particularly if they are chronologically young; fragmented social services; and lack of family and community support. In addition, it is estimated that as many as 40% of child abuse cases are influenced by parental substance abuse (Bethea, 2003). According to the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (2003), of all the factors just listed, the primary cause of child abuse is poverty. The Coalition points out that abuse is 14 times more common in poor families, and neglect is 44 times more common in poor families.
Assess Yourself
Were you a latchkey kid? Or did you have helicopter parents? What effect, if any, did this have on you? What school-related problems can you foresee for children who come home to an empty house or who have parents who continually hover over them?
When you were growing up, did you feel that your parents held reasonable expectations for your behavior? If not, how did you cope with their set of standards?
As a child, were you subject to any of the definitions of abuse? Did you have friends who were? In either case, what, if any, were the helpful responses from educators? What would have been even better, or were the responses sufficient?
Negative Peer Pressure
In accord with psychosocial development, peer pressure—both positive and negative—emerges as children enter the second or third grade. While teachers of 5- to 7-year-olds can expect their students to look to them for approval, the approval of friends becomes as important, if not more so, in second or third grade. Teachers can use this developmental stage in a positive way by dividing students into groups for learning experiences and into teams for academic and playground games. Nevertheless, teachers of younger children can expect to see some negative peer influence to appear as well, albeit without much difficulty in dealing with it.
As students enter the adolescent years, they are likely to try on new adult behaviors and should be encouraged to find their own identity during this period. However, many troubled and insecure youth, especially those who are not firmly grounded in their values and beliefs, may become susceptible to negative peer pressure in order to gain acceptance.
One concern in today’s society is the availability of illegal drugs. Substance abuse can be very destructive for young people who are struggling with identity issues. When teens are trying to fit into a group, they probably are not thinking about whether they could be vulnerable to addictions. Teens are prone to think they are invincible and nothing can hurt them; thus, an innocent flirtation with alcohol or drugs could be the beginning of an addiction. It may be useful to add here some recent statistics on drug use among middle and high school students. In 2013, the increasing popularity of marijuana, thought by many students to be a safe drug, was largely responsible for that year’s high level of illicit drug use and for the decline in cigarette smoking. For example, in 2013, 18% of 10th graders reported having used marijuana in the past month as opposed to 13.8% in 2008. On a more positive note, the use of cocaine and alcohol continued a 5-year downward trend. The use of other hard drugs such as heroin and ecstasy remained stable at less than 2% across all middle and high school grades (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2014).
The list of potential addictions also includes eating disorders and gambling. A lack of impulse control can lead to reckless behavior such as speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, refusing to use a seat belt, running stop signs, having unprotected sex, and having sex with many partners. As might be expected, teens who are battling addictive behaviors will have little time or energy left for school-related activities.
Photo of a teen carrying schoolbooks.
Adolescent students struggle to create their own identity while finding acceptance in the society of their peers.
It should be noted, however, that not all peer pressure is negative. Some peer groups or cliques have many positive aspects; the degree of positive or negative influence mainly depends on the motives or purposes of the group. Studies of adolescents and the influence of peers have demonstrated that activities both in school and out can lead students away from problematic behaviors and harmful activities. These activities might include team sports, drama groups, and faith-based organizations. What is important is feeling a part of a family, which partially accounts for the attractiveness of gangs. When provided with more positive outlets, the students in the studies “blossomed” (Nieto & Bode, 2008, p. 334).
To be safe, teachers who suspect that students may be associating with the wrong crowd, experimenting with illegal substances, or engaging in other dangerous behaviors should probably refer them to the school counselor. It may be prudent to talk over your concerns about a particular student with the counselor before speaking with that student. Older students may, for example, resist and perhaps resent a teacher’s effort to help. However, a counselor can summon any student for consultation without informing the student of the referral source or the suspected concern. Depending on the circumstances, a report to social services may need to be made if a student’s behavior is life threatening. The counselor or psychologist is trained to know what to do at this point.
Teen Pregnancy
In 1991, a long downward trend began in the number of births to girls between the ages of 15 and 17. In 1991, the rate was 39 per 1,000 live births. By 2005, the rate was 21, and by 2011 it was 15. There have been and continue to be racial disparities, although the downward trend applies to all races. For example, in 1991 the rate for Hispanic girls 15–17 was 66 per 1,000, and in 2011 it was 28 (, 2013).
