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Diversity in Teaching Reading

Written by Antero Garcia
May 10, 2013

Merriam-Websters definition of diversity states, “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements.” In the classroom context we have to understand diversity is seen not only in the fact that all students are differing in their identities, but their opinions and ability levels as well. The idea of diversity is often times confused with the actual root-issue of diversity, in that initial judgments and stereotypes based on identities tend to become our foundation for the way we treat individuals. Instead of addressing the multiple learning styles and diverse needs of students, we perpetuate these concepts of harmful stereotypes and associations. Some of the multiple learning styles reflected in the classroom can include kinesthetic, verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, visual/spatial, auditory, etc. Because of this range of learning styles and student-based needs, it’s vital that teaching styles, lesson plans, and units should accommodate all students. Throughout this page we’ll take a look at some of the views that professionals in the field, such as Freire, Macedo, Miller, and Christensen, have expressed on embracing diversity.

In their book Literacy: Reading the Word and the World, Paulo Freire and Donaldo Macedo discuss the issue of literacy in schools. They bring  in different views and ideas to define what exactly literacy is, and how we speak to the diversity of learners via our teaching method and our very idea of literacy. In the chapter “The Illiteracy of Literacy in the United States” They speak specifically to the dropout/expulsion rate of youth in America and wonder at the causes and root of this issue. Freire argues that the illiterate kids are the ones who are either expelled or drop out of school not having been supported by the system. The system in fact represses them and gives them no opportunities to grow. On pg. 121, Freire asserts that “We must not forget the question of power, which is always associated with education.” This power is shown through the system and “students are reacting to a curriculum and other material conditions in schools that negate their histories, cultures, and day-to-day experiences. School values tend to work counter to the interests of these students and tend to precipitate their expulsion from school.”

Schools are not responding well to the diverse needs of students which is, in turn, creating this tension and dichotomy to which students are negatively responding. Students are feeling this pressure and this power struggle which causes stress and feelings of insignificance, resulting in drop out and expulsion rates skyrocketing. Students leave school needy and illiterate. The diversity is not being addressed, with only a specific type of learner being helped, and the rest being set out to dry.

Freire also discusses the idea of reinvention and reworking ideas to help speak to this cause and to address different approaches to literacy. Freire believes in a critical approach in the idea and experience of reinventing. He states that “to approach others’ practices and experiences critically, is to understand the validity of social, political, historical, cultural, and economic factors relative to the practice and experience to be reinvented.” (133) In order to address these different needs, we must experience this reinvention and begin reworking what’s been set forth in order to address these different approaches. We shouldn’t use one text and adapt it to our own context, context is key to each and every person, but there’s some sort of rewriting going on there that allows different needs to be addressed, and for the issue of diversity to be dealt with and experienced in the most cohesive way possible.

Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer addresses the diversity in her classes by describing three different types of readers she’s taught throughout her experience as a 6th grade teacher of language arts and social studies. The developing readers, commonly called struggling readers, are the students who are not reading at grade level for one reason or another, including any learning disabilities.or inadequate reading experiences. Miller also mentions the dormant readers. These readers are often seen as reluctant, because they view “reading [as] work, not pleasure” (28). Miller’s third type of student is the underground reader — the kid who excels in reading, but sees their reading for school in a completely different sphere from the reading they do on their own. While Miller emphasizes the importance of positively framing these types of readers, she focuses on this facet of diversity in her classroom to create lessons and help choose texts that will engage all students.

In our E401 class discussions of The Book Whisperer we worked through these definitions of students and also responded to Antero’s discussion question posed on our Google+ community: “Does this breakdown of classroom readers make sense to you? Who, do you think, is missing? How would you challenge Miller’s framework, if you do?”

The responses on our class page discussing the categorization of readers was an example of diversity in our own class with Antero. These posts on Google+ were a way to showcase our opinions and critical thoughts of the concepts we were learning, and gave us a chance to engage in thoughtful discussion with our peers.

Throughout the semester our class worked on an Assessment Portfolio — a project that included a letter to parents, three assessment plans (with detailed lessons), and a personal reflection. Antero asked us to focus on English Language Learners in our hypothetical classrooms for one of our three assessment plans. In developing a lesson that addressed the needs of ELLs, we worked to meet the diverse population of our students and accommodate their experiences in and out of classroom. For example, here is Jake’s and here is Celia’s assessment plans for ELLs.

In Teaching for Joy and Justice Linda Christensen promotes the importance of diversity and giving students opportunities to write their experience through various activities and lessons. Christensen outlines student work she’s seen ranging from “I Am” poems to developing identity through fictional narrative writing. Christensen writes, “Not all students have suffered the same conditions, so while some students find comfort in characters whose circumstance resonate with them, other students might read to develop empathy” (168). With this frame of mind, we can start to see students embrace the experiences from their own lives and diverse experiences of others in the class. An example lesson plan adapted from Christensen’s text is embedded here, which was used in Cindy O’Donnell-Allen’s E402: Teaching Composition.

Throughout E401 we took field trips, had meaningful discussions, and learned from each other in multiple contexts to define our own practices in teaching reading. Our class worked to foster a community of diverse opinions and individualized teaching theories, coupled with experiential learning opportunities. Check out the video below for a short example of some of the topics surrounding diversity that were addressed in our class.


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