Supporting Students

A strategic approach to addressing diversity in the classroom is a necessity at an institution as diverse as the University of Toronto. Here are some tips to help you provide the best learning environment for all of your students.

SOME GENERAL SUGGESTIONS

  • Promote a respectful classroom climate. Do this as early and as often as possible. Discuss guidelines or “ground rules” for good participation in your first very class and before each large class discussion or small group activity.
  • Treat your students as individuals. Encourage them to share their experiences and observations, but do not call on them to speak for their race/gender/culture.
  • Don’t make assumptions about students based on your own perception of their minority needs or experiences.
  • Try to anticipate issues of sexuality, religion or other values as you give assignments and lead discussion.
  • Use diverse examples rather than ones that assume a particular background or experiences.

COMMUNICATION

  • Avoid highly idiomatic English, although don’t avoid idioms completely. The only way that learners of English will master idiomatic language is if they hear it used properly and in context by native speakers. Try to explain or clarify idiomatic expressions that you use in class.
  • Provide some linguistic redundancy (i.e., through the use of the blackboard, handouts or an overhead projector).

PARTICIPATION

  • Don’t assume that students who don’t talk don’t know the material. Students from certain cultures or those who have had past negative experiences with participation may require additional encouragement. Speak to students outside class if necessary.
  • Encourage full participation, making use of strategies to include less assertive/more reflective students (e.g. giving time to write down a question for the instructor to be handed in at the end of the class, or a more lengthy response to a problem or question raised in class—take in the written responses and then start the following lesson with some ideas raised by students in their written comments).
  • Shape your classroom culture to include more than just competitive modes of learning (e.g. having students work in pairs or small groups to discuss an issue or work through an exercise or problem set).
  • KEY STRATEGIES: “Think-Pair-Share”, “One-Minute Paper”

SPECIFIC TIPS

  • Monitor language in classroom discussion and written materials that you distribute to the class. If you observe students making sexist or homophobic remarks, make it clear to them that such remarks are inappropriate, and do so immediately—don’t wait until the following class.
  • Do not assume the identity or racial affiliation of a student based on his or her physical appearance. Be aware of the diverse composition of many ethnic communities.
  • Be aware that an international student may have a different perspective regarding classroom practices and may require time to adapt to a new style of teaching and learning.
  • Do not make non-traditional or older students feel excluded or singled out, but take advantage of the life experience non-traditional students bring to your class.
  • Critique religious or political beliefs only if such criticism is important to course material, and always be respectful in your tone and choice of words.

Created by Alicia McKenzie, TATP Trainer ©2006