Although the statistics indicate that teen pregnancy is lower today than in earlier decades, it is still considered a social problem that demands attention. In the 1950s, a teen mother was more likely to be married, and her husband was more likely to be able to support a family without a formal education. Government statistics show that, in 1980, 62% of teen mothers were unmarried as opposed to 95% in 2011 (, 2013). Today’s teen mother is not only less likely to be married but is also at greater risk for poverty. Health care is a critical issue for young mothers living in poverty. Proper prenatal and postnatal care may be nonexistent for some teen mothers.
Although the reasons for the long-term decline in teen pregnancy are not fully understood, it is widely believed to be a combination of increased access to birth control and better sex education (Healthy Teen Network, 2008). A primary goal of sex education is to help students make informed life choices as well as to avoid pregnancy. However, if pregnancy has occurred, the primary aim is to keep the teen mother in school. Some schools offer parenting classes for young mothers, and some offer day care and nurseries for the children of their students in an attempt to keep the mother in attendance. Life skills training and sex education programs are prevention programs that can prepare young people for adult roles and responsibilities.
Youth Violence
In the past two decades, school violence has, despite reports of mass shootings, actually declined somewhat. In Chapter 1, we referred to these incidents and a culture of violence. Indeed, after reporting the decline that has occurred since a high of violent acts in 1993, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention stated that “much work remains to be done in reducing this public health burden” and that “no state is immune to the devastating impact of youth violence” (CDC, 2013a, para. 1).
Fortunately, many schools today have instituted school violence prevention programs. To assist students who may become victims of violence or who are potential offenders, teachers and schools solidify ties with the local police, juvenile detention officers, and social services representatives. Teachers can include conflict resolution as part of the curriculum they teach. A technique that has been tried over the past decade and that is proving to be counter-productive is “zero tolerance,” in which a student is suspended or otherwise punished immediately upon a first infraction. Schools that have dropped this approach in favor of educating children in supportive ways report decreased violence and even higher academic test scores (Neuman, 2012).
A caveat for future teachers may be in order here: Try not to take students’ antisocial behavior personally; they may not be angry with you (even though it feels as though they are). Separate the behavior from the person. Do not show fear. And remember, chances are that you did not cause the student’s problems, so unless shown otherwise, you must not accept the blame. Your primary responsibility lies in helping the child to feel safe, secure, and supported while under your care.
Depression and Teen Suicide
Excessive hopelessness and despair in children, if left untreated, can lead to clinical depression and sometimes to suicide. Teachers must be alert for signs of depression in their students. Regrettably, many children who are depressed go untreated because families do not recognize the signs, or if they do, they are unable to provide proper assistance to their children. Parents may not know where to go for psychological services for their children. In addition, medical health insurance policies do not always provide equal benefits for mental health needs, and antidepressants can be expensive.
Some depressed children go untreated because they were never properly diagnosed. Many adults tend to equate child pain with adult pain and fail to recognize the extent to which a child is suffering. To a pubescent, the break-up of a relationship can be overwhelming; the loss of a pet may likewise cause distress for a child. A child’s loss should not be judged by an adult’s perceptions. Depression sometimes goes untreated because some individuals believe that depression is a sign of personal weakness and can be overcome through sheer willpower. A limitation to this kind of thinking is that the person experiencing the depression may become even more despondent—thinking he or she is to blame for the condition. Believing depression is a character flaw or the sign of a weak person can heap more guilt on an already disheartened spirit.
Teachers should not judge a student’s loss in terms of their own experiences with loss. For example, if a child returns to school after the funeral of a relative or friend, it is important to recognize the feelings the child is experiencing. Teachers need to acknowledge a student’s grief and respect the pace of the student’s grieving process—children and adults grieve differently and progress through different stages. Therefore, teachers must be sensitive to students’ concept of loss and should not expect the same level of student performance as before the death.
