Why is representation important?
Representation refers to the basic idea that if students see people like them reflected in course materials, they are more likely to identify with and be able to imagine themselves as belonging in the field. Research has shown that the reverse is true—when students do not see people like themselves in the authors and images of the field, they have a more difficult time identifying with the field and they may feel like they don’t belong, thus reducing their chances to thrive. Students are much more motivated to learn in classrooms that recognize them, draw connections to their lives (and experiences), and respond to their distinct concerns. The world is complexly diverse and we need to represent this in the materials that we use in our teaching.
Diversity of representation also matters in our classrooms because we have the responsibility to ensure that our students are prepared to work in a diverse environment and be able to collaborate with others who may bring diverging perspectives. Offering new ways of looking at a discipline can help students
You might argue: “my course has nothing to do with diversity”. But given the growing diversity of our classrooms, we are responsible for creating a learning culture that is welcoming to that diversity. The best way to achieve this is including different voices, especially those of traditionally excluded groups.
In your classes, students (are supposed to) read a lot, or at the very least absorb a lot of content. You may not have the power to assign the required readings, but many times, you do have power to bring in supplemental readings and multimedia resources into your tutorials and labs. As you are doing so, think about whose voices and perspectives you are centering in the process.
We know from a vast body of research, that for students, seeing people who come from social locations like their own can make a world of difference in helping them to identify with a field and engage meaningfully with a text. This means that it is important to invite students into a diverse body of material that represents people of all genders, races, and ethnicities (while avoiding a simply tokenizing).
Learn background information about your students and identify and use relevant examples they can relate to. When looking for additional resources, they do not only have to be readings. Try to think outside the box. Look for useful YouTube videos or online guides, look for visual art and music that can tie into the broad themes of your course, and think about ways to draw on the lived experiences of students in your classes. You can also find relevant tweets, snaps, and news articles that represent racially, ethnically, linguistically, and/or gender diverse spaces.
- Our disciplines (and departments) have powerful social and intellectual cultures. Try to identify ways in which this specific culture may shape the experiences of your diverse student group. Examine your old disciplinary world through brand new eyes. This may help you identify ways in which assigned course readings (which may seem neutral) are not quite as disinterested and unbiased (and content-focused) as you once thought. Moreover, it will reveal gaps in diverse representations that you may want to include.
- Learn about your students’ backgrounds and trail your approach accordingly. Creating an inclusive classroom climate will create a welcoming atmosphere for diverse perspectives. For example, ensure that images in PowerPoint or case studies represent diverse types of peoples and perspectives. This may help students imagine themselves within various learning scenarios.
- When planning your tutorial, ask yourself: Whose voices, perspective, and scholarship are being represented? Whose perspectives has the course not included so far? What resources could I bring in to highlight the perspectives of under-represented groups? In your field that may mean bringing in work by women, non-binary, or trans authors. It could mean highlighting work by Indigenous, Black, and people of colour authors. It could mean finding work by disabled authors. Think about what students are not being invited to engage with and seek those perspectives out.
- If you cannot find resources, expand your parameters. Perhaps under-represented people are doing work in your area, but not within the academy. Or perhaps they are using a different framework. This is a great opportunity to bring students into contact with different sources and processes of knowledge production and to help them think about why certain sources have been assigned and others have not.
- If you really can’t find anything, talk about that with your students. This will help them and you to critique your field and identify some of the ways that power and privilege may be shaping the dominant perspectives in your discipline. This can help them build skills as critical readers and thinkers who can situate academic practices within the broader historical context. Your students may be able to introduce you to useful resources too! You can use an activity such as Power Flower in order to get students to reflect on their social identities. This strategy can help them identify who they are (and who they aren’t) as individuals and as a group in relation to those who wield power in society, highlighting discrimination as a process for maintaining dominant identities.
Armstrong, M.A. (2011). Small world: Crafting an inclusive classroom (no matter what you teach). Thought and Action, Fall, 51-61.
Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C. and Felten, P. (2014). Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: a guide for faculty. Hoboken: Jossey-Bass.
Gurin, p., Dey, e., Hurtado, s. and Gurin, G. (2002.) Diversity and Higher Education: Theory and Impact on Educational Outcomes. Harvard Educational Review, 72(3), 330-367.
Maxwell, K., Nagda, B., & Thompson, M. (2011). Facilitating Intergroup Dialogues: Bridging Differences, Catalyzing Change. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
Nagda, B., & Gurin, P. (2007). Intergroup dialogue: A critical-dialogic approach to learning about differences, inequality and social justice. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 111, 35-45.
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Facilitating for Equity
Visit the Facilitating for Equity resource
Supporting International Students and TAs
In the winter of 2015, the TATP committed to seeking out a better way of supporting students not familiar with the teaching context at U of T, while still highlighting the rich contributions they can make to teaching and learning at the University. Through an initial series of meetings with representatives from the School of Graduate Studies, Faculty of Arts & Science and the Centre for International Experience, the TATP sought ideas on how to approach a redesign of its programming and resources, in order to better meet the needs of international TAs and graduate students and fully include them in the institution’s teaching community. From this series of meetings, four key questions emerged:
- What do we know about supporting international TAs and graduate students? This entailed reviewing some of the relevant literature and identifying current issues and trends related to the support of international students, and particularly international TAs.
- What are others doing to support this student population? This included a scan of resources and programming at peer institutions that support students unfamiliar with the Canadian higher education context and who may have differing lingual, cultural and instructional competencies is needed.
- What are we doing already at U of T to support international students? We endeavored to gather in one document the broad range of resources and programming currently in place to support international TAs and graduate students.
- Where are the gaps in what we do, and how can we be more effective in supporting international students? Is it possible to draw on the above information and identify some possible steps forward to improve what we are already doing? Can we then be better at communicating this information to students and between various stakeholders?
To address these questions, the following report was drafted by former and current staff members of the TATP. The information gathered will provide a framework for rethinking and renewing TATP programming and resources.
Recommendations and Resources for Supporting International Students and Teaching Assistants at the University of Toronto [Link: convert pdf?]
Strategies to Help Multi-Lingual Learners
Inside the classroom
- Use verbal and non-verbal cues
- Visual aids help with understanding and retention
- Active learning encourages participation – use small-group settings and incorporate low-stakes activities
- Encourage questions
- Check for understanding using different methods
- Foster awareness of diversity in communication styles, student experiences
Outside the classroom
- Focus on global writing issues and clarity, not sentence-level errors that don’t inhibit clarity
- Use an appropriate rubric
- Incorporate low-stakes writing activities in class
- Teach discipline-specific best practices for citations, attributions
- Review critical reading strategies – skimming, scanning, previewing, etc.
- Provide guided reading questions and discuss discipline norms in text/article structure
General strategies and strengths
- Are your students aware of resources like writing centres, ELL programming, the Centre for International Experience, etc.? (See list below.)
- Share hours equitably
- Leverage the strengths of your teaching team
- Recognize and utilize strengths of MLL and ELL TAs – expertise/experience with language learning, diverse teaching methods, etc.