Saturday, February 7, 2009

Understanding Student Diversity

As I continue my work in an 'urban' school system, I've learned just how important a student's background and family life is in affecting their classroom experience. I talked with my coordinating teacher last Friday, and she began to help me 'fill in the gaps' in understanding the classroom diversity. A handful of students come from a single-parent household, in which cases the parents are still children themselves. One student, who is 7 years old, is living with a grandmother because her mother recently lost custody of her and has been back and forth between homes all her life. I can not tell you how much this girl craves attention in the classroom, from raising her hand for every question (even if she doesn't have an answer) to acting out in front of her peers for attention. I also learned that several of the 'behavior problems' from specifically two of the boys stems from domestic abuse they have witnessed in the household. 

We are all human, therefore our life outside the classroom greatly affects how we perceive and behave in an educational setting. For many students, we are their ONLY safe-haven where they feel loved and respected. Therefore, we have to create a supportive classroom environment for all students. It is important to understand not only the ethnic diversity of the classroom, but also the economic diversity of each individual and their experiences. We can help our students open up and share their own backgrounds in several ways using literacy. 

One of my favorite ways to express my own experiences and feelings with others it through poetry. The example of "Where I'm From," poem has students incorporate significant quotes, events and people into their writing. This allows the students to make connections to their peers through their similarities. 

by Lealonnie Blake

I am from get-togethers
and Bar-B-Ques
K-Mart special and matching shoes.
Baseball bats and BB guns,
a violent family is where I'm from.

I am from "get it girl"
and "shake it to the ground."
From a strict dad named Lumb
sayin' "sit you' fass self down."

I am from the smell of soul food
cooking in Lelinna's kitchen.
From my Pampa's war stories
to my granny's cotton pickin'.

I am from Kunta Kinte's strength,
Harriet Tubman's escapes.
Phyllis Wheatley's poems,
and Sojourner Truth's faith.

If you did family research,
and dug deep into my genes.
You'll find Sylvester and Ora, Geneva and Doc,
My African Kings and Queens.
That's where I'm from.

Another way students could share their own background with their peers could be through fictional writing. Students can create a ficticious character that shares experiences that the student has experienced in their own life. By allowing them to create a fictional character, the student feels less threatened and exposed by putting another 'face' and 'name' to their experience. 

I feel that it is important not only to teachers, but also the student's peers to understand the diversity that exists in the classroom. Rather than ignore, or assume all students bring the same experiences to the classroom - we should explore these experiences and celebrate the uniqueness of each student in the classroom. 

1 comment:

  1. I find your post very interesting, especially since it took so long for your CT to "let you in" on your student's background. The only thing I would be careful of is the stereotypes that are placed on children with terminated parental rights, children in foster care, children in large families, or children living with non-traditional family units. In your post you mention a girl with terminated parental rights who is attention seeking. Although it is quite possible this behavior is related to her current home life situation, it could not be related at all and I believe all ideas should be looked into.

    I really like the poem you posted :)