Teachers must also be sensitive to distinguish when a student’s actions are pleas for help. All teachers need ongoing training about detecting suicidal behaviors. Teachers will need to feel comfortable asking students about their feelings. They must not assume that younger children are immune from taking their own lives. If a teacher has reason to suspect a child is in imminent danger, he or she must report this immediately to the school principal, school counselor, or other personnel as required by state law. Keep in mind, however, that reporting duties may not be delegated. This means that if teachers hear something that falls within their state’s mandatory reporting law, they must report as prescribed by that law, even though they should also inform the appropriate school personnel. According to the CDC (2013b), the following may contribute to the danger of the occurrence of suicide; however, their presence does not mean that suicide will actually occur:
History of previous suicide attempts
Family history of suicide
History of depression or other mental illness
Alcohol or drug abuse
Stressful life event or loss
Easy access to lethal methods
Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others
Teachers must be watchful for the following warning signs in students and notice the extent to which these behaviors are exhibited:
Depressed mood, lack of emotion
Changes in sleep or appetite
Limited coping skills
Withdrawal from peers or few friends
Lack of family support
Difficulty interacting with teachers
Excessive alcohol and substance abuse
Overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and despair
Preoccupation with death
Previous known suicide attempt(s)
Risk-taking behaviors
Psychosomatic illnesses
A final note: Some figures estimate that lesbian and gay students are two to six times more likely to attempt suicide, and they account for 30% of all successful suicide attempts. Teachers must be sensitive to signs of hopelessness in all their students, but special attention should be paid to this population.
Building Your Portfolio
Some at-risk students might be described as “disengaged,” either being uninvolved in their schoolwork or exerting little effort or energy. In applying for teaching positions, you may be asked to describe your thoughts on engaging at-risk students. Take some time to describe the implications of teaching and working with disengaged youth and write down how you might approach these students. Can you draw from a past experience of your own? Some resources are available at the end of this chapter.
4.3 Classroom Diversity
As noted in Chapter 2, many federal compensatory programs have been developed to ensure all children have access to equal educational opportunities. Head Start and Title I are just two examples of federal initiatives designed to prevent discrimination and compensate for any disadvantages. However, simply having funding and making services available is not enough; teachers play a crucial role. In this section, we will discuss the methods and theories teachers can implement when teaching diverse student populations. We will first focus on diversity in the most common sense of the word—referring to various races and ethnicities—before thinking about diversity in the ways people learn.
Multicultural Education
The rise of multicultural education in recent decades has been built on a foundation of a United States population that has become increasingly diverse. While for most educators and the population as a whole this educational development has been positive, even exciting, it has not always been easy to give up traditional approaches to teaching, reliance on literature written almost solely by white males, or textbook illustrations incorporating only the majority culture. The primary goal of multicultural education is to help educators and students alike remember that “one of the key aims of education is to be of service to the richly diverse human family. In education a key concern is how to foster in students a sense of compassion, social responsibility, ethics, and morality” (Rendon, 2009, p. 91).
Defining multicultural education is somewhat complex. Most often it is done within a sociopolitical context, as this example demonstrates:
Multicultural education is a process of comprehensive school reform and basic education for all students. It challenges and rejects racism and other forms of discrimination in schools and society and accepts and affirms the pluralism (ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, economic, and gender, among others) that students, their communities, and teachers reflect. (Nieto & Bode, 2008, p. 44)
Photo of a diverse group of young children in a classroom.
Blend Images/Blend Images/Superstock
While multicultural education is difficult to define, it is central to our functioning democracy.
According to this definition, multicultural education is antiracist, an attribute that must be kept consciously at the forefront of curriculum planning. Educators—teachers and administrators alike—need to be careful not to favor some groups of students over others in school policy (e.g., encouraging only white students to work toward being in advanced classes). Educators need also to be unafraid of including the unpleasant aspects of U.S. history and culture along with the heroic and beautiful. This means that the curriculum should not be sanitized to be palatable and undisturbing to everyone.
Although it may not seem like it, multicultural education can be thought of as basic: “Multicultural literacy is just as indispensable for living in today’s world as reading, writing, arithmetic, and computer literacy” (Nieto & Bode, 2008, p. 48). Such an approach could include ensuring all students become fluent in a second language and learn about the literature, arts, geography, and history of other countries. Teaching with such a global approach ensures that multicultural education isn’t simply an add-on or even a specialized subject, but instead pervades the entire curriculum.
Basic to American education, in addition to the 3Rs and computer literacy, is education for social justice in a democratic society. Unfortunately, it is often true that students only learn about democracy rather than experiencing it themselves. More than a century ago, the philosopher and educator John Dewey set about establishing schools that would provide students with opportunities to govern themselves and learn to make individual and group decisions. (You were introduced to Dewey in Chapter 2.) Students can learn to actively participate in democracy, including experiences that reveal the need for social justice, at any age.
