Best Practices for Success Teaching Diverse Learners
Meeting the educational needs of diverse learners is one of the most important tasks teachers face on a daily basis, says Dr. Crestie Smith, a senior faculty member in The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Human Sciences at Walden University and a longtime classroom teacher.
“When you come into a classroom, you can clearly see that there is racial and cultural diversity. But you don't see all of the diversity. Diversity is also where your students are on the learning scale. A teacher may say, ‘Let me tell you about my class. Out of 25 students, I have four who are somewhat dyslexic. I have five students who have specific reading disabilities. I have four students who don't speak any English at all …’ And trying to meet the needs of all those kids, because they have such different needs, is really a challenge,” she says.
Children bring the many gifts of diversity to P–12 classrooms. The National Education Association (NEA) identifies some of those “dimensions of diversity” as race, ethnicity, gender, language, culture, religion, and mental and physical ability.1
Within each learning population, different abilities and circumstances can make reaching all students even more complex. Dr. Smith, who is also a middle school teacher in Southwest Florida, shares an example:
“In many communities like mine, within our English language learner (ELL) population there are kids who might have a language delay, or who may not speak any English. Others may speak English but speak another language at home so that the only English they’re speaking is at school. While their conversational English is fine, when it comes time to do academic work and use a textbook, they struggle. People don’t talk like a textbook. And while the students’ minds are super quick—meaning they absorb that new language like a sponge—the academic side of learning is going to be a challenge.”
As children of all abilities come together for an education the U.S. government says must be conducted in the least restrictive environment, school districts offer different layers of support to help teachers meet their students’ needs.
“Typically, there are Exceptional Student Education (ESE) and ELL departments, aides, and teachers. Some districts will have pull-out classes for those children to give the kids extra support. As a teacher, you hope that you’re in a school where you can go to those people who are the experts and they can help you.”
In other districts, where support is less plentiful, teachers must become more resourceful, Dr. Smith says.
“Sometimes you’re lucky enough to get support staff. But that is dependent on where you are geographically, your district level of support, and sadly, money. If you don’t have personnel to send to help, then teachers are left to their own devices to try to come up with ways to meet the needs of the children,” she says.
“Sometimes it’s just saying to yourself, I’m going to do the best I can for these kids and maybe develop alternative assignments that are going to meet their needs. It may not necessarily be in the same way as the rest of the class, but at least it’s something that those students can do and feel successful and still be getting the subject matter.”
And there is help from multiple sources, developed as a result of America’s richness of diversity, Dr. Smith explains. “Because we do have so much diversity in this country, and because there is a lot of research on learning instruction, there is a plethora of resources out there. I think any teacher could sit down and spend an hour or so going through and finding resources that have good research to back them up. That can certainly support them.”
And regardless of how much instructional support schools and districts provide, educators have another good option to help them meet the needs of their students, Dr. Smith says.
“A lot of the universities have responded to this, too, and there are degree programs that focus just on ELL or ESE populations. You could be a general education classroom teacher and get a graduate degree in one of those areas and become that expert, that person who knows how to meet the needs of those children. It’s all about what you want to do to try to meet the needs of your learners,” she says.
Acquire New Skills, Teaching Strategies
An MS in Education (MSEd) can help you become the expert your students and school need. Walden University offers online master’s in education degree programs with specializations that can position you to meet your career goals.
In the Elementary Reading and Literacy (P–6) (Non-Licensure) specialization, you will examine current research and practical strategies that can help you increase the achievement of all students. This includes linguistically, culturally, and academically diverse learners.
For special educators who want to enhance their skills, Walden offers Special Education (Non-Licensure) (Grades K–12). In this MSEd specialization you’ll gain leadership skills to support and sustain effective practices for students with exceptionalities. Coursework in this program synthesizes the most current research and scientifically based interventions. And you’ll use real-world case studies and virtual scenarios that encourage collaborative problem-solving.
With Walden’s online teaching degrees, you’ll gain knowledge you can use immediately in your classroom and school. Let a master’s in education freshen your skills and recharge your career.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online MS in Education degree program with multiple specializations. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
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