Geneva Gay (2010), well known for her work in multicultural education, speaks of the need for teachers to engage in “culturally responsive teaching.” Effective teachers, she says,
help students clarify their ethnic identities, honor other cultures, develop positive cross-ethnic and cross-cultural relationships, and avoid perpetuating prejudices, stereotypes, and racism. The goal is to create communities of culturally diverse learners who celebrate and affirm one another and work collaboratively for their mutual success, where empowerment replaces powerlessness and oppression. (p. 45)
Culturally responsive teaching, also known as culturally responsive pedagogy or education, is designed to facilitate and support the achievement of all students. Further, “the strengths students bring to school are identified, nurtured, and utilized to promote students’ achievement” (Richards, Brown, & Forde, 2009, p. 4). The following are suggestions for classroom teachers based on the work of experts in the field of culturally responsive pedagogy (Richards et al., 2009):
Students’ differences as well as their commonalities should be recognized and considered. Because each student is unique, learning needs will differ.
Classroom practices and materials should validate students’ cultural identities. This may mean adding materials to assigned textbooks if the textbooks perpetuate stereotypes.
Students should be educated about the diversity of the world, including the world nearby them. Activities such as pen pals and interviews with people of other cultures can be productive.
Equity and mutual respect among students must be promoted. Teachers have a responsibility for setting standards of fairness and for being role models.
A positive interrelationship among students, families, school, and community should be fostered. Teachers can visit students’ homes and attend community events.
Students should be encouraged to think critically. When students learn to think independently, they learn to make responsible decisions.
Students should be encouraged to strive for excellence despite possible past experiences with failure or difficulties navigating a culture that conflicts with their own. Low teacher expectations may well lead to low performance, and the opposite is true as well.
Assess Yourself
Do you think all teachers should be multicultural educators? Why or why not?
Field experiences in multicultural settings would be the best place to expand your current knowledge base and develop cross-cultural skills. To do this, you might begin by identifying those school settings you believe would offer optimal exposure to students who are culturally different from you. Explain your rationale for choosing those school settings. Follow through as you are able to actually engage in experiences there.
If you do not have the opportunity to participate firsthand in multicultural settings, think about other ways you can learn about different cultures. For example, are there particular books or movies that would help you gain this kind of exposure?
Differentiated Instruction
By now, it should be clear that most teachers’ classrooms will be diverse. In addition to students of different races and ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, socioeconomic status, and family backgrounds, there will be students with different levels of motivation, different interests, and varying learning styles. Tending to all these factors may seem overwhelming. However, there are some key approaches and concepts that can be used along the way that make the meeting of students’ needs manageable, realistic, and practical. But before we tackle those important pieces, let’s begin with questions that come up frequently and will set the stage for our discussion of meeting all students’ needs: Does treating all students in the classroom equally mean they are all treated the same? Does treating students fairly mean they each receive the same work or consequences for certain actions?
To answer: Rarely does a one-size-fits-all approach to instruction work in the classroom, given the diversity of students’ skills, cultures, and backgrounds. Such an approach to learning will have very little success in meeting each student’s needs. As teachers consider treating students fairly or equally, they must make sure they give each student what he or she needs, even when that means each child gets something different in the class. Not all students learn in the same way, at the same pace, and at the same time. Teachers therefore need to find ways to meet students’ individual needs. This elicits the question “How do I find time, resources, and instruction to effectively meet and maximize the learning for all students?” Fortunately, there are some excellent answers, answers that help teachers reach their goal of creating learners and thinkers with 21st-century skills.
Differentiated instruction addresses the way teachers respond to the different needs of learners in their classrooms. It calls on teachers to realize that the best practices work for individual learners (Tomlinson, 2001). Differentiated instruction has been instrumental in developing classroom practices that focus on meeting students at their point of need by maximizing their learning and making the process that it entails realistic and doable. The focus is on the individual learner and not simply on teaching lessons that target, for example, the middle group, high achievers, or low performers. The primary focus of differentiated learning is, therefore, to ensure that each child has the ability to learn at his or her potential by having teachers in a classroom accommodate the differences in students’ readiness levels, interests, and learning profiles (Tomlinson, 2003; Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006).
Differentiation does not provide a step-by-step approach to follow. Rather, it is a way of thinking and an attitude about how best to meet students’ needs, whether they are struggling learners, high achievers, English language learners, or multilingual students. The goal is to help students meet their potential while ensuring the teacher’s work remains manageable and effective. Let’s not forget this last point, because, as the demands on teachers are large and often grow, teachers must continually work smarter and not just harder. Differentiated instruction is at the core of effective planning, is an important component for ensuring students meet the standards they are required to master, and focuses on the use of flexible approaches to space, time, materials, the way students are grouped, and, of course, instruction (Tomlinson, Brimijoin, & Narvaez, 2008).
In the traditional classroom, a teacher typically prepares a lesson and expects the whole class to complete the same activity, often in the same way and generally in the same amount of time. A differentiated classroom differs from a traditional classroom in that there is often more than one way to complete a lesson, different processes for students to engage in, and varied levels of difficulty and pacing. However, the expectations for students do not change. All students are expected to achieve their potential. In a differentiated classroom, the teacher does not create a lesson plan for each student or 30 different activities. That would be overwhelming and impossible to sustain. The teacher does, however, use pre-assessments that play a critical role in what the lessons will look like, how the products are developed, what the process will look like, and how required standards will be met. Often, students will be grouped based on various factors. In Case in Point: Differentiation Through Grouping, we see an example of how this can be done.
While grouping is one form of differentiation, teachers must ensure that groups are flexible, that students are not in the “low group” or “high group,” and that they can experience rich curricula, different learning styles, and collaboration with their peers. Ensuring that struggling students and advanced students receive appropriate access to learning is essential to having a classroom where all learners will succeed. Sometimes teachers differentiate instruction by reducing the amount of work that struggling students have to complete and increasing the amount that advanced students complete. This practice is not helpful to struggling students because they are doing less of the material that they are not grasping. It is also not helpful to advanced students to complete more assignments that they already understand. This approach seems to occur when teachers lack clarity about essential outcomes and the meaningful basis from which to differentiate (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006).
Summary & Resources
Chapter Summary
The subject of diversity in schools is complex. Students from different ethnicities and races make up today’s classroom. Often, a student’s family may originate in several countries or cultures and be of mixed races as well. Other forms of diversity include religion, sexual orientation/identification, and learning ability. Teachers must take into account students’ differing abilities as they prepare academic experiences to meet every child’s learning needs. While the increasing diversity in American schools creates an atmosphere that is interesting and even exciting, challenges also can present themselves. At-risk students are affected by family issues, negative peer influences, and their own depression as they try to cope with what might be—or seem to be—a difficult life. Multicultural education is one way to provide students with ways to combat the various challenges they may bring to the school setting. Another method is differentiated instruction, with its focus on individualizing lessons for the diverse population that exists in most American schools today.
Questions for Further Critical Thinking & Reflection
What do you think former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley (1998) meant when he remarked that “students today need to see themselves in the faces of their teachers. We need teachers from different backgrounds to share different experiences and points of view with colleagues. This sharing enriches and empowers the entire profession and students from all backgrounds” (p. 19)? Do you feel that Riley’s words have become reality? Why or why not? How can teacher education programs recruit persons of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds to the profession?
This chapter presented a variety of ways in which today’s schools are more diverse than in previous times. Are there groups or cultures that you might find difficult to work with, without some effort? Which ones are they, and why do you think you would have difficulty? If none would cause extra effort for you, why do you think that is?
Consider the needs of a diverse classroom. What is the difference between fair treatment and equal treatment? Which is preferable and why? (Consider all of the different scenarios that you might experience in a classroom—physically challenged students, mentally challenged students, non-English-speaking students, culturally diverse students, etc.)
Web Resources
Center for Mental Health in Schools: Working With Disengaged Students. Headquartered at the University of California, Los Angeles, the center has a wealth of helpful materials for educators, almost all of which are free.
Center for World Indigenous Studies (CWIS). CWIS is dedicated to research, education, and conflict resolution conferences that will lead to the solving of social, economic, and political problems throughout the Fourth World of indigenous peoples. Some of the research is available on the center’s website.
Institutes on Academic Diversity—Differentiation Central. Created by the University of Virginia, this website is defined as a service for educators who hope to learn more about differentiation. Podcasts and videos as well as publications are available.
National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME). With more than 2,000 members, NAME advocates for social justice and equity through multicultural education. Publications and conferences are its primary activities.
Stop Bullying—U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This website, sponsored by the U.S. government, provides practical ideas for addressing bullying problems in school.
Raising Small Souls. This website is directed primarily at parents, but the tips are equally useful for teachers of younger children.
Additional Resources
The following may provide helpful information for teaching a diverse population of students.
Flaitz, J. (2006). Understanding your refugee and immigrant students. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African American children. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Payne, R. (2003). A framework for understanding poverty. Highland, TX: Aha! Process.
Quate, S., & McDermott, J. (2009). Clockwatchers: Six steps to motivating and engaging disengaged students across content areas. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Tatum, B. (2007). Can we talk about race? Boston: Beacon Press.
Key Terms
Click on each key term to see the definition.
at-risk students
Students who, due to their cultural, biological, or social attributes, might find school overly challenging.
differentiated instruction
Curriculum and teaching methodology created with students’ individual needs in mind.
English language learners (ELL)
Students whose first language is not English and who may be at any level from beginner to highly functioning.
In regard to education, a term that describes students who are either ahead of the class academically or behind.
gifted and talented
A term that describes students with high IQs or unique abilities in some form of creativity.
gifted and talented education (GATE) 
Special programs created specifically for students who are gifted and talented.
In special education, an approach based on the philosophy that children with special needs should be included in the regular classroom to the greatest extent possible. (Inclusion is not a term used in federal law.)
multicultural education
Education that attends to the needs and interests of students of all cultures, ethnicities, races, genders, and other categories.
Chapter 4 Flashcards
Prior to beginning work on this assignment, read the assigned chapters in Introduction to education: Choosing to teach by Krogh. Chapter 4 gives insights into student differences and diversity and Chapter 8 presents student responsibilities and rights including school funding and school choice. In addition, reading Inclusion—Not segregation or integration is where a student with special needs belongs discusses integration and inclusion of special needs children. Reviewing A common-core challenge: Learners with special needs will give you insights into lesson plans for students with special needs. Also, Not all riders on the education express debark at the inclusion station examines inclusion controversies. Finally, there are three articles on Common Core standards to inform the impact of student learning.
In your paper,
Describe the advantages and disadvantages of inclusion.
Identify challenges faced by learners with special needs.
Summarize the requirement for improved performance of students with disabilities under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
Examine how Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are impacting the learning of students with special needs.
Write a two- to three-page paper (not including title and reference pages) describing the concept of inclusion as discussed in Chapter 4 of your text and in your own words. Cite a minimum of one scholarly source in addition to your textbook, and format using the Introduction to APA (Links to an external site.) resource in the Writing Center. Your paper must contain the following:
Introductory Paragraph: Begin with an attention getter—a powerful statement, an intriguing question, or a general overview of the challenges faced by learners with special needs and the teachers who support them. Develop your ideas and end your introductory paragraph with a strong thesis. Use the Writing A Thesis (Links to an external site.) resource found in the Writing Center to conveywhether inclusion is a beneficial practice and why. This thesis should then be supported in the body of your paper.
Body Paragraphs: (Use the Body Paragraphs (Links to an external site.) resource found in the Writing Center to ensure that each paragraph is well-developed)
Inclusion Defined: In this paragraph, define inclusion and be sure to cite your source. Describe a minimum of three advantages and three disadvantages to this approach. In addition to the text, include a minimum of one additional scholarly source.
Impact of Legislation: Summarize the requirement for improved performance of students with disabilities under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Use the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (Links to an external site.) webpage developed by the U.S. Department of Education to learn about how this population of students is impacted. Speak about how the legislation supports special needs learners and cite this resource in your discussion.
Impact of Common Core: Examine how Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are impacting the learning of students with special needs. What are some strategies that are being used to help students with special needs achieve these standards?Use and cite at least one of the articles below to support your discussion:
Common Core State Standards: The Promise and the Peril for Students With Disabilities (Links to an external site.)
Access to the Common Core for All: Six Principles for Principals to Consider in Implementing CCSS for Students With Disabilities (Links to an external site.)
Conclusion Paragraph: Return to your most important points from your paper (i.e. you might readdress the controversy) and how they have combined to form your belief about the effectiveness of the inclusion approach. Emphasize your thesis statement again and bring your paper to a powerful close by leaving the reader with more to ponder or consider. Do not simply restate your Introductory Paragraph here. The conclusion should reframe your thoughts in a different way.

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